Student shredders: Everything you need to know about mountain biking at university
It's not all about getting pissed
UCAS deadlines are looming and college students up and down the country are scrabbling together personal statements from half-hearted DofE bronze attempts and that one time they coached a bit of football.
If you’re applying this year, forget about league tables or student satisfaction, there’s only one thing that should interest you, what the riding’s like.
Some downhillers ‘encouraging’ the XCers at the Student Champs. They don’t hold the events together anymore.
Trust us when we say you’ll have plenty of time to shred and get pissed (sorry, study), most unis will even have an mtb society that you can use to find likeminded shredders and scrounge lifts from.
We spoke to some of the best student mountain bikers in the country to find out what the riding’s like at their unis and how they fit riding into their days.
How to pick a university
It’s no good if you end up in a town that’s flatter than a corpse’s ECG (we’re looking at you Norwich). If you pick a uni that’s not near any mountains, you may as well leave your bike at home.
Josh Lowe, a Solid Reverse Factory racer, said: “I couldn’t imagine living in an area without riding. So to be honest the process actually started by finding the universities that had mountain biking clubs and trails nearby (Exeter, Sheffield, Bristol, Edinburgh, Swansea). I decided Exeter because it had surf too (and I suppose the course looked good).”
Some universities will actually offer sports scholarships to mountain bikers if you’re racing at a national level. Thomas Owens was lucky enough to represent the University of South Wales. He said: “It was a great bonus to have them supporting a relatively unknown sport to the wider public. I wanted to study whilst still being 100 per cent committed to racing.”
Of course, all of this takes a bit of organisation, and if you’re anything like most students that won’t be your strongest suit. Jono Jones got lucky when he applied to Nottingham: “I didn’t really look ahead for riding spots when I applied for university, I was riding too much to do anything but rush through the applications and get back out on the bike when the sun came up!”
Riding mountain bikes at University
Most universities have Wednesday afternoons free for sport, which is when the club will head out for a local ride. There may also be rides further afield on weekends too. Most clubs will arrange road trips once or twice a year as well, be that uplifts in Wales or a full blown Alps trip.
If you’re in first-year, you’re unlikely to have room for more than one bike in your room, so an all-round enduro bike is probably best. Don’t worry if you’re into one specific discipline though, most uni clubs try to be as accommodating as possible and chances are someone else will be into it too. Thomas Owens says USW has “downhill, enduro, pumptrack and skatepark riders originating from competitive backgrounds to just doing it for the love of riding.”
Of course, it really depends on what’s in the local area, but most towns will have at least a few trails scratched into local woodlands.
Each club we spoke to had 20-40 members but only about 15 riders who were really committed. You can expect the number to dwindle even more as term goes on and deadlines loom – unless you’re the freshest of freshers.
Social life (getting pissed)
The prospectus might tell you otherwise but socialising is obviously a big part of university life. It can be daunting to go to a new city but a mountain bike club is a great place to start making new friends. Sam Robson, who studies at Sheffield Hallam and is currently on a year long internship with Mojo, said: “I turned up to Sheffield not knowing a single person, the lads in the club helped me find my feet.
“We have Hallam cycling socials every few weeks, each themed ranging from Lycra and shit shirts to mini bike pub crawls where we catch the train out of the city centre then ride back into town on our mini kids bikes stopping at as many pubs as we can manage. It’s all a good laugh really.”
The highlight of any student shredder’s year is BUCS, or the Biritsh University and College Sport Champsionships.
Hundreds of students, from World Cup racers to XC nodders all descend on a National Standard course for a weekend of shredding, heckling and, of course, boozing.
Quite often it’s carnage and probably one of the most stressful events to marshall all year. Most of the riders are have-a-go-heroes and look more like lemmings than seasoned dh racers.
Over the weekend, the field is whittled down to 100 riders that qualify for the finals. The rest of the field take to the side of the track for a good, old fashioned heckle. Mike Straw, the owner of MJRacing, said: “There is no pressure like there is at national races so its more about riding with mates and watching all the noddies KO themselves. This year at Antur the uplift was wicked and there was a decent crowd at the bottom giving out abuse which is always good.”
It’s a social affair too. This year’s race was held at Antur Stiniog and Exeter and Sheffield ended up sleeping on the floor of the Village Hall then riding together all weekend.
Surrey missile Jono Jones took the win in 2016 riding for Nottingham. He said: “The BUCS races are phenomenal! Such a cool atmosphere there, and really cool people. Not everyone is a through and through downhill rider and that makes it wicked. But the racing is still really close and times get very tight! There’s hundreds track-side, can in hand, making more noise than Heathrow runway during finals! Can’t wait for the next one and looking forward to seeing everyone there!”
Maybe best of all, university offers loads of opportunity to get involved in the bike industry. Of the people we spoke to, both Josh is a fully sponsored rider, Sam is now working for Mojo and Jack runs his own team.
If you’re heading off to uni, get in touch with the club on Facebook, they’ll be happy to chat to you and will have all the answers to any questions you have.
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