My attempts at learning to wheelie at age 12 were interrupted by screeching brakes. A guy jumped out of an old rep-mobile and said “Wanna come to a downhill track on Sunday, kid?”
After a checkout by my panic-stricken Mom, Steve Parr was passed as a suitable chaperone.
Sixteen years on I can go as far as to say that this guy was one of the most influential and helpful bikers (and I’ve known more than a few) in my career to date. Passing on trail building and riding skills with good humour and encouragement. Now, after British Cycling have decided to stop backing the growing Enduro scene (cries of shame here) Steve has stepped up to the plate. I interviewed him to get the low-down on Why? How? Rider safety and lots more. If Steve can help the UK mountain biking scene as much as he helped me then the sport is onto a winner. Steve Parr, organiser and co-founder of the UK gravity Enduro Series We're talking to Steve Parr, organiser and co-founder of the UK gravity Enduro Series. Can you give us some basics to get to know you. Name, age, pin code?
Steve Parr, I've been organising the UK Gravity Enduro series since 2011. Age - Juvenile delinquent! No, too old now I'm nearly a Grand Veteran. I co-organised the UK National DH series for three years then I took a year out until somebody approached me with the opportunity to run a UK Enduro Series, and here we are today. Somebody approached you?
Yeah two guys came to me, David Tallontire and Craig Erskine, they had the idea and I had the contacts and together we put something together for 2011. But because of all the work combined with family and real job commitments they couldn't continue, but I did and I am now doing it with Charlie Williams. It will be our second year next year, so I've not killed him off yet, he's a good lad. He's taken over my role of sorting stages, and I've started sorting sponsorship, the arena etc. So heading in to your fifth year next year?
Yeah its just got bigger and bigger since the 2011 series which had 270 riders and got as low as 140 entrants. In 2014 we sold out every round in less than 24 hours. It's been a bit of an eye opener! I think it's the future of mountain biking in the UK, and possibly Worldwide. There's a lot of discussion at the minute about the sport and formats, and that's one of the beauty's of Enduro, everybody has a different take on the style. Our USP is that Stage 5 finishes in an arena, which gives the industry somewhere to display their wares and sponsors to display their goods. It also creates an atmosphere, if you were at a normal Enduro you finish in a forest and have to roll back to the finish area there's nobody there to cheer you on. It really creates a buzz in the arena and there are people to cheer you and push you to the end. And your expanding to host a National Champs next year?
Yes it was going to be an Official UK Championship in collaboration with British Cycling, but they pulled out a few weeks ago, a crazy decision, a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic event at Llangollen we believe. So it comes down to the sue culture of this country I think. But yeah, the first ever National Champs will be held at Dyfi forest in Wales next year. 5 stages as usual. Fastest man on the day gets a striped jersey. Unfortunately it will be unofficial, but there will be jerseys for the victors. I think we'll just put a Union Jack on them. It's all to be discussed, like I say it was going to be official and sanctioned by British Cycling as they were supposed to be adopting the format. But it's not going to happen now after that tragic incident.Steve at home, he's a big Pinkbike fan. The tragic incident being the spectator that died at Llangollen?
I believe so, although BC will never admit it. You can understand the decision, if you're the BC co-ordinator sitting in an office and you have Si Paton and other established DH organizers, you personally know them. Suddenly you get 5-7 new organisers and fifty events that you don't know anything about, then you would be like 'bloody hell we need to get out there and look at these'. The sad fact is that BC haven't been out to a single Enduro to look at them, they've never been to our races. They send Commisaires but nobody from the board. Rick Clarkson the coordinator, they've never been to one of our races. I don't think they understand the fundamentals of Enduro. Funnily enough two members of the board have been to one Enduro race in this country, which wasn't even BC sanctioned. Which is crazy, but hey-ho we don't make the decisions. So what support have BC given you since day one?
Err, they've given us no support like they did with the DH, but what we as a race series get when you have BC insurance is the governing body, the federation in partnership with you. So you get their Public Liability Insurance etc. You get their Commisaires, somebody neutral that you know is going to be fair, like the referees for the event. The old coordinator, Roger Wilbraham was really good, I've known him for years and years from the DH. He gave us some support and some guidance but unfortunately the coordinators are overworked, as well as just DH he was doing XC and BMX, it's crazy, which is why Roger left. He just couldn't get out to look at the events so he was having to approve events that he hadn't even seen, or even met the organisers! Rick, the current coordinator has been out to see one of our venues which was the last round of 2014 in Grizedale. He came out before we set-up, just to see what we were sending 'em down. He seemed very happy with what we were doing so limited support from BC really. So the Commisaires come to the events to enforce the rules, and check everything is up to scratch. So until now which regulations were they using? XC or DH rules? No rules at all?
OK, so there is two ways of interpreting Enduro. If you actually have a start from an arena and you come back and finish in an arena, that's classed as a Cross Country race because the start is in the same place as the finish. If you let riders leave the arena and start the event at the start of Stage one and finish in the arena, that's finishing at a different height and a different position, then that's classed as a DH race. Our Format is that they have a set start time in the arena and they finish back in the arena, so officially it's an XC race. Has it been that way since 2011?
It's something we have had to change, due to the size of the event and just listening to people. One thing about our events is that you can always find Charlie or myself and have a long chat to us so long as you bring us a cup of tea or a beer haha! We will listen and if people look back at the rules, if they ever printed them off, they will find the the formats have changed and everything is up for discussion or change, it's evolution. The discipline is just going to keep evolving and getting better and better and better.Steve in his man cave, I still recognize some of those bikes from 16years ago. So going back to the rules, the Commisaires are basing their decisions on the XC rules, or did they start to create some rules that were more specific to Enduro?
They had our rules, at the one meeting where we actually sat down and talked about Enduro the other week. They looked over those, basically they went off our rules since day one. Except they wouldn't let us print the time penalties on the rule sheet. That's changing for next year if you have a penalty you will know what that penalty is, if you're late for the start you get two minutes etc etc. Is it true that in March 2014, BC sent out a letter to all organisers saying that they wouldn't be adding any more Enduro events to the calendar from then on?
They sent out emails yes. Emails came to Commisaires and ourselves, which we didn't release to the press, somebody else did. Yeah shocked, we had been in a meeting with them the week before, talking about the direction, where it was going. Commisaires were there, other Enduro organisers, two members of the board. I could just see by the way one of them was sat there he wasn't interested. I think they had already made the decision before we had got there. But they continued to support the races already scheduled on their calendar?
Sorry in March 2014? No they only released that statement the other week. March 2014 no letter, but they did say that they wouldn't add any more races for 2014 as there were already 35 Enduro's on the calendar. Even I didn't know there were 35 enduro's in the UK this year! When BC said they weren't going to add any more events to the calendar, did that start any alarm bells ringing for you?
No alarm bells, I was quite happy actually. It was getting to the point where we had too many events and it might start detracting from the XC and DH events in the UK. It was the number of events and all the new people, they just didn't know the organisers. It would have scared me as well if I was Rick. Like I said earlier the format is still developing and I don't want so see just anybody jumping on the bandwagon, I think we need to go away, and look very hard at where we are going with the format, and we need to form a Federation, which will have a certain set of guidelines and standards that you will have to meet at events. We won't be using the on-line entry system, we will be going elsewhere.
So you just mentioned about forming a Federation?.
| somebody should be bold enough, with big enough balls to step up and do something for Enduro and MTB in the UK|
That's the plan, an email has gone out to most of the organisers in the UK now. We've had contact back from several of them, we're going to arrange a meeting. Public Liability Insurance has been arranged already, one of the things that we do want to insist on though, is that if riders do come to our races over the coming years is that they will need their own personal insurance and full face helmets. Having watched people during the last four years now, they are getting faster and faster, the bikes are becoming more capable, people are altering their training and riding to get ready for our events. We have some people we know nothing about, currently we have no system like DH at the BDS you have to have BC Points to qualify. We need to get that tiered system in to the Federation. It will be a UK federation, and it will probably have MTB in the title, not just Enduro, so it will be open to other disciplines as well! As somebody wrote, I believe on Pinkbike "somebody should be bold enough, with big enough balls to step up and do something for Enduro and MTB in the UK" So who's been showing interest?
All the other Enduro organisers in the UK, Carlos from Enduro1, Mike Marsden from Borderline Events, Scottish Enduro, Scott from QECP, Carl Davison from NDH. If we have forgotten anybody we will be in touch.Stage 5 at all of the UK Gravity Enduro's provides a great atmosphere for the riders and showcases series sponsors. So you have your Public Liability in places?
[rustles paper at me] The completed form is here! For example if you get you policy from a general insurance company, then there is an accident. Do you think they would relate back to the National Federations rules and how your rules comply with theirs?
Well as we wrote the rulebook for the National Series we will comply. As a Commisaires who was sat in that meeting with BC said 'these guys double and triple tape where they shouldn't even have to'. Our tracks are 75% to 85% taped as you know as you have been there. There's nearly as much tape as a DH race but across 5 stages. The insurance company will be guided by us I believe as we need to sit down with them, along with other organisers as they will have to come up to that set standard. Another thing with our federation, if you are hosting an event, a organiser from another series will have to go to be your commissionaire, so you will have somebody independent there making sure you're doing it right. Charlie and myself are all for rider safety, being riders ourselves we don't want to be scraping riders up off the floor with sticks in their eyeballs or bones coming out their arms and legs. So the races are technically XC, but do you think if it came down to it in court the judge may actually rule that its a DH event because the actual racing is from the top to the bottom of the hill?
Hahaha, it's like the declaration you sign when you sign for any race, if you get a good lawyer, or judge they will tear anything to pieces. All you can do is take precautions. There's no real getting around the fact that it's a DH orientated event?
It isn't, you're not, you are racing from the minute you leave the arena. You have a time which is set for you to go from point A to B, From B to C, from point C to point D, so you are doing XC in theory. You don't have a start time from the arena, then yes you could class those as a 5 stage DH race. But we have a start time, specific for you to start from the arena, and a specific time you will finish back in the arena so in effect that is one great big loop. If you want to argue about XC against DH, the actual definition of XC is that you start and finish in the same place and height. It's a middle ground, its not XC and it's not DH, you have to be fit to get to the top, then you need DH skills to get down, but you all need some of your XC skills to get down, because it's pretty physical. Yes but on the liaisons it's a set time limit, whereas on the stages the stop watch finishes when you get to bottom. On a liaison there is no benefit to getting there early.
The clock on the stage does, but the clock for you to finish the loop keeps ticking. But you can't get a better time by doing the whole loop faster?
No you can't get a better time, but you are still against the clock. If you don't get to the top on time the clock starts, you get a penalty, Like I say if you are a good solicitor or judge you can argue either way. Do you want it to be classed as a DH race? So you don't think a potential insurer would be checking against the BC guidelines?
Hopefully they will. Which guidelines do you think they will be working from?
XC for ours. Also if you look at XC the courses aren't taped all the way round, there are not marshals within eye-line. Is that something you are going to bring in? Marshals within eye-line?
We will always put marshals at points we regard as dangerous, or where incidents could happen like a fire-road, a place where you could get run over by a car or where people may be crossing. Anything like that there will always be a marshal with radio communications. What do you think would happen if you were racing on a stage that isn't fully taped, then Jack the Farmer and his dog, walking through the same forest he does everyday, crosses the trail and get hit by a bike then decides to sue you.
Then the insurance company would come in. If he was walking across a path, that will always be marked. If he's not on a path there's a good chance it will be taped anyway. Lets be honest he would be crazy to cross a stage as there are riders coming every 20 seconds anyway, so he would know something is going on? Say, he's blind and he crosses the trail and gets hit by a bike?
We could go around in circles about this all day. But I know where you are coming from about tape, all the way down on 100% of the track. If that's what an insurance company wants then we will do it. But at the moment, and the Commisaires will back us up, if we think there is a possible point where somebody might get on to the track it will be taped. Potentially with a B zone and maybe even double or triple taping on places we think are dangerous. We are even putting up Motorsport signs next year. If you go to a motor race the first thing you will see is a 'Motorsport is Dangerous' sign. It will be on all the stages and all over the forest. I think people need to start taking account for their own actions, on the news the other day they were saying that Birmingham is the fake accident hotspot in the UK. There are actually people out there just trying to make money from insurance claims thanks to a-holes on the telly promoting the sue culture. We will take adequate precautions, we also have a fully licensed guy on a motorbike, who is also a police officer that will be roaming around the forest to stop people. Yeah but he might not be able to stop Farmer Jack and his dog?
Haha, we have actually had a dog on a track up at Hamsterley last year. In general dog owners are good and will keep them under control. There will always be something though. If you have a lone assassin, he will always reach his target! Like the runner that ran in to David Cameron the other week, there will always be one somewhere down the line, all you can do is take adequate precautions. Hopefully we will never get one though. Do you think that BC leaving Enduro might lead to cowboy organisers setting up their own events? Which could affect your reputation and even insurance?
Errm who knows? When we set up a Federation the people who come on-board will have to come up to a standard, and we will make sure that standard is met. There will be our guidelines. Like I mentioned before one of the ways will be sending another organiser to the even to make sure everything runs correctly and comes up to that standard. If it doesn't, we're not going to mess about here, this is the best thing to happen to mountain biking in the UK for a f'@%*ing long time haha. No f words please
Why not! Haha this is a chance to get so many fat kids and old blokes out on to their bikes and actually racing them and having fun. We were stood at the top of Forest of Dean last week after a timing issue. For 25 minutes up there in the storming rain and the mud, when the first guy went off after the delay there was a massive cheer, me and Charlie looked at each other and he said 'that's why we can't let it die'. The Camaraderie in this discipline is... I've not seen anything like it in DH, or XC either, it's amazing we call it a family, and it is like a big family.
But, for example if I wanted to organise a race there is nothing stopping me?
Steve still finds time to race the odd enduro event.
No if you get insurance there is nothing stopping you, but you wont be part of our federation, we will make you come up to a certain standard. It's not going to be strict, just common sense at the end of the day.....but its proven that common sense doesn't stand up to 'Where there's a blame there's a claim'?
Hahaha. Most of the riders, lets be honest the biggest category is the masters. The over 30's who have a bit of nouse about them. They have probably turned up in a T5 an Audi or BMW. There going to have a bit of something about them, If they see something that's dangerous we have missed normally they will come and tell us, and it is all signed according to 'BC regulations' anyway, ours are. So you are sticking to BC regulations?
On signage yes, along with some of our own. So as a minimum you will meet all their regulations for XC
Hahaha it's what we do anyway, for XC. It's pretty much the same for DH and XC, three arrows down for a drop, or jump, big A4/A3 signs, you just have to give them plenty of warning. Do you think that BC leaving the scene is going to damage the reputation of Enduro. Regardless of whether you do a great job or not, they are the national governing body. Like nobody would care about the non UEFA Football World Champs.
It is, I'm not going to deny it, it is going to hurt the sport, it's a crazy decision, I really can't... It's just a knee jerk reaction to a tragic incident that's never happened before. Do you think that's its a knee jerk reaction though, or do you think its because they know they can't support it? Not because they don't want to.
Me and Charlie have even offered to come in and help them and offered to be advisers for Enduro, so they can't deny that we haven't tried to help take the burden off Rick the co-coordinator. I actually sat in a meeting with one (BC) guy who said 'yeah we've reached 100,000 members' and slouched down in his seat as if to say we don't need any-more. This island has 61 million people on it, 100,000 is a drop in the f@%*~g ocean, I said 'you want to reach 200,000 or 300!' he didn't even react. They think they are in a good place at the moment but I think they have missed a really good opportunity to get more members and get somebody out there in the world scene who is going to win a EWS. Because people are starting to take Enduro on board now and starting to train for it. Dan Atherton won an Italian SuperEnduro and it won't be long before we see people like Lee Johnson winning a World Series. Has BC's decision been detrimental to you as an organiser, has it affected sponsors?
No, obviously the sponsors have been a bit apprehensive because of BC not being behind it. But we're still continuing, we hope to sit at the top of the tree as a National Series once the federation is up and running, and we will be looking at getting the pyramid system working to get other riders feeding in to our races. But series sponsors are coming in thick and fast. You'll start to see now as we start to trickle out the sponsor announcements over the next few months. So you're planning to create some kind of pyramid scheme, having to qualify for Nationals etc.
Yes definitely, it will be a few years away but that is the long term plan, once we know that we have people who can ride bikes, we will want them to go to a MiniEnduro or Enduro1 or whichever, PMBA, SES, then they can filter into ours. Then we can start to do something special for them, work them harder, put on bigger courses, make it tougher. Is your federation going to support events like Megavalanche style mass starts or just your gravity Enduro style events.?
Haha, this is why we are going to put MTB in the name, its going to encompass as many MTB disciplines as we can! It will start with Enduro then we will start to open the umbrella as we find our feet and more people come on board. There's a lot of people dissatisfied with what British Cycling are doing. Like I said earlier we are sticking our heads above the parapet, we may not be the best to continue it, but we are going to start it and go from there. Can you expand on what you said about riders having to take their own insurance?
We are currently talking with numerous insurance companies about personal insurance. What a lot of people don't realise is that they think they are insured with BC, but its only Public Liability which is 3rd party, the riders will get nothing if they are involved in an accident. Its only a third party that will receive money, not many people actually realise that. Until you get a race license then you have a bit more insurance. But what we are talking about is that if you actually want to come and race one of our UK Gravity Enduro events next year you will have to take out personal insurance. We will provide a contact and a price, which should be very competitive So insurance to cover personal injury, damage to your equipment?
Yeah Public liability, loss of earnings and whatever they need to get back right, we're currently looking into that. Luckily over here we have the NHS
Yes the NHS is amazing, but the personal insurance is something for people who say 'errr I don't get paid if I'm self employed' so that should be covered. What about about media, will they have to have their own insurance too?
Yeah, anybody that comes along to race will have to show it at registration. It's going to be part of the sign on. The press will have to adhere to some regulations. We need to talk to the press. At the moment most of them contact us anyway, and we will give them a quick talk. Obviously things like standing on the outside of corners, with a lens sticking over a berm is not an ideal practice, or sticking a flash in somebody's eyes as they take off. So if I crash in to a cameraman and get a lens in my kidney?
Well if that happens you would be dead!! Are you going to employ some kind of vetting process. Like at a UCI Downhill you have to be registered as media?
It is ongoing, at the moment we haven't thought about the press. When the federation is up and running it will be something we look in to and move on from there. Press accreditation will follow. What about full face helmets then, will they become compulsory?
Full Face helmets will be, just for the stages, errm lets be honest. In Europe they have been wearing them out there since the beginning, yeah I know they have bigger tracks and blah blah blah 'I don't want to stick a helmet on my back, it dangerous' I've heard it all before, its a load of b%*&:@s. You're going to wear a full face, simple as. In your backpack, if you're a normal MTB'er, you have spare bolts, pumps, spanners, all kind of things so it's a load of b%*&:@0s. You will have to have a helmet on your head, of one form or another, done-up securely at all times. We have talked about like in Formula they have certain points where they can turn on generators to make more power or something, we've talked about 'helmet free zones' on transitions like the TRS zone or something in F1. Actually that was a forum suggestion that we are taking in to account, so we are thinking about something like that. Especially somewhere like Afan where the temperatures were nearly in the 30's. There are different ways we can make it work. On stages full faces will be mandatory to a certain standard, we need to make sure what that standard is first. Yeah there's some new full face Enduro helmets on the market that aren't fully certified?
I believe the Bell is, but the Met isn't, we waiting for clarification on that. What affect is all this going to have on the prices of the races?
Not a lot, we think we are going to go up by £5 in 2015 up to £70. But if people think about it, actually most people don't nowadays because they realise how good value it is, the courses are always marked by Friday, so they can turn up and get three days riding, free camping at most events blah blah blah and great catering from the BillyCan. Three days of riding and timing on two days. £23 per day? Nearly as cheap as an XC race where sometimes you ride around a field for two hours. Any other plans for next year? Federation membership?
That's in discussion at the moment, we think that organisers will be able to join for free. The federation...I have a day job, and the federation is going to take up more time, so it has got to pay somebody/me to do it. Whoever steps in to the role even if I am not elected in to whichever position, somebody is going to have to be paid to do the job. We will need to raise it somehow, either through the insurance... ....Insurance scams?
Hahaha either through a membership fee, a nominal fee, or possibly commission from the insurance. There's a possibility we could get 500-800 members in the first few years so that's big money for an insurance company. Plus some helmet company's stand to benefit, we jotted down some numbers the other day and it could be £250,000 in helmet sales, I was like holy crap. It's scary amounts of money and it's a very exciting time for mountain biking in the UK I believe, it's very f%*&@g scary for me!!Steve's spends about half of his year in the camper, at events and scoping out new venues. Was their Tweedlove event BC sanctioned?
I've heard a few reports about the EWS, each event is trying to outdo each other now for severity aren't they Yes I think that might start to get calmed down for next year.
Yeah you need to remember, these aren't all world class athletes. You get to the top of a WC DH track and you have 200 of the best in the world there which gets whittled down to 80 for the final. They are usually full time professional athletes making a living out of this. You go to EWS/UK Gravity or any event around the World, 85-90% of people take their bike off the wall on Friday putting it in the Audi/BMW or Transporter, turn up race, have a giggle with their mates, go back on Sunday night and then be in work on Monday morning doing a 9-5. How do you think that is going to change over the next few years? Are we going to see a full field of 500 Pro-level riders at an EWS?
Give it 10 years and I think you could have 300+ yeah. I think they will, it's going to go that way. The industry, unlike XC where you need a silly light bike that you cant do anything else with, or a 35-38lb DH bike that you can only race DH on, they need to sell bikes off the back of this. Well yes the participation numbers are already way up along with bike sales
These are the bike people are buying, 130-160mm travel trails bikes. You can fit a chain device, some heavier tyres and you can go out and race it, you have a platform to go and race your mess around or fun bike, this is where the industry will be driving. This is why we can't understand BC pulling out of it. Thanks Steve, all the best for 2015. I'll be racing a few for sure.