THE WYSIWYG INTERVIEWThe question crops up again and again over on the forum: "How do I get into racing Downhill?" People were asking me and I didn't know, so I figured it was time I found out. The best way seemed to be to talk to someone who isn't too hugely better than most of us, but has done it all. So I cruised the websites and found just the guy I needed. And here is a beginner's guide to starting DH racing, courtesy of Mr Seb Frost.
How long have you been a privateer DH racer?
Years now...first race was back in 1996, I think. Christ you'd think I'd be good at it by now wouldn't you!
Can you remember your first ever race and result?
Definitely a SAMS. Stourhead, I think. I did atrociously, 35th or something similar! In youth.
What bike were you riding back then?
I was on a fully rigid Raleigh M-Trax 1000. Spent most of the time trying to get into my toeclips! Everyone else seemed to be on Trek Y-frames and Cannondale Super V's.
When did you first find yourself going to races every week?
That would be when I was old enough to drive, so 1998. Before that I'd get my dad to take me to a handful of races, but not many of them, and only local ones. In 2002 I went racing 13 weeks in a row, and that only stopped because we went to the Alps for two weeks, and I raced the day after we got back!
What are you riding now?
I've got a fully tricked out 222/Boxxers and all the trimmings. World cup winning bike, shame about the rider!
Did the 222 make a difference to your results?
Yeah I think it did. Probably more a confidence thing than anything. I know what the bike's capable of, so I can't blame it for a poor result. I have to try harder!
What's your best result so far?
I managed a 6th at Aston Hill last year, but the ones I'm most proud of are 11th at the Midland Championships 2002 and 24th at Garway NPS 2002. Nothing amazing, but good enough to make me feel great at the time!
Do you set the bike up specifically for different courses?
Not in the slightest. Even if it's muddy I'm normally too lazy to change my tyres. I have a 5th element shock, but I've never really fiddled with that either. I find uplifts are so slow and you get so few runs in in practise that it'd be counterproductive to try different settings if you see what I mean.
What parts do you find you go through the most?
Not much really. I only ride the bike at races so it sees 30 minutes of use every week! I can't remember the last time I properly broke a part! That said I managed to bend a couple of XTR BBs last year - I'm on ISIS now and it seems to be holding up a lot better.
Are you weight conscious? Do you think it makes all that much difference?
A light bike definitely helps, but it's never going to make me into a champion! Knowing that my bike's light is a good feeling, like having a 222 - can't blame the bike, must try harder! And it is noticeably easier to push up the hills!
You've got this nice bike, you travel all over the country, how do you afford it?
Debt up to my eyeballs! It was OK last year when I was working in a warehouse, but now I've got a proper job (web designer) I'm ironically getting paid a lot less....
And the average race entry costs how much?
Entry is only £22 typically; it's the petrol that really stings!
Then on top of that you've got race licenses and so on. What licenses do you need to start racing and where do you get them from?
You don't need any licenses or anything, unless you want to get a national ranking (which most people aren't bothered with). All you need is a bike, a mode of transport and a helmet. Having a good mate at the same level helps. That's why I kept racing. Although I was shocking compared to everyone else, me and my mate were very close. Winning races doesn't matter, just beating your mates!
Was there a time when you'd ride a course and see a section and think "There's no way I can do that?" Or does it still happen?
Not really. I think courses were too tame when I started, you could roll everything. Or maybe I just rode around the scary bits and don't remember them! Only one thing springs to mind - we went up to a NAMBS race at Ramsgill in, Oh, 1999 or so. There was this mad drop in the field section at the end, about 10-12ft to an almost flat landing. Karen van Meerbeck broke her collarbone there and they took the section out, which was nice! It wouldn't bother me these days. I've yet to find anything I won't try in recent years (albeit slowly!)
Do you find other riders approachable for help at races?
Definitely, I always like to walk the course if I have time, and spend a large amount of time chatting to other riders about lines and techniques through sections, though some lines you have to keep to yourself...
So if you start winning loads of races and are offered a factory team place, will you take it?
Damn right! A mechanic to change my tyres would be mint, I'm just far too lazy! And if they'd pay for my transport and race entries, well that'd be spot on too. My dream is to be paid to ride, have no other stresses in life, no work, just ride and train everyday. That'd be so good! It's a pretty common dream I think...
In the dream what team would you be with, and whom would you have as your team mates?
The Ancillotti guys are a nice bunch, and I love their bikes. I'd hate to ride for a team "just because" and end up on a bike I wouldn't choose as my own. Essential teammate would be my mate Jim (he won the MBUK North Shore competition). He was my riding buddy all through last year and we pushed each other a lot. Now he can't afford to race though - he needs sponsorship badly. A lot of talent, just needs a ride.
Being that very few riders get factory deals these days, where do you see yourself in the coming few years?
In all seriousness? I still believe that one winter I'll train my ass off, hit the race season at full speed and start winning stuff. However I say that every year and I always seem to fail...I'm a lot better than I was, just need to give myself a bit of a kick and progress to the next level - cheesy or what! My technical skills aren't amazing and I need to improve in this area, but I could do so much better just by being fitter!
What tips would you give to wannabe downhillers?
Just go and give it a go! You won't win at your first race (unless you're a complete git) but you will have a laugh! And you'll be hooked, forever.
So there you go, you don't need an amazing bike to start on and you don't need to fill in reams of paperwork to get a licence. All you need is to have fun. Oh, and to kick your mates' arses.
Check out the calendar at http://www.mbuk.com/calendar.asp for the nearest races to you. You never know, I may see you there.