Lee & Ralf 3
Lee & Ralf 3

Dirt takes a look at the current state of the UK dirt jumping scene and how two young riders are helping to shape its future…

DIRT ISSUE 143 - JANUARY 2014 

Words by Gareth Howell. Photos by Gareth Howell

It seem to me that as a rule the younger generation of riders are getting increasingly lazy, especially when it comes to building places to ride, I mean it’s all done for them these days. Luckily with every rule there are exceptions.

I particularly I worry about the state of the mountainbike trails scene. A few years back, when dirt jumping was in its heyday, if you put on a jam there’d be a huge turnout. Even before social media you could still expect at least 30 or 40 riders to show up even on a quiet day, simply through word of mouth. These days that’d be a bloody good turnout. The kids that are hitting the dirt nowadays seem to be going at it in a completely different way, training in skateparks to get their tricks down, but for the most part lacking the basic bike skills to allow them to get through a proper set of trails. This also shows in the numbers down the local trails on a regular basis. Pretty much all the diggers at spots I’ve spoken to (with a few exceptions) have remarked on the severe shortage of willing workers. I suppose this is probably down to the ever–increasing abundance of ready–made skate and bike parks that cut out the need for all the commitment and manual labour. I can see the appeal, especially as I’m getting older and free time is beginning to get in shorter and shorter supply. However I do feel that a whole generation of riders are missing out on one of the best bits about riding bicycles on dirt – that experience of working hard to create something from nothing and then getting to ride something that you built exactly how you wanted simply cannot be matched.

Luckily there are exceptions to every rule, in this case in the shape of Lee Boarer (21) and Ralph Baggs (17). Most of the people reading this will have come across the name Jimmy Pratt before, most likely in these very pages. DMR’s trail boss has been renowned as one of the UK’s most stylish and committed trails riders for many years now. At the moment he’s out through injury, but these two lads (almost Jimmy’s protégés) are hot on his heels and I reckon they’ve got the skills to give him a run for his money. They both go so high and are so stylish that they stand out amongst any company, BMX or MTB, and at whatever level. They also work their balls off down the trails and that’s becoming a bit of a rarity. I’m hoping that by showcasing this talent and hard work it’ll lead to a few of the kids out there leaving the foampit alone for a winter and picking up a spade. So here’s the master himself, Mr ‘Jimmy’ Pratt, to talk things through…

Dirt: So you’ve been off the bike and spade for a while now, what’s the story there?

Jimmy: Yes since the end of March I've been off all exercise! MRI has confirmed that I have a slipped disc with a bulge in it and I’ve torn the ligament around the disc.

How long until you’re back in action?

It could be up to 2 years, not good. Just doing physio at the moment but with no improvement yet.

In the meantime, who’s looking after the trails?

We have Ralph and Lee doing a fine job, I would be screwed without them. Anyone who digs trails will understand that to have two friends who know what to do with a spade and get it done, and done well, is sooooo good.

It’s a huge amount of work keeping a set of trails such as yours running, let alone progressing. I know you’re still acting as foreman but how does it feel taking a bit of a back seat on the actual spadework?

It’s horrible. I've been digging my trails for 11 years now, sometimes by myself or just one other person. In the last 4-5 years I’ve been fortunate to have had Ralph at first and then Lee making his re-appearance, this means the trails are constantly progressing. Most of all they share a very similar passion and enthusiasm to ride and take the trails to new levels of radness!

How old were Lee and Ralph when they first started coming down?

Both were 12 years old, makes me sound dodgy but I was younger then too! And strangely enough out of all the hundreds or probably thousands who have ridden the trails they are the youngest two to have gotten through.>>

CLICK THROUGH TO CONTINUE READING...

[part title="EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE - LEE AND RALPH | INTERVIEW PART TWO..."]

Lee & Ralf 2
Lee & Ralf 2

I remember Lee was on one of the trails roadtrips we did a few years back, he was promising then but after that seemed to disappear for a bit, what happened there?

Yeah he had to start full time work and was working loads of crazy hours so riding for him took a back seat for a while.

It seems like Ralph been around for a while now so it’s easy to forget that he’s still a young’un, you think he’ll stick with it?

Now he's getting closer to 18, which will be when the real test begins because of cars, work, girl/boy friends in Ralph’s case, going out, etc. There are a lot of distractions. But yes I would bet a good proportion of my life savings that he will stick with it. The boy has passion for digging and riding.

Watching these two ride it’s easy to see elements of your own riding in both of them, but with some clear difference between each other, how would you compare the way’s in which they’re progressing?

They definitely both have their own unique styles. I would say that Ralph has less fear than Lee and is more than happy to hit a new jump, line or new spot without any hesitation and normally get it good first go. Lee is a bit more laid back and takes it easy when comes to riding new stuff, but then his 10 years plus on a bike show through because his bike control is outstanding. They both can go past 90 degrees and high as hell. Their riding normally always makes them stand out at any trails.

When you were at their stage who did you look up to riding wise?

I have always looked up to a lot of BMX trail legends like Brian Foster, Mike Aitken and Chase Hawk. But I also used to enjoy watching Digs (legend) from Wisley and Steve Geall (also legend) ride. The reason being that they all ooze bike control and just made riding look so awesome.

It seems to me like the MTB trails scene is a little thin on the ground these days?

Yeah it has died on its arse a bit, many reasons I guess, but maybe partly that trails are not good venues for spectators and as downhill and slopestyle are made into a big events with lots more advertising and sponsorship, unlike trails, which isn't documented so much. I think people like to watch riders go big or crash and everything is on a bigger scale, I expect people aren't so keen when it’s a plot of wood of the side of a main road! Also with trails it requires a lot of manual labour, which the youth seem to be less and less keen to help with.

Do you think it has a future?

It does, I just don't know how ‘big’ it will ever get. I'm sure there will always be riders willing to put the effort in to build and maintain the trails, it’s just a shame more don't.

Are there any (mainly) MTB trails spots or riders that really stand out in your mind?

Yes if we’re only talking MTB then there are a lot of good spots, like Wisley, Moos or Brockham trails, so they do exist. And if we’re just taking MTB trails riders that dig more than they ride, and are complete trails bosses then my top five are Johnny Faulkner, Chris Hinckernickel, Luke Cullis and of course Lee and Ralph who are badass as well.

Actually a lot of people reading this will be a little confused as to the difference between ‘Dirt Jumping’ and ‘Riding Trails’, care to explain?

I would say that dirt jumping is a line of jumps (normally straight) built with the sole purpose of sending it, and doing stunts, like at a contest. Trails generally consist of much longer lines with lots of berms, rollers and hips. Riders normally get plenty of satisfaction just 'riding them', but I find If you are doing the stunts on them it can be more rewarding as the jumps are normally more technical.

Thanks for your time Jim, anything else to finish with?

Just that trails riding is a small niche segment of MTB and most of the time it goes un–recognised in plots of land all around the country. Also that it’s because of most of the riders I have mentioned that it still exists. I’d like to say a big thanks to all riders and diggers that keep what is left of this scene alive. And thanks to DMR for sticking with me even though I have been off the bike for so long.

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘what a load of bullshit, our trails scene’s healthier than ever!’ then good, I’m hoping to be proved wrong, please get in touch as it’d be awesome to see more MTB trails spots get some exposure!