Charlie Hatton has been onboard the Atherton Racing program since 2018 and over the past year, he has helped develop their new downhill bike for the Atherton Bikes brand. With some top results last year, including 11th at the Val di Sole World Cup, Charlie was just on the cusp of breaking into the top 10 for the first time. We caught up with the young British rider to talk about how he has found the unique development of the Atherton Bikes, his 2019 season and how he is dealing with race cancellations.
Up until the recent cancellation how was your preparation going for this season?
Yeah, it was going really well. I probably had my best winter yet, the training and the bikes were coming along really nicely. Everything was coming together really, it was a good winter. I feel a lot stronger, it was mega. Some good riding and some good sun so I can’t complain.
What were your hopes for this season?
Probably to be a bit more consistent. I had a few good standout results last year and then I had a few that, well, were pretty shit. So it’s to get that consistency back really. Trying to stay in that top 20 and but it’s bloody hard. It’s super tight at the moment, one second and you’re ten places back, so it really does make such a big difference.
How are you finding the Atherton bike after around a year of testing?
Yeah, it’s been about a year now, it’s been really good. It has been quite interesting, I have learned soo much stuff. Whereas in previous years I would just jump on the bike and just literally ride it. I wouldn’t care too much about setup as long as it was there or thereabout. This last year has made me soo much more skilled in setting a race bike up. You can get a bike to 90% pretty easily really but it’s that last 10% that takes time and it’s the hardest thing to get. You can’t just do it overnight it does take a lot of testing and yeah it’s definitely come over the last 6/7 months trying a load of different frames and so much stuff has changed since the first bike. It’s been a learning curve really.
Is there anything that is custom to your bike?
So mine and Gee’s bikes are pretty different to be honest, even down to geometry. They do have pretty similar geo but mine is slightly more linear than Gee’s because I’m a lot lighter and he prefers to run an air shock as well whereas I normally run coil - even my rear end is shorter than Gee’s. Other things we have played around with is the thickness of the titanium lugs, so on the rear end before it, I think, was about 1.25mm thick on the sidewalls of the titanium so we have gone up to 1.75mm which is definitely stiffer so that made a big difference to the rear end not being so flexy. But this is a hard one because in flat corners you want a bit of flex but in fast corners, like bike park stuff, it would just start to flex a bit and fold which would lose you a bit of traction, so it’s a tricky one.
How have you found working with all the new technology associate with the production of Atherton Bikes?
Yeah, it’s been mega really, the speed you can get a new bike is pretty incredible, to be honest. At one World Cup last year I just couldn’t get on with the bike and I wanted it to be a bit smaller and it was during back to back World Cups, we managed to get a bike fully built by the next race. So on the Sunday, after the race, I said I would like to try something a bit smaller then the team had literally built the bike and flew over from scratch a brand new bike ready for the next weekend, which is unheard of really.
It’s quite a funny story, so driving to the airport obviously the glue from the lugs to the tubing has to be bonded and that is meant to take two days really to cure but they had to speed the process up so they had electric blankets on the bike and they had hairdryers in there to try and heat it up. So it makes it like 50% faster curing time, so literally, all the way to the airport it was like that with electric blankets on the bike it was nuts. It was cool though and I think that ended up being one of my best results as well.
You had your best results last year in Val di Sole with an 11th place finish, how was that race for you?
It was quite a weird one really, I was struggling all weekend big time because it was so rough and the weather was pretty on and off. It was quite mixed conditions and that makes it so much harder to learn the track because you will do a run and it will be dry and then it will start to rain and it becomes a totally different track so you have to relearn it all.
Then it was timed training and I could barely do a full run because I just didn’t know where I was going and couldn’t make my mind up on lines. Obviously, I didn’t complete a full run so I was way back overall and then the sector times popped up that night and everyone was like holy shit and I was second in one or two sections. So that gave me quite a big confidence boost really. Then qualifying was pretty wet again I think I was top 20 so I was pretty happy with that and then I finished 11th in the race. I was stoked with that. It was super tight though I think Troy was just ahead of me and he was like 0.2 ahead so I was just off that top 10 which was pretty annoying.
You also had another great result at the UK National champs where you were just behind Danny Hart in 2nd place, how was it to come so close to the national title?
Yeah, that was another one that was really hard. It wasn’t a hard track but the conditions were super tough like I have never ridden anywhere so slippy. After that weather having 200 riders go down the same track it was like an ice rink. I felt like I was riding really good that weekend and ended up second behind Danny it was a good race really.
It was hard coming second though, I have never actually won national champs I have always been second. So like in Junior, Youth and Elite I have always been just behind. In 2017 I was second behind Greg (Williamson) and Danny was just behind me and I was 0.6 behind Greg and that was at Bala. Hopefully, soon I will get a bit of luck. But last year it was at Revs and at the split halfway down I think I was up on Danny and then obviously he just pulled back time at the bottom so I just need to work on that bottom bit a little bit and hopefully get a title.
We have seen fewer British riders getting top results in recent years do you think this is because there are fewer top-level riders from the UK or has racing just become more competitive across the world?
I think just everyone else has gotten quicker and obviously the French are coming through and they are definitely one of the fastest nations now, yeah they seem to be dominating the top10/20 areas. But obviously we have Laurie, Danny, Matt and there are loads of boys up there. Yeah, it’s tough, racing is probably the most competitive it has ever been. It’s super tight and there are ten guys that could be in the top three and there are probably 20 guys who could be top five. It’s mental at the minute.
How are you staying motivated with no idea when the season will kick-off?
It’s a real funny one, obviously, I’m working with my coach Alan Milway, we have formed the best plan we can really and just keeping fit. Well now it’s almost like we are going back to December again because when you don’t race for however long, say 6 months to get prepared for that first race, all your prep goes into making sure you can peak for that race, and obviously when you are at that level of fitness you can’t sustain it really. So you have to almost plateau so it's been gutting really. I went to the gym the Monday before we were meant to go to Lousa and it was just like PB's all-round so it was like training peaked perfectly and then it was shut down.
So how do you change your training up to stay ready for the day when we do return to racing?
Yeah so its a lot more endurance stuff and not so much peak power and explosive training.
So there is no racing now for the next few months, how have your sponsors been?
They have been all really good really, obviously, everyone is in the same situation here so there is not really a lot you can do. You just have to make the most of what is happening to the best that you can. All you see now on Instagram is giveaways and stuff like that, which is sick, because as a kid or a fan it’s always cool to win stuff. It’s still keeping as active as possible but it’s just so hard to promote sponsors when you can’t ride your bike and do racing so it's pretty tough.
What’s your day-to-day at the moment with the UK being on lockdown?
Say today I have been out on my road bike this morning and then this afternoon I have got a yoga session which is about 30/45 minus long. Then tomorrow I have a session on the turbo, It’s quite lucky actually because the day before we went into lockdown I managed to buy a Watt bike, so that’s been getting some use which is perfect timing really. So yeah it will normally be two sessions a day now, then yeah a weekend off or so and back into it Monday with a double session. So yeah keeping active really and staying fit.
What are your plans going forward?
It’s hard to tell really with the situation but hopefully, we will get racing towards the end of the year and then go from there I guess. But everyone is in the same situation not knowing what is going to happen, it's funny times. It must be tough for juniors because next year they go straight into Elites. I don’t know what it means for people's contracts, I’m not sure whether they will write this year off.
If races are into the latter half of this year could it affect preparation for the next season?
It would be really weird because normally by that time you have done your last race and you are almost just starting to get training again. So it would be funny to be still racing then and it would properly put you out of sync. I think you would just have to work with the people around you and try to get as dialled as possible for next year. I guess every racer would be in that same situation, so it would be whoever manages it best would be better off.