This week, news broke of a new enduro race in Northumberland. That race is the Naughty Northumbrian, a collaboration between Descent-World, Northern Downhill and High Fell Events.
The North East of England isn’t renowned for it’s races but we’re not entirely sure why, as the area has some seriously empty spaces and some cracking riding. Pete had a chat with the brains behind the race, Mr. Tommy Wilkinson, to find out more.
Who is Tommy Wilkinson?
Crikey, you’re likely to get a smorgasbord of answers depending on who you ask! In a “me” capacity I’m a mountain biker from Northumberland, pretty simple bloke. I like Hillman Avenger BRMs, my Scott Genious and hadn’t tasted an avocado till I was 27. Never tasted one since. In a professional capacity I’m a photographer, writer, film maker, graphic designer and Director of Descent World.
How did The Naughty come about?
Long story. My old man was brought up at Uswayford Farm, a ways up the Coquet Valley. I used to go up every weekend till I was about 3, when my Nan left the place. In my early 20’s I had a few options – go to London, get big wonga but ultimately not enjoy it, or stay in Northumberland, earn a lot less money but feel somewhere I belong. So I stayed.
I have a deep connection to where I live and where I’m from, and I feel the North East as a whole gets a bad rep for being “slack” or the bad cousin of the UK, and that’s something that I’m pretty passionate about changing. The Naughty combines my love of bikes, the Coquet and show casing that there is amazing riding and talented people in the rural communities of Northumberland that can make things happen.
The other piece of the puzzle is the two infidels, Barry and Carl. They’re getting close to being adopted locals, even if Carl does pronounce things wrong all the time, and they had the know-how of how to make an event-race happen and were thinking along the same lines already.
It all fitted like a glove, or summit like that.
What’s your background in cycling?
Crashing, mainly. I raced from 2001 as Juvenile (I did the first ever Juvenile race DH ever) till about 2008 , I won a few races but when injuries and dejection at not being able to crack the WC scene took a hold I mainly rode trails for a few years. In 2012 I went to NZ, rode with a bunch of loose units, hucked the life out of any curb I could find and reignited my fire. I then paralysed my arm (amongst other things in the same crash) in early 2013 and now ride as a para rider.
Been a hectic decade I’d say.
Have you ever organised a race before?
Nope, but there are a few parties involved here which is why this works, it’s a collaborative effort where we all have different skills, sometimes different views, but that’s how the best results are achieved.
The other two parties are experienced at event organisation and I’m learning all the time.
It’s going well, the other two know their stuff but are open to new ideas and vice versa applies.
How did you choose the trails to use for the race?
Three have been used previously in races, but these are being re worked – utilising all the best parts and tidying up the parts that weren’t so great. Rider feedback for me is key; riders who have ridden globally have been up and given us their thoughts.
The open stages are where we found the best hills available to us, sent riders down them and looked at their grins. This event is about giving the riders what they enjoy while challenging them on unique and sometimes technical trails in a pretty remote environment.
Why so late in the season?
It’s a end of season send off. Sometimes you need to enjoy a weekend with your mates before you don’t see them for 6 months again and it just seemed right. Plus, beer.
How many people make up The Naughty Northumbrian and what do they do?
There’s three parties in the organising team. Carl Davison, who is the race director, Barry Kemp who does event logistics and more and me who I guess looks at the detail, media and making this feel like a special event when people arrive. This isn’t an old event re-branded – It’s a brand new, unique event. Then there is the whole team at Descent-World, riders who are helping consult on trails and various others.
What did you have to sacrifice to get to this stage?
Riding my bike and turning down opportunities to raise my own personal profile as a photographer after I won Deep Summer. But if a jobs worth doing then it needs to be done right and when your from Northumberland sacrifice and graft is something we take a bit of perverse pride in, morbid I know – but you try spending weeks surrounded by black face Cheviots and you’ll get what I mean!
Did you have day jobs that you had to give up?
For the last few years I’ve had a little design business but I’ve had to really scale that back to do more in the biking world, which is what I always hoped to do. Barry is a full time event organiser and Carl works for the Devil incarnate (HMRC)!
Are you working alongside to make ends meet?
I still do various pieces of other work but Descent-World takes up 90% of my working day now, and Descent-World is pretty dynamic. We aren’t pigeon holed by anything (As in “just” a website or “just” a production company) so if it feels right, and we have the skill set, we’ll do it.
How make or break is this race for you?
Nothing is make or break to me anymore. Unless I’m going to die, everything else is surmountable.
How did you learn what you needed to know to get race off the ground and the entries coming in?
That is where Carl and Barry came in with their past experience, but I think the formula isn’t too difficult. Number one is great trails and a great venue as that is paramount. A lot of that is down to getting on with people, which people vastly underestimate. A pint and a packet of crisps goes a long way. Number two is making it an event, not just race. The rest is basic marketing – getting the event in front of as many people as possible and having faith that what you’re offering is of value to people.
How many trail variations did you have before getting to the final version?
We’re still working on this. Subtle tweaks here and there make all the difference and I expect this to continue into August where we will have nailed down the best variations.
High and low points from getting a local race off the ground?
Land ownership is complex to say the least. High point will be watching some pinners smash down the trails, it still makes me buzz with excitement! and seeing everyone have a reet good go of it.
Where next for The Naughty Northumbrian? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers etc. etc.?
There’s plenty of folk starting to help. Northumberland has a pretty good scene of solid riders on the gravity end of the spectrum who all chip in, Carl has a team who help him and Barry is a one man army (And a mountain rescue member), he doesn’t half get shit done!
Anybody to thank at this point in the Naughty journey? Long suffering spouses/parents/friends?
When it’s all done we’ll have a wee beer with everyone but there’s plenty more to be getting on with at this point.