National No.1 Amateur: Riley House Interview
“In 2018, Bill Morris had asked me, ‘Yo, what song do you want me to play before your main?’ I said how about some Metallica? Let’s go! So he played Enter Sandman, and I won it from there. So last year, when I was down there, Bill asked me if I wanted to pick the song again for the main. I told him, ‘If you play Tool, right now, I guarentee you I’ll win.’ So while I’m rolling into the gate, Tool came on, and I looked over at my parents and just nodded my head. Right then, they knew - that I knew, that I was going to pull it off.”
MUSIC FLICKS THE SWITCH
RILEY: Music is a big part of our lives, outside of BMX. My father and I go to a lot of concerts. Right after the Houston national, we’d gone and seen Tool, on that Sunday night. When Tool comes on the radio, me and my dad fangirl-out hard. I’ve seen them live four times now.
PULL: Maliek (Byndloss -2013 No.1 Amateur) told us the same thing. They played Eminem, Lose Yourself, when he got in the gate. He said as soon as he heard it, he knew he had it won. It’s crazy how music can flick that switch.
RILEY: That’s it. It flicked the switch hardcore, baby. Big time. I’ve never felt that feeling inside of me, like when I was behind that gate. I had lane eight, the No.1 title was on the line, all the odds were against me. Affoo next to me in lane seven. Cam was in there. But I knew in my mind that I could do it.
YOU’VE JUST GOT TO WIN
RILEY: I was down by the finish line, warming up, and I asked one of the ABA workers, ‘Yo, can you see what I have to do to get the title right now?’ I already knew that I had gate eight in the main. So basically, they say, ‘You’ve got to beat Cam Wood, you’ve got to beat Kye Affoo, and Nick Adams.’ I would’ve had to beat Jesse Welch too, but he went out early. Basically, I just had to win. We were all up there in points.
Then when I heard the (title-chase) video, with that Monster-Energy voice, talking about Cam and I going at it all year long, hyping it all up, I was like ‘Let’s go boys! I’m ready!’
PULL: We were just re-watching the video, and if Brayden Kempel hadn’t unclipped in the first turn, that hole might not have been there for you to dive low to hit the pro set.
RILEY: I definitely have to pay my respect to Brayden, for sure. I wheelied out of the gate, and thought, there it is. I blew it. I knew that if I didn’t have a perfect lap right now, there would be no way I could win it. Kye had a perfect gate. Race Lee, over in lane one, all by himself, had the perfect start - just rode the white line to the turn. I single-manualed and pumped into the corner and I stayed to the outside - I didn’t move over at all, which is NOT what you’re supposed to do. I looked over and didn’t see anyone, so I railed the corner and cut down, and found my next gear.
PULL: Had you pre-planned that you’d take the Pro section in the main?
RILEY: No. Me and my dad had talked about it earlier, and he asked me - ‘What are you going to do?’ I said I didn’t know. Everybody knew the pro set was slower, but I’d taken it all weekend. I hadn’t taken the amateur side once. I figured if I was out front I’d take the pro section,because
I didn’t think anybody could pass me. But if I was in the pack, I’d take the Am-side, like everyone else. I knew it’d be a last-minute decision
Looking back, I wouldn’t have won if I’d taken the amateur side. I don’t know how it happened, but I had a perfect run at it and gained some speed over it. It was the craziest thing, because as I’m jumping over it, I was looking to the side, watching them. Over that last double, I could see both Kye and Race heading straight to where I’m about to go. Like a perfect triangle.
I was like, ‘Oh dang, it’s about to go down!’
Afterwards, I was thinking - that’s the second Grands in a row where I was in third coming out of the first corner, and then in first coming out of the second corner. Then you had Race Lee giving you some love in the last turn...
RILEY: After watching the video, I’d pulled away from them by a bike or two in the rhythm. Compare it to Tyler Brown and Suarez in their main, put the video side-by-side, and it was the same move in the same exact spot. And I think Race Lee hit me a lot harder than Suarez had hit Tyler. If I would’ve gone over, then I think Race would’ve gotten disqualified.
I saw him coming out of the corner of my eye, so I put the drift on. I don’t know how I stayed on my bike. I drifted it, re-corrected it, came off the backside of the turn, was trying to pedal but wasn’t getting anywhere. Figured at this point, I might as well just pump it, since I can’t pedal.
I’m not saying anything bad against Race. I love the guy. And if I was in his position, I would’ve done the same exact move ... but I would’ve hit myself even harder.
PULL: Not only amazing that you were able to stay upright, but to also keep enough speed to hold off Kye Affoo, who was charging hard to the finish.
RILEY: Honestly, I thought 100-percent that Kye had passed me at the line. He was pedaling that entire last straight and I pumped and pushed at the line. He passed me for sure, but it was just after the line. He was celebrating at the finish, and I was like - ‘Whatever. Good for you, dude.’
Then I remember Chris Luna came up to me and said ‘You got it.’ I was like, ‘Did I get-it get it? Or are you just saying that?’ I was like, ‘Are you sure? You positive?’ And that’s when I saw Kye heading back to the finish to check on the video. He’s looking at me, I’m looking at him - and gOrk was wanting to take the winner’s picture, and I’m thinking - ‘I’m not sure if I should take this picture right now, because if I take this picture and he got the win, I’m going to be sooooo ticked.’
THREE GRANDS MAINS IN 15 YEARS
PULL: For those racers who might get discouraged because they haven’t made a Grands main, ever, then let us tell you a story about Riley House, your 2019 National No.1 Amateur.
RILEY: I’d been racing Grands since 2005. For fourteen years - and until 2017, I’d never made a Grands main. So really, that was my third Grands main, ever. (laughter). In 2017, I made my first Grands main and took second behind Bryce Batten.
PULL: So in three Grands mains, you’ve gone 2-1-1. That’s pretty impressive.
BREAKING THE NAG-5 CURSE
RILEY: That was my first ever NAG-5 Challenge race.
PULL: Serious? You’ve never, ever been in the NAG-5 Challenge?! And you won it.
RILEY: When was the last time someone had won the NAG-5 and then taken the No.1 Amateur title?
PULL: That’d be in 2006, with David Herman.
RILEY: So, it’s been thirteen years. Everyone was telling me, ‘Oh - are you going to be the one to break the NAG-5 Curse?’ I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that is!’ I’d never even been on a NAG-5 before.
IT’S NOT LUCK IF YOU’RE THERE
PULL: In 2018, you won the Grands main, partly thanks to the Bucardo / Affoo collision. A lot of people said you were just lucky. But last year, you proved them all wrong.
RILEY: In 2018, I was just happy to make the main. I had no pressure. I wasn’t up for a title. If it was luck, then fine - call it luck.
PULL: Still, you had to be there. You beat 106 riders in order to get in to that main.
RILEY: I was in the right situation, at the right time. I had some haters hate on me. Then last year, there were some people talking their talk, saying that I didn’t even have a chance. Whatever. Hearing that just fuels my fire.
THE ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
PULL: Did you have a speech prepared, when you accepted the No.1 cup?
RILEY: No. ...absolutely not! I choked so hard. I felt so dumb up there. I think I only listed off two of my sponsors. My dad told me, ‘You’re going to have to give a speech, bro.’ I didn’t even know what was going on. I was just high on life.
PRE-PRO PREP: TANGENT PRO/AMS
PULL: You did a few Tangent Pro/Ams last year - did that help ease you into turning Pro?
RILEY: I did three Tangent races last year. I did Bakersfield and took fifth, then I did Lemoore - and that’s the one I won. Then I did the DeSoto one and crashed in my semi. They’re fun, and I’ll be doing all of them this year.
The DeSoto one was unreal. It was an all-Elite main there, with 10-grand on the line.
PULL: The Lemoore race, that you won, was like a sign of good things to come.
RILEY: That was crazy. Actually, I was having an off-day that day. I hadn’t won a lap all day. I ended up getting second gate pick, because if you’re an amateur and make the main, you get to pick before the pros. Nick Adams had first pick, and he took lane two, so I chose one. I just holeshotted - had like a bike-length lead by the fist jump. Asuma Haki, from Japan, tried to pass me down the second straight. I think he over-shot the Pro set by like 20 feet.
NEW TRAINER, NEW GOALS
PULL: So you recently switched trainers?
RILEY: I’d been training with Marty Wisehart for years. When we first started, Marty was doing personal training full-time, but eventually he started working with this insurance company - and cut ties with everyone he was working with, except me. He told me, you’ll be the only athlete I work with - so I’d been with him for five years. But it got to a point where he was super busy with work, and I needed someone who would put 100 percent into me, while I dedicate 110 percent to them. There’s no bad-blood between us. We still work out together.
PULL: And now you’re training with former Pro Hunter Pelham?
RILEY: Hunter has me doing a lot of the same stuff, but it’s different programming. The way we do things are different. The way me and Hunter do things is down to the T. It is so precise.
THE RILEY JOURNALS
RILEY: Something I’ve begun doing about a year ago is writing a journal. I call it one of my hobbies - I like to write. Literally, all day, when I’m not doing stuff, I am writing in my journal. Writing down what I want to do, what I did that day, what I dreamt about that night. What I ate, what I did for training. Everything.
What Hunter and I do now is all written-based.
It works. I write down my daily goals, my weekly goals, my monthly goals and my yearly goals. You check your boxes at the end of the week, the end of the month or at the end of the year.
PULL: What would be like a good example of a weekly goal?
RILEY: Get my work outs in. Don’t slack off. Get stuff done for my parents, in my scenario. Help them out. There’s different stuff I need to do each week, so I write them down and make sure they get done.
Everyone can write down that they want to win, but it’s the details of getting there that matter. Stay healthy. Stay consistent. Make realistic expectations.
OLD RIVALS, GOOD FRIENDS
RILEY: I took Bryce Batten to see Tool a couple of weeks ago; to his first concert. That blew his mind, for sure.
PULL: When’s he coming back to race? Or do you think he will?
RILEY: Bryce? He’s done. We’ve been hanging out a lot. We just went to see - have you ever heard of Colter Wall? Country artist? We just saw him in Flagstaff.
PULL: Have you and Bryce been good friends for a long time?
RILEY: It’s crazy. We were never close friends growing up, because we raced eachother since age five, up until he stopped racing two years ago. We were always battling, trash talkin’, goin’ at it. once he stopped racing, it just clicked - he was on my team. We’re good friends now.
PULL: What do you expect next week when you race your first official Pro race at the Winter Nationals?
RILEY: I don’t know. I don’t even know who all turned up. I know Jesse did. Not sure if Kye did - but I saw a triple digit number on his plate, on his Instagram.
Kye told us he’s staying amateur.
RILEY: It’s so crazy now to think that I’m a professional BMXer. I’ve grown up racing BMX my whole life. I’ve dreamed of doing this. Doing what I love is now my job.
PULL: The Rookie class of 2020 is solid. We’re looking forward to seeing you and Cam Wood go at it in the Pro ranks.
RILEY: Yeah, me and Cam have had our fair share of battles - arguments, friendships, non-friendships and battles. He’s a good kid. I respect him and he respects me. We were good friends at one time, but then we started racing each other. We’re rivals now - but (since he’s going straight to Elite) I don’t have to race him this year. It ain’t BMX is there’s no beef behind it.
We’re competitors. We live for it. He knows, just as I do, that at the end of the day, it’s racing and we’re going to go at it.
Sometimes we’ll show up at practice and not even say a word to each other. We just line up in the gate together and just GO. It’s good training for sure. There’s nothing like practicing with your main competition - whether you get along or not, you’re still going to get in the gate with him.
NEW YEAR, NEW SPONSOR
PULL: One of the big shockers for the new year was seeing you leave Supercross and join the Tangent cartel.
RILEY: So, me and Rich (Pelton) began talking at the Bakersfield Pro/Am. We were just hanging out, partying, and he told me, ‘You’re The Man. If you need a spot on the team, you’re on.’ Let’s go. I didn’t want to make anything official. I had another offer, earlier in the year, from another brand - but that fell through. I was going to do that, but ride a Rift frame. Then I got a few other offers by the end of the year. But once Rich and I began talking, we’ve talked or texted every day, ever since. We’re homies.
Before I left for Houston - before we’d even began planning any team stuff, I stayed at Nick Adams’ house for a week and while Nick was at school during the day, Rich or T.J. would come pick me up each morning and we’d hang out. We’d go to the lake, go to the river, go wake boarding, or just chill at the shop. We’d just chill out, live the Rockstar life. So I just knew that they’d take care of me. I’m happy with where I am. Happy to be a part of the Tangent family.
ADVICE FROM A No.1 AM
RILEY: When I went to Texas last year, I started doing Clinics. Since I got back to Arizona, I’ve been doing a lot more of them out at Chandler. I get parents all the time, ‘My kid’s been racing for six months and he hasn’t won one race yet. We’re getting real frustrated out there. What do we do?’ My advice is to chill out. Just let them have fun, riding their bike. I tell them what I just told you - that I’d been going to Grands since I was five years old, and I’d never made a main until I was 17. It takes time, dude.
PULL: Were there times you felt like quitting?
RILEY: Oh yeah. I did, for two years. I rode for LDC from when I was six or seven, until I was like 12. I was just burned out. My dad was my trainer, growing up, and it got to the point where everybody was out-growing me. I was the smallest kid in my age class. Like Bryce Batten, for example - he was massive at ten years old. It got frustrating, so I went and played soccer and baseball.
So I took a break and when I came back, my freshman year in high school, I was on the FastSigns team. That team was awesome - me, Bryce Batten, Karl Clark, Marty Wisehart, Austin Rogers. That;s when I made that switch, and started training with Marty.
PULL: How much has changed for you since becoming No.1 Amateur?
RILEY: It’s helped a lot for Clinics. When Chandler BMX can post - ‘Come train with the No.1 Amateur,’ that helps. We had like 25 kids show up at my first clinic. You had every thing blow up right after Grands, but it’s kinda mellowed out since. It’s still a dream to me.
PULL: Who in BMX has inspired you most?
RILEY: Before Grands, I was talking to Mike Duvarney - the USA BMX foundation guy, and he was asking me, ‘Are you going to be the first Arizona rider to bring back the title since Corben Sharrah did it back in 2009?’ When I thought about that, it’s like - that is soooo crazy! Corben has always been the guy I looked up to, growing up. Corben has always been that quiet dude who shows up at a race, is all business, didn’t care about anything else except for getting the job done.
PULL: Tell us something that nobody else knows about Riley House...
RILEY: I play guitar. Been playing for about five years. I don’t know if you know, but Bill Ryan at Supercross also has his own guitar company. It’s called Dream Studio guitars. So while riding for him, he’d hook me up with guitars every now and then. They’re super rad guitars.
PULL: Did you take lessons or self-taught?
RILEY: YouTube taught me.
PULL: You playing classic rock? Or country?
RILEY: You’d be surprised. A little bit of everything. I’ve got a full pedal board, so I have to find a way to make beats. So I have my acoustic guitar, with a loop pedal, to make some crazy beats. Loop that and throw my electric guitar on, and then play over that and loop it. Then I’ll solo with another guitar. It’s really cool to discover what you can make, all by yourself, late at night. use different effect pedals, and stuff like that. I find it kind of like training for BMX - you build one thing, just keep building a layering on top of the other until you’ve found your master piece.
PULL: So you’ve chosen 777 as your first pro number. Any reason behind that?
RILEY: Have you heard the song, Lateralus, by Tool? I did this project in school, for my english class, and we could pick whatever topic we wanted. So I did it on music and the song Lateralus by Tool. The way they built this song - have you ever heard of the Fibonacci sequence? It’s a sequence of numbers that creates a spiral, and seven is part of the sequence, with the guitar and drum beats. It’s really bizarre. It’s also Marc Willers’ old number. And it’s also a Godly number. God’s on my side.
END-GAME, END INTERVIEW
PULL: So what is your ultimate goal?
RILEY: I’m just having fun. I’m not pushing anything, not rushing things. Going with the flow. In the back of my mind, if I can stay healthy, stay consistent, stay hungry - then I will be unstoppable. I’ll hit World Cups, maybe the 2024 Olympics. That’s my all-time goal, right there. Anything is possible.