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!”