Jason McRoy was the first true Superstar of British Mountain Biking, paving the way for his peers and those that would follow him. Tragically his life was cut short in 1995, when he was killed on his beloved Harley-Davidson on the WoodheadPass in the Peak District, just before his riding would arguably have reached its zenith.
Why was he the first true Superstar? Firstly he was a pioneer. He was one of the first Brits to take the risk, financially and competitively, to race abroad. At the famous Eliminator at MammothMountain, he came second against some of the best names in the world. They were backed by well financed professional teams, and he was a privateer who just about raised enough money from his winnings to go to the next race. So impressed with his skills and determination, it wasn’t long before he was signed up by Specialized, the first Britsh Professional rider to have a US team backed sponsorship.
Secondly, he had that rare ability to ride any bike well and not only that, his legendary determination to win is the stuff of legend. For example, in the World Championships in Bromont, Canada, he developed a flat front tyre that stopped him in his tracks. But rather than give up, he ripped the tyre off and finished the race on the rim. Whilst out injured with a dislocated thumb he decided to have a go at keeping up his fitness at the Manchester Velodrome. So impressed was the England Coach Doug Daley, that he considered Jason as a possible track rider for the Atlanta Olympics.
His time as a racer was cut tragically short. But in such a short time he won the British Points series twice, and was ranked tenth in the world, even when plagued with countless mechanical problems and injuries.
In the first of two interviews, Marcus Farley caught up with Jason’s father, Jim McRoy. In the second part he talks to some of the people that raced against Jason, journalists that wrote about him, and those that have been inspired by him.
The sheer love and admiration felt for Jason is very evident in these deeply personal tales of friendship, humour, competition and inspiration. Three questions were asked. This is what they had to say:
Just how good a racer was he?
The racers view:
Steve Peat: Jason was an awesome racer, he was almost ahead of his times as a DH guy. The way he approached his training and racing was second to none and he was a huge threat on any type of terrain.
Andy Kyffin: Definitely one of the best ever. He could ride a bike any way he wanted. If he couldn’t do it, he would practise until perfect. Downhill, XC, road, track, BMX, Motocross, all fantastic. Jason was totally dedicated to cycling, everything he did was to do with it. He continually trained, was built like a boxer (not the dog type) with the speed of a sprinter.
Rob Warner: I think right at the beginning there was Jase and Dave Hemming, right at the start of downhill racing. Jase used to race all the world cups pretty much as a privateer back then traveling with his dad. I used to watch Eurosport back then which showed a lot of the races, Jase always in his distinctive Hardisty Cycles clothing. This is a few years before I raced or met him. He used to give it everything, never ever wearing any pads whatsoever on those early flat out World cup tracks, just a skinsuit. Definitely watching JMC charge down all those hills was a huge reason why I got into downhill. Me and my brother used to watch him and think ‘this fella’s crazy!’ He was at the top of it then and from that point onwards he just got better, incredibly taking second on the Reebok Eliminator at Mammoth against all the yanks, the biggest race on the planet.
Will Longden: Just as I started to learn my trade at National level, Jason was the man at the top, the benchmark and the inspiration to all UK mountain bike riders at the time. Most young riders take for granted International racing these days, but back then Jason opened the door of possibility to us all and lead the way.
Nigel Page first raced against JMC in a local BMX race in the 1980s, and was then inspired by him to race mountain bikes:
Well before the Final I realised that my main rival would be Jason. He was a lot faster Nationally than I was, but I still wanted to win. As it was an indoor track and smaller, his power would not be as much of an advantage (or so Nigel thought!)…
We all lined up on the gate for the final and I got a great start from the inside and could see out of the corner of my eye that I had the lead, well, for about 3 cranks then Jason just blew past me as if I was stood still. So I tucked in behind him and kept close over the wooden jumps, and going into the last corner I set up wide and dived in on the inside. I drew level with Jason and he just looked at me with an encouraging smile and then just put the power down and left me standing and he took the win! Afterwards, he congratulated me on my riding. I will always remember that race for some reason.
I stopped racing BMX at 17 and I didn’t really have much to do with bikes again until I was about 24. I watched the old Mountain bike video DIRT that Pete Tomkins produced that was basically a load of top racers at the time messing about on their bikes. Well, I recognised the guy in the video that had the coolest bike and who was the only one with style that could ride a bike (as at that time I didn’t realise that it took more than style and jumps to make a good Downhiller!) was Jason. I watched that video over and over again and scrutinised Jason’s bike to see what parts he had. His bike basically looked like a jump bike of today. So I saved up and went out and bought a bike set up like his and his influence was truly what got me back into riding bikes!
Factory Yeti racer Jared Graves was too young to race against Jason, but took inspiration from his story: Basically, I was a bit of an MTB nerd when I was growing up, and coming through the ranks I was always keen on hearing about anyone who had made it in the big time (racing in the States) who wasn’t American. So JMC was definitely high up there…. Although I never knew him, he showed me that making it as a pro MTB rider from outside the US was easily possible if you wanted it enough and were determined to put in the effort.
The journalists view:
Steve Worland (MBUK and What Mountain Bike Technical Director): He was very talented and very watchable on a bike. Like all the best riders, he appeared to be able to ride almost any bike well.
Matt Skinner (What Mountain Bike Editor): His story was and is an inspiration: the first Brit to truly make it as a pro and – by right – he should have been the first Brit to win a World Cup. I’ve often thought that his life – and particularly the story of him and his Dad taking the risk to race the US and to take it to the wire at Mammoth’s famous Eliminator in order to win his prize money home – would be the stuff of a great sporting film. A slightly oddball testament to him is that he was – and as far as I’m concerned, still is – the only DH racer who could wear Lycra and make it cool. But he remains a true mountain bike legend and to this day, his riding still echoes in my head as the way to ride.
Tym Manley (MBUK editor at large): He had similar skills, courage and temperament to Steve Peat, which is to say he was potentially the best in the world. Maybe Jase was more excitable than Steve on race day, temperament would have been the key between them.
Before he died Jason was involved in track trials with the then BCF (now British Cycling). The track coaches were impressed. It’s possible he might have gone the same sort of route as BMXer Jamie Staff, his sprint power was huge.
Jason didn’t just inspire racers and journalists, he also inspired the spectators and weekend warriors:
Andrew Palmer (www.yetifan.com and owner of Myles Rockwell’s winning Kamikaze Eliminator bike): He made the big time when he went to race the Kamikaze. As a privateer, he finished second amongst some of the biggest MTB factory teams. That was a phenomenal achievement. I have Myles Rockwell’s Yeti that he raced against that day, I’m sure that frame could tell a thousand stories about the great battle they had that day.
Tom Dibley (www.bikedibley.com): It just so happens the first MTB mag I bought was in 1995 which contained news about Jason’s death. I learned all about him and his involvement within the sport over the following months. Reading all about him, even though he had passed away, really got me pumped to buy my first proper mountain Bike (Specialized Hardrock because of his Specialized S-Works bikes that he rode). So there it is. He is perhaps the main reason I got into the sport and although I learned of him too late, he still did so much for me.
How good do you think he’d be on today’s downhill bikes?
Steve Peat: He would be top of his game on today’s bikes, he was fully committed whenever he was in the saddle so I believe he would still be up there with the top boys.
Andy Kyffin: He would have found it a lot easier than when we were riding hardtails or 2″ to 4″ travel bikes (GT RTS, Specialized FSR). Still, the courses were a bit easier then. Back at the World Cup in 91/92 uplifts didn’t always happen, so you would ride and then push back up to the top a lot, and that was a lot easier on those bikes! We also used the biggest chainrings possible, 50,52, 54t as it was thought to be good to be able to turn those gears, It mainly meant a lot of damaged chainrings and big thighs!
Rob Warner: Almost twenty years on from when he started it’s difficult to say, but if he wanted it, I’m sure he could get it. Jason was really driven and his fitness was second to none, the man was ripped and not short of a few horsepower.
Will Longden: Jason was a natural bike rider who was evolving with the sport and technology changes from day one. I have no doubt that he would have continued to do that and to inspire those around him, much the same way as Steve (Peat) still does today.
Nigel Page: Jason was a fantastic bike rider and he would have been right up there at the top whatever era he was in! There are still not many people about with as much style on a bike as him. Jason was and still is a huge loss to our sport.
Tym Manley: A great bike rider can ride any bike, he’d have made them do what he wanted.
What was it like hanging around with Jason?
Pete Tomkins (Director of the infamous Dirt video) recounts Jason’s talent, but also the huge hole he has left in people’s lives: Everybody knows what a great athlete and bike-handler Jason was, but he was such a fun guy too. He made friends easily, and has left a big gap in many people’s lives. I miss him all the time, but my thoughts are really for Jim and Rose. They are courageous people…. I cannot contemplate their fate. Life has been too cruel to them. The Dirt vid was filmed in 5 days, working dawn to dusk. Never worked so hard, and never laughed so much. That’s what I see when I watch it now. It looks dated, but it was a true snapshot of the freewheelin’ early days. I am proud of it.
Brant Richards (former MBUK journalist and owner of On-One cycles) remembers the no-nonsense down to earth racer, and the day he received the terrible news of Jason’s death: There’s an MBUK photo shoot we did in Washington (Tyne and Wear, not USA), just after Jason signed with Specialized. He was riding his FSR with brand new red tyres. I asked how he’d got them (after commenting that it did look a bit like a clown’s bike)…
“I was just at some Specialized thing in the USA”, he said, “and I said how cool it would be to have some Red tyres”…
And a couple of weeks later, some red tyres turned up…I was always a bit of an ubergeek – so I pressed him further for info – “So”, I said, “Are these a new tread compound, for extra grip? Lighter weight?” – “Ah no”, says Jason “They’re just red. Great aren’t they!”
He was meant to be coming riding with me the day (after) he died. So when, my phone rang on the 25th August 1995, as it was shortly after “Caller ID” was introduced to the UK, and my phone lit up with “JMC” and I answered it “Ey up you Northern B*****d, what we doing today then?”, it was his mum, telling me he’d died.
Andy Kyffin remembers Jason’s ability to show off, and his legendary appetite: We did this 10 mile time trial. As we arrived where everyone was parked, Jason did a coaster wheelie on his road bike (hard to do) all the way along the road and then dropped it down and did a 180 skid in front of all the road riders. They didn’t seem that impressed, but I thought it was pretty cool.
Jason had a phenomenal appetite. We went to Mcdonalds in Gateshead and I ordered a 1/4 pounder with cheese and chips. Jason ordered the whole menu, which was 2 trays of food: a Chicken burger, 1/4 pounder, 1/4 pounder with cheese, Big Mac, 6, 9 and12 McNuguts, large fries and an apple pie!
Will Longden tells the story of a racer who showed no pain, and had nothing but encouragement and respect for his fellow racers: In 1995, as guys like Steve (Peat), Rob (Warner) and Jason headed off to race internationally, I got my first pro deal for Rocky Mountain and spent the year trying to win everything I could in the UK. Come the National Champs at the end of the year and all the boys headed home for the big one. The title of British Champion meant a lot to Jason and he didn’t want me taking his jersey. Jason came to the race carrying very bad injuries, so I was let off the full power of JMC and was lucky to take the win. He left for home and a much needed rest and recovery after the race but not before leaving me a personal message on a postcard under the wiper on my car. I still have that postcard today, framed next to a big picture of Jason in full attack mode from that day. A true sportsman, he gave no hint of the injuries at the time and made no excuses. I only found about his injuries years later from his dad, which made his message to me a pretty special one, and something I look at often for motivation, even today when things aren’t going my way… It reads:
” Will, great ride mate you deserved it, see you in the Czech Republic you fast S.O.B! JMC…” I hear him saying it every time I read it and it brings back a lot of great memories.
Rob Warner also tells of the encouragement Jason gave to him and Steve Peat, despite the threat they may have had to him at the races: Jason was just a really nice fella, as me and Steve were coming into the sport and threatening him results-wise he did nothing but help us, we all became great mates.
Rob Warner and Steve Peat tell a very funny combined story about the journey home from the European Championships in the Czech Republic, shortly after Jason got his Specialized deal. It goes like this:
Steve Peat: It was always a good laugh hanging with Jason, but the one story that stands out was at the Euro champs in the Czech Republic. Myself Jason and Warner were staying together, and Rob and I didn’t have a ride to the airport.
Rob Warner: Steve and I weren’t getting our money from Saracen so instead of paying we launched the kit out of the second storey window at the back of the Hotel so we could sneak out and not pay. Jason arranged for the Specialized distributor to give us a lift to Prague airport. This guy thought Jason was the bollox and would do anything for him. He rolled up all proud in a brand new van he’d just bought and we all piled in quick, with Jason and Steve in the back with the bikes.
Steve Peat: On the way to the airport we found a pair of snips and thought it would be funny to snip Warner’s spokes, brake lines and Shifter cables. We were in stitches doing it, but didn’t say anything when we got to the airport. The funniest bit, though, was that Warner though all the damage happened when he dropped his bike from the window, so he never got us back for that one!
Rob Warner: We then got stuck in a huge traffic jam on some Czech motorway. I remember it clearly because there where literally hundreds of Skodas boiled up on the hard shoulder. The traffic was slow moving that Jason tied some shoes to the bumper and then ‘surfed’ them behind the van hanging onto the little suspension units that held the back door up above his head. It was hilarious as the driver started getting pretty stressed about getting pulled while Jason was sliding behind his motor. Eventually he blew his top and pulled over demanding that Steve and Jason shut the tailgate. The only problem was that Jason had bent the little suspension units, by hanging off them, so badly that the door wouldn’t shut in a month of Sundays. We drove in silence to Prague then pissed ourselves as the poor fella drove away, rear door all the way up like some sort of shit spoiler!
As a final fitting tribute, this is taken from Jim McRoy’s website to his much loved son:
A month after his death, ‘I smuggled two film canisters containing Jason’s ashes across the World’s in Germany, where he became the first and last rider to get two runs down the downhill in the World Championship final, the first on Rob Warner’s bike and the second on Steve Peat’s.’
Rob Warner and Steve Peat tell how proud they were carrying Jason with them on the downhill run:
Rob Warner: It was definitely an honour to carry JMC’s ashes down. It was really emotional. I think it gave me and Steve something that week, I remember us absolutely flying in practice. I qualified third and got interviewed on the loudspeaker, it was really hard when the guy asked me about JMC, I remember choking up a bit. Pete Tompkins was up the course and said Jim was listening.
The final came and with a dropped chain I still came in tenth, carrying Jase undoubtedly lifted my game and I’m really really proud to have given my mate one last run at something like the speed he was accustomed to. it’s still hard now to think about it all, I really wish Jase was with us still, I miss my old mate.
Steve Peat: It was a huge honour to be able to race the World Championships carrying Jason Ashes. I knew how hard Jason had trained and what a competitor he was so it certainly made me dig that little bit deeper on my run, maybe too deep as I had a crash and ended up 13th.
Jim was there to watch Jason have his last run so I was pissed off I didn’t go faster. But it did feel like we gave Jason a good send off and i think we helped Jim take his mind of things that night at the bar.
UK racing would have been different if Jason was still around and he is greatly missed by everyone.