Words and interview by Ali Todd
Hidden in the mountains inland from the coastline of the Italian Riviera and just half an hour from Monaco, there’s a paradise for mountain bikers, a small village surrounded by forest and spoilt with fresh crashing rivers, abundant singletrack riding and all manner of earthly goodness. That place is Molini di Triora.
A destination of choice, in the opinion of most people who have ridden there it’s possibly Europe’s best riding spot. It’s got everything you could possibly ask for as a mountain biker and, even better, you can climb off the bike and sit down to amazing food at a fraction of what you’d pay over here.
We sat down with Richard Williams, publican turned events professional turned trail guide for Riviera Bike, to talk how you end up in such a place, what it’s like, and why he can’t go back to his former life now.
So a bit of background – who are you, how old are you, and where are you from?
I’m 32 years old at the moment, and I had a bit of a strange upbringing. I didn’t really come from anywhere, as my parents were military diplomatic service, so I grew up all over the world, really, then got dumped in boarding school. So I guess that’s where I’m from, Stamford – I spent ten years in boarding school there, then university and then I lived in London.
What were you doing in London?
I went to university first – I had to spend a year doing art school to do graphic design, so I spent a few years of university there, and then got into the pub trade. I ended up working in nightclubs and stuff – I loved all that life, but I ended up buying a little pub in Battersea and had that for two and a bit years before I sold it. Then basically I got a bit of money from that, so I thought rather than take my parents’ advice and invest it, I’d go and live a little, so I moved out to Meribel and pissed around for a year and learned how to snowboard really well – something I’d always loved but never had the chance to do. I did that as long as I could, then came back to the UK and went back into the pub trade and the nightclub trade as an area manager for Virgin, and I hated it. Being in the great outdoors for a whole year, I couldn’t go back to the office thing – it ruined it for me. But it was the best thing I did really, because it set me onto the path I’m on now. So from there I got into event work – started off just in the summer and became a lackey just working with marquees and things like that. I absolutely loved the outdoor life and that sort of stuff, so I just worked my way through and ended up right at the top, working for quite a large Europe-based event company, doing that for about eight years really.
What made you give all that up and move to Molini?
Well the Italian government were running a sort of competition because there was a disproportionately large number of females to males up in the mountain villages, so I thought, you know… that’s where I need to be going! No, that’s a lie.
London life wasn’t really panning out how I hoped it would – having had the opportunity to live in quite a few countries, I never really enjoyed living in England that much: it’s very expensive with most of your money going on rent, and what little money you do have left over at the end of the month – and I was on a really good salary running the company – you either save and don’t live, or live and don’t save.
I didn’t really have any ties. I picked up a mountain bike about five years ago as I got bored of snowboarding, and it took over my life. One thing came to another, and I decided to combine the two, and after a few fortunate events with my boss Ady (Aidrian Nash, Riviera Bike owner), I just decided this was definitely the thing to do.
So Ady in one sentence? What’s a mountain bike company owner like…?
Grumpy, Welsh… No, I shouldn’t say that. Ady in one sentence is very hard-working, forward-thinking, an entrepreneur, and my boss. He’s done an incredible job really – he’s really put this place on the map. Before he got here a few locals knew about it – Roberto Vernassa had done the downhill (in nearby San Romolo) and some of the tracks, but he’s really worked very hard to forge it as a destination of choice for UK riders, and it’s testament to him that it’s so popular – we’re booked up all year.
So how would you describe this area?
RW: Very remote, I wouldn’t say backward, but lots of little villages ruled by farming life, high in manual labour and things like that… And a lot of Italy perceive it as backwards, so people don’t really bother coming down here. But to outsiders, it’s absolutely stunning: it’s got amazing topography, an incredible area not just for sport but to relax in. It’s very quiet – there’s not a huge amount of tourism at the moment, and while there’s more in the summer, if you compare it to Nice or Monaco down the road, it’s very underdeveloped. So just a beautiful, tranquil little place.
The riding is phenomenal. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done – it’s just got everything you could possibly want. Twisty, turny, flowy amazing trails through the trees that incorporate pretty much every terrain imaginable. You have to come here to believe it. The return rate for customers is almost 100%. Do I need to say any more?
Here’s a video to demonstrate just how good the riding is around the area:
So is this the dream job? What would you sum your job up as?
Essentially I’m a full-time guide. It is a pretty dream-worthy job in all respects, really. I’ve traded London with its fast-paced life, good money and city living for a completely departed existence, living in a small village with a couple of hundred people. So the change has been a bit of a culture shock, but it is all about the lifestyle. It’s a very simple life – you’re out and about all day every day and you’re not back until about 7, but you don’t really see it as work. I don’t see many people getting out of bed every morning really being able to say they’re looking forward to going to their office-based 9-5… I certainly didn’t.
Could you ever go back?
No, not at all. I came here with a very open mind – I gave it six months because it’s so different to what I’d been doing, I didn’t know how I’d take it. I was pretty certain it would be fine, but I did have an open mind. Within a few weeks I knew this was for me. I went back in the winter just for a few weeks to catch up with my friends in London and it really brought home every reason I moved away. I couldn’t imagine going back – I’m here for the long run.
What’s a day in the life of Richard Williams, pro bike guide like?
Essentially, we have people who come for weeklong holidays. That’s the main structure to what we do. So what I’m doing is guiding people, looking after them and showing them the trails we have in Molini. We’ll take them up in the van or do a bit of climbing and get to the head of the trail, and I’ll show them down and tell them how to get there. It’s a lot more involved than that though – there’s the teaching element, the coaching element, there’s the medical side of things, organising people – it’s all-encompassing basically.
What is the plan for the future?
This is definitely the career path I want to go down in terms of the industry and being out here. With my background in event management, we’ve already spoken about doing events down here and bolstering the pre-existing enduro circuits – that would be a good thing to do.
Also hopefully setting up something more adventure-based, working in line with Ady, being able to do more point-to-point tours, enduro holidays where we take on board all the different areas here rather than just a couple – I think people would really enjoy being able to sample all the Riviera spots because they’re so different to each other.
For myself, I’ve got a couple of ideas – I’d like to create a professional outlet for World Cup teams in this area, I’m possibly looking at the hotel in San Romolo [where many of the downhill teams spend time training], converting it into somewhere with a gym, sauna, rehabilitation room, somewhere where you can have full working with garages and working space… something like that, so that everyone can be housed in one big unit and go out and train together from there.
The important thing is not to step on people’s feet here – Ady’s been very good in taking me on board and teaching me the ropes, and Roberto too… so you don’t want to suddenly set up shop next door and try to compete – that’s the way to do things. Maybe something completely different to something that’s already being done here.
Finally, three or four reasons why the UK rider should come and spend a week out here with you?
For one it will develop their riding dramatically – they will come back a much more competent and accomplished rider. Secondly, it’s nothing like a resort or a big uplift centre – you experience the local culture, the people here – you feel like you’re part of the village. I really do recommend that people try it – I don’t bother with bike parks any more. It’s better here, it’s cheaper, it’s beautiful, tranquil… and the weather. The coast is right on your doorstep… I could go on but you’re best just coming over and finding out for yourself.