Whackjob front man Joel reports from the Plymouth Charity Urban Downhill 2012
Photocred to Duncan Baldie
29th September 2012, Plymouth University
In aid of the Wild Futures charity: http://www.wildfutures.org/
If Jon Catney, the organiser of this event, doesn’t end up doing this stuff for a living, I’ll eat next door’s spaniel. With a spoon.
Students are not supposed to be great organisers, but this blew any such clichéd preconceptions out of the water. The only major deviation from the original plan was the late decision to ditch the idea of racing head-to-head – not a bad call given that there’s usually only one air ambulance available in Devon and you can’t fit twenty riders in it all at once. And there’s no chiller box for unclaimed limbs.
As it was, the course was another evolution on the previous two events, with the brave addition of a huge scaffold soaring into into the main square, ending with a two-metre drop onto a stubby ramp and then yet more concrete. Some riders preferred the slower – but ultimately life-prolonging – chicken run around the side. Some – unintentionally – tried the short version of the drop onto the pub table before the ramp. A couple even tried the overshot option, which was simply a short route to a popped shock and/or spine. The drop area was an amazing place to watch the race from, and we were stoked to get the Whackjob Lounge set up right by it. Boom!! The drinks fridge got hammered and our legendary inflatable sofas bowed out of the 2012 season well-used.
The crowd was large, but strangely quiet at times despite the efforts of the MC and music courtesy of Monster Energy. I’ll put it down to the fact that, with riders flying past every few seconds, the racing and sense of imminent stackage was just too mesmerising for distractions like shouting. The sun came out, the course was dry, and right at the end of the season we finally had something that felt like a summer race. The Student Union bar provided beer in two-pint plastic glasses (woo!), Urban Eat gave out freebie munchies (healthy ones – in a Uni! Who knew?) and Gravity Bikes showed off some chub-inducing rider gear. The atmosphere was that combination of chilled summer lurve and balls-out, unhinged biking entertainment that the South West excels at. The charity it was all in aid of this year, Wild Futures, even provided a bloke in a monkey suit. ‘Cos who ever wants to be without one of them?
The course was short, with a winning time of just 36 seconds – but what a course: It zig-zagged right through the campus down several sets of tricky steps, with some flowy corners going into narrow gaps, between handrails and down yet more steps. No opportunities to rest; just stay on the bike through the tricky bits and try to hit the next obstacle at something like the right speed and angle. Trust your tyres and don’t blink. All done.
The architecture was put to great use, with the stacks of rail sleepers used as walls towards the end making a tricky but quick alternative to the final steps. Slick tyres made a lot of sense – as did good body armour and a total lack of any concept of what high speed, steel and concrete can do to human bodies. Somehow, despite any number of unbelievable scrapes, pulls, bruises and destroyed egos, the closest to a serious medical outcome was a knackered shoulder. One guy did leave a red stripe on the concrete four feet long using only his forearm as a pen, which was quite impressive. Urban flesh-art is born!
There were some full-on crashes – some of them harder to watch than take – as every few seconds a rider would find a new way to snort concrete, yet inexplicably get up and continue their run. Special mention must go to the bloke in an ice hockey jersey and motorbike helmet, who stacked it huge on the big drop and managed to actually look annoyed at the ramp rather than injured. The Andy Hill Memorial Cup – an award for sheer determination named after the man who checked himself out of hospital to compete in the race shortly before his death from bowel cancer – went to Ashley Newell. Ash managed to pitch himself off the big drop, head-first, into the gap between the table and ramp. I’ve never seen someone so shocked (we were all amazed his head was still attached), and yet somehow he and his bike made it down the rest of the course. Hats off, dude!
The field was varied, with everything from elites (Clinton Johns taking the top slot) to some riders whose willingness to have a go went way beyond their technical ability. Racing was close, with the notable exception of Gravity rider JJ Scott, who won the Youth/Junior category nearly three seconds clear of his closest rival; good enough for 6th overall. Jordan Gilbert, Seb Frost, Dean Pountney, Tom Burch and Jo Page brought home the medals for the Senior, Master, Veteran, Hardtail and Women’s categories respectively. Anyone concerned that this would be a student event with token ‘grown-ups’ would have been surprised – the vast majority of riders were in the Senior category or above.
I confess that I didn’t stay for the full after-party; I bloused and retired to the WhackWagon at 4am, having won the Veteran Moshing category at the excellent Hadouken gig and spent several quality hours confirming what a brilliant bunch of students Plymouth has to its credit. Good times. But it went on well into Sunday without me; the magic green wrist-band apparently getting the bearer into more gigs and, my goodness, high-jinks and splendid shenanigans too. I went home and slept.
Next year is going to be interesting, as the indomitable Mr Catney takes his mortar board and degree elsewhere (event companies please note). Let’s just hope someone keeps the Plymouth Urban Downhill going – it’s a blast.
Thanks to Joel and the Whackjob guys for the writeup! Check them out at http://whackjob.co.uk/