jason mcroy signs for specialized 1994
jason mcroy signs for specialized 1994

The late and great Jason McRoy paved the way for modern–day British downhill racers when he signed a deal with US giants Specialized…

From Dirt Issue 134 - April 2013 

Words by Steve Behr. Photo by Steve Behr.

It's nearly 18 years since Jason McRoy (JMC) was tragically killed in a collision between his motorcycle and a lorry. In that time British downhilling has gained massive respect on the international circuit, thanks in no small part to his pioneering spirit.

Downhill mountain biking was really an American invention, starting with the Marin County Repack races of the late 1970's. The early pro years of the late 80's and early 90's were largely dominated by US riders like Greg Herbold and John Tomac; with Mike King and Dave Cullinan both taking World Championships in the early 90's. Then the Euros like Francois Gachet, Jurgen Beneke and of course Nico Vouilloz started to win everything, but not much was happening from UK riders. Dave Hemming won a silver medal in the junior downhill at Durango in 1990, but no one had made any breakthrough internationally since then. It was a big deal to look at the results and see that a UK rider had got anywhere near the top 10 in any sort of international downhill event, and no–one was getting offered a big–time sponsorship deal with an international team.

That changed when Jason McRoy started to concentrate solely on racing downhill. In 1993 he saw an opportunity and went for it, taking a risk and competing on the international circuit with his dad Jim in support and a bikes and bits deal from Hardisty Cycles. He started to get noticed with a top ten finish at Cap d'Ail, and was fastest through the speed trap at the Vail Grundig World Cup. But it was his second place finish at the infamous Kamikaze event at Mammoth Mountain in California that allowed him to carry on competing in the ‘Grundigs’ and got him the attention that led to his breakthrough deal. It may be apocryphal, but legend has it that when Specialized asked him how much he wanted in order to sign with them he wrote a number on a napkin, folded it over and handed it to them. They looked at it and said, "We have a deal".

JMC signing for Specialized showed the up–coming UK riders that you could concentrate on downhill racing and not have to race cross country as well. And if you did that, worked hard, competed in the World Cup events and put yourself in the mix then the big results and big deals could follow. Rob Warner and Steve Peat both looked up to Jason and followed the path that he pioneered. Both went on to sign for big teams and win World Cups. It might have happened eventually anyway, but they both acknowledge the debt they owe to JMC for showing them (and the UK riders that followed them) what was possible. It took courage and conviction for Jason and Jim to go for it as they did. British downhillers have a lot to thank them for.