Hit The Road Jack MBUK Feature

Jack Gear is a newly turned professional mountain biker. He’s recently made that all-important switch from being an enthusiastic sponsored rider, working a 9-5 to pay the bills, to a fully-fledged pro rider, earning money from riding his bike. We went down to Bude, Cornwall to meet Jack and push his riding and our photography skills somewhere they had not been before.

For a mountain biker, having your own ramp is a great investment. Most dirt jumpers will go looking for the best jumps in the area and spend months digging them and perfecting them. Jack can set his ramp up anywhere and ride anything (within reason).

He uses this ramp and landing to ride mountain biking shows. These are a combination of trials riding and dirt jumping and promote the sport to a brand new audience. There is a real influx of mountain bike shows starting to appear at outdoor festivals and sports events across the country. They show off the skills of people like Jack Gear to the public eyes, people that would normally never see, or even know of, the type of riding these guys do.

So we wanted to capitalize on this opportunity to be able to ride anywhere and really showcase that. Instead of going along and covering one of the shows, which many people have seen before, we wanted portray how having the ramp and the vision can really open up an abundance of places to ride your bike. We spent the first day with Jack exploring places he had ridden before, places he wants to ride and new places he had never thought of riding. The second day was spent sessioning each of these locations. When we started to look at things from a photographically creative view, more and more seemed possible.

We went to a sprawling airfield, almost completely flat and windy. A place most mountain bikers wouldn’t even go near. But with Jack, he had his ramp, so the flat open space really helped. Face the ramp away from the wind, set up the landing and he could give us a whole heap of tricks and great shots within 30 minutes of being there. A photographers dream.

Being by the sea meant that the coastal terrain can be a real attraction to bike riders. So instead of using the ramp this time, we used a little help from two pieces of ply wood for speed and 20,000,000 years of geographical movements that had planted a 20 foot piece of bedrock straight up to the sky. The result? A skate park style foot-plant in one of the most exposed locations on the Cornish coast.

It was being by the sea which also inspired Jack to come up with one of the craziest most inventive things I’ve seen. We were down on the sea front shooting a step drop onto sand, lovely evening light and some huge bunny hops, when Jack looks up and clocks the beach huts behind us. “I reckon I could flip onto those” he says. Me and Fin look at each other, we both know this could look amazing. Jacks super confident, he doesn’t blink at the thought of flipping up 20 foot and landing flat with a 10 foot run out before the next roof. So we grab the ramp out of the van set it up, Jack takes a speed check, the run in is perfect. He has 3 practice jumps, that alone would have been enough for some great shots, but he lines up for his fourth, pulling on the bars and stamping on the pedals, tyres buzzing on the concrete he accelerates towards the ramp and before we know it he’s upside down, spotting his landing and planting his back wheel perfectly on the concrete roof of the beach hut. From then on nothing could stop him, he was firing backflips, tailwhips and manual landings at the huts. None of us had expected anything quite like this.

Something great happens to sports when you start concentrating on the creative side. Especially in extreme sports like mountain biking. A lot of the guys in the professional lime light spend most of their time practicing tricks or trying to win competitions or break into riding bike shows or featuring in magazines. So when its slowed down and they can start using the skills they’ve learnt from those experiences to really show how great their sport is and how extreme things can really get for them, an outstanding photograph or piece of film can perfectly capture that. Jack Gear had that vision and found those perfect places for him to portray how technical, exciting and challenging Mountain Biking can be.

Read how Jack came to be living his dream in this interview:

What really motivates you to go out and ride every morning? Is it learning new tricks? Being out with your mates? The adrenaline?

JG:  Absolutely every little bit of it! Seeing how people react to the cool stuff we do is great. I’ve met all my friends through riding, the feeling of landing a new trick is the best, the longer it takes to learn it, the more satisfying it is the land, that just makes you want to do it again and again and learn something else. The satisfaction of progression is immense.

What’s up next for you Jack? Are the shows going to be your focus for 2012?

JG:  Yeah they will be! As of this time I’ve only ridden four or five shows, so at this moment in time I am saying yes to every single show I can get, I’m going to do as many UK competitions as I can, I’m also going to try do some European comps as well, we will try get out to Portugal at the end of year and anything else we can afford. Now I’m not working, I have the time to do as much as I can, as long as I’m on my bike I’m happy, whether it’s a competition, a photoshoot, a show or just out riding with my mates. Video is also something I want to concentrate on, I have two cameras now and so I want to start making some edits (2-5 minute long videos), I’ll film absolutely everything I do.

So you live in Bude, Cornwall. What made you step away from surfing, which seems to be the obvious choice, and get into Mountain Biking?

JG:   When I originally moved down here I was about 4 years old, and because it was something new, we spent a lot of time on the beach. Every sunny day and every weekend and because we were at the beach so much, the novelty wore off. I feel I should make more use of living by the sea. All of my friends ride bikes and so surfing got left behind.

There’s a lot of Cross Country and Road based riding to be done down here and because of this, there seems to be a distinct lack of Dirt Jumpers from the coast of Britain, were you never tempted?

JG:  Yeah, I have been tempted, but what got me into riding street and dirt in the first place was seeing my friends do it, they all had bikes and were building jumps out of scraps of wood and crates. So I asked for a bike for my 15th birthday and went from there! I really started to get into Mountain Biking over the next couple of years and I built up my bike to ride every type of terrain. I originally had gears and two brakes, but because I started just riding jumps my set up had to change, chains would fly off the gears and get caught in the back wheel and blow up my back wheel, so that converted me to single speed.

It was really a trip to skate park that started it all. A friend of mine had a camera and I wanted to do the tricks that looked the best, not necessarily the hardest tricks, but the stuff that looked the most impressive, the ones that would get you the biggest scream. I thrive off that, I love people shouting and screaming and loving what I’m doing. It’s a real buzz. You don’t get that from Fitness/Cross Country/Enduro riding. People that go to watch Skate park or Dirt Jump riding already know about the sport, but doing these shows opens up the eyes of the general public to what we do and I love to show off our sport. That’s what I am I guess, a show off.

So, why the bright purple handlebars and pedals? Aren’t they a bit gey?

JG:  Hahaha! To be honest I didn’t actually choose purple, I’m testing the bars, but I do prefer blue, the plan is that all purple will be blue soon! But yes… purple is quite gey. Not my choice, honest.

So whats been the scariest part of your career so far?

I don’t get scared by injuries or anything like that because if I have that doubt in my mind I’ll end up hurting myself. But I’ve just given up my job working in a post office, the suit I wore there was worse than purple handlebars; Grey waistcoat with a light blue tie and a crown on it. But yeah, I would say that was quite a daunting experience, giving up my job to ride my bike for a living, at the time I was like ‘yeah, I’m gonna get to ride my bike every single day’ which, if your into biking as much me, is a dream job. But as I got towards the last week of work, it started getting pretty scary, to go from guaranteed work, to having to create my own career.

Also I think learning a new trick for the first time is terrifying, when you get to this level you have to start stepping your game up and doing stuff that’s never been seen before. Learning those is properly scary; imagine a cyclist, with no trick experience getting on a bike and without any practice, doing a backflip on 30 foot jump. That’s how it feels for us pushing to try the next new trick.

So over the couple of days we’ve spent together shooting photos, you’ve come up with a million different ideas for a million places to ride. (like backflipping onto a beach hut!) Do you think this photo shoot has opened your eyes to photography and inspired you to ride differently?

JG: Definitely! Combining the ideas of the rider and photographer creates something that I don’t think either of us had originally dreamed of. Some of the locations we’ve come across I never would of thought of riding before, but because I am now looking at the how the finished picture will come out, more and more places looks like great spots to ride and a great photo. When I backflipped onto the beach huts, I never would of thought of that before, it seemed to ridiculous, but then you consider how it would look in a photo and I realized I had a ramp and I could park the van close enough. And I did it, took a few practice runs and then I flipped it and its probably one of the best shots I’ve ever had taken of me. That’s just from spending a day with a photographer!

What’s your favorite place to ride?

JG:  I really like my portable ramp set up! Its not too big and it fits (just) in the back of my van and comparatively its not too dangerous. A lot of my mates ride it as well, so we can take it a spot and set it up out the way and have session it, open the car doors, turn on the music and have a great time. Progression wise, I prefer ‘The Track’ Redruth, Cornwall. Its weather dependant, but it has massive foam pits, a BMX track, a great selection of dirt jump lines and wallrides. It’s an hour half down the road from us, so great for a days training.

‘Slopestyle’ competitions seem to be the next big thing in Mountain Biking, dirt jumpers from across the globe are converting to it, would you like to make a name for yourself in that discipline?

JG:  Yes, I would love to! The level of slopestyle at the moment is mental, the tricks you have to be pulling to be in the top 3 is mad! All the guys that are up there, winning have been pro for a while, you cant only ride at the weekends and expect to win a competition like that, mainly because of the pressure of competing in such a big competition. Slopestyle has so much variation compared to dirt jump comps, you have step-ups, drops, wall rides, ladders and massive dirt jumps.

For this year though, I’m going to concentrate on doing the shows with my ramp as this is still new to me, but in the future I definitely want to go to Europe and ride those bigger slopestyle competitions, Britain is struggling with pushing mountain biking at the moment, no one wants to take the risk and plough loads of money into a competition then have it rained off, so it is much harder for us brits to get into Slopestyle.

images by fin Mountain Bike UK Jack Gear Feature