Of all the great many mysteries shrouded deep in the depths of the MTB scene, one surely stands out for any downhill rider above all others as the most elusive: how does a racer really 'make the big time'? How does somebody somehow find themselves at the upper end of the elite field, scrapping it out with the Athertons and the Minnaars of this world, finally getting those massive results they always dreamed of? There has to be some x-factor that takes you to the next level... Qualifying alone is one thing, but to then grace the top 30, the dizzy heights of the top 10... the podium? Well, those guys must be from a whole other planet.
This off-season, Pinbike wanted to know more and could think of no better way to investigate this all-but-unimaginable phenomenon of 'making it' as a WC racer than to pay a visit to Her Majesty's North West and the little town of Keswick. Danny Hart might have stolen the limelight in 2016, but all the while there was another Englishman flying in under the radar, putting big points on the board. After two recent train-wreck seasons and many more before it, struggling for mid-pack positions, a podium finish and 10th overall in the WC series were sure signs something special was going down. There was an under-dog finally on top; the man of a thousand nicknames, Adam Brayton. Maybe 48 hours with 'the Kestrel' himself would shed a little light on a few secret tips for the top...
Welcome to the winding roads of the Lake District, a national park area of outstanding natural beauty just a little way short of the Scottish border.
Adam's Hope HB211 enduro bike and Scott Gambler taking pride of place in his father's workshop just outside of town.
Adam and trainer, John, up with the lark, as usual, to train at the Fit4Racing facility near Penrith.
Brayton squats as his heart rate probably tips 200bpm.
No two workouts end up the same on Adam's program, but chin-ups, exercise bike sprints, rowing machine, squats, deadlifts, burpees, kettlebells, medicine ball, ski-ergo and the dreaded 'sack of sorrow' are the usual suspects. He and his training buddies, just 3 or 4 UK MX riders, push each other harder every session, three times per week. The door stays wide open to let in the winter air and keep the overworked engines from overheating.
Brayton tucks into the full English.... Lord knows he's earned it. Eggs and avocados alone are his more typical training breakfast, providing minimal carbs and maximum protein before a session.
No rest for the wicked, it was time for a trip to the countryside... well 'other' countryside for a little motocross.
A self-confessed 'not very good' MX rider, we think he's just about got the basics down...
Finally getting to jump a section of big doubles after several weeks of thinking about it, progress was palpable.
As with a lot of the top DH racers, motocross plays an important role in Brayton's season preparation. There seems to be few better ways to get accustomed to high speed and finding grip while taking arm-pump tolerance to the next level. Plus it's pretty fun, don't you know...
With the failure of even 'the vampire', Brayton's favourite fishing lure, time was up and we went home empty handed. He always does, because he lets them go, but you take our meaning...
A campfire on the island to complete the night. It's a place not unfamiliar to Brayton's lucky dates. We too counted our blessings.
Dinner. It had to be.
A 5.30am rise and we were climbing the 451m of Hause Gate as the sky turned from deep blue to bright pink. If you find yourself in the area, you have to check out Brayton's top recommendation - the Borrowdale Bash - a 17-mile hilltop lap of Derwentwater.
Brayton will be the first to tell you he's not the flashiest to grace a bike, but you can be absolutely sure whatever picture you see of him he would have been pinning it goddam quick.
The Lakes provide no shortage of enviable trails, although many are shared with the hikers. Setmurthy Woods has held a decent official spot for a number of years with a host of jump lines, but there has never been anything shuttle-able in the vicinity for a racer of Brayton's calibre to get his teeth into... until now.
Come play with us...
A stealthy uplift machine with invisibility cloak activated... Brayton and his small crew bought an old jeep purely to uplift their track and keep it hidden in the woods from the 'marras' (gypsies to you and me). All this old beauty needs is a reverse bump-start and it runs like a charm... 10,15 maybe even 20 laps in a day. One small problem still had to be overcome, however; the fact there was no road to the top of this steep and water-logged hill. Over the winter months they've 'driven one in'... and, yes, it is every bit as sketchy as it sounds.
Brayton and good buddy, Jason Shill, push the last few meters to the top of their own creation with one epic backdrop.
Is there anything more formidable than a top-level WC racer on their own, self-built, home track. No, there is not. Brayton pushes both his riding and his building skills on every turn and tranny.