Five hours Saturday, and five hours Sunday - that’s the minimum time that Jimmy Wilson, 15, spends on his mountain bike each weekend.
Whether it’s racing competitively or for fun - it’s something he describes as “my life”.
He started in Year 6.
“Me and a friend started pushing up, and we didn’t really know much about it. We just went down by ourselves. Dad met an old friend of his who was right into it a couple of years ago and he helped me out - he gave me my first full face helmet and goggles. Then Dad got me a new bike, and I started doing trailer days.”
Trailer days, run by organisations such as Gravity Canterbury, allow bikers to concentrate on improving their skills - bikes are taken to the top of the track on a trailer, so the riders only have to bike downhill. The purchase of a specialised downhill bike was the catalyst for the real action though, Jimmy says.
“It’s got 200ml forks, eight-inch (200ml) travel in the rear suspension and nine speed gearing. The rest of it’s just like a normal bike. It’s not too complicated.”
Frames are designed to suit the task the bike is being used for he says.
“They’re specially made for the kind of bike it is. With my bike it’s got the back suspension and then the swing arm is joined to it, which the rear wheel is joined to - so (the rear wheel) moves with the ground.”
He now has body armour, shin and knee pads, gloves and specialised clip shoes to go with his helmet and goggles. “It gives you better grip on the pedal so you don’t come out,” he says.
Bowenvale, on the Port Hills, has been the place where Jimmy has done most of his riding, and is one of his favourite destinations.
“There’s about seven or eight tracks up there. Some of them change a bit, and they get bits added to them and made better for races, but they’ve been the same for a while.
There’s rocky, rough, steep tracks, varying to easy, fast, flowing tracks. I like the fast ones that are quite easy - you get a bigger rush out of it.”
He travels for racing though, so he’ll get to try out other tracks.
“My last race was in Levin, it was quite good, the National Secondary Schools and my next trace will be in Alexandra, for the South Island Secondary Schools.”
“The track (at Levin) was actually quite easy compared to Christchurch tracks. (Here) there’s so many they vary in difficulty. The hardest one up at Bowenvale is the Double Diamond, but the Levin track was pretty flat.”
That meant the race was more about stamina than skill on the bike, Jimmy said.
He placed 10th in the Under-15 grade, but now faces competing in the Under 17-grade for his next competition race in Alexandra, in the September holidays.
“It makes it harder - much harder,” he said. Word is the track isn’t as difficult as the Bowenvale tracks.
Previously Jimmy has placed second in the under-15 section of April’s Canterbury Champs, and was eighth in the Top of the South series in the under-19 section last year. Competition helps develop his racing skills. “Riding down the hill with faster people, looking at their lines and how they do stuff helps.”
He does dirt jumping as well, for fun - where 360s, ‘flatties’ and other tricks are done - hanging the bike out to the side, cross-ups and so on.
It’s a totally different bike: “Short forks, no rear suspension, just one gear, one brake and that’s about it.”
He describes hucking as “going hard, being really loose and rough, and out of control.”
“It’s just going big”
Hucking is something every mountain biker does a bit of, Jimmy says.
“Some more than others.”
His favourite track is the Nelson Nationals track at Fringe Hill. “There’s heaps of jumps, it’s really fast through pine forest. A couple of steep bits, but it’s really fun.”
With friend Matt Evlampieff, Jimmy makes videos and posts them on the internet.
“We go down there, and I do what he tells me to do. We take heaps of different shots. He’s pretty good at making movies - we’ve made a few.”
“We do the same things over and over until it looks good.”
Mountain bike web site vorb hosts many of the videos. Jimmy says he and Matt have plans to make a feature-length mountain biking film.
“There’s been plenty of them, but we’re young kids, new to the scene and trying to get up there.”
Jimmy encourages anyone who’s keen on mountain biking to just give it a go.
“Find someone you know, or ask someone, about what tracks you should do; what kind of bike you should have.”
“Just take it at your own pace. Don’t try and copy everyone else and what they’re doing, just take it easy. You don’t need to be too fit - it helps to have upper body strength, you usually get (enough fitness) from biking.”
A decent helmet, and pair of gloves are essential, Jimmy says, and shin pads are a good idea. “Your pedals tend to hit your shins - I’ve got heaps of cuts - that really hurts and it just protects you.”
Bike shops can give advice on the best bike to get you started, he says.
Interview July 2007