I’ve had a lot of bikes. Ask anybody that knows me, they’ll probably roll their eyes and agree.
It all started in 1995 as an 11 year old, when a 30 minute film sparked a passion that still excites me 21 years later. This film was called Dirt. Filmed by Pete Tomkins (the original ‘Mr Crud’) and released by Mountain Biking UK, Dirt featured a group of ‘Boyz’ including the legends Rob Warner, Dave Hemming and the late Jason McRoy, shredding their hardtails around the English countryside. Dirt absolutely blew my mind; the laughs and camaraderie, and the sheer balls of what these guys were doing was something I wanted in on. You can reminisce and watch the video below:
I immediately started begging my parents for a bike and they happily obliged by getting me an Emmelle Cheetah. I rode everywhere from that day and started learning how to fix whatever went wrong. I changed to a Diamond Back of some description at some point, and rode those bikes for around a year each, picking up some gnarly scars along the way, all the time staying tuned to the latest news, bikes and up and coming riders.
Once I knew mountain biking was for me, I got what I consider to be my first ‘real’ bike at 13. I can remember it vividly, and it remains to this day my favourite bike as it started it all. It was a 1997 Kona Lava Dome in forest green with yellow decals, dripping with quality kit for a 13 year old kid; we’re talking STX/LX gearing, Kona Scratch ‘n’ Sniff tyres and Mavic rims! I subsequently added some custom components, including yellow Club Roost ‘go faster’ bars and a bright blue X-Lite Kevlar saddle. I rode that bike to destruction, sadly snapping a rear chainstay after years of fun. Kona has always held a special place in my heart since and one day, I will get another Lava Dome frame to hang in my workshop.
I went on to own two more Konas, a 2002 ‘Chute’ and a 2004 ‘Scab’, both in purple. They were brilliant, but full suspension designs were becoming ever popular, so I picked up a second hand 2003 Specialized Epic comp. The Epic was, as the name suggests, epic. It took me to new levels, really allowing me to push a little harder and knowing I had a bit more of a safety net with some rear squish should anything go wrong, and life got a lot more comfortable.
Over the next few years, I went through a lot of bikes, including a Specialized Enduro, an old Scott Boulder (lovingly referred to as ‘the trolley’, as everything was loose and on the verge of breaking, yet it held its own on countless occasions!), and more recently, 3 Marins, a Cube hardtail, an On-One Carbon 456 and, after a short break due to a slipped disc (protip #1 – inflatable sumo wrestling after a lot of beer hurts), a Canyon Nerve.
Then one day, a team rider & mechanic from a local company I’d been keeping an eye on called Bird Cycleworks added this photo on Instagram:
It was love at first sight. I immediately booked a demo ride at Swinley Forest and enjoyed every second on a gorgeous neon yellow model. I went back to place my order the week after the demo (protip #2 – take cake when ordering a custom bike.. cyclists love cake), and a few weeks later, I was the proud owner of my current bike, a custom Bird Aeris, oozing with quality parts. 1×11 SRAM gearing, 650b wheels, Rockshox Reverb, Pikes and Monarch and complimented by a range of RaceFace components. I was in heaven. I still am.
I’ve been riding the Aeris since July 2015, with each ride growing my confidence, increasing my speed and widening my smile. I mentioned earlier that my first bike, the Kona Lava Dome was my favourite bike, but the Bird Aeris comes a very close second and is easily the best bike I’ve owned. So much so, I feel the Aeris is deserving of its own post at some point in the near future. The service at Bird is simply incredible too, easily some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Dan, Ben and Dave are always willing to help and their Bird rides are superb fun.
So this brings me to today. As I write this, tea in hand, the Aeris is freshly cleaned after a brilliant, wet, muddy and cold night ride yesterday with a group of lads organised by the Swinley Bike Hub, a fantastic shop in Bracknell owned by one of the nicest people I’ve met in the MTB world, Tristan Taylor. The hub is based on the Swinley Forest grounds and the team there put a lot of effort into maintaining and building trails (along with Trail Team Swinley, a group of volunteers including myself), organising social events, hiring bikes for both beginners and hardcore enthusiasts, and being all-round good guys (and girls). Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!
I’ll finish up with the main reason for Stealth Riders existing in its current form. This year, I’m competing in my first Enduro race series, the Southern Enduro, with the first round at Milland, Sussex, on April 17. I’m super excited and also rather nervous about heading into the race scene after so many years of being a weekend warrior and enthusiast. I have no idea how I’ll get on, but I’m training hard and hoping for a good result (if that means simply finishing, that’ll do me)! My next post will focus on racing, inspiration and training, so watch this space.
For now though, I’m looking forward to tearing up the trails with some mates this weekend, thinking back to that day 21 years ago, watching Dirt for the first time.
Ian @ Stealth Riders