Ben Deakin, or the 'Deakinator' as he is more affectionately known, might be a new name to the greater Pinkbike audience, especially for those outside of his native United Kingdom. But thanks to a barrage of regular and highly entertaining web edits of late, the rise of the Deakinator is well under way.
So who is this guy and why is he making these edits? A former Royal Marine Commando with a taste for adventure and a love of all things mountain biking, Ben's story is as captivating as it is inspiring...
Sandwiched between two household names, Ben's riding buddies are some of the best in the world.
He can hold his own on two wheels, but read on as there's a lot more to Ben than just shredding alone.
Mountain bikes and you. Where and how did it all start?
A few friends got me into it when I was 14 years old, but there really wasn't the variety of disciplines like there is now - it was just riding. Everything from street riding to downhill or whatever took our fancy. Just a bunch of mates messing around on our bikes! But as soon as they could ride mopeds and drive modified crappy Vauxhall Novas, they gave up, so that’s when I started to race downhill at a local series called Pedalhounds. The rest is history!
And you're still loving it today! What’s the appeal for you?
Absolutely loving it, there’s nothing better than being outdoors! It sounds really cheesy, but I have met some amazing people and have been to so many awesome places that I never would have seen unless I was riding bikes. The appeal I guess is reliving my youth and messing around with my mates, just like we did when we were all teenagers! The big difference now is that the majority of my riding mates do it for a living.
What’s your favourite style of riding these days?
If I'm honest, downhill is still where my heart is. I love nothing better than trying to get the best possible line and try and be the fastest man down the hill, although any form of riding on two wheels with all my mates involved and no stress, is always a good day out for sure.
You’ve ridden all over the world. If you could go back to any one location for more, where would it be and why?
I have been to some awesome places around the world riding my bike and I can honestly say if you are with the right crew, I can have just as much fun in the Surrey Hills as I can in New Zealand, but if I had to choose, then it would have to be Whistler, Canada and some massive trains down Dirt Merchant into A-Line, which are always a good laugh!
And where do you really want to visit?
I would love to go back to New Zealand as I think the scene there is so chilled out and it's definitely gone in the right direction. You could turn up on a bike that’s 10-years old and people wouldn't judge you any differently. I also would love to visit Madeira as well, purely because I've heard some good things off Brendan (Fairclough). I guess he knows what he's talking about?
And the UK. What do you think of the scene here and why do you think the UK has become such a hotbed of talent recently?
The scene as a whole in the UK is absolutely buzzing. Being a coach, I see this first hand with loads of middle-aged blokes that were into it back in the day and now have the cash to burn on a six grand trail bike to thrash around on. I think it can only be a good thing with a lot more money being pumped into the sport and with far more people taking an interest in it, it's no wonder the UK is a key influencer on the world stage too.
The racing scene here is just as mental and even though enduro has taken off, downhill is still - in my eyes - going from strength to strength with our national series (the BDS) being a natural stepping stone for a lot of younger riders going on to success at the World Cups, let alone the competition right here, which is crazy too. Some of our national tracks like Llangollen are as hard as some of the tracks on the World Cup circuit.
So from riding and racing bikes to the military. Can you tell us a little about your time in the Marines?
So I knew I wasn't good enough to make an out-and-out living from racing mountain bikes professionally and I also knew that I couldn't do a normal 9-5 office job either, so as I had a number of friends who were in the military, all jumping out of helicopters with a rifle, it just sounded far more like my kind of thing and as far removed from being sat in an office behind a computer as possible.
So as a young 18-year-old, fresh from college, I embarked upon one of the most gruelling basic military training regimes in the world to successfully become a Royal Marine Commando (the UK’s elite naval infantry). Now keeping it short, we started out with around 120 recruits and quite a few people had dropped out on day three, which you needed to pass in order to start the following 32 weeks of basic training. After literally going to hell and back for 32 weeks, being physically and mentally drained, only 12 of us passed the training, which I can honestly say was the best feeling ever! To finish the last Commando test, which was a 30-mile trek across the uneven ground at Dartmoor with 40lbs of kit and a rifle to earn my Green Beret... There’s nothing on earth that comes close! After basic training I deployed on a number of exercises all around the world which included combat operations in Afghanistan.
And you were wounded in Afghanistan?
Yeah, on the 4th of November 2007, myself and my Troop went out on a clearance patrol in the Helmand Province near the Kajaki Dam. Myself and two of my mates went up onto a rooftop to give covering fire for the lads on the ground. After 10-minutes or so we were engaged by enemy fire ourselves, and all three of us ended up being hit in lower limbs. As soon as this happened, we all jumped off the 15ft rooftop we were on and into cover where upon landing I dislocated my foot – I already had a bullet in there, which had weakened the bone tremendously. All the lads around us quickly put some fire power down range at the enemy, while the medics assisted the two guys that were slightly worse off than me, having both entry and exit wounds from the bullet. Luckily I had the same bullet that passed through one of the other guys wounded with me, which slowed it down enough so it didn't go all the way through my ankle. We gradually extracted back to the helicopter where we sustained another casualty, who had been shot in the thigh, but eventually we all made it out of there alive. I can’t thank all of the lads enough for their efforts that day!
What was the vibe amongst your fellow Marines when you talked about mountain biking and downhill racing?
If I'm honest, a lot of my fellow comrades were only interested in being stupidly fit, going to the gym and going out for a good night out, so they always found it quite funny, especially when they’d come to watch me race. I’ve tried getting a few of them into it, but in their own words, “you’re nuts” - and this coming from guys who have just come back from various war zones!
When you were recovering from your wounds, I can only imagine what would be going through your head at a time like that, but did you start to think, “I might not be able to ride my bike again” and how long did you take to heal and recover?
In my head I never thought I can’t ride my bike again and actually started riding (on the road) before I could walk again as I used it for rehabilitation due to cycling being non-weight-bearing and a low impact activity. After six operations and four years of rehabilitation, I was as good as I was ever going to get, although realistically, I would never be fit enough to run with the weight we used to carry as my ankle physically wouldn't cope.
Post Afghanistan and away from your time in the military, you’ve done some charity work for those who have been injured in the line of duty. Can you tell us about some of the things you’ve done and where this work has taken you?
Since being injured I saw first-hand what some of the charities do to help the injured service personnel and as my comrades always reminded me that my ‘twisted sock’ of a mangled ankle was nothing compared to the guys with multiple amputated limbs and with life changing injuries, who need lots of help, both mentally and physically. So with that in mind, I wanted to give something back to these charities and to help these guys out. To help raise money I climbed up to the Everest Base Camp and Kalapathar, summiting Kilimanjaro, trekking the Great Wall of China and have done various charity bike rides and even stood on the top of a Bi-Plane. I’m sure they’ll be some future challenges to come too, so watch this space!
Back in civvy street, you’re now a professional mountain bike coach. How did this come around and what got you into coaching?
So at college, before the Marines, I did a 3-year Outdoor Education and Leisure Management course along with Outdoor Instructor Course, so I’ve always been in or around coaching in various sports. When I was in the Marines, I did more coaching, becoming an Adventurous Training Instructor in Germany where I instructed skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, etc for the lads to have a bit of down time away from the stresses of work.
I was in Malaga (Spain), working as a guide for a company called Roost DH when Joe from Pro Ride MTB got chatting to me and wondered whether I would want to be their head coach for the South (of the UK), of which I agreed as it meant literally turning up, delivering courses and not having to worry with all the admin side of the job and sitting in front of a computer. This allows me to be outdoors and be out on my bike!
Do you think too many riders out there are looking in the wrong places to improve their abilities on the trails, like buying flash new kit instead of learning how to do things properly with a coach?
A massive YES to that question! Granted, new kit can definitely get you so far, but if you have poor technique and basic skills, you will have nothing to build on, especially if you are an 'old school' rider who has had the same bad habits for the last ten years. In short, David Beckham in his prime still had a coach and if you look at generally why people spend more money on kit, it is to make them faster or safer, however, if you have one session with a top coach, it could make you faster and safer within a day!
Are you seeing riders attitudes changing towards getting professional tuition and coaching?
I think when you go skiing it's normal to get lessons as generally a lot of people haven’t been before. I think the biggest problem with mountain biking is most people can ride a bike, it's only if they want to go faster or if they are crashing a lot that they come and seek help. However, I think this is now changing with all the bike parks popping up around the country, especially where you're seeing more older clients who don’t mind spending the money to get that bit faster or want to clean those challenging technical bits of trail that they're yet to hit.
You’re not "just a coach" and like your colleagues at Pro Ride MTB, you race and at a high level. What have been your biggest achievements to date and what do you want to achieve next year?
Pro Ride MTB is made up of the five of us and luckily for me I’m the only downhiller, so that’s my excuse for walking up the hills. We also have four enduro riders who love to pedal. We all race at an Elite level in various British and European events along with a few international races we try and get under our belts as a team as well. For me, 2015 has been a nightmare of a race season having sustained a serious break to my arm and wrist at the start of the year and while it’s been a fun year, my racing has literally been on the back foot. I’ve only being able to compete in a few ‘fun’ races of which one was in my lunch break and the other, where I defended my title at The Tidworth Freeride 'Hooper Hooner' event.
Despite breaking my elbow and wrist, I have had an amazing year doing the Whip Off contest at the IXS Dirt Masters in Germany, same again at Crankworx in Les Deux Alpes and in Whistler, which meant having a blast with my mates, especially the Sam’s! (Pilgrim and Reynolds). I guess my past good results have been 3rd at the English Championships, I’ve also won the Southern Champs, Central Champs a fair few times and been the Hardtail National DH Champion and scored a top-20 in the New Zealand National Champs one year as well. Coming into 2016, I am aiming to be as fit as I can be and do a few European IXS rounds along with the BDS and take part in Crankworx once again with the boys! As far as the rest of the team is concerned, they’ll be competing in The Enduro World Series.
Away from coaching, I think it's fair to say that most mountain bikers will know you from your web edits and social media presence. What made you want to create videos and how did you get into it and why is this important to you?
It properly started when I went to Whistler for the first time and after putting it off for ages, I really wanted to document it and make a video that I could look back on as a reminder of an awesome trip. I had no idea it would go as viral as it did! I obviously expected some interest as it included some top riders in the world of downhill and slopestyle who fortunately or unfortunately for them, I happen to be good mates with. That and along with a certain incident with the police and even though I don’t condone that kind of stuff, it helped make it even more of a hit! So after that I got a bit of a bug as I actually enjoy making edits, but I do it purely for the fun factor and a way of me looking back at an amazing trip.
Do you want to progress with your film making and do you see yourself as one of the first MTB ‘vloggers’ out there?
Ha-ha! ‘Vlogger’, is there such a word? I definitely enjoy it for the same reason I like riding and if you enjoy something, then it's fun and it shouldn't feel like a chore so I guess I would love to progress with it, but as soon as it becomes a chore, I’d probably stop. I think the reason my edits are fun to watch is because they’re not too serious and they’re done by a bloke (me) who hasn't any experience in videography or filmmaking. I’m just using a helmet camera and a phone, so there's no high-tech, big budget stuff here. I guess what’s cool to the viewers, is the riders are my mates who just so happen to be some of the world's best riders, so it works two ways as they don’t take me seriously and you get to see their genuine emotions on camera. That and I don’t pussy step around them either, as they aren’t some super hero to me, just some burke of a mate I share a room with ha-ha!
Let's talk about one of your edits. Rampage. How did that trip come around and what was it like?
Rampage was proper last minute. I spoke with Sam (Reynolds) a while back and he said there wasn't a chance I would be on his dig team as he's seen me dig dirt jump lips at his local spot before, so it just so happened we went riding that week before the NEC Bike show and Yannick (Granieri) offered me a place on his team as the team manager as he didn't have anyone. I obviously jumped at the chance. I get out there and we were pretty much just filling sandbags, of which I've got more experience than the rest of those burkes put together, so it's fair to say I adapted fairly well, ha-ha! Unfortunately, Yannick smashed himself up, so I ended up helping ‘Team GB’ (Sam Reynolds and Brendan Fairclough) as best I could and filmed some stuff for an edit in between. The Rampage competition as a whole is so unreal to watch and to see these guys pushing the boundaries of the sport is just insane, although it's not as glamorous as it looks with a lot of hard graft and plenty of politics!
Do you think that the vlogging idea could be one that develops for you and if so, what are your plans?
It's still in the early stages, but yeah, for sure as long as I still enjoy making them and all the guys around me (myself included) carry on doing stupid stuff on and off the camera, it's got to be a hit! I've already been promised a place on Sam’s Rampage dig team after my performance this year and there will no doubt there be some 'vlogging' to go with it. Hopefully, I will return to good old Whistler and get a Euro Trip of some description in too.
Let's wrap this up. What are your plans and goals for 2016?
Since leaving the Marines, I’ve learnt that you don't know what’s around the corner, so I plan to have as much fun as possible, which will hopefully involve having a few weeks in New Zealand early next year, getting out to Europe for some racing, having fun with my mates around Europe, both on and off the bike, head over to Crankworx Whistler, smash Rampage again, smash the Swanage Wheelbarrow race and raise some much needed cash for some charities close to my heart later on in the year as well. I would also like to thank all my mates for such a sick year, my girlfriend for allowing me to disappear for months on end and to anyone who’s enjoyed watching my Shredits.