I blame Peter Darke of Darke Cycles in Sunderland. He reminded me of a local TV news programme we appeared in way back in 1987. He had just started his bike shop, with a grant from the Prince’s Trust, and I was a rookie journalist, cutting my teeth on Peter Lumley’s Bicycle Times.
We were young, fearless and confident. I could tell this from the DVD footage of the news programme sent to me by a BBC reporter friend of mine. Peter was the more mature of the pair of us. I was gung-ho. And stupid. I said the riders in the first ever British mountain bike team would wipe the floor with the American opposition in the first ever MTB world championships, due to take place in the French Alps later in the month.
Peter and I were the co-managers of the team. We’d founded it because nobody else had bothered to. This was at a time when the British Cycling Federation and the UCI both had zero interest in mountain biking. Nobody could stop us from forming an ‘official’ British team. I even nominated myself as a team rider.
With the mighty power and influence of Bicycle Times (MBUK wasn’t even a twinkle in the eyes of Tym Manley and Chris Turner at this time) I was able to secure sponsorship from Rohan and, via Ron Kitching, SunTour. We had jerseys made by Been Bag. This was before sublimation printing: the sponsor logos were flock printed. (I still have one of these jerseys; it still fits, cycling has kept me slim).
We hooked up with some top riders (and a few mates) and arrived in Villard de Lans as the only national team. The others were trade teams. My prediction of a Brit whitewash proved wide of the mark. But you’ll know the name of our best rider. He’s still in the bike business today: Lester Noble of Orange. He came 33rd.
I’m still in the bike business, clearly, and so is Peter Darke. We’re the old guard now; wiser, a little bit wealthier but very much wearier. It was fun watching the archive BBC footage. Our ‘cutting edge’ bikes didn’t have suspension, and had u-brakes under the chainstays. Mountain bikes have evolved wonderfully since then. The sport is now mature, just like us. Time flies.
In August there will be a 25th anniversary celebration of the first MTB World Championships. Both Peter and I will be attending. Should be a scream.
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