Why downhill racing is booming in the UK

The story behind the huge success of the Pearce Cycles downhill series

Racing in the UK has never been as good as it is today and regardless of what the old timers tell you about ‘the good old days’, now is the time to get out there and give racing a go.

From stellar national events such as the BDS and Gravity Enduro Series, to any one of the amazing regional events that are ideal for beginners – there’s a challenge out there for everyone.

Gee atherton and marc beaumont with dave and lindsay pearce: gee atherton and marc beaumont with dave and lindsay pearce
Gee atherton and marc beaumont with dave and lindsay pearce: gee atherton and marc beaumont with dave and lindsay pearce

How many regional races have world champions and World Cup winners in attendance? Dave and Lindsay Pearce pose for a photo with Gee Atherton and Marc Beaumont, who both live in Shropshire.

Grassroots racing is the lifeblood of the UK’s current racing pedigree, which in downhill, is internationally second to none and no more so is this the case, than in Ludlow, Shropshire. On the outskirts of this historic market town rests one of the sports key instigators of mountain bike racing; Pearce Cycles. A small family run bike shop with an enviable reputation when it comes to organising downhill races.

To find out more, we headed to Ludlow on the day of registration for their 2015 series. After previous years overwhelming successes, the plan for this year was to open the shop an hour before online and phone registration could begin. This way, some of the riders who perhaps weren’t as fast off the mark with their phones and computers and missed out in previous years, could truck over to the store and sign on in person.

Arriving only 20 minutes after the doors opened, the stream of vehicles lining the road all the way to the shop was something else. The substantial car park was already packed out and a queue of racers braved the cold January air to ensure their place on what is becoming the UK’s premier regional race series. We talked to Lindsay Pearce, one half of the formidable team who make this work so well to find out what goes into running a series like this and how you sell an entire 6 event downhill series in one hour and 3 minutes.

MBUK: Pearce Cycles has become synonymous with mountain biking and in particular downhill racing, in and around Shropshire. Where did it all start and how did you get into organising events?

Pearce Cycles: It all started with a visit to the British Eagle factory in Newtown back in 1992 (with kids in tow). With ten mountain bikes ordered and a passion for riding we opened ‘Pearce Cycles’ in Ludlow. We soon got involved in our local cycling club, helping out with time trials and events in the area. This led to our involvement in the Midlands Super Series and then soon after British Cycling approached us to stage a round of the National RAV4 Downhill Series at Hopton Woods in 1996. In 2002 we set up the ‘Pearce Cycles Downhill Winter Series’ using existing forestry venues aimed at local riders, this soon turned into a summer series as we didn’t have enough daylight in the winter to fit everyone in. Events were a good fit for the business; we seemed to have the right resources, skills and enthusiasm. And 23 years later we are still organising races!

MBUK: What trends have you noticed over the years?

Pearce Cycles: The general interest for racing has always been high - we have just seen a change in focus between disciplines. We currently see downhill being just as popular as ever and we see new faces each year at both our uplift days and the race series. Enduro has just complemented DH given them more trails to train on and a race format to get fitter for.

MBUK: There is evidentially a hunger for racing right now with events around the UK selling out in record time. Why do you think this is?

Pearce Cycles: The industry is pushing technology and design, a strong media interest, advances in social media and the success of the sport are all contributing factors. But making the sport accessible locally is also key - the development of trail centres, uplift days, demo days, etc all increase participation. The British success on the world scene has definitely played a part in aspiring young riders coming into the sport.

We’ve been very fortunate to have a loyal following of riders; we’ve worked hard to build up a reputation for our events and developed the Pearce uplift service, which for some is a stepping-stone into racing. We make our events accessible to all levels of riders, from the grass roots level to the seasoned rider. The events and venues evolve which is important to keep the series fresh and exciting.

Joe smith racing at the popular bala venue: joe smith racing at the popular bala venue
Joe smith racing at the popular bala venue: joe smith racing at the popular bala venue

CRC Paypal's Joe Smith lives just over the border in Wales, so close he went to school in Shrewsbury and another fine example of riders who have cut their teeth racing and riding Pearce events before going pro. He might be on a big trade team these days, but like a lot of pro riders, still regularly turns up to race, especially at venues like Bala pictured here - arguably one of the UK's best DH race tracks and a regular destination for Pearce events.

MBUK: Your unique uplift service is certainly one of the highlights of attending a Pearce event - how did this all come together?

Pearce Cycles: Pearce Cycles is a part of ‘Pearce Engineering’, which was established in 1980 so it was a natural move for Dave to apply his engineering skills to the development of uplift transport. From tractors and trailers, to bespoke double decker trailers, the Pearce uplift formula has evolved and modernised to industry standards. Today a fleet of Landrover 110’s with bespoke trailers efficiently transport rider and bike safely - on a race day we can move 400 riders in an hour!

Extensive work has been done over the years to fine tune the uplift service, with prototype trailers designed to manage the off road conditions, even the suspension on these trailers is tuned to give the bikes the smoothest ride possible. The only headache we have had lately is tweaking them all to take 650b wheels! With a workshop on site and a dedicated Landrover ‘doctor’ the Pearce Uplift is something we are very proud of and continue to develop.

The fleet of land rovers and their drivers who speed racers to the top of the hill : the fleet of land rovers and their drivers who speed racers to the top of the hill
The fleet of land rovers and their drivers who speed racers to the top of the hill : the fleet of land rovers and their drivers who speed racers to the top of the hill

This is how you deliver one of the best uplift services in the UK!

MBUK: Tracks like Bringewood and Hopton have been part of the sports fabric in the UK for decades - what makes for a timeless race track?

Pearce Cycles: We are very fortunate to be based in an area with some fantastic hills. The natural landscape has allowed us to carve some fast flowing tracks, which are both challenging and fun to ride. Our skills in track building have also developed over the years, listening to riders investing in equipment and ultimately time. Time spent on a track is the ultimate factor, fine tuning turns and jumps, ensuring good drainage, regular maintenance and developing new sections to keep the riders guessing.

Kinsham is a new venue we developed last year, in partnership with landowner Chas Davies (World Superbike rider). We look out for new venues and survey potential land for tracks, so watch this space.

MBUK: Did you anticipate so many riders physically turning up to register?

Pearce Cycles: Amazed and overwhelmed by everyone's commitment that Saturday morning. We had a feeling we would get quite a few people turn up, but not that many and not that early with some arriving at 7:15am! Some riders travelled a good 100+ miles coming as far as North Yorkshire, East Sussex, Bolton, Preston and Somerset! Many riders stayed for the day and took advantage of a special uplift event and Specialized demo day after registration. All entries were processed at the shop just before the website went live at 10am and by 10:03am, the series had completely sold out.

MBUK: The series sold out in just over an hour – where do you go from here?

Pearce Cycles: We are in a great position now to plan this year’s series - having the budget and number of riders already allocated means that we can now focus on putting everything into place to make the events run as smoothly as possible. With new sponsors this year we should be able to deliver an even better rider experience.

MBUK: What would you say are the necessary ingredients to a running successful race series?

Pearce Cycles: At the centre of all the planning needs to be rider experience. We see the amount of time you get to ride your bike as key to getting value for money. So waiting around is kept to a minimum and lots of things play a part in this. Good uplift is essential, efficient incident management and timing all make an event run smoothly. Also 100% dedication is required - we work seven days a week to make these events happen and check every detail ourselves to make sure it’s right. Of course we couldn’t do it without our loyal team of family and friends who we rely on as well!

Lindsay pearce: lindsay pearce
Lindsay pearce: lindsay pearce

Organising and running a busy race series is no meant feat!

MBUK: What does the future hold for racing and Pearce Cycles?

Pearce Cycles: We want to continue putting on good quality events. We have thought about becoming more involved in other disciplines in the sport, but whilst downhill is so popular and we have the infrastructure to put these events on, we will continue to do so. Plus we plan to continue developing our uplift service and training days to engage new riders.

Back at base we are undergoing a big refurb at our shop in Ludlow with new layout and mezzanine floor (made by Dave) allowing us to showcase our full range of bikes and accessories. For more: www.pearcecycles.co.uk/events

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