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 Mr. Henry Norman.

Ride bikes in Sheffield on the regular and think it’s ace? Then Henry Norman is one of the key figures behind all that, having founded  Ride Sheffield, as well as being part of the team that runs Peaty’s Steel City DH.

Photo by Rich Baybutt.

How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?

 Enthusiastic MTB super fan, obsessive bike cleaner and dad joke world champion, who never stops talking.

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?

Kit wise, the biggest thing has been wearing contact lenses. After probably more years than I would admit if not being able to see well, it’s made a massive difference to my riding.

In terms of effect and influence, I am an avid podcast listener. From useful tips and insight from Downtime, the good times of HKT and some old school joy and sheer journalistic excellence from the Inside Line There is a lot of good stuff out there to get you thinking.

Away from purely biking, Looking Sideways has given me real food for thought. Across the board it’s always fascinating to see how people use their drive to get things done. But also listening to the pitfalls that board sports experience, there seems to be a lot of similarly with mountain biking. It’s inspiring to see how organisations like Long Live Southbank and Surfers Against Sewage, got organised, which gives me optimism and drive for Ride Sheffield.

Oh that and Maxima SC1, best bike polish hands down.

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

 Nothing really unusual, I am happy riding any discipline and always willing to give it a go. So I guess it must just be the bikes cleaning.

My first decent bike was funded through pot washing in a chippy, which I guess heightened its value to me further and made me take good care of it. That and their value to me far transcends the monetary and it saves money in the long run too.

Photo by Sam Taylor.

What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?

Hear…

If you get the opportunity to ride, then take it. You never know when it will be your last one. A trip on a spine board once brought that rather starkly to mind. Also listening to the Inside Line Podcast with Colin Meagher, describing his last ride was pretty heart wrenching.

It might be raining and cold, but it’s never as bad as you think it will be. Get out and ride.

Ignore…

That something will not work/happen. If someone says the odds are stacked against you, just remember that there always needs to be someone to do it the first time. From fighting the good fight, to riding your bike. Don’t quit at the first hurdle.

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?

 Probably quite a few race runs that have been thrown out by little mistakes and a couple of crashes would be nice to change, but these things tend to shape us too. So I guess I could it comes down to a couple…

For the opening run of the Blue Steel Trail in Lady Cannings (Ride Sheffield’s first crowd funded trail) I followed Annie Last and Peaty down it. Finally getting to ride the trail after years of work and following those two down was one of those pinch yourself kind of moments.

But even better, Was riding with my son Tom in Les Gets last summer, his first proper trip to the Alps. Following him through dusty turns and hearing his excitement is hard to beat. Even if his desire to ride up hills has been a bit spoilt by chairlifts.

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?

Worrying about non riders view the sport. When I was younger I could never understand why others could not see that mountain biking was the best thing in the world. When in reality at the time we were just skinny kids in Lycra on rigid bikes, wearing baggy clothes for the rest of the time.

Merida Big.Trailtea

Now we wear baggies on the bike and keep the skinny trousers for the pub (or World Cup DH). It feels like the sport has an identity of its own now and needs to borrow less from board sport for its look.

It also has loads of opportunities for people to give it a try in a fun environment with a little bit of coaching to get them off to a positive start too. So now more and more people can get a chance to to find out how awesome it is.

Photo by Duncan Philpott.

How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?

 I’m lucky I guess that I have never struggled with motivation to ride (train or race). 

But finding the time to do Ride Sheffield or SCS admin once everyday stuff is done can be a little tricky. Particularly if it involves chatting to the internets more angry and narrow minded individuals, which can sometimes sap the motivation.

Best remedy is always a quick ride to remind yourself how much you love the sport you do and that it’s always worth the effort!

What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?

 Wow, it’s hard to pin it down to one thing, there are so many aspects of it that I love…

The sense of freedom that it gives you is hard to beat. The freedom of movement you feel when everything is flowing well on the bike and the sense of escape you can feel in a tiny piece of woodland to the high mountains seems ever more important these days.

Photo by Richard Baybutt.

What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?

Aside from the obvious impacts that the pandemic has had on all the aspects of our lives that we took for granted, from our health to the distractions of racing and trips to the mountains. 

It’s more of a little gripe that goes beyond the past year, which is kids on clipless pedals. Kids need to be able to feel loose and learn to enjoy throwing their bikes (and themselves) around, not feeling rigid locked into their bikes. Not to mention the stresses on young knees too.

I guess it comes from a rather unnerving increase in competitive cycling parents, which is a bad trend too. If BMX can keep it out of kids racing then so should MTB. If you want your kids to love riding as much as you do, make sure it stays fun.

What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?

 It would be great to see the industry getting much more involved with the groups that are out there building the trails and pushing for better access.

If you want the sport to grow, you need more great trails to ride on.

When the equipment side of the sport is a multimillion pound industry. The trails side of things (outside of the bike parks) is held together on a shoe string.

Santa Cruz is doing good things out in North America and we have been really lucky to count on the support of Go Outdoors and Cotic, but so much more could be done. Maybe even a small levee on sales could go a long way, but we need to start linking up better and we should hopefully all see the benefits.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

As Nick seems to have covered all the good folk of Sheffield.

I would have to say Dom Ferris from Trash Free Trails. Who is doing some amazing work at the moment and Rich Norgate who as well as being a Trash Free Trail’s ambassador understand that perfect fusion between beer and bikes (and crayons). Bex and Martha from the Gowaan Gals have the recipe for keeping the fun in the sport too.

Keep tabs on Henry’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.