The Chris Akrigg Interview - A Couple of Bricks and a Plank of Wood
We talk to Chris about his personal progression, and taking the piss...
From Dirt Issue 111 - May 2011
One of the beauties of this sport is that it covers a lot of different riding and challenges. One rider whose appetite seems insatiable to take on these challenges is Chris Akrigg. You would be hard pushed to find a rider with this much talent and even harder pushed to find one willing to test that talent so frequently and precariously.
Those of you that have been into the sport for a while will have heard the name of Chris Akrigg around the place for years, but at 33 it is only recently that he as actually become a paid up pro, this thankfully is why we are seeing more of his riding through the constant stream of films he is producing and more frequent photoshoots. His riding has evolved in a way that is not only captivating but also unique, as is his attitude towards it.
I met up with Chris on the top floor of a bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter and over lunch, a couple of drinks and a lot of laughter, I tried to find out what makes him tick. Believe me, any boastful comments said hereafter were said very much tongue in cheek with a lot of laughter. He’s definitely a rider assured of his abilities, but in true Yorkshireman style this never gets in the way of him having a good time and poking a bit of fun at himself and others>>
Click through to keep reading...
[part title="A Couple of Bricks"]
My dad was a trials motorbike rider, I guess it was just pretty inevitable that I’d pick up a bike and start following down that road really.
Did you start with Moto trials then?
It was a bit higgledy piggledy really, but it all sort of went together. I got a little trials pushbike when I was younger, a Montesa. I used to go around with my dad, trying to emulate motorbikes. Going over rocks and all that jiving. And then I guess I grew out of it and didn’t think ought of it, but it was always there. Then a mate got a trials motorbike and I started using my dad’s bike a little bit. Started doing really well at that, it didn’t take me long to get up to speed, I was probably around 15. Did some nationals and enjoyed all that sort of stuff. Basically the turning point to start riding pushbikes again was when a load of lads that were riding motorbike trials, said they were doing this pushbike trial. We turned up and I went into the tent where you sign on and they asked what course I wanted to do. I’m just like, ‘hardest course, why wouldn’t I’ and walked out. The Martins (Martin Hawyes and Martyn Ashton, the original and biggest names in UK Mountain Bike trials) were there and they were like, ‘who’s this little knob head?’ It turns out I am a knob head and they realised that right away. My dad came over and goes ‘have you seen the sections? You don’t wanna ride that one’. I took my dad’s word for it and then I won the easier one that I rode. So the first time I tried pushbike trial, I won that category and I thought ‘this is good, I fancy a bit of this’.
Did the Martins have much of an influence on you back then, were you inspired by what they were doing?
Absolutely, in a massive way really. The second or third event I went to, they saw a potential in me as a rider. Because they practiced together, they had all this language about different feet forward and all that crap and I turned up and was so straight to the point about riding, I’d never really analysed it. So they started telling me all this stuff that overcomplicated everything. They were all going to World Championships that year and Hawziee was like, ‘you should go’. And I was just like ‘world what?’ sort of thing. They pushed me into getting out there and doing more stuff really and they always have done. They’ve always been people that I’ve rung up and said ‘what do you think of this and what do you think of that?’ They’ve always looked after me and been very influential.
I think six times British Champion. I never got a podium at World Championships for some reason, I tried for about eight or nine years, I don’t know why, probably just not good enough. Potentially I think I could have done it if I really put my head down and got into it.
Do you reckon you had the right attitude for competitions? I remember seeing you at one in Fort William and it seemed like the other guys were going specifically for the points but that you were more concerned with doing it in a fluid and stylish manner.
I think at the start of it all I was aware of style, but it wasn’t really something I would think about. As I got a bit more into it I wanted to do everything right and maybe I was trying too hard to clean everything and I’d take risks all the time. I’d just be like ‘fuck it, I wanna do it proper, I wanna clean it and just show everybody who’s boss’. I probably lost a lot of points from that. Then again I thought that if I keep banging away enough at some point everything will start working. Sometimes it would work and you’d think ‘fuck yeah, I’m the boy’ and then other times... Perfect example was at World Championships, I was riding really well and the Martins were there and said, ‘look Chris, nobody’s getting through this, you’re doing well, this last one, safety.’ And I just stood there and thought ‘fuck this, I’m going for this, I want the glory’. Threw it all away. It were cool though. It’s twice as hard to make it look good and get the points. I just wanted to make everything look silk. I think that’s still in my riding now. That’s a big part of what I want to do. Make things hard for myself just because I want to make it look nice.
What made you stop competing at trials?
The last trial I rode was just really disheartening, I weren’t taking it seriously enough and things had changed. The trials always seemed to be wide lines and that’s probably the reason I did quite well. I specialised in finding different lines. Everything got really restricting, it was more about weights and measures, i.e. how high you can side hop, what you could front touch. Not about, ‘I can ride my bike down that hill, I don’t need to go on the back wheel’. I didn’t feel like I was having fun. I think if you’re not bothered about whether you’re doing well or not, it’s time to give up. Don’t get me wrong I love trials, it’s my core. That's what I enjoy riding most, still is, but you know, I ride it on my own terms.
What got you into riding fixed wheel, did you want to do that or did someone make you?
It’s a funny thing really, because if I look at the timeline of when I picked up a fixed bike, it sort of saved me in a roundabout kinda way, as silly as it sounds. It wasn’t like I was burnt out, maybe I just needed to find something different to do and Nick Larsen (boss at Charge Bikes) who’s been a massive part of my career behind the scenes, said ‘you should do a fixed video, cause it’s going mad.’ Got hold of one off Mongoose and it went really well. I couldn’t believe how many people were watching the videos online.
Did you do it to show up their scene or were you even aware of what was going on with that?
No, it might have come across like that, as I like to poke people’s ribs every now and then. I guess that’s just my personality. It’s quite funny.
It seemed like that a bit, you did call it ‘One Gear, No Idea’?
Well it pretty much was, I wasn’t aware of the scene. I didn’t intentionally do it, if I’m on a bike I want to do it the best I can. And obviously my background comes through no matter what bike I pick up. There’s always going to be an element of interesting lines and technical riding.
[part title="A Couple of Bricks..."]
That’s a strange thing because someone said to me ‘what sort of genre of riding do you prefer now’. Because I’m known for all sorts of shit at the moment, I’ve lost it myself really, of what I’m supposed to be doing. But it doesn’t really feel like I’m picking up a Fixie today or I’m picking up a downhill bike or a trials bike or whatever. It just feels like, yeah, I’m on a bike, let’s go see what I can do.
You’ve been doing good at these quirky one–off events like the Cobble Wobble and Red Bull Minidrome, you’ve won those two recently. Is that something you consciously decided to do?
Nah, it’s just stuff I’m getting roped into. I think what it is, is that I’ve been riding bikes for a long time and I don’t mind jumping on different bikes all the time. I think some people stress out a little bit getting put into unfamiliar territory. I don’t.
You’ve been having good success in loads of areas, didn’t you also win Masters Downhill National Champs?
Well, I’m just good, what can I do!? On the same token I wouldn’t think I could just turn up at an event and do well, there’s a lot more to it than that. If I’m going to an event and I’ve had a bit of time before, yeah I’ll have been on that bike and done a bit of preparation. And there’s no pressure on me to do well, because people think, ‘that’s just, Chris he does this, he does that’.
After a bit of success like that in downhill, do you not feel a pull to pursue it?
I put a lot of years into trials and I feel I’ve done that. I’ve done my time of doing one thing. At the moment it’s sort of down to sponsorship as well. Mongoose are really enjoying me doing a bit of everything I want to do.
Would you say you’re a competitive person?
I always say I’m not competitive but if any of my friends were here they’d say ‘what the fuck’. Everything turns into competition with me apparently, but I don’t feel like that. But at end of day when the flag drops I want to beat everybody.
One example in particular is Danny MacAskill, do you feel with him doing a similar thing, that there is the need to up your game in any respect?
The biggest pressure I have is when I’ve found something to ride and I wanna ride it how I’ve envisaged it. The biggest pressure is in my head and a couple of people come to mind sometimes when I’m riding into stuff, that’s just to gee me up a little bit. I’m thinking, ‘X is gonna think this and who’sit’s gonna think this’ and I’m thinking ‘right I’ve gotta make this good’. But a lot of it is just pressure I put on myself to do well and nailing it how I want it. Yeah, Danny MacAskill’s definitely made me think a little bit about things.
What do you think about how it’s happened so quickly for him?
I think a lot of people think that I’d be really bitter about it and be like, ‘I’ve been doing this a long time and he’s just come along and boshed a video out and he’s done really well’. But to be fair it hasn’t done me any negative things at all, in fact it’s probably done me more good than bad you know.
Because he’s fucking good isn’t he? He’s good and people can relate to it. There’s a lot of stuff in there that your general Joe on the street can look at and think ‘that’s a phone-box, fuck me, he’s jumping over a phone box’.
Do you think the stuff you’re doing is maybe a little bit more obscure? With a lot of it being natural terrain, it’s harder for people to get a grasp of?
I’ve never really been a burly rider, I don’t do anything of that magnitude and I don’t go upside down and I don’t do spinners. I’ve never been good at it and don’t train at it and I don’t really care about it that much personally. I just enjoy really fucking crazy weird lines that you probably have to be there sat on the bike to sort of appreciate.
You do get a lot of underground kudos for that.
I think you’ve almost got to know what’s going on to know to know what’s going on, if you know what I mean. It’s quite hard to relate to. The other day somebody said, ‘just go and fucking do a backflip Chris!’ I don’t really feel like I need to. Yeah I can backflip, I’ve done it and I really enjoyed it. I just prefer riding normal down a street. I’m just a Yorkshire lad trying to make ends meet at the end of the day.
Do you ride much street?
I don’t tend to, I used to be mad for it and a lot of people used to class me as a street rider. A lot of that though was down to working all the time. So you’d finish work and if it’s dark you obviously can’t go riding natural stuff in the dark. Then on the days off you’d go ride natural stuff. But now I’m getting millions of pounds to ride my bike I can go out when I please you know.
Do you not ride at weekends now?
I don’t touch a bike at weekends generally, there’s too many folk about, walking around and gorping at ya, you can’t get anything done. It’s not that I’m antisocial…well I am…but it’s just natural curiosity; if you’ve got a camera set up and you’re walking around like a weirdo with some riding kit on or a helmet and you’re waiting for people to move out the way to do something, everything takes twice as much time. They might come over and have a chat, which is cool, I don’t mind chatting with people, but you just get unwanted attention.
Do you not feel the need to ride in front a crowd?
I’ve never really been a fan of riding in front of a crowd. I’ve had comments about me before being antisocial or ‘he’s a dick because he doesn’t talk to you and stuff’. It’s not that I’m a dick, it’s just because of my personality, like some people are quiet when they go to a bar, well I’m just like that on my bike.
I think that’s when you know if you’re happy with your riding. But the whole filming thing has saved my riding, I don’t know what I’d be doing now if I wasn’t filming, what I’d be concentrating on.
What do you get from making these films?
I literally enjoy the whole process of it, because I keep everything in house, I get mates to do a bit of filming and I edit everything myself. It helps me see my riding and think, ‘I’m being a bit shit there, I need to push it a bit more’. It’s got to be perfect because it’s not like a photo where it’s a split second. It’s from A to B and that’s gotta be mint. That really pushes me. It’s what makes me go out and find places to ride. But I can also go out riding and not do any filming, I quite like it. I like to take it steady when I go out normally.
Is that the important side of riding bikes to you, less competitive and more of an art form?
I think it’s definitely fair to say that it’s my art form. It’s my way that I express myself for sure. I don’t really express myself in any other way.
[part title="A Couple of Bricks..."]
Early on I did a lot of stuff with Alex Rankin (Sprung, earthed, WFO Media, etc.). The people I like working with the most know how to push my buttons to get me going. When I used to ride pushbike trials and was competing the person who would get me going the most was my dad. I’d be doing something a bit crap and he’d just go, ‘you can do better than that’. And you’d get angry and think ‘I’m gonna show you’ and you’d do really well and next thing you’d realise he’s just said that to do that. I think from a photography point of view they sort of do the same. Alex or Paul Bliss always put a little jab in. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff with Victor Lucas recently.
I can’t imagine Victor pushing you like that?
I don’t think it is that with him, it’s more because I’m confident in his abilities to catch stuff. He’ll stand back and let me do my thing, I’ll just tell him and what I want to do and often I don’t want to do it too many times.
What pushed you to learn the filming side of things yourself?
I’ve always enjoyed photography, there were certain times when I thought, ‘right I wanna start doing more photography’. But I was shit at talking photos of people on bikes so that didn’t really work out for me. Film side of things, Nick Larsen was doing that stuff with Charge and I did a couple of little weird ones for him and those Fixie ones started doing well. Dunno, I don’t really think about it now, that’s just what I do.
You always manage to be looking very dapper in your films and photos, it’s good to see someone riding bikes in normal and stylish clothes.
I never used to be that bothered about it, somebody would turn up to do some photos and it’d just be in whatever I had on that morning. That’s one of the things that I think killed trials off, people just looking like chavs hanging out in a bus stop. They just had a bit of a shocker didn’t they really. I’m not saying that I’m a style icon or anything. But you gotta look half decent haven’t you.
This latest film of yours, ‘A Hill In Spain’ seems to represent all the types of riding you do really well.
It was really good fun doing that video, we could have spent ages doing crap in quarries but I think it just hit it right with a bit of this and a bit of that.
Every video you do seems to be quirky or in an unusual location.
My girlfriend says I’m like a pikey, it’s not scrap metal I’m after, it’s locations. I’ll drive past somewhere and get a glimmer of an old building or something and wonder ‘what’s over there’. It’s got to the point now where I’m asking around, one of my mates is a geologist and I rang him up the other day and said that I want an interesting rock formation that I fancy doing something on and he’s sent me all these pictures because he’s a proper pervert with rocks.
You’re always building stuff out of the most ridiculous things, like scraps of wood and broken chairs.
I’m just like a big kid on a bike really aren’t I? It’s just escalated from a couple of bricks and a plank of wood. I think it’s quite funny in a way, I guess if I had a sense of humour that’s what it would be. I never used to build stuff, it was always 100% natural all the time, but the turning point was when I was in America and I spent a bit of time with Jeff Lenosky and Aaron Chase and they’re just relentless, they’re always out with shovels. That was years ago and I came back from that trip and thought ‘I could have a bit of that’. Obviously if you’re doing quite a bit of filming, you run out of places to ride pretty quick so you’ve got to be always on it. I don’t like to overbuild stuff though, ‘cause I think there’s nought worse than seeing something and then building it and it’s a piece of piss. Because it’s such an anticlimax, you wanna take it a couple of times and have to fight for it. Not just build it and then go, ‘ah that was alright, it rode really nice’. That’s not what I want at all, you want it to be built just shy of being perfect.
What’s been the hardest things you’ve struggled with? Because you do seem like the sort of person that would bang your head against a brick wall until it comes down.
Yeah, I’ve done it a lot of times, until I run out of energy. I don’t like backing down from stuff for sure. There’s not many things that I’ve turned my back on, but I can think of them straight away. Stuff years back where I’ve got on a bike and then been at the last second and just gone ‘ya know what, I’ve bottled this’ and that stuff’s still in my mind. I thought about doing a video and pick five of the best ones I’ve fucked up on and go back to do them. That would be quite funny, but no I’m not going to do that because I think that would be too dodgy.
I don’t over analyse things, it’s like the old diving board situation, if you’re looking at something for too long, you’re not going to do it. Over analysing things or thinking you’re on the wrong bike or the bike’s not really set up or that tyres a bit soft, I don’t really tend to do much stuff like that. I just think, ‘I’m gonna go flat out at this and it’s gonna be all good’.
So you’re not that calculated?
I think there’s a slight calculation in there, normally speed. And ignorance. Equals success!
[part title="A Couple of Bricks..."]
You always seem to be riding in these underbelly places, in the shadows. Do you not worry what shit is on the floor? Don’t you fall on broken glass and nails and get them stuck in ya?
Oh, that house tap , I didn’t knock myself out, but you know when you’ve had a big crash and you’re body’s doing a system check. I came–to and there was just one massive big fuckin six inch nail stuck out the ground next to where my head was. That was worrying that, I started thinking about things a little bit then. But it doesn’t bother me too much. That’s one of the things that I need to go back and do. If you look at it, it was ridiculous, it was built of old rotten doors and I’d just wanted to get it done and go back and have a brew. My mate’s worse than me, he gees me up too much. He’s just like ‘come on then ya puff, get on with it’. He said afterwards that he was bricking it, he was saying that it was never really on. I’d turned the cameras on when I still hadn’t really made a decision whether I was gonna go for it, I don’t like that build up of, ‘right cameras on’, that’s the point where you’ve already committed without committing. Basically I just went and as soon as I’d gone I realised I hadn’t really thought about it and by the time I’d put two pedal strokes in I was up on wall thinking, ‘fucking hell this is wrong, this has badly gone wrong’. I try to trick myself like that sometimes and go before I’m ready because it’s quite funny, I guess I just piss myself off.
What’s going through you’re head before you do something massive like that?
It’s always that circling point; when you’ve built something and you think ‘fuck what have I built here, this could be a little bit borderline’, it’s that bit where you ride away, that’s when you get your head straight, that’s when you’re going to win or lose it. You get these little scares every now and then, when you turn round to do it. It’s always in my head if I turn round and go, ‘we’re good to go’, but if I turn round to go and have another circle, that’s just not good.
I always think trials in particular is quite good for pathetic crashes too. I’ve seen quite a lot where you just end up sat down next to the bike or something equally daft.
Well, it’s a bit of an in–joke. It is true, if you watch me ride for long enough, I can nail a really technical line first time and I’ll be riding away and there’ll be a grain of rice on the ground and I’ll go over the bars. That happens so often.
Is that just lack of concentration?
Yeah I think it is, I do have very bad concentration levels. I get bored very easily.
I’d say that’s a big part of it for sure.
How would you say your riding is evolving?
Fuck knows, it’s getting a bit strange isn’t it. It used to be easy, when people asked what I do I’d just say ‘I ride trials like Dougie Lampkin rides motorbike trials, well I do that on pushbikes’.
I did read a comment on the Dirt site and I quote it verbatim, ‘Best all round rider ever, Legend.’
Oh right yeah. That’s what I’ll use from now on. What do you do for a living? Well, I’m the best all round legend ever.
With people saying stuff like that, have you become more aware as you’ve got older of your commercial potential?
I think for starters a lot of people think I’ve been a professional rider for a long time. I’ve rode for Mongoose for quite a lot of years now but I worked for a shop, Aire Valley Cycles, since I was 16. Just luckily they were really good at giving me time off because Bernie, the guy there, is an ex–pro. A couple of years ago it was just getting too much, the shop was busy, people were ringing me up to go and do stuff, something needed to go.
So you only turned professional two years ago?
Yeah, this is my second year.
How come you think that’s taken so long to come around?
I never really aspired to be a full time rider. You hear all these kids and they’re going, ‘I just wanna be a professional rider’. I never really had that, because I was enjoying what I did. I went to work, did my bit and went out riding at night. And it just happened that I was alright at riding a bike. I always thought that the worst thing would be that when you’re doing something for a job, sometimes you’re not right keen on it. I never wanted to not like riding my bike you know.
First year, you’re feet don’t touch the ground, you’re getting to know how things work. I think if you look at a lot of riders now that are doing it professionally, they’re all businessmen aren’t they, and you’ve gotta be. I’ve never been very good at that side of things but luckily I’ve had people around me that have been good at it and pushed me in the right direction.
What ambitions do you have for taking it on from here?
I’ve never really been very ambitious I don’t think. Just keeping everything sort of fun and chilled. I’m in a really good position, I’ve got a select couple of mates I go out riding with and every now and then being able to bosh off and do some rad comps and a bit of travelling then coming back and just hanging out in Yorkshire. Luckily I’ve got to a point where somebody is paying me to do all that, it’s fuckin rad, I’m loving it. But obviously you’ve got to work for it and I had to get there in’t first place.
Do you still get that same feeling you got from riding when you started?
Like when I went out to Malaga recently, at the time it was super hard work, we were doing a lot of riding, it’s sort of stressful in a way, sometimes it won’t feel like fun. I’m a little bit unconfident sometimes about asking people to do stuff, deep down I know that things will work but it’s convincing people that they need to spend half of their day helping me build something. And then when it actually all goes together and they’re like ‘fuck yeah’. It’s wicked isn’t it? It’s the best feeling ever, it’s great ya know. And then it’s like ‘fuck here we go again, what’s next, lets get that done’.
So what is next?
Dunno, haven’t got a clue. But I would like to thank, Mongoose, Nick Larsen, CSG UK, Mum & Dad, Girlfriend, Aire Valley cycles, all my sponsors, anyone that’s ever held a camera for me and all the support from the people that have watched my edits.