Gravity X Project
Once an adrenaline addict, always an adrenaline addict. ‘Downhill’ Phil Hall and Tudur Booton have found the perfect sport to fulfill their desire to get as fast and as extreme as possible. Gravity Biking looks immense fun, there’s no two ways about it, so why don’t more people do it? Well Phil lost the use of his legs after a motorcycle crash, it was then that he went looking for is next rush, he discovered ‘Gravity Bikes’ and loved it so much he traveled across the world to ride. He has now set up the club ‘Rough Riderz’ to promote the world of gravity bikes to the disabled and able-bodied alike.
We spent a day in the Forest of Dean with Rough Riderz to sample just how much fun these guys have.
By operating their own uplift service with a Vito van, which can accommodate two bikes and riders at a time, driving them (via forest roads) to the top of the trails and then collecting them again at the bottom (similar to normal MTB uplift services) they have relatively easy access to the downhill trails. So can they ride as fast? Do they not get stuck in the tighter windy sections? Hell no! These boys fly down the track, trample the rock gardens, fly across road gaps, squeeze through trees and push the back wheels to get as fast as they can on the more mellow parts of the tracks. They use a four-wheeled set up with a brake on each wheel, this is split up by attaching both back brakes and both front brakes together as two separate leavers. They also have independent suspension on each wheel, using a Fox Vanilla R coil shock. The steering is done via a backwards stem attached to a self-centering steering damper. They use a harness (yes, they are strapped in!) and the same seating system as disables skiers use. Phil describes it as the summer version of skiing for him, a cross between rallying and mountain biking, how much fun does that sound?!
“My favourite place to ride is Ae Forest, Dumfries – Its fast, steep, technical and it has been altered to make it fully accessible to us on 4 wheels. It has loads of TTF’s (tough technical features) including a rock garden, drop-offs, jumps and berms. Its lots of fun to ride (as fast as you dare) and a great place to practice our skills.” Phil says. He also explains that you can drift the bikes around loose corners with real ease, a feat that can take years to perfect in mountain biking, but with a gravity bike, is all part of the package.
So how can you get into it? Well this is where Rough Riderz comes in. The club was set up by Phil, back in 2006, to promote the sport and they run Taster Days at Whinlatter in Cumbria with training provided to one person per session, charging a fee which covers outgoings only. This is currently charged at £125 per session.
Their latest venture,Project Gravity X, has been set up by Phil and fellow club member Ed Noel, to develop and manufacture a UK bike. The aim is to bring down the cost and make the sport available and accessible to more riders. More funding and equipment would enable the club to host activities to more people in additional locations, at a subsidised rate of around £60 per session at all locations. And this is exactly what these guys need, more funding and cheaper equipment. Currently a gravity bike will set you back around £8000, so they are working with an engineer from Gower College Swansea, Calvin William who in conjunction with Swansea Metropolitan University have got the ball rolling to produce a bike at a fraction of that cost, which will mean the sport will suddenly become accessible to anyone that’s interested. The club aims to increase participation by acquiring a number of
bikes to be sited at a variety of locations and offering their Taster Days to a wider audience. Trail centers will hopefully then realize the potential for this growing sport and create and adapt trails to suit.
Rough Riderz have strong links with the Forestry Commission, working in conjunction with them to help identify and develop more suitable locations to ride. The club aims to identify and promote more trail centres in a variety of locations in order for people to try the sport. Bikes, equipment, qualified instruction and a suitable uplift service would be provided at each location in order to maximise participation around the country. Once established this would be a completely new extreme sport, something that most mountain bikers, let alone the general public have not seen in this country before, creating a new twist on an old hobby for a wide range of ages and abilities.
So one day when (not if) this sport starts to grow and stand on its own two feet, where will it go? Well the possibilities are endless, competitions will be held, junior specific clubs and races will start popping up and the young generation of gravity addicts will start gripping the bars. It’s a perfect sport for kids, they don’t have to push the bikes, they can roll as fast or as slow as possible. The inclusion of the seat belt type arrangement and the stability of four wheels mean the bikes are as safe as possible. So with junior size gravity bikes in the production pipeline it’s a real possibility that kids will be ripping up the trails just as easily as the adults. “We want the club to develop the all-inclusive sport of ‘gravity mountain biking’ to make what is currently an inaccessible sport in terms of location, availability and cost, into an equal opportunity sport and to involve people from 14 years upwards. The club aims to increase participation by acquiring a number of bikes to be sited at a variety of locations and offering their Taster Days to a wider audience.” Phil explains.
With the Paralympics having just finished, awareness is at an all time high for the physically challenged, so if there was ever a time for gravity biking to shine through as the new extreme sport for all abilities. It is now. For more information visit www.roughriderz.co.uk and www.projectgravityx.co.uk .