Farmer John's 2013 Downhill Championships
In the foothills of the Pennines sits a mountain bike oasis known of mainly by word of mouth, reputation and rumour… this is Farmer John’s.
In the foothills of the Pennines sits a mountain bike oasis known of mainly by word of mouth, reputation and rumour… this is Farmer John's.
From Dirt Issue 142 - December 2013
Words by Nick Hamilton. Photos by Duncan Philpott.
Ten years in the making, John Thorpe and his wife Jill have kilometres of well crafted singletrack downhill runs spread over 30 acres of woods and farm land which are open for public use every day. Just outside Marple, on the edge of the Peak District and a stone’s throw from Manchester, Farmer John’s Mountain Bike Park is unique in the area. However, it’s mainly because of the events that it has become infamous. Like all the riders who attended the last race, Johns just had a very big weekend. So big in fact that he needed a new phone on Monday. On Sunday night, after the racing was done, he fell asleep in the bath checking out photos from the weekend only to find his phone “floating like a dead person" as he woke up.
John has always ridden mountain bikes on the XC trails surrounding the farm where he grew up; he is the fourth generation of Thorpe to live there. His parents ran it while he worked away on other farms until he eventually moved back in. Ten years ago he got bitten by the DH bug after a trip to uplift at Caersws on a completely inappropriate bike. He returned again with a bigger bike and was hooked with trips to Morzine and Les Gets sealing the deal. With plenty of land available, his riding mates at High Peak Cycles were quick to respond to his call to arms to come dig and play. A dozen of them got things started, learning their craft as they went, before life took hold and ladies and families meant attendances waned, but John was committed and the trails progressed. He has always taken the digging very personally and nothing is done without his supervision. His theory is “if it’s shit, it’s my fault. I get the blame". Thankfully, it’s not shit, it’s very good and entertains many riders.
A couple of years later word started to spread that good things were going on. Asked if it was a bike park John replied jokingly, “it’s a bit like Fight Club", firmly establishing the erroneous underground reputation. It certainly hasn’t done them any harm. Then six years ago with more and more people turning up to help, but mainly to ride, things had to change. A disclaimer was drawn up and everyone had to become a member or pay to play for the day. Shortly after this John threw his first event, a race weekend. From the off, he did things differently. The first race was on the Saturday night and was floodlit; mainly because no one else had done it before and it was a challenge. Posters were put up around local bike shops, everyone mucked in to help and they began a partnership with Naked Racing’s Chris Robert’s to run the race timing. Lit with generators and strings of lights, following an afternoons practice, it was a huge success, if a bit seat of the pants. With everyone camping over the party atmosphere was ensured and Sunday saw sore heads and DH practice ready for the main (more serious) race, on a different track, on Sunday afternoon.
This format has evolved annually with the races getting bigger and better year on year. The last night–race had over 200 riders and a thousand spectators lining the course and getting very rowdy on a heady blend of alcohol and Red Bull’s stimulating products and amplified beats. Racers are cheered on from a shirtless ‘hecklers rock’ and there is ‘stadium’ seating half way down the track heated by a huge funeral pyre of a fire; although John was bit miffed when someone actually burnt his podiums. With a fancy dress catalyst the behaviour of both racers and audience has become even more outrageous with John encouraging and policing in equal measures. Where else would you get a fast moving hairy barrel chest and matching gut restrained only by bib shorts being followed down the hill by a fishnet clad ‘lady’? With an air bag and bucking bronco to play on during the day, a chiropractor and even a mobile tattooist to ink your desires, there’s plenty to keep the masses entertained. John has been shocked by the popularity of the event giggling to himself when he looks out at over a thousand people as he gives out prizes.
Having jacked in his previous job last November, the bike park has now become John’s full time focus. They now host three races a year for Borderline Events and have recently completed new buildings for a cafe and bunkhouse, and the expansions will continue. They’ve even promised to sort out their website! Away from the racing the bike park attracts a constant stream of riders year round, with a day rate of seven–quid or 35 for a year’s membership it’s easy to see why. Due to its proximity to Marple train station it’s also very popular with the next generation of riders, lots of young lads ride as they don’t need a car or parent to get them there. With a selection of downhill runs and a couple of sets of dirt jumps there is lots to play on. ‘The village’ is sited in the middle of the track where everyone hangs out between runs and its really friendly, with locals happily showing new comers around while styling up their whips just that extra degree. There’s a great atmosphere at John’s which reflects his effusive personality and the family run nature of the business; his kids have grown up in carrycots in the woods. With the expansion plans set to be completed over the winter, there has never been a better time to go.
You can find Farmer John’s on Cote Green Lane, SK6 5EN or give him a call on 07866 470 069.