How The Other Half Live – EWS La Thuile

Jul 26, 2016
by Ben Winder  
How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

Mountain biking to a lot of us is all about slumming it, we spend all of our money on bikes, riding, and the latest and greatest mountain bike offerings, that coupled with the usual day to day bills, this leaves our bank accounts looking very sorry for themselves.

Racing. How the heck can I afford to go racing on top of that? At a world level, it’s not all hotels and three-course dinners. There are many riders doing the rounds with little, if not zero funding, the guys who work two jobs all winter just to afford to race. The Privateers. The van life-rs. The nomads. These are the people who live, eat and breathe mountain bikes.

In La Thuile for the EWS, we decided it was high time we gave a shout out to our unsung heroes of the mountain bike community. In its first years, the EWS had carpark loads of privateers living in vans and also competing at a high level, we’ve noticed more recently the Van Living community is dwindling, fewer and fewer riders are doing it. There are many reasons that could be causing this. But the sport is growing, it's becoming a much bigger entity with higher levels of support for more and more riders. The locations that the races visit are now diversifying, in its first year many of the rounds were based in Central Europe, now with rounds popping up in places like Argentina, New Zealand, and Madeira it's harder to follow the series on a shoestring budget.

We weren’t able to look inside everyone’s world, but we stopped for a quick tour of a couple of the campsites.

This year the campsite was just by the glacial river only one row of campervans in the main carpark. In previous years we ve seen carparks rammed.
This year the campsite was by the glacial river, only one row of campervans in the main carpark. In previous years we've seen carparks rammed full.

There aren t any tumble driers in this carpark.
There aren't any tumble dryers in this carpark.

A view from the bedroom kitchen dining room garage living room home.
A view from the bedroom/kitchen/dining room/garage/living room/home.

No ice bath No problem the glacier water provides the perfect leg recovery.
No ice bath? No problem, the glacier water provides the 'perfect' leg recovery.

JAMES SHIRLEY

James Shirley rides for the Radon Factory Enduro Racing Team which doesn't mean he's on a factory deal. He gets a little support from sponsors, he gets a budget and it's used to run the Enduro team. It's a small team and he needs to be careful as to where it goes. He has a self-converted van which is the team pits but also doubles up as his home for most of the year.

James in his masterpiece.
James in his masterpiece.

bigquotesWhy do I live in a van? Good question. To be honest half the time I actually think it's fun haha. It's pretty good craic just cruising about and when the weathers good it's great, it you do it properly, I've got a pretty good set up, it's obviously homemade. It's nice, it's comfy. I've got a big bed, heater, everything I need. I can take all my bikes, my spares and tools. I think you can still compete at a high level but at an absolute fraction of the price. Some people at home they think I'm earning mega bucks, just keep it simple and you can get to some pretty cool places. There are two ways that sponsorship works if you're lucky enough to get some financial support. It's either expenses or budget. I would much rather be independent and in control of my spending. I don't get expenses, I pay my own travel and this is how I choose to do it and take satisfaction out of that. - James Shirley

Unfortunately James isn t racing here this weekend due to an injury he sustained at the Megavalanche last weekend but he s was helping out the rest of the team.
Unfortunately James didn't race here this weekend due to an injury he sustained at the Megavalanche the prior weekend, but he's was helping out the rest of the team.

The comfy seat in the van. James has his storage pretty well sorted out.
The comfy seat in the van. James has his storage pretty well sorted out.

His shelving is made up of an old pool table.
His shelving is made up of an old pool table.

THE WEAPONS

A group of mates from all over the UK on a road trip around Mainland Europe, they get a little support from small sponsors. These guys are out here on a road trip living in tents. They’ve also incorporated a few events into their schedule, including the Megavalanche and the EWS here in La Thuile. These guys are totally self-funded, basically out on a summer holiday making the budget last as long as possible.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

The Weapons the name they ve given themselves.
The Weapons, self-proclaimed.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

Making use of the river washing kit and bikes.
Making use of the river, washing kit and bikes.

A natural bath.
A natural bath.

Lesson 101 whilst washing a bike in the river don t let go of the brush.
Lesson 101 whilst washing a bike in the river... don't let go of the brush.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

FREDERIK LETH

Comfy living. Has a van and a caravan, loads of space. He’s from Denmark and touring Europe with his mate Bob (Bob isn’t here at the race). He’s out following the full IXS Downhill Cup, a few enduros and other races too. But mainly here to ride in as many places as possible.

Fred in his caravan.
Fred in his caravan.

bigquotesVan Life is the SH*T! Haha. We're not living the normal van life, we're living the luxury van life. We're not actually living in the van, we've got a caravan. So we've got a shower, we've got a bathroom, we have a toilet but we're not using it because it's gross haha. It's pretty good we have power, so we can sit here with computers... We've got a heater! In Les Gets when it was super muddy we'd just hang stuff over the heater to dry everything out. We're living the luxury privateer life. It's a bit scrappy but it's good, we like it. We had three people living in here at one point, it was pretty tight then. We have six bikes in the van, we don't have to sleep with the bikes we have so much more space. It's like having a garage. Our trip started at the end of May, we went to the European cup in Willingen then we're going home in September so we've got 4 months on the road in the caravan, we're just going around doing the full iXS Cup, and then we're trying a bit of Enduro too, it's pretty fun so we're going to try to do a bit more of those. You have to know each other pretty well, Bob and I have a company at home, where we dig trails. So we'll be working together all the time at home and then we're on the road together for four months, we get to know each other pretty well. - Fred Leth

He s pretty tall so as only two places in the whole van he can stand up straight.
He's pretty tall so he has only two places in the whole van he can stand up straight.

Here s his tick list map of the riding spots he s been to.
Here's his tick list map of the riding spots he's been to.

Without Bob this weekend Fred had a spare bed which was given out to his friend Nina.
Without Bob this weekend Fred had a spare bed which was given out to his friend Nina.

Fred inspecting his newly painted waterproofed roof.
Fred inspecting his newly painted/waterproofed roof.

Nina the temporary tenant. And a pretty mountain biker selection of items on the table.
Nina, the temporary tenant. And a pretty 'mountain biker' selection of items on the table.

The van is pretty loaded up with the bikes six in total all the spares Fred and Bob will need for their 4 month road trip.
The van is pretty loaded up with the bikes (six in total), all the spares Fred and Bob will need for their 4 month road trip.

LACHLAN BLAIR

Lachlan is from Scotland, just a few miles south of Fort William. He’s been out in a van searching for UCI points so that he’s able to race World Cups again next year, he’s been in Eastern Europe racing Downhill which give him the points he needs as it’s so hard to get the points in the UK at the minute. He’s been hoping in between vans to make his trip work, from his tiny Citroen Berlingo to hijacking his parent’s campervan holiday.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

bigquotesI came out about 6 weeks ago to do a few Downhill races with my mate Callum in my little van, because his big van broke down, so just in a small Citroen Berlingo. We went around Eastern Europe doing some sketchy races to get some points for Downhill. Callum then dropped me off at the Lenzerheide World Cup because he had to go home, luckily my parents were on holiday so I met up with them at Lenzerheide. I then got a lift with them from the World Cup over to La Thuile for the EWS, after this Liam Moynihan is giving me a lift home to Scotland. - Lachlan Blair

Vans can get pretty warm in the heat of a sunny day so finding somewhere cool to sit is all important. Lachlan and Liam Moynihan finding the all-important shade during the days riding.
Vans can get pretty warm in the heat of a sunny day, so finding somewhere cool to sit is all important. Lachlan and Liam Moynihan finding the all-important shade during the day's riding.

Lachlan was carrying a golf ball and a swellbow from the previous weekend in Lenzerhiede he could still ride with it strapped up and he was a bit scared to visit the hospital out here so was waiting until he found a hospital he could trust.
Lachlan was carrying a golf ball and a swellbow from the previous weekend in Lenzerhiede, he could still ride with it strapped up, and he was a bit scared to visit the hospital out here so he was waiting until he found a hospital he could trust.

Breakfast.
Breakfast.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

Lachlan on his way up on race day.
Lachlan on his way up on race day.

Bike maintenance in the grass Where s my 6mm gone
Bike maintenance in the grass, "Where's my ****** 6mm gone!?"

Liam Moynihan caching some shade and using the designated toilet.
Liam Moynihan caching some shade, and using the designated toilet.

Liam powering through the rocks on the top section of two and five. Unfortuantely Liam had to pull out of the race after a few crashes leaving him with a sore arm and head.
Liam powering through the rocks on the top section of two and five. Unfortuantely Liam had to pull out of the race after a few crashes, leaving him with a sore arm and head.

Dropping into stage 4 surrounded by the ginormous mountains.
Dropping into stage 4 surrounded by the ginormous mountains.

With Mont Blanc overlooking some of the trails this is why these racers go to such lengths to race here.
With Mont Blanc overlooking some of the trails, this is why these racers go to such lengths to race here.

GERD SKANT

Gerd is out here from Austria, living in his van and attempting to remove a creak from his headset out the back of the van, on the side of the road.

Gerd Skant living in his van and working on his bike.
Gerd Skant living in his van, and working on his bike.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

It s never quite a clinical environment to fix your bike. As you can imagine it s a never ending battle to get rid of the headset creak.
It's never quite a clinical environment to fix your bike. As you can imagine, it's a never ending battle to get rid of the headset creak.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

DANIEL MEILKINK AND COLE LUCAS

Daniel Meilink is a seasoned van life-r. He’s travelled over from New Zealand for our summer for the last few years. He’s normally found following the Downhill circuit around, as part of the Vanzacs. This weekend he was over here with Cole Lucas to try out “one of these Enduro’s.

Meilink and Cole.
Meilink and Cole.

Meilink in his natural habitat.
Meilink in his natural habitat.

 My look is Attainable wise words.
"My look is Attainable" - wise words.

Life in the front garden.
Life in the front garden.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile


JONATHAN MAUNSELL

Jonathan is from Southern Ireland and rides for the Irish Kona Grassroots team.

Jonathan Maunell commandeered this van. His friend who owned it had to fly back home and left Jonathan in charge of the house.
Jonathan Maunsell, commandeered this van. His friend who owned it had to fly back home, and left Jonathan in charge of the house.

Jonathan with Mont Blanc peeking out behind him.
Jonathan with Mont Blanc peeking out behind him.

How The Other Half Live EWS La Thuile

Race day prep.
Race day prep.

An ice bath for the privateers.
Keegan Wright making the most out of the river/ice bath.

Tom Gaffney Norco Factory Racing Videographer living the high life wrapped up in a pizza.
Tom Gaffney, Norco Factory Racing Videographer living the high life wrapped up in a pizza.

What s not to love
What's not to love?

Word and Photos by Ben Winder. @BWinder / @EnduroWorldSeries



Posted In:
Stories



73 Comments

  • + 171
 Would be interesting to see a "Privateer Bike Check."
  • + 48
 in a way it would be more interesting than a pro's bike check, because you can already guess what they use based on sponsors, or at least severely limit choice of what they use, I'd like to see how people make their bike personal to them
  • + 11
 @u-otter-b-sry: A lot of the "privateer" guys with small bike deals have even less say on what to ride than the pros.As an example, someone I ride with gets a bike for a year with the option to give it back or buy for discount at the end of the season and is only allowed to change contact points to preference during the season
  • + 21
 I want to start seeing some "van checks" that would be awesome
  • + 1
 @u-otter-b-sry: totally agree.
  • + 2
 @chair1films: there was once on a Ford Transit. I forget who the rider was, but she was the front page around March I think?
  • + 2
 @JackWatson @NotDannyHart awesome cheers guys!
  • + 1
 @BeardlessMarinRider: that is a very good point, I hadn't thought of that really, I guess my point more was that most bike checks of pro riders I don't find interesting because I already know that theyre running Maxxis, DT Swiss and Fox from the fact they sponsor them. Loads of riders, and some brands, spec Rockshox+Fox or vice versa for fork and shock, so I'd assume this would also be much more likely in the privateer camp, and I'd like to know why some riders prefer one brand's forks, but another's shock or vice versa for example.
  • + 67
 I'm all for van life, but washing your bike, dishes, etc. in the creek is incredibly irresponsible. I don't want bikers to be the ones having this kind of environmental impact when they think they are living simply.

• Don't piss or shit within 100 ft of the creek, and be sure to bury it 8 inches down.
• Don't wash your body in the creek with soap.
• Don't wash your dishes in the creek with soap.
• Don't put your oily ass bike in the creek.
• Don't start a fire within 100 ft of the creek.
  • + 17
 you use the outdoors for enjoyment...respect it!

there's tons of products out there designed just for this type of stuff:

www.amazon.com/Scrubba-Portable-Laundry-System-Wash/dp/B00BUI7HFC

www.rei.com/product/758050/sea-to-summit-kitchen-sink
  • + 2
 @ccolagio: Chris with the assist!
  • - 2
 You're applying US rules to European locations.

The rules out here are basically 'Leave No Trace' meaning take everything with you when you leave. Washing in streams, rivers and lakes is fine (it's almost tradition!) as long as it's not drinking supply. Most of the run-off from the roads when it rains ends up in those rivers so that's a lot of diesel spills and oil anyway. We have loads of non-bio products available in local supermarkets here which are perfectly safe to use in streams too. Also the tiny amounts these peeps are putting in are insignificant to the water volume and what ends up in there from towns further downstream.
  • + 2
 @spankthewan haaaa. oh shit! didnt even read the name!! heck yeah
  • - 1
 @ccolagio: and with all your recommended products there will be zero waste, correct? If you really want to respect the outdoor, look around yourself and cut as much as you can all the garbage, plastic waste, paper usage etc.
  • + 2
 @DaMilkyBarKid: I'd agree with your comment. A lot of us US mountain bikers live in desert areas, Utah, California, Colorado. We (or at least I) have been taught to respect any waterway and lake/reservoir and be very very careful with it because basically any body of water out here is drinking water. Whereas in these ares there is no problem with having enough water for everyone, there is lots more rainfall and snowmelt in Les Gets, plus a whole lot less people who need to tap into it. You're right, the amount these couple dozen privateers is quite minimal. Better to be going after all the agricultural runoff than these guys!
  • + 2
 @BullMooose: That's the problem here in Wales- agri run-off and sheep piss!!
  • + 8
 @DaMilkyBarKid: yeah tradition. Back in the 80s and 90s European climbers just left shit and wrappers everywhere. Was the strangest thing to find in pristine and difficult to reach places. Like they expected their mommys to pick up after them. They're on board now for the most part but took 25 years to change.

Lovely stream those guys were washing their bikes in. Isn't submersion a great way to mix water into your lubes? Looks like they don't own those bikes. As for biodegradable: fork oil? Shock oil? Bearing grease?

Regardless of tradition its poor form to leak lubes into the fresh glacier fed stream, just 'cuz trucks are doin it doesn't mean you should join the party. I got much less problem with piss though. That creek and banks are lovely and look to be easily trashed. Are you saying theres trucking routes above that camp site that leak road oil into that creek? Beautiful place... I kinda don't believe it.
  • + 1
 Could you please educate the rest of us as to the reasons why? Use dr Bronners Soap?

Thanks dude.
  • + 2
 @captaingrumpy: that stream - and a lot of the alpine scenery - is actually managed, some is even built!! Anywhere there is a ski resort, which is where the trails tend to be, is managed to such a degree it's unbelievable! You can tell where the diggers have been sculpting by the boulders on the banks usually. As for run-off into the stream from roads, car parks etc? You have to remember these places are high up in the mountains with steep sides so getting any services in or out is tough. Any drainage like storm drains is just fed into the streams and rivers, the sheer volume of water going don dilutes it to a very safe level.

What oil and grease those riders introduce into the stream by washing the bikes in it is most likely the same as if they washed them on a bit of hardstanding by the chalet. It's not the best way to clean your bike, granted, but they are living in a temporary camp!!
  • + 5
 @DaMilkyBarKid: "National rules" are moot when it comes to treading lightly. The Nature doesn't care where you're from, best practice is best practice period. Using bio soaps, not using a water source as your toilet and/or burying your shit at least 200 ft from water, and not leaving a compost pile or trash pile everywhere you go are simply universal.
  • + 1
 @DaMilkyBarKid: Remember kids: "Dilution is no solution for pollution"

For years wrong-doers have made this same bad argument that because its such a small amount in such a large volume it is the same as zero. Sorry but when everyone thinks that ways you end up with everyone contributing a small bit, which in turn, will always add up up to a critical amount. Simply using a bucket to collect this water is the primitive solution that humans have successfully done since history began.
  • + 69
 Chris Farley would be proud of these guys "living in a van, down by the river!"
  • + 43
 Great story. Thanks for putting this together.
  • + 27
 Thanks pinkbike for brining us that. Huge pat on the back for showing the world it's okay to wash your bikes overlaid with lubricating products in glacial fed rivers, or any river for that matter.
  • + 16
 That's exactly what I was thinking too. Let me wash all this oil and grease off my suspension, driveline and joints into the river.
  • + 24
 And the clothes, and the pissing in the river. No real damage is done, but its poor form and very bad optics. We dirtbags have enough access problems. You take the water out of the river in a bucket and wash your shit away from the bank.
  • + 12
 Second that. Not only that, but it's not ok to piss within 200ft of any water source. I know people do it every day, but I don't think I want to drink someone's piss any less than the next person.
  • + 3
 @mtnbykr05: 200 feet?! haha Urine has less bacteria than tap water, and I wouldn't drink river water unboiled unless I was on Naked and Afraid. XL.
  • + 4
 @endlessblockades: Leave No Trace ethics say any human waste should be disposed of no less than 200ft from water sources, unless presented with circumstances such as in a river canyon like the Colorado River.
Dont be fooled by the "has
more bacteria" than tap-water. Bacteria can be both good and bad, i.e. Yogurt has good bacteria.
  • + 0
 @mtnbykr05: OK i hear you. My comparison to water was meant to point out that piss is relatively benign. Animals have been known to do it. That said, I AM down with the tiptoe-through-the-crypto approach. I also eat billions of bacteria on purpose in little capsules, when I can steal them, poor devils.
  • - 3
 You realise most of this shit ends up in the same place whether you wash it 200ft from the river or not, it all flows to a reservoir or the sea eventually, it probably takes longer and does more harm if you don't put it in the stream, and its such a tiny amount compared to the water anyway, and on the subject of drinking water, it doesn't matter cause you're not gonna drink directly from a river and most drinking water is filtered before you get it anyway, so it really doesn't matter that much!
  • + 4
 @Scotj009: Soil is the best filter.....Putting it directly into the river to be filtered is backwards
  • + 3
 Fair point Smile
  • + 25
 Excuse me Mr. Moynihan, but USA Cycling wants their $20
  • + 20
 Tip for maintenance - carry a large tarp with you and have it on the ground and do maintenance on it - its pretty hard to find things you drop if you don't

these guy's do it:

www.topgear.com/car-news/motorsport/topgearcom-dakar-2015-behind-scenes

also keeps parts cleaner than resting them on the ground

tip of the day
  • + 1
 Its true. $2.99 can save you a lot of grief.
  • + 14
 I love my wife, kids, and home, but damn I miss the dirt-bag, van-life...best times ever!
  • + 15
 when your bike costs more than your place to live
  • + 5
 thats taking step 1 of how to be a mountain biker to a greater extreme
  • + 8
 Here I am struggling to source a set of 157>150mm rear axle dropouts (which I could probably made do with the washers I've got in my toolbox) when these guys are struggling to live on a shoestring budget! I'd imagine the cost of those dropouts would fund a weeks worth of food for those guys. I am humbled. Props
  • + 8
 Don't know how these guys do it, but my hat's off to them. Racing is an expensive hobby; sometimes it's hard to justify spending $400+ or so for a weekend doing an enduro (having an understanding wife helps!). But we just keep going back for more!
  • + 7
 I cant wait to buy an RV and travel the globe with my son to race bikes. He is 2 now.......
  • + 8
 Go Nina - only woman brave enough to stick it out with the blokes
  • + 8
 "Jonathan is from Southern Ireland", lol, found the brit.
  • + 5
 I almost feel like donating my work stand to the fella with the headset issues. Or any of them for that matter! Hats off to them all. Unsung heroes!
  • + 6
 love that story - please show these rider´s more often in articles like that

Yeah Gerd Skant!
  • + 3
 Someone needs to instruct these idiots about etiquette while out roaming the world. Don't worry about their feelings either!!
  • + 4
 Gerd - working on his bike. Without a stand. And not just one, but two hammers. Seems legit.
  • + 1
 My father has a caravan so I can use it to go to an event or for family holiday. And it's true, it changes everything compare to a simple van or tent. Heater, hot shower and toilet. That's the main thing which makes life so much easier.
The only downside is on the gas mileage, it adds up about 30% on your fuel consumption. Still cheaper than going in a campsite.
  • + 1
 Hmmm, just thinking out loud but I'm really surprised that big industry leader (Shimano, SRAM) does not not sponsor a bench set up so these guys can work on their bikes with some decent tools? Maybe they do and it was not pictured.....
  • + 1
 Waiting for a hospital he can trust? He was in mfkng Switzerland. If I have to get my self fixed I choose Switzerland over 100% of all other countries in this world. And I speak from experience. The hospital in Chur next to Lenzerheide is great in trauma/ER stuff.
  • + 3
 Where's the female representation......?
  • + 2
 Sweet life! If my kid's want to do it happy to be driver and mechanic. Hope they accept me.
  • + 4
 Yeah The VANZACS!!!!!
  • + 3
 Plus1 for the weapons, great kids and damn fast
  • + 3
 Live your dream or die trying!
  • + 2
 I'm all for Van life and living cheap, but Gerd should at least have a work stand haha
  • + 1
 will be great to see what the privateers use brakes rims suspension cranks derailleurs
  • + 1
 Yeah the Dirtbags rule the parking lot! Many good years traveling in my VW microbus.
  • + 1
 For those of us #vanlife guys it would be nice to actually get a peek at some of these vans.
  • + 2
 I want a van!
  • + 1
 3rd picture, Expert Cycles bibs. Go Epic Go!!! :-)
  • + 1
 love it.. world away from Tour de France style glam.
  • + 1
 This supports my most recent purchase. Thank you. :thumbup:
  • + 2
 Cool story bro.
  • + 2
 love this
  • + 2
 Nice story, thanks.
  • + 1
 Awesome seeing the back ground perspective! RideOn!
  • + 1
 Core to the bone! Not for creampuffs! I'm
  • + 0
 Washing bikes in the river...smh.
  • + 1
 love this...

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