I owned my first pair of Sealskinz gloves when I was 13 years old. I bought them from Sandy Plently for a tenner because he said they would be “great for your (my) paper round…” I also remember, years before that even, when mum got dad some Sealskinz socks - it felt like a big deal! These were no ordinary socks; they were very, very special! So special in fact that he has them to this day (~15 years later) and when my sister (fellow ambassador) or I utter a word about “seal…..” no sooner than we’ve managed to finish ”…skinz”, without fail, dad’s scampering up the stairs in excitement to fetch his original and frankly legendary socks for show and tell.
This is a brand that’s always felt very special to me, not for smash bang or whollop, but for producing gear that forges its way in to the very identity of the people that use it.
After years of racing, 2015 was a bit of a ‘breakthrough season’ for me. Though plagued by mechanicals (and some silly mistakes…) early on, as the season matured everything started to fall in to place and the results felt close, I just had to be patient. I saw the first glimmer of what was to come at Glentress, Scotland, for the British round of the Enduro World Series (EWS). Being poorly seeded, rocking the 158 number board, I struggled my way around slower riders as best I could and managed to place 43rd in the Elite men’s category. I left Scotland excited, wondering what I could pull together on a day without all the drama; I just needed a clean run at it.
Moving to Enduro from DH, in 2014 I knew I had the technical aspect taken care of, I was seriously lacking in the physicality. I worked hard in the build-up to 2015 but I didn’t really start to get the miles in until the season got underway. Though I was stronger than I had been previously I was far from my ceiling.
The weekend after the EWS in Glentress marked quite a significant milestone for me. I won the Long Mynd Batch Burner, a 50km XC race drawing in riders from all over the country. Moreover, after the race finished I backtracked to meet my girlfriend (for whom this was her first ever mountain bike race) adding a further 25km to my day. The mad thing was that I won the race, and I went home still feeling fresh. Unknowingly, I’d finally got myself fit!
After a seasons best 5th place, at the third round of the UK Gravity Enduro (UKGE) series in Hamsterley forest, County Durham, I was feeling confident as round 4 approached. The weekend started with the long drive to Ae Forest, in the Scottish boarders, and finished with me on the top step of the elite men’s podium. I won the race!
My first elite level win in national level competition, just 6 seconds ahead of 2nd placed Mark Scott after 17 minutes and 33 seconds of racing. The best part was, it just so happened to be my birthday! Throughout the weekend, as people asked how I was feeling, I said I felt very “calm” on the bike. This was the truth, nothing was particularly special, and it just all came together when it counted. The support I felt from my family, friends, and sponsors was incredible.
September rolled around and off to Wales I Went. At the edge of the Snowdonia national park, Dyfi Forest was the venue of the UKGE finale, which doubled as the British Enduro National Championships. Coming fresh out of my victory in Scotland, all I had to do was put together a clean race, I knew I had the speed to win. In qualification I was a little cautious but only dropped 2 seconds on the leader, sitting back in 3rd. Despite some flickers and sparks of light, it wasn’t the race I’d hoped for. I never found my flow all day, until ultimately, battered and bruised after two unfortunate high speed crashes, I rolled through the finish line feeling beaten. I knew those two small mistakes had cost me dearly. To my complete shock and amazement, despite what felt like a bad day at the office, I ended up placing 3rd overall, just 0.04 seconds off 2nd place Sam Shucksmith -though there was quite a gap up to the winner, Matty Stuttard, ~19 seconds ahead. Interestingly (well, it might me vaguely interesting if you’re a bit of a rootsandrain.com nerd like me), Matty was 1.9% faster than me, which is the exact same margin I put in to him a few weeks previous at round 4, where I won and he was third... I sense a good battle in our hands for 2016.
This final race was actually a perfect reflection of my year overall. There were great moments, but dire mistakes, with a fairly impressive result despite performing far below my best. I feel like I’ve found my feet in Enduro racing and I’m teetering on a precipice, just waiting to break through to the next level. Who knows what 2016 will bring? I know what I’m capable of now, and I’m excited.
The 2016 racing season will truly kick off at the end of March for the first round of Si Paton’s new venture, the British Enduro Series (BES). This year I’ll be racing the full BES series, all four European rounds of the Enduro World Series (EWS), and a couple of select regional level races at venues I’m passionate about. My sister Traharn and I are immensely proud to be continuing our relationship with Sealskinz, and on-board a Birdcycleworks.com bike, we’re excited about the opportunity to bring two fantastic brands together in the formation of the official Bird Sealskinz Factory Enduro team. We have a great team around us with a bright season ahead. Let’s get cracking!