Sitting at a table across from me in Morgan’s Coffee and Tea on a Saturday afternoon, Keith DeFiebre definitely sticks out. While pierced coffee drinkers dressed in various shades of black stand in line for their daily fix, DeFiebre sips a tangerine juice and is outfitted in bike shorts, a jersey and a helmet.
One might wonder why DeFiebre, who biked over to the coffee shop after a ride at Fort Ord, doesn’t change into some street clothes. It might be because since 1988, when the former all-league defensive back for MPC’s football team discovered road biking and mountain biking, DeFiebre’s personal life and his cycling life have become one and the same. These are his street clothes.
DeFiebre did not spend a significant portion of his childhood pedaling around his neighborhood, as a lot of youngsters do. But he has always had a really competitive nature. Even today, DeFiebre continues to think about mistakes that he made in football games more than 15 years ago. “I am still upset at my fumbles at MPC,” he says.
Since 1988, when DeFiebre borrowed a friend’s mountain bike and rode around Jacks Peak, the tall, skinny Monterey County native has been making up for lost cycling time. By 1990, DeFiebre was road biking as much as possible, frequently riding from Monterey to his father’s house in Danville, which is southeast of Berkeley. Around that time, the athletic then-23-year-old realized that he had found a new passion to take the place of football. “I just wanted a sport I could do for years,” he says.
In 1992, DeFiebre’s skills were validated after winning the downhill race at San Jose’s Sizzler Mountain Bike Classic. Though riding up grueling hills is what the budding cyclist hoped to be known for, his win at the Sizzler made DeFiebre realize that mountain biking’s downhill and slalom events were where he truly shined.
After competing in the 1993 Sea Otter Classic’s slalom competition, mountain biking became an even bigger part of DeFiebre’s life, as he took on a position as the designer of the event’s slalom and downhill courses.
DeFiebre immediately and radically changed the Sea Otter’s slalom course by making it three times longer.
“What I wanted to do is to take it to another level,” he says. “I said ‘let’s go big.’”
By 1997, DeFiebre had become the mountain bike equivalent of a ski bum. Sponsored by the now defunct Voodoo Cycles, he was given a box van, a cyclocross bike, two slalom bikes, two downhill bikes, two cross-country bikes, clothing accessories and tools to travel around the Northwest to help build slalom and downhill courses and compete in events.
To get an advantage against other competitors, DeFiebre would try to arrive at the race courses a week before the scheduled competitions.
“I was living out of my van and getting out there early,” he says. “That was my thing. I was the first one there and the last one to leave a lot of times.”
In 1999, DeFiebre settled down a bit and abandoned the vagabond bicyclist lifestyle. In 2000, he took on more Sea Otter designing duties by agreeing to build the festival’s jump for the “Big Air” competition, formally but rarely referred to as the Pro Invitational Jumping Contest. Even though he has built the jump, made of dirt and more than 100 hay bales, every year since the event came into being, DeFiebre seems scared of his creation.
“I don’t even do it,” he says. “It gets so big. I can’t even ride a wheelie that great.”