“We wanted to try something different, to film against the backdrop of blue sky and blazing sun… California proved a memorable choice,” says Martyn Ashton, who has just returned from the US where the crew have wrapped up filming Road Bike Party 3.
Ashton, the bike rider turned director, was paralysed from the waist down in a well-publicised trials crash in September 2013. At the time he was part way through secretly filming Road Bike Party 2 with videographer Robin Kitchin, and to complete the project the un-filmed stunt riding was taken up by Ashton’s pro trials mates Chris Akrigg and Danny MacAskill – both celebrated riders in their own right. For Road Bike Party 3, Ashton drew upon the services of 24-year-old dirt jump champion Sam Pilgrim.
“I’ve known Sam for years and he’s one of the greatest riders in the world across any discipline. He absolutely nailed it,” says Ashton.
Bringing Pilgrim on board was a departure for Ashton and the Road Bike Party team – which includes Kitchin and rider/helper Blake Samson – as Pilgrim’s honed his skills in the seemingly insane art of dirt jump, rather than the relatively disciplined world of bike trials. His day job sees him travel the world competing in the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour, which he won in 2013.
“It was something we wanted to try,” explains Ashton. “The whole idea of the Road Bike Party series is to excite people by doing something different. By doing what we’d done before would go against that ethos. Dirt jump is a more extreme way of riding than trials and we wanted to see what he could do on the Ridley.” It’s led to a Party that’s even pacier than the previous two, but still filled with lads in lycra, wheelies and skids, and some utterly buttock-clenching jumps. Pilgrim gave everything to the project – “even getting up every day for 10 days by 6.30am!” He’s as aware as anyone of the inherent dangers of this kind of riding, and gladly lay his body on the line to follow Ashton’s direction. There are a lot of special moments in Road Bike Party 3, but for Pilgrim, there was one that was truly poignant…
“There’s a scene where I ride across a tree,” says Pilgrim. “I’m not a trials rider and the second attempt saw me face-plant a tree. I almost lost another tooth! I finally managed to get across, which I was pretty stoked with. It was good to hear from ‘a trials rider’ [Martyn] that I wasn’t too bad. He thought it was cool.” And Ashton responds with one of his favourite stunts from Road Bike Party 3, which echoed the mutual respect these guys have:
“I’m so impressed with Sam's determination to pull the fakie flip in the drainage ditch. Having ridden a road bike on these videos myself, I know just how scary that would have been.” While Road Bike Party 1 and 2 saw Ashton, Akrigg and MacAskill pull some amazing stunts around myriad UK locations, for Road Bike Party 3 the team take a pilgrimage to San Diego.
“We could have done the riding in the UK but around the time of filming, the weather wasn’t good enough. The trails would have been too muddy, we also wanted to focus on one location and base the whole film there rather than roaming the country like we’ve done back home with the previous two. And let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want to bike in California?”
The lure of sun, sand, sea and its cycling heritage made Cali an easy choice. It’s also an area that the team knows well. Ashton’s toured there in the past, and Pilgrim’s ridden there more recently.
“When the weather turned bad in the UK, Martyn asked me where I reckon we should film. I’d rented a motorhome and spent the start of 2014 dirt riding round San Diego so I knew it well. So Martyn said let’s go there. Sick… off to Cali we went.”Pilgrim’s progress
Typical of Ashton, embryonic plans for Road Bike Party 3 emerged while he was working on its predecessor in 2013, but it wasn’t until June this year that he really cranked up the project. He came up with the concept of top-end road bike versus dirt jumps and realised there was only one man for the job.
“I’ve known Sam for a long time. I rode with him on the Animal Bike Tour for three years. He came onto the Tour really young – just 17, I think. I also managed him for a short while. I just think he’s one of the most fabulous characters in mountain biking,” says Ashton.He also reflects that looks can be deceiving: “He has a persona that’d lead you to think he’s a bit of a ‘lad’, but I can assure you that he’s one sharp kid and knows exactly what he’s doing. Very focused on his career. He’s nailing it.”
With Pilgrim signed up, Sam’s next challenge was to acclimatise to a road bike – he’d never ridden one in his life! “Dropped bars were the most difficult thing to get used to. Having my hands turn at a funny angle was weird but good. My style of riding’s way harder on a road bike as trials is about being smooth and clean. Dirt jumps aren’t. It was scary at times because I know it’s made of carbon and I’m doing all these flips, but it surprised me just how strong the Noah was. It took a lot of shit.”
It’s quite a bike for Pilgrim’s virgin road experience. It’s a ‘standard’ Ridley Noah, so there were no structural adaptations to cater for the battering. The Road Bike Party team applied a bespoke paintjob but the rest of the components – from the FSA bars and stem to the Vision aero wheels and Continental GP4000 tyres – are off the shelf.
“It’s just amazing what the Noah stands up to. Throughout the video we had two punctures. Throughout the three videos, we’ve had seven punctures. That’s crazy for the punishment we dish out!” says Ashton.
He doffs his helmet to the bike manufacturers who are courageous enough to poke their heads up above the Road Bike Party parapet. “It’s brave of them because they’re setting themselves up for a fall. But it shows that they have total confidence in their product.” “I’m a mountain biker. That’s what I am...”
That kind of confidence is reflected in how the team respond to Martyn Ashton, whose remarkable story goes down in biking folklore. He’s credited by many in the UK for spearheading the niche sport of mountain biking trials – but in truth his pioneering work helped popularise not just trials but the whole gamut of mountain biking, in the UK and worldwide.
A trials rider, he turned professional in 1993 and went on to win four British Bike Trial and one World Expert Bike Trial Championships. He started his own bike team, designed innovative frames and travelled the globe on the Animal WD40 Action Sports Tour… and then on 1 September 2013 his riding career came to an abrupt end during one of his shows at Silverstone’s Moto GP when he crashed heavily from a 3m bar. “I hovered and fell backwards as I had nowhere to step to,” he recalled after the accident that left him paralysed below the point of injury (discs T9 and T10). “I fell headfirst and effectively snapped my back in half.”
The accident happened midway through working on Road Bike Party 2. Amazingly, Ashton continued to direct the masterpiece from his hospital bed – with Akrigg and MacAskill taking over the remaining riding duties – the trials legend preferring positivity and pragmatism over self-pity. It wasn’t long before Ashton was spotted out cycling, albeit this time handbikingaround Newport Velodrome, which raised the question: did he turn the camera on himself in Road Bike Party 3?
“At one stage there was talk of me appearing on a handbike but I wasn’t really into it. My long-term goals are still about riding bicycles. I’m a mountain biker. That’s what I am. My view’s never changed. Stubborn as it sounds, even when I was lying in that hospital bed, I never thought I wouldn’t ride bikes again. For me, that’s not an exciting future. But now is all about making videos. I love that the digital revolution has made biking so accessible and visible, and I’m fortunate we have such a laugh. And anyway, Sam’s just too good – I don’t know what I could have added!”
For starters, a banging soundtrack is what he’s added. It’s not just the riders’ stunning tricks and Kitchin’s videography that captivated the 23-plus million viewers in Road Bike Party 1 and 2 – the acoustics did, too. In Road Bike Party 3, Pilgrim scorches around the woods, streets and beaches of San Diego to the backdrop of another rocking track chosen by DJ Ashton.
“Music is integral to all the Road Bike Parties. I’m fortunate because my brother, Andy, works in the music industry, meaning we have great access to bands that we wouldn’t normally have. That’s how we came about choosing a track, Fantasy, from an Irish band called The Blizzards.”
Andy spoke to Niall Breslin, the lead singer of the band and judge on Ireland’s version of The Voice, and discovered that ‘Bressie’ (“Andy knows him well enough for a nickname”) was up for it straight away. It’s a brilliant tune that, if you listen carefully, has a hint of the festive to it.
“There’s a Christmas feel at the start but it’s ever-so subtle,” says Ashton. “And that means no bloody jingle bells!”
Jingle bells or not, Road Bike Party 3 is Ashton’s most ambitious and bravest project to date. He could have stuck to the trials formula that proved so successful for the first two but that wouldn’t be his style. Life is there for living. Boundaries are there to be broken. But ultimately, it’s about inspiring viewers to get out and bike. “If after the video, one person hops on their bike, we’ve done our job. Your job as a professional rider is to excite and inspire. And that’s exactly what Sam has done.”Equipment Used
In addition to the custom-painted but otherwise unaltered Ridley Noah frame, Pilgrim used FSA’s K-Force carbon road-racing drop bars, stem, seat-post and K-Force Light cranks; Vision’s Metron 55 and 81 carbon clincher wheels; a Prologo Nago Evo saddle; an 11-speed Shimano cassette with mechanical shifting and Continental GP4000 tyres.
The story so far…
Road Bike Party 2 - The 12 million view sensation
Road Bike Party 1 - The film that started it all
Images © 2014 Robin Kitchin and Blake Samson
Mentions: @sampilgrim @blakes19 @robinkitchin