Each Winter for last few years, I've escaped the UK weather for a week with a riding trip to Barcelona. This year was no different, but it was a very different trip. I'd been invited along to film for VISION Movie, Vero Sandler's new freeride film. Although we had met a few times before we had never got to ride properly together, so I was pretty excited to be asked along. I've been riding trails since the early 2000s and in contrast, Vero had only started riding trails very recently. It's pretty awesome to see how quickly she is progressing, the La Poma MBA line is no joke and we were doing trains together through the line in just a couple of days.
Despite being a Barcelona regular, I had never ridden the famous sea walls before. I've never been interested in riding street or even skate parks for that matter, but this spot is unique and had elements of riding I could relate to – smooth transitions and sprinting to gain the speed. The film crew quickly told me I was going fast enough and high enough to clear riding over one of the doors, it's hard to judge when you're up there yourself. I suppose it's no different to knowing if you have the speed for a gap jump or not, but I have way more experience in that field and know that I can pull a bit further while I'm in the air if I think it's going to be a stretch. I'm not sure what I would do if I got halfway over the door and thought I wasn't going to make it. Leo, Vero's brother who was also along for the trip got himself into that scenario when he went for two doors at once. He somehow bunny hopped his way out of trouble to avoid a face plant to concrete, then went back and did it again perfectly. That was pretty wild, especially as he didn't give anyone a heads up he was going for it!
As soon as I got back it was time for the annual birthday jam. Every year myself and my friend Ellie try to get as many friends together as possible for a riding day as our birthdays are within a day of each other. It's always a fun post-Christmas catch up with friends from all over and a break from the winter blues. Martin Zielinski usually comes along with his camera and snaps me a tabletop shot as a birthday treat, he kept up the tradition once again except this year with the added element of snow. It made for a cool looking shot, in more ways than one.
A hip left at Woburn and a hip right on Vision Line. Left Photo: Martin Zielinski / Right Photo: Tom Roberts
The finale of Vision movie, filming on Vero's dream line was at Revolution a few months later. The line was a sight to behold, quite intimidating to look at before seeing anyone ride it. I'd just picked up my new GT Force before heading there too, which made me slightly more nervous hitting it on a new bike I wasn't used to. Vero towed me through the line though and what a treat it was, awesome fun and I felt at home on the Force right away, I shouldn't have been concerned about swapping bikes at all. It was awesome to witness the sessions that went down, Matt Jones and Martin Soderstrom tearing it up on their slope bikes, Kade pulling the most ridiculous shapes and riding the whole line in a train with Vero, Tahnee, Casey and Vea was pretty damn cool.
When the warm weather finally comes round in the UK, I'm always desperate to head to Black Mountains Cycle Centre. That place just screams summer good times and I love to ride tight trains and overtakes on full moto with anyone that's willing! This year it was my regular full moto pal Will and local shredder Kieran. Keiran is someone I just met through riding at BMCC, chatting on the uplift and riding trains with the locals. That's the kind of place BMCC is, you'll often see people you've met there before because one trip is never enough for anyone. The jumps there are like Pringles, once you pop you just can't stop! We did get caught out with a rainy day on one occasion this summer, but in true BMCC spirit I think everyone left on the uplift at the end of the day did a massive train down full moto together. Wales never fails.
BMCC was also the chosen location to film the UK part of a promo video for the new GT Force 29er with Tom Isted and myself. I'd never ridden a 29er before and Tom suggested we hit Full Moto on our first lap. I didn't know the bike and I didn't know Tom, but I do know that line like the back of my hand. The bike was much like my own Force but it was FAST. I felt pretty comfortable already so up we went for a second lap and hit full moto again. This time I keep the train tighter and Tom's whips are looking wild. I follow him up the 7th lip and he's carving, so I go to move to out of his way, then I realise he is sending a corked flip right in front of me! My usual adrenaline-fuelled yelps were conspicuous by their absence, I think I was too busy holding my breath.
There was a time in the past when all I did was ride and dig trails, but I haven't been doing that so much recently. A developing love for other types of riding, having to let our own spot go and my significant other snapping his arm in half last year have all been contributing factors. Despite dropping off the trails radar a little bit, I was still lucky enough to ride some amazing spots this year and hang out with some great people. I can't thank all the locals enough for the love they put into these places. Trails are mostly about flow, fun and trains for me but sometimes I find progression in doing a new line, going higher or very occasionally a new trick. I've been doing opposite tables for what seems like forever and my first trick was a one footer when I was about 12, but I had never put the two together. One chilled summer evening this year it just kind of happened and MZ was on hand once again to snap one for the album. Thanks Martin!
Summer trails. Photo: Martin Zielinski
Which brings me to the highlight of my year, a 3 week trip to Whistler. My friend Lynne who used to run the Air Maiden events in Scotland was back living in BC and invited me to stay. On top of that, GT Bikes were awesome enough to let me join them for Crankworx week. What a dream summer trip.
Lynne picked me up from the airport and immediately drove us straight to Kamloops for a days riding. Lynne and I are both into jumps so we were buzzing to go and check it out. It's a pretty crazy place with lines everywhere, even though they are signposted it took a little while to figure it out. After having fun on Wrangler and the ridgeline jumps, I went to look at the top half of fist full of dollars. Having just got of a plane I didn't want to do anything stupid, but the first drop looked pretty chill so I gave that a go.
It wasn't long before I was riding up the lip of the big right-hand hip. That thing looked huge, especially when look it from the biggest side. I usually try not to do that but that's where I exited the lip so I didn't really have a choice! I felt I'd have to rail the turn pretty fast to clear it, but I slid out in the dusty, undercut berm on the first attempt. I was sure that if I got over the hip the last big jump would be a breeze, but it was a quiet weekday, there was no one else riding it to gauge speed and I didn't want to hurt myself on the first day of a 3-week trip. I told Lynne I would just ride the line each time we rode from the top and see what happens. Not too much later, I sent the hip and as soon as I landed I knew I was going to be right about the hut jump, so just carried on. What a line! Even though I started at the top and worked down the line, apparently this is an unorthodox order of progression as the biggest jumps are in the top section. I think you've got to approach jumps in the way that makes the most sense to you though, there are many more factors to consider in jump difficulty than how big the gaps are. Plus, I was on limited time and I think I got to ride the best bit. I do hope I can get back there one day to ride the bottom half of the line too.
Onto Whistler and in one piece, I hooked up with Lynne's friend Carolyn and British buddy Steve for some A-line and Dirt Merchant party laps the very next day. Everyone had been talking about the new Dirt Merchant and it didn't disappoint. I had full trust in Steve to tow me through, he even turned round to shout “don't get too close!” as we dropped into the big hip section. That was a good call, I've been caught out a few times because I like riding a close train and that hip is like a stall wall.
The first weekend I was there, there was a Women's dirt jump jam run by Women's Freeride Movement at the riverside jumps. The jam format meant everyone rode together and pushed each other, I met loads of rad women that day and there were lots of passers-by stopping to check it out throughout the day. My favourite moment was dropping into Madonna's vogue playing over the PA and pulling a tuck no hander, simple things make me happy! That move also won me best trick and I ended up winning the overall comp. A good day all round.
After another week of park ratting, visiting Chromag and a bit of touristing, Crankworx arrived and I moved from Lynne's place to Whistler with the GTTeam. I kicked off the week with a top 20 in Air DH. My lungs were busting, I'm not used to racing! This was the first time I'd raced anything since the last time I was at Crankworx 2 years ago. Pump track is more up my street, less than 15-second laps and it plays to my BMX experience. It was a tough little track, easy to make a mistake if you lost concentration, but I qualified in the top 4 close to the fastest times and into the evening finals. Pump track finals have a great atmosphere and it's a fast-paced event, there's no hanging about, which is great, because that's one of the things that frustrated me when I used to race. I made it through to the semi-finals, but at that point, the top 3 seemed to be getting faster and faster and I was simply outclassed. I finished up 4th place, more than happy with that and enjoyed being part of the show.
Onto the Women's Speed and Style, which was a new addition to the Crankworx schedule. Competing is not high on my priority list these days but I felt like it would be cool to be a part of an historical event. Most opted for a dirt jump bike, but I opted to ride the Force instead. My dirt jump bike is a small set up specifically for riding trails and the track was pretty fast and big. I'm more than happy throwing the Force around and it gave me more grip in the turns too, so I felt I could give it all I had. The final nail in the coffin for the little bike was that my half-link chain was off from pump track practice. I didn't really want the hassle of putting it back on and taking it off again for the finals, these Crankworx schedules are tight!
Unfortunately, the course was one of the toughest Speed and Style courses that had ever been built, confirmed by seeing many of the guys struggling in practice. Kathi Kuypers, who has already been competing in Speed and Style with the men at other Crankworx venues, said this was a far cry from the courses she had ridden so far. However, the Women stepped up to the challenge regardless. On each of the two trick jumps, one side of the track was significantly harder than the other, so to ensure we could still run an event without it coming down to who survived, between us we decided to run individual laps on the easier side instead of head to head. Add that our event was run in gale force winds, this was definitely the right decision. Yeah, it was a bit of an anti-climax, but it's a work in progress and there is now a platform for future female tricksters to aim for which in my eyes is the most important thing, you've got to start somewhere. Judging by the skills of the younger generation I've seen, I think we will see a lot of progression in this event over the next few years. Watch this space.
On the upside, I managed to pull off a 3rd place and grab a bronze medal. My friend Lynne and her kids had come along to cheer me on, they'd even made signs to wave. When I finished the race her 7-year-old son ran over and hugged me saying “I'm so proud of you Joey!”. Well that made my day right there.
That left me one last day to ride with Lynne before flying home. We goofed our way down the trails all day, jumping side by side, overtaking in berms, falling off multiple times in the loam and laughed until our stomachs hurt. Progression and competitions are good and all, but this is the essence of riding bikes for me and I couldn't imagine a better way to end the trip.
A big thanks to these brands for helping me out in 2019: