Four Wheel DriveInspiring characters out to get their adrenalin fix…no matter what.
DIRT ISSUE 125 – JULY 2012
Words: Billy Trailmix. Photos by Ed H
By drive I mean determination, and by determination I mean the resolve to over come adversity and seek out the adrenaline rush your body craved before an injury. Thrill seekers will always be thrill seekers.
I met the Project Gravity X guys at the Forest of Dean on recent visit and was blown away, not only by their positive spirit, attitude and sense of fun, but also by the sheer lunatic speeds which they were racing these four wheeled bikes down the steep, narrow, tree lined chutes (more suited to two wheels than four) with millimetre precision deftly dancing right on the limits of upright.
A keen downhiller Phil Hall, aka Downhill Phil, had a serious motorbike accident back in 2003. He slid off his Suzuki GSXR 600, hit a fence and woke up in hospital with a broken spine. During a long recuperation he had mentally written off a lot of possibilities, including riding a bike downhill. Fortuitously he spotted a poster of a guy racing a four–wheeled bike. The spark of desire was sown, only slightly dampened by the fact that nobody in the UK seemed to know anything about these bikes at all. Hours of internet research and months of saving for an airfare transported him to a facility in Colorado, USA, where he finally got the chance to ride this four wheeled beast which he likened to “a thrilling combination of downhill mountain biking and rallying”. On the flight back home Phil thought to himself, “I’m an adrenaline addict and I bloody love it, so there must be more idiots like me out there in the UK”.
Back home in Lancashire he immediately set up Rough Riderz, a club aimed at encouraging paraplegics to try the sport. Some serious fundraising took place and he imported two bikes from Canada to offer people the chance to try them out. The machines cost about 8000 quid each…not cheap at all. But the bikes are beautifully engineered and purpose–built for the job. Custom tubular steel frames, independent Fox sprung suspension, four disc brakes, 26” wheels on the rear 20” up front and a lot of intricate machining.
Meanwhile further south, Tudur Booton, who like Phil suffered grave spinal injuries from a motorbike smash, was getting his adrenaline fix from adaptive skiing with help from his mates Ed Noel and Dan Oates, who selflessly gave up their time to fuel Tudur’s huge appetite for gravity thrills. Both Ed and Dan also ride bikes and soon found out about Downhill Phil and the RoughRiderz club. A few phone calls later they all met up, got on really well and talked about the financial implications and logistic difficulties of importing the bikes from Canada. To add even more urgency to the cause the Canadian company has just recently stopped producing the bikes and any spare parts that they might need.
All four of them were keen to raise the awareness and opportunities for disabled riders in the UK and formed Project Gravity X. The aim of which is to manufacture an affordable four–wheeled bike in the UK.
As Phil states, “Gravity X was set up as a non–profit making club to encourage more people to ride, the same principle will be applied to the bikes. Once we have a capable machine it won’t be a case of making a fortune off people, we’ll sell them at cost price.”
Ed reiterates the point, “The plan is try to bring the cost down and make it more accessible to disabled riders. You would expect to pay more for sports equipment if you are disabled, but £8000 is a lot of money to pay for downhill mountain bike. If we can bring the cost down by a couple of grand without compromising too much on quality, then that would be ideal.”
To help design this capable bike, engineer Calvin Williams, from Swansea University, has got involved. Calvin became very interested in the project since spending a year in a wheelchair after a climbing accident. As well as input into the new bike he is also aiming to build a smaller version for younger kids to use.
All this requires money though, and as Ed says, “we have had a few sponsors so far but are now looking at finding bigger funding opportunities. We are working with the Manufacturing Advisory Service who are helping us with applications and also have help from Swansea University who have already had a successful application for funding through the Welsh Assembly.”
So things are looking positive for Project Gravity X and with the determination and drive that they possess the future is looking good.
Phil finally adds, “I’d encourage anybody to have a go if you’ve got half the need for adrenaline as I have, and if you’re in a chair or not, it doesn’t really matter, this bike’s the perfect leveller. No pedals, whoever gets to the bottom and brakes last wins.”
Like I say, thrill seekers will always be thrill seekers.
If you can help or would like more information then get in touch with Project Gravity X: firstname.lastname@example.org.