Last winter was cold and nasty. As I longed for the warm days to return, Clive and Mark at GT UK offered me the opportunity to design my own GT Sanction and Fury paintwork in time for summer. Anything you want they said, Fat Creations will make it look awesome. That they sure did.
My choice of influence was easy. Anyone who knows me well, will know I've got a love for 80's music and I have fond memories of growing up racing BMX in the 80's too. There was an older girl I used to race against when I was really young, she had a custom pink and turquoise race kit and I was so jealous! It was called "Kool Kit". Now looking back it really wasn't that cool, but I never forgot about that and I still love that colour combination today. During the painting process, Fat Creations added a couple of their own final touches - the subtle palm trees on the seat stays and the rider in the sunset. The "Miami Send Machines" were born!
A prominent feature of the designs is the saying "Stay Rad" on the underside of the downtube. I've been through a bit of a journey with my racing and riding, realising riding my bike with my friends and having fun is what is really my passion and always has been. I've had some good times racing BMX and MTB for sure and those experiences have made me the rider I am today, but these days my aim is to ride as much as possible in a way that makes me smile the most. That's what "Stay Rad" means to me, so that is exactly what my summer was all about.
Thankfully, summer arrived early this year, even in Scotland, where I was headed to assist with coaching at the Air Maiden Festival. Air Maiden was started by Lynne Armstrong in an effort to encourage more women into jumps and free riding, which is what she loved. 10 years on, the event has grown to be so popular it sells out fast with a long waiting list for cancellations. The event centres around coaching freeride type skills, but that's not all. There's a jump jam, video competition, pump race, fancy dress dual slalom and more. Lynne should be so proud of what she has done for women's MTB over the years, I was honoured to be a tiny part of it, the camaraderie here is something special. If you've ever met Lynne, you'll know what a character she is too, every time I ride with her I always end up in fits of laughter. She seems to trust my judgement way more than she should, all I have to do is say I think she can jump a line and she blindly follows me straight through it, usually swearing at me all the way!
There was a party on the Sunday night to finish Air Maiden with a bang, but it was a bank holiday and I wanted to get another ride in before work on Tuesday. There was a point in my life where I was pretty good at burning the candle at both ends, but unfortunately those times are long gone so riding wins over partying every time these days A quick call to my good friend Ellie Dewdney and a riding session half way home was arranged.
I'd imagined this would be a fairly casual days riding, it's a place I'd ridden a few times before and I was by now familiar with most of the big jumps. Maybe I should have taken it as a sign how this day was going to go when I took a wrong turn on my first lap and jumped the biggest line I had done there by mistake.
A couple of hours later, we got talking about the 50-foot jump over the far side. I went to have a look, just to see it as I'd never even ventured over there before. I'd never seen anyone jump it before in real life and no one else there was going to be doing it so there was no chance of a tow in either. Everything pointed towards walking away, but suddenly the takeoff was flashing at me like a big red button saying "do not press" and just like Dougal on Father Ted, I felt an uncontrollable urge to hit it. I asked Dave who I had only met that day if he had noticed if people pedal in between the first jump and the big one, "err I think they put a pedal in?" he told me. I could sense he felt his words may be critical to the outcome of my impulsiveness. For that, I'm sorry Dave!
As I pushed up the hill I told him I would probably hit the first one and stop for the 50fter to check it out. The first jump was much bigger than I thought and I only just made it. As I landed all my intentions were to brake as planned, but somehow I found myself putting a pedal in and going past the point of no return instead. As I headed towards the lip I couldn't even see the landing, it's tiny and stepped down. I took off and saw how far away it was, holy crap! I kept my pencil well sharpened until I could see the landing was within reach and landed safely. I was absolutely buzzing and jumped it another 6 times after that!
Back home in the flat lands I got my dirt jump bike back out. At Air Maiden, Lynne who is well into level 4 in life now (Sorry lynne!) was throwing no handers over the trick jump and I suddenly felt inspired to give it a go too. I've been through phases of learning a few other tricks at various points in my life, but I generally prefer just to float about in the air so the tricks come and go. I think it was in the late 90's I decided that in my eyes the tabletop was the coolest thing you could do on a bike and I've been pretty content just clicking those in for years. However, I thought I should try a tuck no hander once in my life. After all, the position isn't too dissimilar to a tyre grab which I can do, how much harder can it be? Well I think I was still fuelled by the 50 footer buzz, because that evening at the trails was the quickest I've ever learnt a trick in my life.
It wasn't long before I was on the road again. Wales bound this time, heading to Black Mountains Cycle Centre with the crew from Gate 23 trails. I've been to BMCC many times but this trip was a little different as Gav Mitchell and Eddie Mitchell had brought along their full array of filming equipment to capture an edit of the fun we always have there. Most of the filming was going to take place on Full Moto, one of my favourite jump lines. We had an absolute blast riding trains, jumping side by side, accidentally overtaking each other and occasionally having to abort when things got a bit wild. There was one run I began the line in 3rd position but somehow finished 1st, that was entertaining! I love to film stuff like this on my GoPro so Gav enlisted me as chief on board camera operator and included some of my squeals and hollas in all their glory. I can honestly say this is one of the most fun days filming I've ever been involved and we were all so pumped on the final edit that truly captured our riding stoke. Gav and I have plans for future edits together, so keep your eyes peeled!
The next stop was a big one - Whistler. Last summer GT gave me a last minute opportunity to compete at Crankworx. It was an awesome experience and to my surprise I even came home with a pump track bronze medal. It left me wanting to go back and ride more of the place so this time I went with a group of friends and just sessioned the park without having to think about any events. With my BMX background I am of course more into the flow lines - Dirt Merchant, Crabapple and A-Line being my staple diet. I don't get to ride my DH bike too often but I got the hang of throwing it around a bit more on this trip and even managed to pull my newly learned tuck no-hander on the A-Line tombstone jump.
As I get older, the scenic aspect of mountain biking is definitely a draw. I was desperate for another dose of mountain air this summer so 2 weeks later Scoob and I were on our way to the Alps to stay with my old teammate Anja from my 4X World Cup racing days. Anja is now a Verbier local, this place is an absolute gem not far away from the hustle and bustle of the Portes du Soleil. We spent most of our time on the red run, it's a little more technical and steep than my usual trail choice, with very few jumps, but this track is so good. After chasing Anja run after run she got me up to speed and in return I towed her through the more flowy sections. We taunted each other all the way down the tracks, one run I taunted a little too much and much to my amusement she rode straight over a berm! Riding trains with friends are a good time whatever type of bike or trail you're on.
For the last couple of days we crossed over into France, to ride Chatel with the other Norfolk boys who were out there for the week. Eddie, who had been in Whistler with us, decided last minute to drive solo and sleep in his car so that he could join us and ride just for those two days, commitment! I was pretty stoked he made it as he was the only other person keen to hit Air Voltage. I had ridden it before in sections, but this year Eddie and I got to do a full run. Hi-fives all round.
Back home, the UK was enjoying the hottest summer in history. Luckily it didn't look to be ending anytime soon, so there was still time left to hit some UK spots on my much-loved Sanction and also get back on the DJ bike for the peak of "jam" season. I used to find jams quite daunting which seems bizarre when I have raced in front of thousands of people before, but riding trails in front of a crowd, waiting 5-10 minutes in a queue to take a run and then the pressure of not wasting it by hooking up on one of the first few jumps in front of everyone was way more nerve-racking. A combination of becoming a much more confident trails rider, along with being far less shy than I used to be when I was younger means sometimes the queue goes too quick to finish my conversations these days!
This particular jam was at a place with one of the biggest trails jumps I've ever seen. It rarely runs because it's at the bottom of the hill and stays too wet most of the time. That and the fact that it's massive means not many people have ever hit it. This years jam conditions were dryer than ever so a few people started to send it, one of which was Sam Reynolds who was unsurprisingly making it look easy, but then another guy crashed pretty hard and broke his collarbone right after.
This jump was no joke. Additionally, there was a big steep hip you had to jump before it, which to me looked the scariest part. Now I never say I'm going to do these things, but I did think if I could get past the big hip then I would probably not be able to resist having a go. Well, it didn't take too long before I bit the bullet and sent the hip. I landed a little bit deep but kinda thought it might be good enough to just go for the whole line this run, then I don't have time to stop and think about it too much. I tagged the penultimate set and had to try again. This time my legs were so wobbly riding the eight jumps before the big hip, but thankfully they steadied when I had to concentrate.
I got the hip near perfect, squashed the second to last and landed a little on the back wheel but with pretty good speed so here we go.... "Wooooooooaaaaaahhhhh!" From up there, I truly thought for a second I wasn't going to make that, tthe scream I let out was a scream of relief I was still in one piece. It may have been 38ft compared to the 50ft I jumped earlier in the year, but 38ft on a little dirt jump bike felt absolutely wild. I felt I would be gambling to try it again so I decided once was enough for me and called it a day.
The end of August was rapidly approaching so I was keen to visit a few more trails spots in case summer came to an abrupt halt. Anyone who has been into trails for years will know the name Jimmy Pratt, a legend of a rider and digger. Jimmy can't ride that often these days due to a long-term back injury, but he is still fully committed to the trails scene and when he can't join in the session he loves to help others progress through the lines at the trails, myself included. Jimmy and all the other locals have created some of the most amazing trails. Unfortunately, summer did come to an abrupt halt, only it wasn't due to the weather. Whilst riding the trails, my partner in crime Scoob took a big spill, snapping his arm in half and poking the bones through the skin in the process.
The help and support everyone gave us when it happened and the following few days while he was stuck in hospital away from home, once again proves to me this is more than just riding bikes. It might have been a slightly cruel end to summer but we all know it's part of the game, sometimes the rhythm is gonna get you. Regardless, it was an amazing summer of bikes and awesome friends. Stay Rad!
Words: Joey Gough
Photographs: M. Zielinski @mzed
Goldie looking train video: Gav Mitchell @NR8productions