A Family Affair – the Barrett Family

Matt Wragg meets the Barretts, a family with bicycles in their blood.

I promised Bono Barrett that I wouldn’t make that god-awful Sly and the Family Stone pun for the title, but by next week I’ll be far enough into mainland Europe to worry about the repercussions. So here we are. And if you’re 17 and reading this, Sly and the Family Stone were a soul band in the 70s, yes, you’re missing out… and no, it’s not that Bono I’m talking about, he of the Jesus complex and sunglasses. But, back to the pun, how else do you introduce the Barrett family? If you’ve been to a Pearce Cycles race or uplift in the last couple of years, you’ll know exactly who I mean.

I don’t actually remember the first time I met the Barrett family. Fortunately even their eldest, Matt, is only 15 (he was younger then, maybe 13), so he hasn’t got enough years of hard living behind him to ruin his short-term memory. I think I’d run into him a year or so before, but you know how these things get kinda vague. He remembered me though, and started chatting to me in the uplift trailer. It was easy to forget he was half my age; he was friendly and confident, not awkward or shy like so many kids of his age are. When we got out on the track it became apparent that he was rapid too. A bit later I noticed a couple of other kids on the uplift day, one barely tall enough to climb into the Landy but still ripping it down the tracks. It turned out they were his brothers, Andrew (13) and Harry (9). Oh, and his Dad, Bono, was the guy driving the Landy and his Mum, Sarah, was somewhere on the hill taking photos. I was lucky enough to spend a day with the family at Bringewood and I spent some time talking with Bono about how they got so involved in downhill as a family.

Wideopen: So how did you all get into downhill?

Bono: Matt started it all off, he came home from school one day and said he wanted to go downhilling. I hadn’t even heard of it, to be fair, I knew what cross country was and all that, but not downhill. We went and saw a couple of his mates and he told me he wanted a Giant Glory and it was nearly four grand. I said “You’ve got no chance of getting a bike like that mate”! So we carried on and bought him a little Giant VT2, that was pretty pimped up and it just went from there really. He then got himself a Big Hit 3, you know, one of the cheaper ones… and then the other two wanted to do it too. The biggest problem was finding bikes for kids, Andrew has just turned five-foot now and finding bikes with decent suspension on is a bloody nightmare. He’s got single crowns on his Commencal and J-Tech have pimped them up, put a shim stack in there and an air shock on the back, rather than the Rocco Coil R, which didn’t work at all. You had to be 12 stone to get it on sag! Harry’s been on Scott Sparks, this is his third in three years…

WO: Yeah, Harry’s got quite a special bike now.

B: J-Tech said they could do him a shock in the summer, then he said he could do a set of forks for him as well. Once you start changing stuff around, you’ve got to change the whole bloody lot, haven’t you? So that’s what we did.

WO: The boys seem to be very into their racing?

B: Matt and Andrew are racing and Harry has two years to go. It’s a bit of a nightmare to be honest, he wants to race and he’s got to hang round all day watching the other two. But the Forest of Dean do a mini race, so we might take him down for a couple of them this year. With the other two doing the Nationals, time is precious though and it’s money too. It costs a bloody fortune, some weeks you just think, “We could do without going biking this weekend.” But you’re only here once; you’ve got to do it, haven’t you? That’s why I drive for Pearce on the uplifts; it pays for the entries and uplifts, and one or two bits and bobs.

WO: Is Sarah involved too?

B: Yeah, she does all the cooking, cleaning, clearing up, nursing – you name it she does it. She’s also started doing photography at races which she really enjoys.

WO: I know this is probably a weird question to ask, but, well… there’s a fine line between a supportive parent and a pushy parent…

B: I’m not pushy!

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WO: No, no, you don’t come across like that at all, but, well, how do you look at all those kind of issues?

B: You’ve got to enjoy it. Look at Harry today, he’s gone back to the van because he’s cold – if you don’t enjoy it, there’s no point doing it. I wasn’t a victim of pushy parents, but I was made to do things when I was younger that I just didn’t want to do and there’s a fine line between being pushy and being disciplined. I encourage them to do as much as they can, but when it’s physically not possible, I don’t expect them to do anything. You know, you’ve got to do your bit, but I’m not one of these people that say, “Why didn’t you try harder? Why aren’t you pedalling more?” I hate that, I absolutely hate that. They’re trying their best, they’re competitive lads and they want to win, obviously. They’re desperate to win, but… it isn’t win at all costs, it’s win and enjoy yourself. That’s my motto.

I am strict, disciplined, they’ve got to come home and wash their bikes, get their stuff ready for Mum to wash and everything is lubed before it’s put away because it’s expensive. It’s an expensive sport when one person’s doing it, but when three are doing it, it’s even more expensive. But if you look after the tack, it’ll look after you a bit. Obviously being sponsored helps, Pearce Cycles and J-Tech help a lot. But still, I’ve got to find money, a lot of money, so if they can look after their kit and keep it going as long as possible before it breaks, that suits me just fine.

WO: How hard is it keeping it fair between the three of them?

B: Well it is difficult when you’ve got the eldest and he’s the one who seems to be growing the most. He’s, how do you say, developing faster, so his bikes need changing and being worked on a lot more. But then, at the other end of the scale, I expect him to do more work-wise. Andrew potters along doing his own thing, he gets a lot of Matt’s old kit. Poor little Harry, the biggest problem is there is nothing made for somebody that small. So now we’ve had this chance to do the new spec on his bike, they’ve all had a new bike at some stage.

WO: What sort of work do they do?

B: They help me basically, chopping sticks. They have their own little kindling business too – they sell kindling down at the bottom of the drive for £1.50 a bag and they make a bit of money that way, last year they made about £700 doing that, so they’ve done well with it. It all goes into the pot if they want tyres, or anything above and beyond what I’d expect to buy them. If they want a pimp set of Maxxis, that’s fine, but I expect them to put their own money towards it so they know the value of it and respect it when they have it.

WO: Thanks for your time Bono, all of you. Is there anyone you need to thank?

B: Yeah, Dave and Lindsey at Pearce Cycles and James at J-Tech, I don’t know if it’d be possible for all three of the boys to be out and riding like they are if we didn’t have their support.

Big thanks to the Barret family for letting us join them for the day. Look out for them on a Pearce Cycles uplift – book now at http://www.pearcecycles.co.uk

All words and photos here were provided by Matt Wragg.

This interview originally appeared in Wideopen Magazine issue 18. You can read it in its original form here: