Interview: UK trials star Martyn Ashton

Wind, ramps and riding a show with a broken arm

Martyn Ashton has been at the forefront of UK mountain bike trials since he first hit the scene with his pal Martin Hawes in the early '90s. These days the former world expert biketrial champion and star of the infamous Dirty Tricks and Cunning Stunts video is best known for managing and riding with the Animal Relentless Bike Tour. We spoke to him about wind, ramps and riding a show with a broken arm.

BikeRadar: So what you do is tour all over the country, demonstrating what’s possible on a bike?

Martyn: Exactly – there’s a team of four who take it out on the road, comprising two riders, one commentator and a road manager. I’m one of the lucky riders who get to do this as my job.

On a typical day we arrive and build up, do five shows throughout the day, then we’ll break down and leave. It’s pretty simple really – and it’s amazing just how much fun can be jammed into that schedule.

Does it not take away your love of riding by making things repetitive?

My God no! The truth is that it isn’t repetitive, although I can understand how a spectator who’s familiar with the show may think it is. It’s like asking why an actor loves doing a certain play or a songwriter sings a particular song over and over again.

There’s an important message behind the Bike Tour – enjoy yourself. Preferably on bikes. Each show has a different audience, so it’s a unique showing every time. Knowing that means every show is important.

I often tell myself before a demo: "This might be the show I convert someone to bikes." We are the frontline for bikes and action sports in general, and the opportunity to inspire a spectator shouldn’t be wasted or taken for granted.

How many shows a year do you do?

We do at least 40 UK dates in the summer. We usually venture out into Europe for a couple of dates as well. We feature at all kinds of events from music festivals to city centres to sporting events, so the audience is pretty diverse depending on the venue.

At NASS (National Adventure Sports Show) for example, you can have a very knowledgeable crowd at times, whereas at music festivals most of the people watching have had a few drinks and just want to be entertained.

Is it hard being motivated when you’re out on the road all the time?

Bikes are what define me. I love them, and want others to realise/remember the potential of that rusty old mountain bike in the garage. Even if a spectator isn’t into bikes, the Bike Tour demonstrates people having fun while keeping fit and healthy. That’s a great message to share, and I’m privileged to be able to help spread it – I’m old enough now to have realised just how lucky I am to be involved in this industry.

Your display setup looks a lot more advanced than those of some other demo riders – what does it consist of and how did you get it built?

The rig consists of two VW Transporter vans, two trailers and loads of equipment. Once built, it’s an awesome little bike park that will fit into almost any space or environment.

Over the years it has developed – we try to change things each year, and plan a new line or trick. There are certain moves that can’t be replaced though, so there are certain parts of the rig that are hard for us to change.

Does it take long to build and take down for shows?

We can roll in at 9am, build up to perform the first show by at 11am without any real problems. It is a very slick and pro setup these days!

What about the type of bike you use – is it specialist, or can anyone go and buy one and make a routine?

I’ve worked on designs with Diamondback, so the bikes I ride will be available very soon. Ignoring that awful plug though, you can buy specialist trials bikes, but the beauty of mountain bikes is they can cope with almost anything. You don’t have to have a special build – that comes later when you have decided on a discipline that suits you.

Your concept of bike shows have taken you as far as Singapore – how did that come about?

Animal have distribution all over the world now. We used the Singapore visit as a tester for things to come. There has been talk of doing a world tour – I think that would be awesome! The early chats have involved getting some amazing guest riders in, so I’ve got all my fingers crossed we can get that sorted.

Where has been most successful/fun for you?

That is hard to say, there have been shows that have got such a great response – it can feel unbelievable when it goes well. I have had feedback from numerous people who all tell me a similar story: “Seeing the show made me buy Mountain Biking UK, and I’ve been riding ever since”. When that happens, you know everyone has done their job well – it’s hard to beat that as a successful result.

What about the fewest spectators you’ve ever got at a show?

Erm, two…

And you still gave them a show?

Of course! I have a rule – if they’ll stand in it, I will ride in it. It always comes back to the message. If you’re asking someone to look at this sport, at bikes and at exercise as positive things, then you have to give out a positive attitude.

I look at the difficult shows like the ones in the rain or wind, or with only a few spectators, as an opportunity to be positive. I trust my bike handling and experience to get me through, and enjoy it. Nothing else for it, man!

After so many shows, do you ever catch yourself getting blasé?

I wish I could do it like that – but each year I train harder and harder to be able to take on a season of riding. I don’t know if you have noticed, but I’m not getting any younger! I’m not blasé about my fortune to be on this tour, and those rainy, spectator-less shows help keep me grounded and appreciative.

Have you ever done something badly wrong during a show?

I’ve crashed tons of times. I’ve landed on my head while attempting a flip, and I once broke my arm in the middle of a show – I finished it anyway though. Another time I managed to land in the crowd after a trick – you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve since removed that trick from the show! Making mistakes is a part of learning, and I’m still learning...

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Click play above to watch the Animal Relentless Bike Tour at BikeRadar Live

You can catch Martyn and the Animal Relentless Bike Tour at the following venues (check www.animal.co.uk for details):

  • 5-9 Aug 2009: Boardmasters, Newquay
  • 14 Aug: Animal Store, Salisbury
  • 15-16 Aug: Animal Store, Portsmouth
  • 21 Aug: Animal Store, Norwich
  • 22 Aug: Animal Store, Bury St Edmunds
  • 23 Aug (TBC): Animal Store, Canterbury
  • 24 Aug: Animal Store, Poole
  • 28-29 Aug: Animal Store, Bournemouth
  • 30-31 Aug (TBC): Poole Park Festival
  • 5 Sept: Bike Store, Swindon
  • 11-14 Sept: Animal Windfest, Poole

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