The following quotes are all taken from people who have attended one of the many Taster Day sessions organised by the Rough Riderz club.
All of these statements, written in the members’ own words, explain a little of what they thought and how they felt about their first gravity biking experience.
This is just a small sample of the different people that have attended our training programme, since it’s inception back in 2009.
We have selected just a few quotes, at random, to give an overall impression of what people thought of the courses, facilities and training provided. Some are from people who tried riding our bikes, whilst others are from people who helped host some events.
This will hopefully give our prospective participants the chance to find out what kind of things to expect from attending one of our tuition sessions, and in turn, help them decide if it is the sort of activity they would like to try.
It also gives everybody a better insight into what some of our club members genuinely think about the bikes, the sport and the club…
“Thank you so much for an awesome Taster Day, it was an amazing experience! I have not had a laugh like that in a long while and loved every minute of it. The gravity bikes are really cool machines and great fun to ride… I can’t wait to see the new machine now!”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“This was my favourite activity of the weekend. I had hoped that I would enjoy it, but it exceeded all expectations. I will definitely be having another go when the new trail is completed. I can’t think of any suggestions to improve it. Also, the help and support of the whole team was excellent.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“The team from Rough Riderz put everyone at ease before guiding them down the trail. They made sure everyone knew the techniques required to ride the bike and the correct line to follow. The whole group was catered for, whatever the varying individual ability or confidence level. With specially built trails for the gravity bikes and all the equipment provided, it gave everyone involved the confidence to try something new and have a great time doing it.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“Downhill gravity biking (fourcross) is a sport that takes you as close to the able-bodied equivalent as you can get. It’s every adrenaline junkies ideal sport. Phil was great at leading the day and the support we had getting back up to the top of the track was like a well-oiled machine.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“The ‘gravity biking’ was really exceptional – the bikes themselves are incredible looking machines and they flew down the specially designed track like a cross between ski racing and go-karting. I don’t think anyone who saw them didn’t want to have a go!! Even those who had no previous experience were, by the end of the day, taking the banked corners and rolling berms like professionals. The uplift shuttle system was very efficient with a smooth transfer into the van and back to the top, meaning that the group managed about 12 rides, even allowing for a nice lunch by the cycle centre café. Thank you to Access Adventures and Rough Riderz for an unforgettable day.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“I was a bit apprehensive about downhill biking as I had my injury whilst cycling downhill, but the gravity bikes are so stable that I felt really secure in them. Plus, you have a helmet and body armour. Our instructor was great and took us at a pace which was comfortable. I can’t believe how much speed it picks up. The route was less than a minute, then we were helped back into vans to take us back up and go again. It was very exhilarating and I would definitely be up for trying this again.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“A few people were nervous at first but Phil was awesome and helped everyone build their confidence up so they all enjoyed the experience.”
Wye Adventure Camp 2016 with Access Adventures
“This was the thing I was looking forward to the most, however, after my first run I was not happy as I felt I was going too slow for the other riders… so Phil, the group leader, allowed me to try going down with a separate crew member, to increase my confidence before rejoining the main group. This was my decision and was not forced upon me. After a few runs on my own and feeling much happier, I rejoined the group. This really helped and made me love the bikes even more – I was much quicker, so had nothing to worry about like slowing other people down. The bikes were amazing and Phil and all the helpers were great. There’s nothing like the feeling of going downhill on a bike and I’ve not had that feeling in over 10 years! The whole day was amazing and I was buzzing afterwards… I loved every moment and I can’t wait to do this again.”
“I had my first day of gravity biking action. It was the best thing I have done since my injury. Phil was a great coach, helping me feel at ease and comfortable about some technical issues on the course. It was a buzz and I would recommend it to anyone who loves bikes, likes getting dirty or just love a bit of outdoor extreme sports. This feels like a whole new life has begun for me again. Just like to say a massive thanks to the whole team… cheers guys! Hope to do the same again very soon.”
“Thanks to RoughRiderzUK for an amazing day of gravity biking on Sunday. I had so much fun! I would definitely recommend trying it, even if you are not a wheelchair user you can still attend a taster day… and I shall be booking myself in for another go soon!”
“Cheers to the Rough Riderz club for all the instruction and help during my gravity biking session in the Forest of Dean at the weekend. It was super fun and amazing to be back on a bike in the forest again. It’s been too long…. nice one guys!”
“An amazing experience! Yes, I’m in a wheelchair, but you entirely forget about your disability when you’re in one of these gravity bikes. My confidence and skills built up with each downhill run and it was great to see the increase in speed and ability over the day. A serious adrenaline boost, I’m sure I’ll be back for more.”
“Thanks for my great Taster Day in the Forest of Dean. The day started with a brief technical and safety guide, which continued before the ride, at the top of the hill. Pretty quickly I realised this was it, we were in the bikes, looking down at what appeared to be a near vertical drop off to get us started. Thrown in at the deep end!
I was thinking the brakes seemed good on the flat, but the safety belt isn’t going to help me, now which one is the front brake and which is the back. So much to think about, or… trust Phil, follow his lead and go for it. So I went for it! Admittedly rather slowly at first, but getting quicker through the day. By the end of the day, I was (in my eyes) flying, and thoroughly enjoying it. So, would I go back? Too right I would, as it was great fun and very addictive! Thanks again to the club who made it all possible.”
“I just wanted to thank you for a fantastic day. I loved every minute – it was a total blast and a great rush. Its cool to do stuff that doesn’t feel like a ‘second best’ alternative to some other mainstream sport because its great fun and technically challenging in its own right. When you see the bikes they don’t scream ‘disability’ at you!!! I’d love to come and do it again sometime…”
“My gravity biking day was amazing! It was one of the best days I have had since being in a wheelchair… and for anyone who is remotely interested in an action packed day of downhill, I cannot recommend it enough. The organisation of the session was brilliant from the word go. We took to the course, with some great instruction for the first few rides, then just upped the speed a little each time as my confidence grew.
The purpose built track, called the Launchpad, was perfect. From a disabled point of view, it was a great experience, making another new sport possible in a world full of restrictions. For me it was also a day of great company, fantastic scenery and an adventure you just can’t get anywhere else. I want to thank all the guys for all their help in making this a day to remember. All in all, if I was going to rate this event out of 5, it would get a massive 10! You’ve got to try this people, you will not regret it!!!”
“The excitement of being back on a bike and razzing through the forest was amazing, shrieking and whooping all the way down. Phil was the ultimate professional, guiding me down the mountain, talking me through it bit by bit and the support crew with Ed’s uplift service made it all too easy! The bikes are amazing, I’ll be back and this has to be on everyone’s bucket list to try!”
“I had an amazing day with Phil and Brian. A massive thanks to the guys, it’s so well organized and should be on everyone’s bucket list of things to do! It’s such a rush going over rough terrain at speeds which would normally have you face planting… I’m seriously going to do it again. Cheers fella’s, you work very hard for us wheelies.”
“I’ve been wanting to get involved with Rough Riderz for a long time, so when the opportunity came up I jumped at the chance. What a fantastic day, exactly the adrenaline rush I was looking for! Phil and the boys have the logistics nailed, so the whole process was really smooth. The Launchpad trail is perfect to build up your confidence, and you can’t beat watching an expert in action to know what you’re aiming for. Thank you all so much, I loved the experience and can’t wait to try it again!”
“I had been keen to try the gravity bikes with Rough Riderz for a while. Having just retired from the British Disabled Ski Team I was looking for that adrenaline rush to fill my skiing void! I got exactly what I asked for… an amazing day out and a real rush. I can’t wait to go again. Phil and the boys put on a fantastic day, really well run with everything made easy.”
“I considered myself a bit of an adrenaline junkie before my motorbike accident so I was well over due some serious fun and excitement after a year of rehab. So when I did a taster day with Rough Riderz that’s certainly what I got, a fantastic experience that had me grinning all day. The bikes were incredible, the way they soaked up the terrain blew me away. Don’t hesitate to try this out, you’ll never forget it.”
“I first heard about Rough Riderz when searching the internet. I arranged to go on a Taster Day with my mate James. I was with them all day and loved every minute of it! I must admit the thrill it gives you, hurtling down the side of a mountain, on a four wheel bike was amazing and something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was buzzing the whole day and even on the long drive home! If anyone were to ask me if I’d do it again, it would be a definite YES!! And if anyone is interested in an adrenaline filled, off-road mountain bike experience I would urge them to book a Taster Day. Give this sport a go… you won’t regret it!”
“I really enjoyed the day out – that gravity MTB machine is incredible! The weather was typical of the Lake district and made little difference… if anything, the rain made it more exciting as the rear end slides on the top end of the run were magical… drifting sideways is great fun! My Coach provided clear guidance and worked at a pace that suited me – increasing as I started to get the hang of the machine and the terrain. The different terrain available was amazing – fire roads, slippery slate, mud holes, jumps and tree lined routes made for a fantastic range of surfaces – each with their own challenges and exhilaration. Thanks to the Rough Riderz for a wonderful day out. I would advise everyone to do this…. beware, the speed and adrenaline are addictive! I look forward to trying out the next level!”
“The bike is amazing – anyone who has ever ridden downhill will love this bike, able-bodied or not. The organisers were fantastic, very helpful and great to talk to. The day is conducted at entirely at your own pace – as slow or (almost… he he) as fast as you want! I’m looking forward to attending the next level now! Thanks again…”
“I had a fantastic time with Rough Riderz on my Taster Day. After a quick run down the forest road I was keen to get on the trail to see what the bike was capable of. I was far from disappointed! It was an absolutely brilliant day, made even better by the sunny weather. The guys were really well organised, it was great fun, so all in all everything went to plan. Cheers lads!”
“I’ve been interested in gravity biking and a keen follower of the Rough Riderz for some time, so when I heard about the Taster Days, of course I was very quick to get my name on the list. The session had been well organised and clearly planned to accommodate me as a newbie. Although the coach seemed able to ride it with his eyes closed, I found the first trail we tried quite challenging. I really enjoyed finding out how responsive and well built the bike is. In fact, I could have stayed on the first trail all day but my coach was keen to stretch my capabilities. After lunch we had a few runs down a more rigorous purpose-built track. I’m glad we did coz that second track was the dogs kahunas and the bike really showed me what it was capable of. I must thank Rough Riderz big time, and eagerly await more sessions…”
“I had a fantastic day. A well organised session was made even better with brilliant summer weather. After an introduction to the bike on forest roads, we then went onto the trail. Although the trail was more testing and quite tricky, the instructor was with me all the way. My riding really improved as the day progressed and I can’t wait to come back and try it again! Cheers ladz.”
Welsh born Tudur Booton had just finished High School when a motorcycle accident, over 20 years ago, left him paralysed and needing the use of a wheelchair. However, he didn’t let this experience hold him back and went on to try a number of different sports, before discovering he could ski. His first trip to the Alps was in 2006 and he very quickly became hooked on the sport.
Since he obviously had a thirst for adrenaline, and an interest in any type of action sports, it was an obvious progression for him to enter the world of gravity biking too. His closest friends were already keen DH mountain bikers, so he saw this as another opportunity to get involved, and participate in the same activities as his peers. With the help of his skiing buddies, and the Rough Riderz club, he was able to try DH mountain biking on four wheels and was again, very quickly sold on the idea.
He has regularly ridden with members of the club since that first session, hiring the club bike in order to practise and improve his ability on the bikes. In this exclusive interview he talks to the club about his passion and appetite for the sport…
■ When and why did you start riding gravity bikes?
“My first encounter with Rough Riderz was when I attended their ‘All Abilities Day’ at Ae Forest in 2009. I went up there to have a look at the bikes, and watch the guys riding, which convinced to book a Taster Day in 2010. This gave me the opportunity to try it for myself on a suitable beginner’s trail at Whinlatter in Cumbria.”
■ What other sports do you do, and how do they compare to gravity biking?
“I go sit skiing every year, I play wheelchair basketball for my local team every week, and I go hand cycling occasionally too. I enjoy playing basketball as part of a team, as it keeps me fit and has increased my social circle. It isn’t the same level of adrenaline as MTBing but involves a lot of different skills and ability. I go hand cycling purely to keep fit, but I also like the opportunity it offers to travel long distances independently and enjoy the great outdoors. It also helps maintain my upper body strength for other activities like sit skiing and MTBing.”
“In comparison with sit skiing, gravity biking is similar, as you need to have good balance, upper body strength and control. Although the overall technique is different when skiing, the sensation of speed and the gradients involved are very similar. I also think that the feeling of freedom and excitement that sit skiing provides is the same feeling I get when riding the bikes on downhill trails.”
■ How would you describe your experiences in gravity biking?
“Initially I was a little apprehensive, so I started slowly and was unsure what to expect. After I had got a feel for it I started to develop my skills and ride a little faster, with an increasing level of confidence. As I progressed I was able to improve my technique and, riding regularly with Phil increased my knowledge and ability, which meant adapting my riding style to attempt bigger and better things on the bike.”
“After a while I had enough confidence to attempt jumps and other, more technical trail features and steeper terrain. I think my riding has subsequently progressed to a very capable level. However, there are always more things to learn with this sport and I hope that there are still bigger and better things to come for me. With more new trails to try all the time, my skills are developing even further, tackling steeper and more difficult terrain with greater confidence and control of the machines.”
■ Where are your favourite trails and why?
“My favourite place to ride is at my local trails in the Forest of Dean, as these are some of the slower, more technical trails where the overall speed isn’t as important. This gives me greater confidence and better handling of the bike, which in turn helps me to tackle the terrain with less fear of losing control of the bike. I also enjoy the challenge of riding the more technical aspects on these trails, as they demand a high level of concentration and riding precision. This gives me a good feeling for the bikes’ abilities and increases my understanding of the dynamics of riding on four wheels.”
■ What is your most memorable gravity biking moment(s)?
“Probably the most memorable moment for me was the first time I successfully jumped the bike in the Forest of Dean. Getting air time was an awesome feeling and, I was relieved to find that the bike easily absorbed the impact of landing as I was always worried how this would feel physically for me. After watching Phil and others attempting these type of features for a while, I was really chuffed to overcome my fears, land safely and still be alive!”
“After progressing so well on trails in the UK, the other stand out moment for me was being invited to ride some much bigger trails in the Alps. This was a real boost to my confidence to know that my friends thought I was able to handle these longer, faster trails and it gave me the chance to really push my own abilities to new limits. I now have much more confidence in my own skills and abilities and I am always looking for new challenges to take it to the next level now.”
■ How and why would you recommend gravity biking to others?
“The joy of being in the great outdoors, in places I would not normally be able to access in my wheelchair, is a brilliant feeling of freedom. It is also fantastic to be able to ride with all my friends on the same trails. This sport offers the rare sensation of making me forget about my disability, as it becomes irrelevant when riding the bike. It gives you a real sensation of adrenaline and independence to ride the trails, and the speeds involved are exhilarating. Every time I reach the end of a trail I am absolutely buzzing with excitement and I can’t wait to go back up to the top and do it all again!”
■ What do you think are the most important things to remember when riding the trails on four wheels?
“I think the most important thing is to ride within your own ability and try and ease yourself into it gradually. The bike reacts differently to riding on 2 wheels, so you need to respect both the bike and the terrain. Never underestimate the difficulty of any trails, and try to remember the different elements of any run so you can build your speed up as you begin to develop your own skills. You must always be aware of other riders on the trails too, as people ride at all different levels of speed and ability… and always expect the unexpected!”
■ Do you have any personal ambitions you want to achieve in gravity biking?
“I still want to ride faster, and on more difficult and technical trails. My competitive side means I would also love to try riding/racing against the clock, to gauge my own ability. It would also be great to enter some competitions and race against other riders, which would raise the profile of the sport and encourage more people to get involved in gravity biking. Once I have my own bike another big ambition is to take on the challenge of riding the DH World Cup track at Fort William. I would also love to ride the best DH trails in America and experience to thrill of riding at world famous locations such as Whistler Bike Park in Canada.”
■ Any final thoughts about the Rough Riderz club and this new sport?
“I am really excited about the direction this sport is heading in, and I am pleased with the level of interest there is now in gravity biking. I am looking forward to seeing the final UK prototype gravity bike finished and tested, ready for production. I also hope the club continues to go from strength to strength, and I cant wait to ride the dedicated new gravity biking trail at FoD once completed. Finally, I must say a massive thanks to the Rough Riderz crew for introducing me to this amazing sport in the first place!”
Rough Riderz founder member and Club Secretary, Phil Hall, talks about some of his experience in riding gravity bikes and what he hopes for the future of the club. He started downhill mountain biking regularly whilst living in Tenerife, until a spinal cord injury left him paralysed after a motorcycle accident back in 2003.
This self confessed adrenaline junkie then went on to form the first gravity biking club in the UK, in an effort to establish this new and ‘inclusive’ extreme sport on home soil. Our exclusive interview with the man himself hopes to shed more light on his motivation for gravity biking and upcoming ambitions for the club and the sport…
■ What prompted you to get involved in the gravity biking scene?
“I have always had an unhealthy interest in anything fast and extreme, so after rehabilitating from my accident I was desperate to find something exciting to try again! This led me to sample a lot of different sports and activities, such as basketball, hand cycling, canoeing, water skiing, land yachting abseiling and even skydiving. Although all of these activities offered me varying degrees of adrenaline, I still felt I hadn’t found ‘the one’ for me.”
“I then found out about some four wheeled, downhill mountain bikes over in America, so I instantly booked myself a week’s holiday in Colorado to try it. After the first couple of days of riding I was completely sold on the feeling of freedom and independence this sport provided, along with the crazy speeds, the challenging terrain and plenty of adrenaline! Now I simply eat, sleep, live and breathe gravity biking… it is my passion and feeds my desire to push the limits.”
■ When and why did you decide to launch the Rough Riderz club?
“After my experience of riding in the States I couldn’t wait to buy a bike, so I ordered one from Canada as soon as I returned home. However, I had plenty of time during the three flights back to think about how much I’d enjoyed myself, and I was amazed that the same sort of thing wasn’t already happening in the UK. This gave me the idea to bring this experience to our shores, to educate, inform and encourage more people to get involved too. This was the birth of the idea and I quickly got to work gathering as much information as possible about gravity biking, launching a website and starting up the club in the autumn of 2006.”
“I used the time I had whilst waiting for my bike to be built and delivered to research all the possible trails to ride, and to promote the sport through a network of friends and other contacts. This resulted in making the website a hub of information for potential riders around the world and, through my contacts at R-One I discovered that another person (Dave Bower) was already gravity biking in Cumbria. So I made contact with him, outlined my idea and my vision for Rough Riderz and he joined me in helping to make the whole thing a reality. The rest, as they say, is history!”
■ What do you like most about riding gravity bikes?
“I love the sport because it means I get to see, experience and ride in some amazing places. It means I can still enjoy the scenery, locations and terrain that appealed to me about mountain biking prior to my accident. It also quenches my thirst for excitement and adrenaline, keeps me fit and active, and offers the mental and physical challenge that I couldn’t find in any other sports.”
“The freedom and independence I have when riding my bike gives me a huge feeling of satisfaction too, with the speed, the trail features and the challenging environment providing a real buzz of accomplishment that is hard to find anywhere else. I enjoy nothing more than throwing myself down a steep trail, dodging trees and roots, straddling big ruts and holes, negotiating rock gardens, sliding round berms and getting air time over the big jumps. Words can’t really do it justice… you have to try it for yourself to fully understand how pumped you feel at the end of a good run!”
■ How difficult are these bikes to control and what particular skills are essential?
“Gravity bikes are relatively easy to ride, with very responsive steering, four tyres offering good grip and a bucket seat (and seat straps) making it a comfortable and secure position for the rider. The main misconception is that having four wheels means you cannot fall over… but you have to use your upper body weight and position in a similar fashion to riding on two wheels to ensure you don’t flip the bike at speed and/or crash when tackling the jumps.”
“The main traits a rider needs to handle these bikes on the rough ground of a DH trail is good upper body strength and control. You also need good arm/grip strength and proper hand/eye co-ordination, with the ability to read the terrain and gauge your speed. Once you understand how the bike reacts to different situations then you can concentrate on developing your riding style, to improve your skills and ability. All of this requires a high level of concentration and good reaction times, to enable you to ride fast whilst tackling the various hazards and obstacles associated with the sport.”
■ What and where is your favourite DH trail(s)?
“I love all of the trails I ride as they all seem to offer a different riding experience. Probably the most challenging trail I have ridden is the World Cup track, at Fort William, which is just brutal! I love the extreme challenge of riding this trail, which is probably at the very limits of what our bikes can handle, but I also love the fast, flowing style of trails like The Shredder and Ae Line at Ae Forest in Dumfries.”
“Some of the natural trails in the mountains of Tenerife are awesome too. They are rough and rocky, dry and dusty runs that demand you stay focussed, and can last for over an hour from top to bottom. The long, wide, fast trails around Morzine and Les Gets in France all have their own particular appeal too, with twisty chicanes, plenty of jumps and massive berms, encouraging riders to get fast and loose. Its too hard to pick out one or two favourites, I love all of them, for lots of different reasons!”
■ What is your most memorable riding moment(s)?
“Probably my favourite moment was when I returned to Tenerife with my new bike for the first time. I got to meet up and ride with ‘mis amigos’ again, on some of the trails we had ridden when I first started MTBing. It was an indescribable feeling to be back with the old gang, all together, ripping down the mountains and having a wild time.”
“I guess the other milestone for me was the first time I rode at Fort William. I was nervous as hell going up in the gondola, looking down at the crazy track that I was about to attempt on four wheels. After a few sketchy moments, and what felt like a lifetime, I finally reached the bottom of the trail. I was totally pumped to have completed such a demanding course, and I couldn’t believe that me and my bike had survived to tell the tale!”
■ How and where do you spend your time training for this sport?
“I train for gravity biking in various different ways, to ensure I keep myself fit and strong to enough to handle the bikes. The main activity I use is hand cycling, as I find this helps me maintain strength and stamina, and is also a great cardio workout. I ride on average about 25 miles, and get out at least twice a week, usually around the network of cycle paths and tracks in my hometown of Preston.”
“In addition to this I train and play for the Lancashire Bombers wheelchair basketball team every Monday. Obviously, I try to get as much actual riding time in the bike on DH trails too, which averages about one full day (8-10 hours) a week, with longer sessions through the summer. I find sit skiing is also a good way to practise your balance, co-ordination and upper body control, and I try to have at least one week on the slopes every winter as well.”
■ What hints and tips would you give to other people that are potentially interested in getting involved in the sport?
“I think the main tip I would give to anyone wanting to have a go at gravity biking is to make sure they are fully fit. It takes a lot of strength and energy to control these bikes, so the fitter you get, the more you will enjoy the experience. It is also important for beginners to book a proper training session, to get essential advice and information to stay safe on the bikes. If someone thinks that this is a sport they would like to pursue after their training, then I would say just go for it… you won’t regret it!”
■ How would you like to see the future of gravity biking develop around the world?
“My main goals for the sport here in the UK is to develop a new, better version of the bikes we currently ride. I want an expansion of the number of clubs that are operating, to get more people involved, get more riders wanting to race and start a competition calendar like the British Downhill Series. This is also my hope for the future of gravity biking in other countries too, so that more places create their own riding and racing scene. As more places start to get established and represented, we can then start to take these competitions to an international level.”
“I was not searching for ‘fame and fortune’ by starting the Rough Riderz club. I simply want the sport of gravity biking to be as accessible to as many people as possible, both disabled and able-bodied riders alike. I also want the sport to become an integrated part of the existing downhill MTBing scene, both here in the UK and abroad. Put simply, I just want more bikes, more riders, more clubs, more trails, more awareness and more opportunities for anyone to enjoy this wonderful world of dirt!”
“So, thanks for this interview, and see you on the trails…”
Rough Riderz founder member, Phil Hall, has relaunched the bike building project and started work on the next generation of gravity bikes! Various deals have already been arranged with some high profile, industry leading suppliers… to compliment the exciting and aggressive new bike design. This means a new look, a new direction and a new era for the UK’s gravity biking scene. More news and details on these latest developments will be coming very soon across all our social media platforms!
To be continued…
Canadian Stacy Kohut, a leading light of the gravity MTB scene, talks exclusively to Rough Riderz about his life and his passion for the sport. After a fall in 1992 left him paralysed he then went on to become the first Canadian to win a Gold Medal and World Championship title, racing in a sit-ski.
Now, with his team mate Johnny Therien, they spend their summers competing on the North American and Canadian downhill MTB circuits. So, here in his own words, the remarkable Stacy Kohut gives us a glimpse into his world…
■ Where and why did gravity bike racing start?
“The original incarnation of the sport goes all the way back to the late 1980’s, early ‘90’s. The Cobra, a gravity four wheeler, which was designed by the infamous John Castellano, was the first gravity machine that I ever saw… that was the beginning of what we now call gravity biking. This ride was piloted by the equally infamous John Davis, and the Cobra/Davis combination was the benchmark for the sport for many years.”
“Davis was a staunch supporter and promoter of complete integration with the 2 wheeled DH MTB race scene. Castellano and Davis were able to lay the roots for the future, and they knew it. They had started a sport that was going to be a sport for everyone to participate in, sit down users and full able-bodied alike. Davis has commented more than once, that this sport will evolve into something very unique. When you talk about the birth of the fully integrated sport of gravity biking, it starts and ends with John Davis and John Castellano.”
“By the end of 1999, I had secured myself an amazing ride in the form of the DH-1, built and designed by Bill Grove. Bill and I became friends during this year; he was constantly amazed at what I was doing with his ride. I would e-mail him action shots, and he commented many times that the ride needed to be updated to reflect the new riding style I was developing.”
■ How did you and Johnny get involved in it and what got you both hooked?
“I first met Johnny Therien at the Joyride DH Festival in 2000 where there was quite a few gravity bike racers at the event. We were both fully hooked on the sport individually when we met. We raced that year, and then saw each other again the next summer in 2001, where we rode together, learned from each other, and just got to know each other. Bill Grove had quit by then, I had talked to him about the ride, and I know Johnny had also talked to Bill about the future of the sport.”
“I moved to Whistler in 2002, and when I went up to Johnny’s shop he had his first DH-1 mainframe sitting in front of him. He knew changes needed to be made to keep up to what both of us were doing, and just built one with the ultimate ok from Bill Grove himself. He then asked me if I wanted to ride his first bike, test it, and give him feedback… damn, I was blown away and so stoked, and in all reality this was the start of Johnny Therien and I becoming partners in the scene and creating R-One.”
“It didn’t take long for Johnny and I to begin the process of updating the ride, and as R-One, we were now the owners of the design and had free reign to test here in Whistler Bike Park. We made vast improvements and crucial modifications to take the durability and performance of our bikes to our level of riding. Johnny’s ability to ride and build at a high level has definitely been a key part of the whole equation too. We both got hooked because simply, gravity biking is the most progressive and integrated sport out there.”
■ How established is the sport and what events include a four wheeled class?
“The straight up answer is that there probably is not a single race, organisation, group or series that would say ‘no’ to a gravity biker entering a race or event, provided they have the skill set appropriate for the race or event. The sport is accepted, the riders all welcome. Integration is the key, seamless integration is the goal.”
■ How many riders usually compete?
“I have seen 10 riders or more at certain events, both male and female, and on the other end of the scale, there have been many times when I was the only one racing at the event, fully integrated into the male pro class. Both situations are healthy and needed for the sport to grow. Also remember this, some owners of gravity bikes have no desire to race; they just ride and have fun with it, that’s cool too. I fully respect that.”
■ Where and how much time do you spend riding / training for your season?
“I take time off during the winter months, but other than that its full-on, 4 to 7 days a week, with all different degrees of intensity. I usually try to peak at the big events. The norm is 4 days a week, 12 runs a day, very focused riding or race prep. Mental training plays a big part also and many hours a week are spent in this area. Hey, and don’t forget bike maintenance mixed into the week.”
“You can spend over 40 hours a week on the sport real fast. It’s my job. Like I said, it ramps up in days and intensity before an event, and I do have some rest periods during the 6 month season also, it is needed. It is quite intense, and I have great background in sport to draw from, and so I use that background to make sure each season is progressive. I am trying to set the benchmark as high as possible, and keep that benchmark evolving and changing. I ride for fun, but I race to win!”
“It takes a lot of sacrifice to ride and race at the level I do. Johnny has been great in supporting my fanatical approach to riding. He has really met the benchmark level with the R-One Fourcross’ performance and durability. The bike I am currently riding has had the same mainframe going on its 4th year, it already has over 3.6 million vertical feet ridden on it, and still its fresh and ready to go.”
■ How long have you been competing?
“I have been racing since 1999. I love everything about it, the bikes, the people, the scene, the full integration, the support from the mainstream media, everything man, everything! I stopped all other sports for this, but its so worth it. Why bother with the rest when you have found the best! Gravity biking is bad ass. Johnny has been at it, racing and riding since way back in 1997.”
■ What is your most memorable race or moment to date?
“The first race that really blew my mind was the 2000 NORBA Finals in Mammoth Mountain California. It was the season finale for my first full season, and I was battling John Davis for the overall series title. The course was amazingly technical and very demanding. Small mistakes were not just going to cost us seconds on the clock, they could ruin our rides and/or bodies even more.”
“There were many sections that John Davis and I could barely get through at a very slow pace during course inspection, let alone rip the section at race speed. After that initial course inspection, that was it, we did not ride together or do training runs together for the next 3 days. Each one of us working on dialling in the course as best we could, and certainly not wanting to show each other our techniques and moves through some sections. Come race day it was insane, the lines we were ripping, the chances we were taking, the spectators’ and official’s jaws we were dropping. Shit was going down!”
“In the end Davis took the series overall after I flipped my bike on the final turn coming into the finish line bowl area. After it was over, in the pits Davis and I talked about how gnarly the race was. We laughed and were amazed at the fact we had just done something that 4 days earlier seemed impossible. The sections we had dialled from the start were attacked with amazing speed and risk, we both admitted to each other that we had pushed ourselves and our rides further and faster than we had gone before. This race had solidified my belief that this was one of the most demanding and dynamic gravity sports out there. I never looked at what I did, or what the others did in the sport in the same way again. It all seemed that much more valid and real after that week in Mammoth.”
“The second race that was memorable was the 2005 B.C. CUP race in Mission, British Columbia. Johnny and I were the only racers there, and we got ourselves into something we couldn’t back out of, it was just not an option. We had shot our mouths off for months on how we were going to race this course, no problem. This race would be on a very flat course that was littered with uphill sections and demanded that you used your mind to problem solve other parts that were completely nuts!”
“This course was beyond just a downhill; it was on the verge of being a lung bursting, arm pumping, endurance race for Fourcross riders. At race speed it was off the hook, controlling your breathing and your timing with certain power moves was crucial to getting through sections, let alone finishing the race. Ripping some sections at speed meant that by all accounts, we were risking our lives. By mid race I was tasting blood coming from my lungs, by ¾ of the way down, I was hyperventilating and seeing black spots in certain sections.”
“As I got to the finish I could not feel my arms, I could not really see all that well. I was spitting up blood from my lungs and, as I crossed the line, I could not talk or focus on anything other than getting some sort of rhythm back to my breathing. It was brutal. This race was simply something I will never forget. It was one of the most intense things I have ever done!”
■ What do you feel are your biggest achievements in the sport so far?
“You know, one of my biggest achievements I believe has been my ability to encourage newcomers and those with less high performance goals to feel welcome in the sport. This sport is not just about racing and being competitive; there is a whole other side that is about riding and expressing yourself on the trails and jumps. That and being able to portray this sport in the mainstream media as a sport for everyone, integrated with the mainstream events and bike parks.”
■ How would you like to see the sport develop further in the future?
“I believe that the sport’s future lies in integrated clubs, such as yours, as well as integrated rentals and lessons at the bike parks that are now everywhere on the planet. Of course, I also believe that if someone wants nothing to do with clubs or races, they should be able to just buy a bike and go rip down the trails with their friends.”
“Freedom really. This sport’s future does not lie in being tagged an ‘adaptive sport’, the sport’s future is bigger than that. The athletes involved are more worldly than that, its all about fitting into existing programs and not segregating the sport. The riders of gravity bikes will develop the future, not men and women in suits, sitting in offices, telling us ‘how its is’. Lets not make the mistake many sports have made before… keep the wankers out!”
■ What would you say to encourage more newcomers to try the sport?
“First of all, get somewhat fit. This sport, any sport, is easier to enjoy and participate in with a good general level of fitness. Realize that in a lot of ways, this is a lifestyle, not a sport. You don’t just try gravity biking, you live it.”
■ What tips, tricks and advice can you give our new riders to help them improve their skills and ability?
“Again, get fit to start with, and take some lessons. Two wheeled instructors will have the basics of upper body positioning already dialled, the upper body is the same, setting up for corners is the same, braking is the same, that’s enough to work on for a while.”
“Also, as you move through your progression, try to be as independent as possible, it makes for a strong body, mind, and spirit; which is very helpful in the sport. And again, speaking of progression, have a plan for the season, ease into it, get some miles in before you start going crazy. Ease into new situations, keep moving forward, but use the ‘ol noodle to help you stay healthy and riding.”
■ How different is it to riding two wheels downhill?
“Not much really, it truly is an insane combination of MTB, BMX, MX, truck racing and supercross. A lot of similar actions and body positions for all the sports, gravity biking just has some from each… pretty cool if you think about it really. The main thing for beginners is that with riding a gravity bike, you can not fall over, and that can be a very comforting thing for a lot of potential riders these days. Four wheels has much appeal to many people.”
■ What are your main goals for the future of the scene now?
“Keep riding, keep racing… keep progressing as people and riders. I want people to know that if we go down a slope where the focus of the sport is the machine and not the athletes, we could be entering a situation where the riders get marginalized and de-valued. It’s the riders that make the sport what it is, the bike technology will always play a part, but it’s the riders that are the real attraction. The riders will ultimately sell the sport with their passion and performances.”
■ What other changes and/or improvements would you like to see?
“There are so many potential riders out there right now sitting on the fence whether to buy a bike or not. I say ‘do it’, you will not regret it! You just need to follow your gut. So that’s really the only improvement gravity biking needs right now, more riders and some more racers. Other than that, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Gravity biking is moving ahead at a nice organic pace, nothing is being forced or faked. I like that.”
“I want to finish with a big thanks to all my friends, sponsors, fans, family, R-ONE and you Phil. Can’t wait to ride with you dude!”
So, that’s all folks! We just want to give a big shout out to our ‘Fourcross friends’ in Whistler. A massive thank you to Mr Kohut and Mr Therien, aka R-ONE, for this great interview too!
The Rough Riderz club returned to the Alps for the third time, to enjoy the huge range and choice of downhill mountain biking trails. The trip resulted in another amazing week of riding, with some regular club members joined by two very good friends from the Metal Bikers crew, based in sunny Tenerife!
Adam is a regular presenter on BBC1’s Countryfile and has worked for Sky TV, Central News and Top Gear. He presents weekly for Radio Gloucestershire and has presented On the Farm for Radio 4. He also writes for the monthly Countryfile magazine.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my days filming on Whinlatter’s MTB trails. Having struggled around the red run I was in awe of the Rough Riderz, launching themselves down the hillside in their four wheeled bikes, trying to ride at the maximum speed possible from the very start.”
“I had no idea that these four wheeled bikes even existed, or that there are trails suitable for them. The whole Rough Riderz concept seems absolutely brilliant. I fully agree with what the guys said during our interview, and why shouldn’t they enjoy the sport alongside the two wheeled bikers, experiencing the same adrenaline rush, along with the freedom of the great outdoors and the magnificent views on offer?”
“This sport will surely grow quickly as more trails are suitably designed and opened up to Rough Riderz. I really admire anyone brave enough to throw themselves off a mountain strapped into one of these amazing bikes, but let’s face it, they must be either very brave, extremely skilful or just plain nuts!”
Rough Riderz regret to announce that we have had to make the difficult decision to sever all links with Project Enduro team, based at Gower College, part of Swansea University.
This was originally a concept initiated by the club, via our ‘Project Gravity X’ campaign. However, after having secured hundreds of thousands of pounds in Welsh Government funding, this bike building enterprise appears to have completely lost sight of the main objectives and goals set out by the club during it’s inception:
• To build an affordable, and therefore more accessible, gravity bike in the UK.
• To provide an easy to maintain bike using MTB parts, instead of custom-built components.
• To create a better gravity bike design for improved ride-ability and overall performance.
Unfortunately, the club has been excluded from key design decisions, important product testing and overall progress reporting for the majority of the project’s final year, with key feedback/suggestions going unheeded. As a result of this marginalisation, the club does not feel that the project meets any of the above criteria and so has now officially resigned as a project partner.
We felt that if we were to continue our affiliation, then this apparent approval would lend false credibility to their designs. We are therefore unable to promote and/or recommend their final product(s) to any potential customers.
However, please stay tuned to the site and our social media platforms for fresh news on Project Gravity X in the near future…
Eric Lindsley worked for Santa Cruz, as a test engineer, after graduating from University in 2003. In January 2004, Eric was riding home from work with his girlfriend. They were riding across a railway trestle near the ‘Santa Cruz Boardwalk’ when his girlfriend called for him to stop because her chain had fallen off. So, Eric stopped and turned. He lost his footing and fell 20ft onto a concrete support below.
With severe bruises around his vertebrae, several broken ribs and a fractured skull, he woke up from a coma 9 days later to find he was paralyzed. However, this did not deter him from trying to get a new four-wheel downhill rig for himself, when he had recovered. Parapros Racing came to his aid and built him a bike. This new machine makes the average bike look like a piece of crap!
“This bike has 12 inches of travel with Fox Racing Shox. A set of four 26 inch Mag 30s laced up to Sun Ringle hubs and wrapped in 2.5 inch Kenda Nevegals keeps her railing around corners. Pilot inputs are made via ODI grips, Easton Monkey Lite bars, Race Face stem, Chris King headset, and a custom tie-rod linkage. In the binder department, she sports a set of 4 four-piston Hope calipers hooked up to 2 Hope master cylinders. This gives me 1 lever for the front and 1 for the rear.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Parapros Racing. The principles, Brad and Sal, worked for over a week straight to get me something to roll in time for my first competition. Since then, they took it back to make some final tweaks for me. So I now regularly enter DH events on my finished ride. I imagine you’ll be able to catch me on it, every now and then, up at Whistler too. So watch out Stacy… you have some competition on your hands now.”
“I just love to strap myself into my custom made Parapros seat, get towed to the top of a hill behind an ATV, and then let ‘er RIP! I am stoked to find someone else actively promoting the sport. I have raced in the US, Canada and Japan, but I would love to race in the UK too. I am now working with the Active Force Foundation, developing a new four wheel bike. This will be one of the most advanced DH machines the world has ever seen… so watch this space!”
The Rough Riderz have just returned from another adrenaline filled week of downhill mountain biking, involving four wheel, three wheel and two wheel mountain bikes. The week was a huge success and the first time that the club has been able to use the ski lifts to get to the top of the mountain.
Some members of our Committee have had to jump through hoops to be able to do this, having been denied access to the lifts on our previous trip last year. These bikes are not the first four wheel machines to be ridden in the Alps but they are different from the other types of bikes that have been ridden there, so we were initially denied access to the lifts.
After a year communicating with the lift authorities, and taking the bikes back on a separate trip, we finally got approval to use the lifts. The effort proved well worth it as it meant that we could all ride together (without needing our uplift vehicle), giving greater access to the many trails that the Portes du Soleil has to offer. This enhanced the experience for the disabled riders, and further promoted the ‘fully inclusive’ nature of this exciting sport.
The lift attendants in Morzine and Les Gets were exceptionally helpful, getting the bikes and riders onto the chairlifts without any problems. The new Pleney gondola lift was a different story however, as unfortunately the doors weren’t quite wide enough to wheel the gravity bikes straight into the lift. So the riders had to transfer onto a chair, whilst the bikes were loaded on sideways, then the riders were helped into the next carriage. This wasn’t a major issue though and, after a few attempts were able to get in and out of the lifts fairly quickly, without holding up the rest of the queue.
Although we tried all the trails down Pleney over the week of our stay, the black run was the fastest and most fun to ride! From the top of the gondola it crosses an open, rocky top section which fires you round some small chicanes and into the top of the forest. Once into the woods the conditions were very sketchy after massive amounts of rainfall over the season. It became a battle to keep control of the bikes and stay on line, as we slid around in the deep mud. This whole run is steep, with small jumps, berms and a lot of trees to deal with, exiting on to a small, open area of the hillside before firing back into the trees again.
Further down the run the track had started to dry out a bit, giving better grip on the rough and rocky parts, before hitting some dusty sections of fire road. This had some a fast, flowing bends and two small table top jumps, before its back into the woods for another muddy, twisty part of the trail. After riding through a narrow tunnel, there are more steep, tree lined sections to negotiate, with deep ruts to avoid, and several different lines options. After some very tight final bends, with a couple of technical drop offs, the trail ends on the fire road. Its then a fast run, across rocks and drainage ditches, to reach the open area at the bottom of the lift station, with a small rock garden and hip jump to finish this crazy but exhilarating trail!
See previous report for more information…
■ La Roue Libre (Les Gets)
■ Tutti Frutti (Super Morzine)
The club was also able to offer two new guys the opportunity to have a go at gravity biking during our visit. A group of Swiss friends, who had been in touch with the club before the trip, arranged a surprise day of gravity biking for their friend, who had broken his back a year ago in a motocross accident. The look on his face when he finally realised what was happening was priceless! Michi loved the experience from the word go, proving to be a natural gravity biker, so we’ll no doubt be seeing more of him again soon.
The other rider to get a taste of four wheels, Dan Carracio, actually lives in France. Dan broke his back in a snowboarding incident 5 years ago, but after a few years of rehabilitating in London he decided to move out to Morzine. Dan only had time for two runs in a gravity bike, but he was immediately hooked too! So, hopefully we will be able to get some gravity bikes located in Morzine in the near future, so Dan and others like him can participate in this exciting sport on a regular basis.
Serge and Annick from Defisport (based near Martigny in Switzerland) came to ride with us on their three wheel Explorer bikes. It was great to see these machines in action alongside the four wheel machines. Unfortunately Serge suffered a rear tyre blow-out on his last run which meant he had to limp down the mountain, but that didn’t stop his enjoyment of riding the trails with us in Les Gets.
All in all it was a great week for everyone. We met a lot of great people, and our hosts at Bike Morzine were very friendly and helpful. They even interviewed us and filmed our activities for this Rough Riderz at Bike Morzine video. Plus, their excellent accommodation facilities at Chalet Arthur meant it was a great place to stay, for accessibility as well as it’s central location… and we will be back next year!