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Q+A with Kyle Evans

Maxxis Pure Day

Q+A with Kyle Evans

 

Ten years’ ago, thanks to a twist of fate, 13 year old Kyle Evans stumbled across a BMX park, unaware that just a few years’ later, he’d be competing on the World Stage. Now with an Olympic games under his belt, Kyle talks us through the years that turned BMXing from a hobby into a passion and, finally, into a career.

It’s 12 November at the Pure Bicycle Team Meet in Royston and the weather is as dreary and wet as ever. That’s no deterrent for Kyle, though; despite driving the long stretch from Manchester just the night before, the Olympian arrived with a spring in his step, eager to get started. Looking down at the muddy grass, Kyle, and his team mate Quillan, laughed off the fact that they’d opted to wear white trainers, and bounded into the bike shack for warmth. Glimpsing the bikes lining the room, Kyle’s eyes noticeably lit up.

Along with Pure Bicycle Company, also forming a part of Kyle’s entourage was the race team’s sponsors, Maxxis. Both companies have been working closely with Kyle recently to create a video, The 211, set to be released in the coming weeks. As the kettle boiled, all parties expressed their excitement for the video launch, making it clear just how much hard work and passion had gone into filming The 211.

Coffee in hand, and it was time to sit down with Kyle and talk about how exactly he’d managed to get to the point he is at today…

How and why did you get into BMX riding?

I come from a family of petrol heads and when I was just coming up to my 13th birthday I was on the back of my dad’s motorbike when we came across a traffic jam on a long country road. We ended up turning down a dirt road, and finding a BMX track with a session going on down the bottom. Dad was like “well you’ve got your kit on, we’ve got a helmet, it would be pretty cool to hire a bike and give it a go and chill out for an hour.” So I just stumbled across it really, and from that point got hooked.

 

At what point did you realise this wasn’t just a hobby, and was something you wanted to pursue?

I think it was when it turned into an Olympic sport in 2008. I came into it from an early age but still a lot later than a lot of people, I guess. Previously I’d done motocross and always had a love for extreme sport. BMX is obviously fast and furious and just took my fancy really.

Then when it turned into an Olympic sport I thought ‘wow’ this could be a career. It turned out that the more I practiced and the more I rode and the more I raced, I realised I was quite good at it. I started winning regionals and then went to nationals and started doing really well and from that point I was like ‘yeah, I am good at this’ and got scouted by the programme and never really looked back then.

 

You said you came to it quite late, did you feel you were having to play a game of catch up?

No. I took to it quite well because I’ve always done those extreme sport sort of things. Going out with my friends to skate parks on scooters and BMXs as a kid, I already had the bike control, and understood how you have to position your body and move with the bike, and look for different lines and take off so it actually came quite naturally to me.

It was almost like second nature. The only thing I had to work on was mastering the techniques to enable me to go as fast as I could on the bike, and as well as that, working on getting bigger and stronger. BMX is a sport where you need a lot of horse power underneath you to get you off the start first in order to try and win the race. From then, that was my focus; they were my weakest areas that I had to improve.

 

I assume a lot of training has to go into it, what’s your schedule like? Is it quite intense?

Yeah. It varies a lot, certainly throughout the year. I think, with being in England, we’re very lucky that we have a winter season and a summer season that are completely different. The American series runs pretty much all year and doesn’t stop. But with us, the European series, and the English , and where the world cup sits, we get the chance to come away from racing throughout the year to focus on coming home and getting some hard work done in the gym, a higher volume of track work and some sprint work too. Then, as we get into the season, we reduce the volume of gym work and focus more on being on the track and on the bike a bit more to maintain fitness.

Then, obviously, there’s the travelling to all the races, so we just do the best we can. I guess it’s busy all year round, just the aspects of where I’m based or what I’m doing change. As I say, in the season, we travel a lot and then in the winter series we’re in the gym when we’re at home based in Manchester a lot more.

 

So, with this busy schedule do you still get the chance to be a normal 23-year-old?

I have certainly been asked this question before. People say, ‘oh, you sacrifice so much to be an athlete,’. When I speak to the friends I grew up with, I think they’ve got a point; I’m not going out every weekend and having that opportunity. But, at the same time, it doesn’t bother me because, to me, my passion is riding my bike and I’m getting to do that every day as a job and be paid for it. So, to me, I’m not sacrificing anything. If anything, I’m gaining, as I’m getting life experience and travelling the world, and I’m doing it with friends, team mates and coaches; people that support me. And, I have good relationships with [them all] so I definitely don’t see myself as making sacrifices. There’s a certain amount of dedication you have to put into it [being an athlete].

If you spoke to an athlete from any sport, they’ll agree that there’s a certain amount of dedication and effort you have to put into it, and if any athletes did think they were losing out, I’m certain they either won’t be successful or they won’t be a full-time athlete for very long. They’d probably end up fizzling out of their sport.

For example, I’ve had team mates who, for that exact same reason, realised the sport just wasn’t for them. After they’ve been on the programme or training full time, just after 6, 12, 18 months, they’ve realised it wasn’t for them and they’d rather have a job and go out with their friends. That’s perfectly fine; I don’t see that as them being weak or being bad people, I think it just doesn’t suit everybody. It is tough to be an athlete; it is a really tough life.

It can sound easy, just training all the time, but it is quite regimented. It’s similar to having to go into the military; it is very regimented. You have to be at the gym at a certain time, then you’re lifting, then you have to be at the track at this time, and we’re doing X amount of efforts and it can be tedious and very repetitive doing that week in week out, at similar tracks or even the same track and facilities.

It’s like anyone who is in a job. For example, my dad dug holes for a living which was tedious for him. He was a fencer as a kid but he doesn’t do that anymore, but it is the same for him. It gets to the point where you completely switch it around.

 

You say that training can be quite tedious, and sometimes it can be intense. Have you ever got to the point where you thought this isn’t for you?

No. I’m not going to lie, as an athlete, from any sport, you will get to the point where you will ask yourself ‘is this for me?’. That’s because, when you compete in sport at such a high level, there is so many ups and downs. I’ve been to races where I’ve not felt really great and I’ve not felt confident but then come out and get a really great result and I’m on a high.

I’ve also been to races where I’ve felt that my preparation has been absolutely perfect, I’m absolutely flying and mentally I’m confident and stable and then not got the result I wanted. You do come away from that quite disheartened because you do think you’ve done everything you can possibly do to get the best result possible and the outcome wasn’t the same.

Injury comes into it as well. I’ve been injured several times, and almost every time you crash you take a massive hit. You have to have surgery and physio for three months afterwards and when you do get back on the bike, you have to build yourself back up for fitness. That does cross your mind 10/15 times; you do ask yourself ‘do I want to do this to myself again?’ ‘Can I get back to where I want to be?’ ‘Can I still be the best after this fall?’. That does cross your mind, but it is the nature of the sport. You accept that it is a part of the sport and you learn to love it. That’s what has always brought me back to the sport: the fact that I love it, no matter what.

Even if I didn’t compete at a high level, I know I’d be on my bike every day because I love riding my bike. If the sport was to be pulled from the Olympics tomorrow, and if the programme was cancelled, and if I was told this was no longer to be my full-time job, it wouldn’t be ideal. I’d have to look into getting a ‘proper’ job or look into going into another sport, but I would still be riding my bike, because I love riding my bike.

Royston Rockets BMX Team, Royston, Cambridgeshire. 12th November 2016.

With all competitive sports, sometimes you will experience disappointment and you will be disheartened; how do you overcome this?

Many reasons. There’s always that self-motivation and drive. When you get to the point where you’ve hit the deck or crashed or you’re injured, it always comes back to the fact that you want to be the best. That feeling of almost being able to conquer the world in a sport and say, ‘I am the best at something,’ gives me a huge satisfaction. It’s a massive achievement. That’s what drives me. Even though I’ve not achieved that just yet, it is my end goal.

I take that same mentality and drive to everything I do in life – not just BMX. It’s something I’ve learnt through having a good family and good team mates around me. I have got a great team around me and great supporters. No matter what. Any time I have been injured, I’ve never had to deal with anyone telling me ‘this isn’t good enough!’ They’re always there supporting me, they’ll say, ‘whatever you need, we’ll do our best to help you get back on your bike as soon as possible.’ The friendships, the team mates, the support staff, the sponsors, your family and friends, all help me realise why I do this: I do it because I love it and want to be the best.

 

It is nice having people behind you. Who would you say is your biggest supporter?

That’s tough! I have a big family of supporters; it is nice to know I have them all behind me. I’d love to say my dad is, but my dad is more nervous for me than anything. He cracks under pressure. I think I control the nerves and emotions a lot better than my family do.

I’ve been to world cups and my dad and my family have been watching and people have told me after the race, ‘I could never sit with your dad again!’ Or, ‘I could never sit with your mum again!’ They’re usually up and down, or rubbing their face or crying. They stress out more than I do and they do ask me how I do it [remain so calm]. But I guess when you’re an athlete, at an elite sporting level, mental ability and control over your mind plays a massive part in it. Over the time, I have learnt that, and now I am really good at managing it and controlling myself. My family and friends don’t know that yet. My dad will sit there and look up at the start gate and see me there and he’ll see five other top world-class riders, or even sometimes when I’ve been in a final, there’s seven other top world-class riders from world champions to Olympic champions. And I know my dad thinks ‘Oh my God, how is he ever going to have a good race?’

I have got to say my nan [is my biggest supporter], my mum’s mum, she’s from Liverpool and she’s never been able to drive so my mum and dad try and bring her to the races if they can fit her in the car. She’s probably one of my biggest fans. I have a photo in my front room of her when she came to a European in England. I won on the first day, but only my dad had come along. On the second day, my mum brought my nan and little sister along. My mum, my nan and my little sister are probably my biggest fan groupies. I’ve got this picture in my front room on my bookshelf where, on the second day I’d won every race up until the final and I managed to clear the weekend as a perfect weekend and win every race. As I was coming out the last turn, in the final, one of the photographers, instead of focusing on the actual race, had seen my mum, my nan and my little sister at the fence. They took a picture of them. Whenever I think about it, it gives me goose bumps. They didn’t know that they were being watched or having their photo taken but my little sister has got ice cream all over her mouth and an ice cream in her hand and she’s screaming, and my nan has got both hands in the air, and my mum’s holding my little sister with one hand in the air screaming.

That makes me feel humble and gives me a nice feeling of what’s important. It makes me happy knowing that no matter what I do, if I wasn’t doing BMX, they’ll always be happy for me and supporting me.

 

So, looking back to the first ever race you won – can you me through what you felt?

It’s funny, actually; the first ever race I did. Like I said, I stumbled on a BMX park while I was with my dad and I rented a bike and loved it. It was approaching my 13th birthday and all I said to my dad was ‘I want a bike! I want a bike! I want a bike!’ [and he bought me one]. It wasn’t an expensive bike; it was about £200.

He signed me up to a race in Preston, which is my home club. This wasn’t long after I’d got this bike and I’d never taken part in the sport before, but my dad signed me to the novice class and the first race that I did, I won.

It was the first race of the day; my first ever time going up on the start gate racing, and I won! I remember feeling shocked, and thinking ‘this is mental!’. But then it gave me a buzz.

I’ve done motocross for so many years, they [the sports] give me the same satisfaction of winning. No matter what I did, when I was in school, whether it was sports day or running to represent the school, when you win that race, that satisfaction you get is all about being the best and winning something. It gives you a massive buzz and that’s what I’ve stuck with. I guess I’m addicted to it.

 

Does that motivate you then – to experience that feeling again?

Yeah – from the first day of whether it was racing or motorbikes or BMX; whatever it was, if it was a race and I won, it would give me massive satisfaction.

 

So, how about the moment you found out you were going to Rio [Olympics]?

That’s a tough one because it was a long time coming. The way BMX works, the Olympic qualification is over a 2-and-a-half-year period and within that period you compete in world cups, category one races, which are like Europeans or other events in South America and other places, you have your continental championships, your word championships, and basically over that two-and-a-half-year period, if the race is specified as a category, you can claim points at every event.

So, for two and a half years, I’ve travelled the world and at every race I went to, I was making sure I was getting as many points as possible and doing as well as I possibly could. With that, in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘if I do really well at this race, I get lot of points and I might qualify myself for Rio.’ After two and a half years when you finally get told you’re on the Olympic team, and you’ve qualified in your sport, although it’s a really good feeling, you do realise the job isn’t finished yet.

The programme is based around building medals, and there’s such a small percentage of athletes who achieve a gold, silver or bronze medal. For me, even though I was going to the Olympics, it’s still not enough. One day, whether it’s the next Olympics or the one after that, if I’m fortunate enough to be in contention of going and medalling, then that’s what will keep driving me. I’ve never been one to just take part in a sport just because I like taking part, I like to be the best. So, for me, that will always drive me.

Hearing ‘you’re a part of the Olympic team, congratulations, well done’ even though it was a great sense of achievement, and it felt good, and I was like ‘oh my god, I’m going to the Olympics’, at the same time, I’m still aware that there is a job to do. I have to go to that race and do the best and try and bag a medal.

That didn’t happen [at Rio] but at the end of the day, I still loved the experience and I’m still very fortunate to have gone.

 

So how will you be preparing for Tokyo?

Similar story. Over the past four-five years, I’ve had a lot of wrist injuries. The Olympic qualification period doesn’t start for another two years, so for me right now, it’s all about getting my wrist fixed because I’ve suffered for so long now with chronic pain, and having to use wrist braces and taping my wrist up.

For me, I’m just focusing on myself and getting myself back; almost taking a couple of steps back from the sport, getting myself fixed up then hopefully almost having that long-term pain for long-term gain.

Once I’m all patched up, I’ll get as much racing done as possible, try and win as many races and get as much experience as possible and be a lot more consistent across the board of what I do as a sport.

Hopefully, by the time the Olympic qualification comes, I’d have managed to grab all the information I need to be very consistent; getting a lot of podiums along the way, and setting myself up a lot better for a better success in Tokyo. That’s the plan.

 

So how does racing in the Olympics differ to the standard races you’ve competed in? Taking into consideration, especially in Rio, the extra heat or the expectation of the country?

I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel it, but at the same time, it’s strange. When we were in the Olympic village or when we travel the world competing in world cups, we see all these people who we race against. Some of them we’re quite good friends with and close with and people we’ve chatted to.

It was strange because, for me, when I’d spoken to the psychologist, we just treated it as if this was another race. Yes, it is an Olympic games; chances are you’ll feel more nervous and more pressured than ever, but at the end of the day there’s no reason why you can’t perform at your best.

As long as you keep that in your mind, even though this is an Olympic games, you have to bring it back to reality and think logically and think, ‘you know what? This is just another bike race. You’ve done it time and time again.’

The other thing was, taking the environment in, rather than trying to block it out and almost go into my own shell chewing myself up as such. It’s something certainly myself and Liam Phillips did, and a lot of the other athletes on the cycling squad; we made sure that we enjoyed the experience. We went to see a bit of the city, we enjoyed looking around the Olympic venues, we enjoyed going to the food hall. We didn’t keep ourselves inside ourselves, chewing ourselves up.

People we’ve raced, and travelled around with, and speak to – as soon as we got to the event, you’d see them in the Olympic village and they’d be so shut down, they would hardly speak, and they’d give yes or no answers. Straight away you’re like, ‘what’s going on?’ ‘Why have they completely changed to how they normally are?’ I’m quite fortunate and happy to say I didn’t do that; I enjoyed the experience, I was able to take everything in and made the most of it.

That was another thing – I said to myself before I went out there, I’d met athletes in the past that had been to an Olympic games and they came back from the Olympics being like ‘oh my god, I hated it!’ All because of that hype and the atmosphere and the bubble of it. I told myself, no matter what, I want to come back from the Olympics, whether it’s good or bad, and at least turn around and say I enjoyed it, and made the most of it, and that it was a great experience. And I did that, so at the same time I can’t be too fussed.

Royston Rockets BMX Team, Royston, Cambridgeshire. 12th November 2016.

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!

Royston Rockets BMX Team, Royston, Cambridgeshire. 12th November 2016.

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