It’s definitely a story for the grandkids!
Yes, yes definitely.
The sport obviously takes you around the world, what do you miss most about home while you’re away?
Ah, my little sister! She’s six now. When she was born, she wasn’t planned, and she was born into a family full of boys. I’ve got an older brother and a younger brother and all my cousins are male. We don’t have any girls in the family.
She’s well protected then!
Yeah! So, she’s the first proper girl of the family really, so as you can imagine, she bosses everyone around; she’s spoiled rotten. I don’t help because I spoil her rotten too. I like having her on the other side of the phone all the time, and Facetiming me.
When she goes on holiday, she usually cries saying ‘I miss my brother’. We have quite a good relationship. That’s one of the things I can’t wait to do when I get home; see my little sister or go out for coffee with friends. I’m a bit of a coffee fan. Massive coffee fan.
Are you – what’s your favourite coffee?
I spend ridiculous amounts on coffee, and coffee machines but my favourite drink is a flat white if I have to pick one. Flat white man, that’s what I am. I found out, as I came across cycling, people with a BMX are all flat whites, and as you go into road cycling, they’re more like cortado or espresso kinds of people.
I’ve noticed coffee and cycling go hand in hand. Living in Manchester, there’s such a big coffee culture – you can go around Manchester and there’s a lot of Coffee houses where you’ll meet a lot of nice, friendly, cool people who have got a passion for bikes as well. I don’t know where that came from, or the correlation between it, but it just seems to happen.
I suppose coffee doesn’t give you an awful hangover either
Exactly – there are worse things I could be doing.
Exactly! So, what’s been the most rewarding part of your career so far?
That’s a hard one because there’s been so many good moments. There’s times when I’ve gone to races and won, and obviously being selected for the Olympic team, and being on the podium at world cups – there’s so many to choose from. So, it is hard to say there is one point.
If I had to pick, I’d have to say the games in Rio.
I got selected as the reserve athlete in London and in London I moved into the village and lived as if were competing, and practiced on the course. I did everything as if I was a normal athlete. Just, on the day of racing, I got told ‘you’re not racing – someone else is racing.’ And that’s just because we only had one male spot available to compete.
From that point, I had a big internal drive to want more and want to compete in an Olympic games because I’d seen what goes on in an Olympic games, what the atmosphere’s like, what people are like, what the culture is like at the Olympic games and in an inner city.
I got the chance to see all of that, so then four years’ later, I managed to go one step better and compete in in the Olympic games. I remember that first day of competition, in Rio, I made a few mistakes in my lap. It was an alright lap, it wasn’t absolutely fantastic. I was middle of the field, I got, I think, 9th. Even though it wasn’t perfect, when I was cooling down, the support staff came in the room and they were saying ‘well done’ and I couldn’t stop smiling.
I said to them ‘even though that wasn’t my 100% best, I loved every minute of it and I can’t wait to go out on my bike again tomorrow.’
As I say, I went to London as a reserve, pulled home at a world cup in Manchester with my family around, so that was really good for me, and competing at Rio. Let’s just hope I can go one better next time, and win a medal. That’s the plan – trying to get better as I go along.
I’m sure you will, considering how far you’ve already come. Considering you kind of stumbled across BMX, do you ever have to pinch yourself and think ‘actually, I’ve gotten really far with this’? Does it feel real?
Yeah, definitely, definitely. For me, I don’t see it as much. I don’t notice it as much; it’s only when I go home to see friends, certainly when I first turned to a full-time athlete.
I’d left school, did a year at college, then I got onto the full-time programme where I moved to Manchester. I was very fortunate to have tutors at college who were willing to let me train as a full-time athlete in Manchester. They helped me out online, on the computer, on the phone, email and then I’d go to college once a week, so I still was able to complete my college course and not have to drop out and start again.
I was really lucky for those first two years when I started the programme. I had that support of being able to finish my college course, and train as a full-time athlete. From there, it just went [wild].
My friends were either going to college, trying to get into uni or getting jobs and they’re the ones who are like, ‘oh my god! You’re riding your bike!’
Every time they say it, I do have to think to myself ‘yeah, it’s pretty cool, what I do’.
One of my best friends, he’s working in a factory and some mornings he’s up at 6am and he leaves the factory at 6 at night. I’ll ring and speak to him and he’ll be like ‘I’m just going to sh***y work,’ and he’ll ask me what I’m doing, and I’ll say, ‘I’ve got track and gym today’. I don’t go into the details of what I need to do in those sessions but I just say I have track and gym, and he will say ‘Oh, so just going round on your bike again’ and we have a bit of banter and a laugh.
I guess that’s when it hits home, and I think ‘you know what? This is a very good life.’
I’m no fool, I know it’s not going to last forever – it could last another year, it could last another 6-7 years, depending on any injuries or how my career goes.
At the same time, I am going to make the most of it and enjoy every minute I’ve got of being an athlete.
Good, you’re doing incredibly well so far! So, in terms of Maxxis, what’s your favourite Maxxis tyre to ride on?
I used to ride the DTH and spent a lot of time on the DTH as a junior rider going into elite. Since Maxxis brought the Torch out, that’s the one I’ve been riding on.
When I first saw the Torch tyre, I was very sceptical of how it was going to handle; it was quite slick. Going around turns, I guess at the indoor, slightly dusty turns, at 40-45 miles an hour, banking it in, I was a bit unsure. But as soon as I got on it, I was very surprised at how they gripped and I thought ‘ah, actually this is a very good tyre – yeah, I like this tyre’ and since then I’ve stayed on them.
I’ve been working with people at Maxxis and giving them my ideas and feedback on maybe getting an even better tyre out there. Me and my coach, in the programme, we look into how a tyre can change gear ratio.
In BMX you want to make sure you’re out the start first. I don’t think people realise how much tyre choice can change your drag, your grip and your gear ratio. Just those little things. For example, if you can get everything right and the balance right – as I say, we’re competing at such a high level, we’re always looking at that thousandth/tenth of a second – trying to add all of that in, and trying to find the perfect combination of it all, I find it very therapeutic. I’m a bit of a weirdo, I do like that side of things.
It’s all about trying to find that all perfect combination. That’s why I’ve enjoyed being a part of the Maxxis family.
When I first ever spoke to Maxxis, I thought they just wanted me to help with tyres but the more I got to know the people at Maxxis and the company, I realised they wanted the same as what I want: to make me go fast and perform as best as I possibly can.
As an athlete, that’s fantastic. I’ve met companies in the past who just want someone representing the brand and that’s not what Maxxis is about. They want to make sure that the athlete is performing at their best and if the tyre isn’t working for them, then they look at what they can do to change it, and make sure it is going to work for them and get the best out of them. That’s why I’ve really felt comfortable in making the transition from other tyres to running Maxxis.
So, it sounds like you’re very happy with Maxxis then! You’ve recently made a video with the company called The 211 – can you tell me a bit more about that?
Yeah, I’m not sure when it is actually coming out. It should be very soon. It was a very good shoot. We did it in Manchester, where I’m based 95% of the time – on my home track. We’ve had world cups there, it’s an Olympic standard training facility. It’s one of two in the world; it’s the only indoor training facility in the world that has such a high level BMX track.
We got some really cool shots. I’ve not seen any clips of it yet. I’m not sure how it’s going to look, but I trust what I did see and what I had to do, and trust that it’s going to look pretty bad ass.
Did you enjoy the experience?
Yeah, it was brilliant.
So, if you weren’t a BMX Rider, what would you be doing?
I don’t know. I’ve always said I’d like to be one of those people who train the army. The person who takes them out for runs; for some reason that intrigues me. [I like the idea of] trying to make people better at what they do.
Or I’d be in the fire brigade, that interests me. Something that is quite physical and high action; physically demanding. I don’t think I could sit behind a desk in an office, I don’t think that’s quite for me.
Whatever it is, for me, it would be something where I’m either helping people or making them better or trying to guide them in a better way of life. That’s something I’d look for.
Given that, what would be your advice for any budding BMX riders?
For the younger guys, and everyone who gets into the sport, I’d say: don’t take it too seriously. Get down to your local BMX club, have fun, make new friends, and take full advantage of what the sport has to offer. It’s such a family-orientated sport, which is so easy to get into. All you need is a bike and helmet.
You could build jumps in your back garden if you want, out of planks of wood and a couple of bricks. That’s what I did as a kid. It’s so fun and easy to do. It’s not an expensive sport. Just get into it, get your friends into it and have fun and enjoy it.
Great words of advice. Is there anything you want to add?
Just thank you to everyone who continues to support me!