JOE BARNES - THE BIG DEAL | INTERVIEW
After seven years of carving the international downhill circuit Fort William local Joe Barnes has jumped ship...
After seven years of carving the international downhill circuit Fort William local Joe Barnes has jumped ship, and this year he will set sail for the World Enduro series on a German bike. He takes the Dudes of Hazzard with him. All hands on deck…
DIRT ISSUE 132 - FEBRUARY 2013
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones
The plan was always going to be a simple one, implemented in an effortless manner, finished with something a touch provocative. ‘Fuck it Boys, we're off to Sweden’. Flowing and considered, featuring reckless pool dives and Bothnian sunsets way above the mellow latitudes of his some–time home on the road to Mallaig, the ‘Dudes of Hazzard’ to many is the antithesis of the modern day mountain bike video. Closer to reality, lower on budget, but packing a potent, independent, but never offensive, punch. It’s the tale of the broken water pump, the one set of pants and jerry can of Coke. The banter and bailouts that we’ve all done at some point, and that many of us can connect with.
Does he reverse the trend? Will he bring enduro into direct competition with downhill? Will he win? How will he deal with days off the Orange (his previous long term sponsor)? These are all questions I didn’t ask him, but will be on everyone’s minds up until the season kicks off.
Dirt: Not afraid of a bit of grafting it seems Joe?
Joe Barnes: Too true. I am definitely a doer, with a happy mix of procrastination and faffing though. If I want a new trail, it gets seen to. Or if the Landship needs a fettle, the site lamps and power tools come out and things get done.
Runs in the family? Outdoor to the core?
The balance of work and play are finely tuned in my family. My parents like to travel and spend the majority of time on their boat sailing around the world. To my fair–weather father's bitter disappointment, however, they are in Scotland this cold winter kitting out a new house. It's an old beauty sitting in an oak wood with plenty of space to spread out. The last few weeks have been spent clearing the garden and having a big bonfire each day. I have started rebuilding the half burnt down shed for my operation ‘super shed’ project.
Your upbringing, which included self–sailed trips across the Atlantic, must have shaped what you do today? You seem to travel a lot?
I do feel I had a great childhood, more so from growing up around Fort William than sailing. It is a great playground for getting excited in. As a miniature Ray Mears I paddled, sailed, stabbed and arsenated my way about when I was wee. I have a theory that by growing up here you become more rowdy in the outdoors than many others. The crew before me jumped Monessie gorge (85ft), I jumped it and the young guns after me will do it too. Bikes have always been key for me and when we as a family went sailing for a year, I missed my bike more than anything. I would draw pictures of bikes in my logbook and the first thing I did when I got home was jump on my old Raleigh Amazon steed and do a massive skid. This combination of where I grew up, with back–country skiing from when I was a metre high, and my family’s sense of adventure, has definitely made me not shy of travel and has shaped what I do today. I took a trip to New Zealand when I was 17 with my friend James back in 06/07 and since then I haven't stopped. Trucking around Europe mostly, shying away from planes and their limiting factors, and favouring going where the road takes you.
You say you’ve been busy rebuilding an amazing timber house with your folks?
Yes, this is really exciting for the Barnes family on the whole. It's a great spot to put down a base and suits us all perfectly for the time being. My dad is a joiner and I will be helping get the place into order this winter. At the moment mum is in charge as it is getting gutted and the grounds groomed. Once the outside is sorted work will begin indoors, sorting out the wiring and plumbing first.>>
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[part title="JOE BARNES - THE BIG DEAL | INTERVIEW PAGE TWO..."]
OK, lets talk Dudes of Hazzard? Where was the name adopted?
The Dudes started back in 2005 with my friend Richard Finlayson. We thought it would be great to make a film for the Fort William Mountain Film Festival, so, along with the help of local chief Gordie (maker of the Grand Theft Auto video game) we made a brilliant 15 minute film. It was a success and was sent over for the boys in Banff. This original project has never reached the web, so it might make a appearance one day. The name was a mixture of ideas and we basically just liked the words ‘dudes’ and ‘hazard’. A definite tongue in cheek feel as well. My vote was for ‘Genuine Leather’. I don't know why. Five years passed until its current form, but the name stuck and it now has a good feel for us and involves everyone like the name suggests.
Nine years on Orange, was it time to move on? Or money?
I still can't quite believe I got sponsored by Orange in the first place. My first proper bike was a Patriot and after three years racing various Oranges, I got offered a deal. I was so excited to ride for them and since then I have gradually worked up the ranks to be their top rider. I don't know what I am most excited about, getting new bikes to play on or having a bit more money to buy more toys with. Either way it's exciting times and Canyon also offer the set–up I have never had before to allow me to push my racing on: training support, power cranks, manager, mechanic and race pits. All new to me, and a good change from what I am used to. Many a wise fox has told me that at this level it is all about support and I wholeheartedly agree. Winging it in a van won't make you World Champion, so the time has come to move on.
And the whole Dudes outfit on Canyon also?
Now this is the most exciting thing right here. My buddies Ferg and Liam are also making the change to Canyon with me. They aren't on the same race team, but have got good backing from the Germans too. This helps our travel and general banter in the summer run smoothly, being able to do things together for the bigger cause. The films will have a new flavour and a lease of life to push them to the next level and we can work on bigger and better projects together. I value riding and working with my friends above everything, so making the ‘work’ side of earning a living into riding with friends, is essential for me. A big thank you to Canyon for not splitting up something special.
Big van and maids this year then Joe?
Aye, I am currently building an extension onto the Landship (team van) at the moment actually. Each year the luxuries creep in, next there will be mints on the coffee table and a personal masseuse.
This sounds very much like BIG TIME Barnes to me. Are you worried your individuality and the certain freedom you had with MTBcut Orange might somehow get lost in the stampede for…err…well?
I was very careful when setting out my plans to take this into account. It's flipping well–good being a big deal, as long as I can still truck with the boys and make comedy videos with the crew. This freedom has really helped me as I have gradually changed to Enduro. Being able to make videos for our own banter and not for sponsors makes the videos not product based or incentive driven. The Dudes is still sponsorless and it's good to keep it that way. As for me as a rider, Canyon and Orange both see the positive in letting me get on with it. If I want to kit out a Reliant Robin with a big Dudes lightning bold down the side (which I do) instead of tweeting about going to a trade show, it's better in the long run. Let's hope so anyway. Cheersh baeys.
Joe Barnes is all about mixed riding correct?
Mixed riding meaning different bikes? Then probably not. Mixed riding like mixed climbing, one route taking in many disciplines, then yes. I generally ride one bike all the time and make it happen. This year we packed the Landship with only trail bikes for the Euro trip. DH in Morzine, the Mega and road rides for the training all on the one steed. That's the beauty of enduro.
Ha ha so we'll only see Barnesy on one bike all next year?
That's true. Apart from if I am in Britain on my 120mm bike or in France on a 160mm bike or riding some DH on the DH bike. Oh wait, or the XC steed for the West Highland Wheelers winter league. If I get injured, I might ride some road also. Don't even mention motorbikes. Yep you win. Bikes are well fun. Why have just one.
Last year you focused on the Irish enduro series rather than UK. Why was this?
I went over for the first one as a pre–season warm up. I was amazed at how the event ran and from there on I decided to do the whole series. It was brilliant fun with all the major factors of racing taken care of – taping, timing, venue and courses all being spot on at every round – and great atmosphere too. Compare this to races where the taping is questionable and you are fronted with people who don't accept that you can't have a timed discipline with a subjective course. This included some riders amazingly. The course must be double taped like a slalom gate or DH track for a specific section or corner and if it is a single piece of tape it is only as a guideline. The Irish know how to do things and I look forward to returning for more craic with the lads next season.>>
[part title="JOE BARNES - THE BIG DEAL | INTERVIEW PAGE THREE"]
Back to the Dudes. Quite a water theme?
Yeah our second favourite sport after the bikes is jumping into and playing in rivers. The two compliment each other perfectly. We are lucky enough to have great rivers up here, they all have waterfalls into deep pools prime for a flop. That's the main problem with racing in France, poverty, rubbly rivers.
Again, maybe some inspiration from an upbringing at sea?
With every family holiday as I grew up being on a boat it definitely plays a part. I do admire a fine vessel and the fun starts when things get rowdy in a tight river. The boys have never got into kayaking like many others around here and instead keep it original, a set of pants and a one–man dinghy does it for the Dudes.
The film is based on a summer tour of western Europe right?
Yeah, basically. Leaving home in Fort William and heading out for a three month trip around the races in Europe. The life changing purchase of the Sachs 25cc Koala Scooter and the ups and downs of van life provide most of the action. The catch phrase throughout the summer was "Fuck it Boys, we're off to Sweden" and when we were driving down the hill from the Val di Sole World Cup in the old van looking at the map, we realised that the squiggly line to Sweden more than stretched to home and back to Italy again. Things nearly fell apart right then. The catchphrase was said one more time and so we trucked for the next five days until we made it to our end of season treasure. A camp fire in the Bay of Bothnia, with a calming swim greeted us for three weeks pikeying around this foreign, Scottish–like, land. A feeling of being constantly diddled on the exchange rate meant plenty of nibbles while doing the shopping, Ferg ate 36 sausages in one shop and Liam filled the water drum up with coke from MacDonalds on another. Many a river to jump into and many a new trail to explore. This was what it was all about, an unfeasibly inaccessible trip with three great friends. I am just pleased we got the camera out a few times and now have The Movie to watch and remember forever.
Did you set out to make a movie. I mean a lot of riders do the Europe tour but none so well documented!
After our first season of episodes, the bike sites were rife with homemade low budget (like ourselves) episode style videos and it was time to make a change. To be fresh is the most important thing for us and so ‘The Movie’ was devised. Since then, we have had projects like ‘Mega Vision’, a daily update of all the goings on at the Mega. A hit single for our Christmas Number One campaign and back to the classic episodes with Episode 7. Got to keep it fresh.
It’s regarded as one of the most inspiring films by many people, and as Billy (Dirt web editor) points out it is the antithesis of modern day MTB footage. Talk us through the characters. Liam Moynihan, Fergus Lamb. What were their roles? All from Corpach?
They are both from Corpach, yes. Ferg is basically ‘The Flipping Boy’! He has raced DH with me for years now. Was 59th in the World Cup series and has numerous Scottish title wins. First to send the bug stuff and not shy of a drop–to–flat. He inspires any ride with something you can't believe – a night ride on a carbon XC hardtail with an Exposure joystick on the bars, sending all the jumps on the Fort William 4X track. This somewhat calculated incalculable madness is contrasted with a love for building and a work ethic to get the job done. His own house extension is just finished and it's on to the next project. Liam is a bit younger and is at University just now doing the mountain bikers degree, Mechanical Engineering. Perfectly located for a good winters training. Liam always turns up with legs of steel and an unrivalled love for bikes. Always coming up with comedy ideas, Liam's lining up his next project, the tandem skis ready for a tandem flip this winter. I just hope I am not drafted in for this one.
I notice a few podiums in the film. Now you’ll probably hate me for this, but podiums have not exactly been thick and fast during your career?!
In some ways true. In every SDA from the age of 16 to 19 I got a frustrating second. Then conquered Scotland, winning many a SDA and also the Scottish Champs twice. It took me another year to do well in Britain, finally getting my first National win in 2008. I was eighth in the British ranking for the next three years. World Cups have always eluded me, and a 26th is my best result, but I do feel I didn't reach my full potential in DH.
2012 was one of your most successful years ever?
Yes, five wins was a good start, but mechanicals halted me in Europe this year. Jammed chain at the Mountain Of Hell, eventually getting 9th. Puncture in Mega quali, starting in row four in the final to get 15th and a puncture at the Enduro of Nations. A mixed season, but with good dominance at home and as my first full Enduro season. I learnt a lot.>>
[part title="JOE BARNES - THE BIG DEAL | INTERVIEW PAGE FOUR..."]
With endure do you feel that you have really found your sport?
I think so. I have always had a strong fitness and really enjoyed racing XC around Scotland. Combining this with my DH background and love of riding trail bikes, I have got good start on my enduro campaign.
Do you feel you have better physiology for enduro than DH?
I am naturally a scrawny wee bam pot so this should suit enduro better. The difference is made in aerobic fitness rather than all–out strength and power, so it naturally suits me, however I think you can be good at both with specific training.
What are your weaknesses on a bike?
Hardpack! Going round a turn and not drifting feels weird. I did an Urban DH once and did terribly.
Been doing World Cups since 2006, that’s a fair bit of travelling.
Living in north Scotland does involve a lot of traveling. Lots of trips in the van with Ferg over to Europe. We started with a 1980's fold out map of the whole of Europe, missing half the roads and having to resort to smelling our way about…50mph max, and off the toll roads to save money. It took a while but we made it. The traveling has created many a good story and I have seen loads of great car parks at the races. It's between the races when you see the places and get a chance to explore.
What prompted the move from MTB Cut?
Supply and demand baeys (boys in Scottish…in case you didn’t know).
Orange bikes, stood you well over the years, will a new bike make you faster?
Orange have definitely shaped how I ride and I feel very comfortable on their bikes. A new bike for me is not a problem though. Quite simply keeping it fresh is fun. Just a new set of grips or a gear cable makes me feel good and ride well. Ridiculous I know. I have done some good testing on Canyon bikes and feel comfortable already so don't fear the change at all and I can't wait for that new feeling.
Did you consider a move to companies other than Canyon?
From the day Stu (Thomson) from MTBcut phoned me five years ago and asked if I could ride for him, I have never looked elsewhere for a ride and just planned to keep things good with MTBcut. This year was different with all the enduro hype and so I put out a few feelers after the season. The response was incredible and many people just assumed I was contracted to Orange. I had my notebook on overdrive with pros and cons of different options. And, after a trip to Germany to meet the bosses, it all fell into place with Canyon.
What are your thoughts on wheel sizing? 650B or 29?
For me it is pretty simple. 29" for XC bikes, 650B for trail bikes/Enduro racing and 26" for DH. This works well for chain stay length in relation to travel and also wheel flex.
Hmm, OK. There’s a considerable advantage in running bigger wheels. What will you be racing?
I am still in testing at the moment, but I think the above will be something to aim for in the not too distant future.
What about the less brutal events. 29?
For a wee ba's like myself, running the big wheels would have to be on a pretty tame course, so I can't see it happening just now.
Did you consider the 147mm Five 29 compared to a 160mm 650 Strive in terms of speed? Ha ha…sorry…
Didn't cross my mind. Anything is possible with a welding jig or a carbon mould.
Your strength has to be technical terrain surely? Those practice tracks in and around the Fort are pretty rough? You have a fair few?
We pride ourselves on showing visitors trails that will scare them. They are definitely some of the most technical trails I have ridden. We have a good crew of people to build trails with and we always like to push things on. Each new trail built gets more and more awkward, with less and less flow. If you spend a week putting it together like a puzzle you can crack the code and smash it. I always look forward to very technical terrain at a race. Introduce to word awkward and I am away. This ties in with my fear of hardpack.
Your home of Fort William, many a night have Dirt readers spent on those streets. You’re not a boozer?
No, it's not for me. I am not the most social and would never go out in town. It's the same for all my friends at home, none of us are drinkers and instead consume a vast quantity of Irn Bru. People reading this will probably know Fort William High Street better than I do.
You can win this World Enduro series right?
It is looking very Euro at the moment with the majority of races being classics for the French, so it will be hard to topple them all. The stars have lined up for me so far, so it's definitely time to step on it and make it happen. I am already pushing my training and can't wait to get in and amongst it this summer.