Ben swaps roles with Downtime Podcast’s Chris Hall to chat about life behind the microphone.

The Downtime Podcast is one of the best podcast out there and Chris Hall is the man behind all of those amazing interviews.

Whilst Chris is usually the guy asking the questions, Ben Plenge flipped the thing on its head and put him in the spotlight for a change.

Photo by KJ Sharp.

When did you first get into MTB?

When I was 11 I started going to my local Scout group, and one evening we went and did a bike race in the woods. I was on a Raleigh Mustang at the time, and me and my mate Jamie absolutely loved blasting around the woods on our bikes.

That was it, we were hooked and made plans to meet the next day after school to ride in the woods again. It went from there really, just riding loads, racing XC initially, and a bit of DH when that started to become a thing, and I just never stopped.

Why a podcast and not a blog or website?

Well I had an hours and a half of driving every day for my old commute. Initially I was just listening to music and stressing about work, but a friend put me on to a couple of podcasts (non-riding ones). I was hooked straight away! It forced me to focus and stop thinking about work, and I was learning loads of amazing stuff at the same time. We chatted a bit about how it would be cool to do something similar for mountain biking, and that was the seed sewn.

Were you listening to other MTB podcasts?

Yeah for sure, I had been listening to the HKT Podcast and at that time it was mainly focussed around the industry side of things, and I really wanted to talk to the athletes, so I felt like I could bring something different to the party. As time went on though, Davi started to get a few athletes on, the Vital podcast started, and Descent World were putting out some good athlete based episodes back then too.

I pretty much decided those guys had it covered, and that I wouldn’t bother. That was until a new years eve party with some awesome and very persuasive mates, who decided that I WAS going to start a podcast! At that point the decision was made and there was no looking back. I’ve got a lot to thank those guys for.

How many people listened to that first episode in the first month?

Well our first guest was Chris Kilmurray from Point1 Athletic, who coaches a load of great riders, so a massive thanks to him, as it was hard to get people to come on a podcast that didn’t yet exist. On the first day we had 93 downloads, and I remember walking to my car at the end of work and trying to imagine how much space 93 people would take up, and if that was a lot or not. I was pretty stoked with that though, as I was literally starting from nothing. In the first month we got about 500 downloads, it’s a bit different these days.

What goals do you have for Downtime?

Ha, yeah it definitely has. It was crazy now when I meet people who listen to the podcast, that feels so surreal. I love it though, everyone has a story about what they’ve learned from the podcast and how it’s improved their enjoyment of riding, and that’s exactly what it’s all about for me. As for goals, one thing I’ve learned through doing the podcast is the importance of a process focus, rather than being goal or outcome focused.

I’m just working through the process that should mean the podcast continues to grow and bring great original content to more and more people. I definitely keep an eye on the numbers, but as long as I feel I’m taking the right steps, then we are all good. There is still a long way to go to get to the sorts of numbers that I think are possible.

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You left your job in automotive engineering. Was that scary? How’s it going?

Yes it was scary, and in reality, I probably should have stayed there a bit longer and had more certainty with the podcast before taking the leap, but the flip side is that if I’d waited, I wouldn’t have felt the pressure to make it work in the same way, and I wouldn’t have had the time to focus on it. It’s hard to say how it’s going because it depends on what you measure that against.

I’m living on very little money in order to be able to keep going, but I am doing something I love, getting to meet and chat to amazing people that I look up to, and I control my own time, so can ride my bike more and not sit inside an air conditioned office starting out at the sunshine. I also get amazing messages every day from people who are enjoying listening and getting something out of what I’m doing, so that’s a pretty good reward. Don’t get me wrong, I do need to earn a little money somehow, but I’m working on that, which is why you’ll notice that we’ve got supporting partners on some of the shows now.

Photo by Lee Miller.

Any podcast nightmares like forgetting to press record?

That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m sure it will one day, I just hope that the guest on that occasion is understanding! The worst thing for me was the internet issues we had when I recorded the episode with Tahnée Seagrave. It turns out that mid-Wales WiFi isn’t great, who knew?

I’ve been a big fan of Tahnée for ages, and was excited to chat with her, so it was really annoying when that episode didn’t go to plan. I’m hoping to get her back on at some point, and this time I’ll definitely record it in person.

Favourite guest?

Honestly, everyone has been amazing and I’m so grateful to everyone that’s taken the time to chat. The most surreal experience for me though was sitting down with Josh Bryceland for a cup of tea and a chat on his house boat. I’ve watched Josh on the circuit for years, and have always been blown away by his talent, so was a little nervous about doing him justice in an interview. I shouldn’t have worried, as he is so down to earth and welcomed me like an old friend. I felt so comfortable chatting, and I could have happily stayed all day. Hopefully we can do a part 2 at some point.

If you had £150 to spend on MTB performance, what would you spend it on?

Well, I’m 3 rides into testing some CushCore tyre liners, and I’m impressed. I think tyre liners are misunderstood, as there are loads of different ones out there, and they don’t all provide the same functionality. What I’ve noticed so far with CushCore is that the damping they provide leads to a much calmer ride through the rough stuff, the bike seems to maintain it’s forward momentum better through rocks too.

In the turns, the bike just feels way more planted, and I feel like I am in control at speeds that would have been right on the edge before. I’m not normally someone who destroys wheels anyway, but it is nice to not have to think about that when you come into a rock garden, and that’s probably helping me ride them with more commitment. I need more time on them, but initial impressions are great.

What is next for Downtime?

Well, plenty of interesting guests for sure, maintaining the core athlete/coach/mechanic stuff which is more performance focussed, but adding more brand/product stuff too. Finding out about how brands got to where they are, and getting into the nitty gritty of some of the details behind the products. We’ve already done a bit of this with Cy from Cotic, Joe from Starling, Jason and Mello from Crankbrothers etc, and it went down really well, so I’m going to do more.

I want to carry on with the post-race shows for the DH world cup, as I really enjoyed recording them, and learned a lot from chatting with those guys about the racing. I’m working on some awesome new designs for the t-shirts, as those have been pretty popular, and it’s great to see people wearing them. Other than that, I just want to keep putting out content that people enjoy and get something out of listening to, if I can do that, I’m happy.

You can check out all the previous Downtime Podcasts including many of our Wise Words stars here.


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