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.
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.
|Why 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|
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.
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.
|Van 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|
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.
|I 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|
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.
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.
Jonathan is from Southern Ireland and rides for the Irish Kona Grassroots team.
Word and Photos by Ben Winder. @BWinder