Wise Words is our new interview series talking to some of mountain biking’s most switched on people.
We’ll ask our short list of questions to a heap of influential, inspiring and outspoken people that we feel are driving the direction of mountain biking today. Some will make you think, some will make you laugh, some will be plain dumb, some will inspire you to better yourself and your riding. We hope!
Wise Words this week comes to you from one Tommy Wilkinson.
Former World Cup racer turned film maker, photographer, race organiser, graphic designer and the main man behind Descent-World. A man with a serious eye for an idea and the skills to make it happen. Tommy will sweep you away with his enthusiasm if you’re not careful.
Photos by Tommy Wilkinson unless stated.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
Due to my mechanical skills not being quite as sharp as they could be, and also being quite comfortable to ride a bike that is in pretty much any state, the word heathen gets bandied about a bit too much for my liking.
What thing or things have you bought in the last year that had the biggest effect on your life as a mountain biker / cyclist / person that works in the bike industry?
Waterproof socks. I don’t enjoy having wet, cold, feet which isn’t ideal as I do most of my winter riding in the Cheviot Forests or old drovers roads, and they can be pretty Jane Austen. By that I mean bleak and wet. Sounds shit, but it’s that kind of wet that allows you to style your hair with your hand and get sexy selfies, so really it’s not bleak at all.
Our Panasonic EVA1 with Atomos Shogun Inferno and a Fujinon lens for shooting RAW footage is pretty good too, but as it cost more, the socks win.
Oh. My Fidlock water bottle. I’m really not into “things” but it is amazing. It has no cage, clips on via magnets and has changed my life during a ride completely. It’s so, so good.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
For some odd reason I always seem to be riding with one hand on the bars for an extra thrill.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
Advice is a dangerous gift to give. I’m definitely more of a nudge type person. So, my advice would be, don’t give advice, give a nudge and start a conversation, and let people figure things out for themselves. They’ll be much more invested if they think it’s their own idea, or have some ownership of it.
There’s irony in there somewhere.
Ignore the noise about needing a new bike. Get some coaching instead.
If you could go back and re-ride one day from your life so far, where/what/when/who would it be? Would you change anything?
Too many, but 3 stand out.
Sunpeaks 2007. We were road tripping around BC and finishing at Crankworx. Sunpeaks is such a rad resort. It’s got great trails, little traffic, and a nice feel. Anyhoo, it was hammering down, and it was only us left on the mountain, along with Shaums March who was running a coaching session. There were these switchbacks that were so steep and loose and drenched. I basically lost my brakes just as I came over the crest and decided I would compress like fuck and rail each turn.
Shaums and his group were halfway down, and I roosted them all, feet up and stayed on, and rode just out of sight. Later on at the bottom, he came over and said it was the sickest thing he’d seen in years. I was a cocky shit, said thanks, and told him I was just cruising, when in fact my pants were well soiled and I only stayed on thanks to the weird gravitational pull that my big ginger bonce sometimes creates.
Or, NZ in 2013 with Pang, JT, and Brian Buell. We rode Nelson, Craigieburn, a heli drop with Sven Martin and Whitesbay. It was flat-out the whole trip and probably my favourite memory of any riding I’ve done, racing and all. We were all reasonably even riders and it was just the perfect level between outrageous craic and egging each other on.
Lastly, a day riding Whistler with Tom Skillicorn in 2016. It’s the best I’ve ever ridden with one arm. I rode all the slabs on Lower Danimal, and I don’t know how. I think Skilly has such a chilled vibe that everything positive seems to happen when he’s around. That was an amazing day.
Can I also say the first day of practice for the Pila World Cup 2005? That track was amazing. I enjoyed that race so much until I snapped my swingarm.
What have you wasted the most time on in your life as a rider or bike industry career that you wished you’d given up years ago?
Caring too much about what people think. It’s paralysing and worthless. Be kind, be honest, and even if you feel no one is with you, follow your conviction.
Being sponsored. It’s 100% not for me. I grew tired of having to commoditise my free time in exchange for a few bits and bobs and a few pennies. Don’t get me wrong, that probably came as internal pressure, rather than an external one as all sponsors were great. I now have an arrangement where bike-related stuff is split. It’s either work (which I and the crew enjoy and have an obligation to do well) or it’s riding time where I have zero obligations to anyone and can relax. I also dig as well, that’s one of my favourite things to do.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
I go for a ride in the trees, snorkel at Rumbling Kern near Howick, sit on the bog with a book, or accept that we don’t always need the motivation to do things, we just have to do it.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
That’s changed. It used to be railing turns, racing, and riding the dirt jumps in evenings. I can’t do any of those three things now, but bombing down a hill, feeling the bike move under me, and getting into remote, expansive places just can’t be beaten. I also love the craic, the looser the better.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
Was there doping last year? I can’t remember. If so, it’d be that.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
Wider access to trails, more trail sharing, more people on bikes, more bangin’ right-hand berms.
Who else should we ask these questions to?
Anyone who has an integral role in Queenstown mountain bike club or WORCA, or Graeme Mclean. Unsung heroes of our pastime.
Keep tabs on Tommy’s adventures on his Instagram feed here.
You can catch all our previous Wise Words interviews with the likes of Sven Martin, Manon Carpenter, Ric McLaughlin and plenty more here.