Wise Words | Aaron Gray.

Wise Words is our 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 come to you from the man, he myth, the legend that is Aaron Gray.

Aaron Gray is the man behind Muckmedden’s selection of mountain bike events, including Muckmedden 6 Hour, The Fair City Enduro and Cream o’ the Croft, that really put the fun back into racing north of the border. Since then he’s thrown himself headlong into trail advocacy as a major mover in the Tayside Trail Association setup, whilst also setting up his mobile pumptrack for anyone who wants it.

Photo by Ian Potter.

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

If they were feeling charitable, they might say I was surprisingly fast on a bike for a wee, bald, middle-aged man who eats too much cake. Or maybe they’d leave out the ‘surprisingly fast’ bit.

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?

It’s got to be buying an ebike. It’s opened tons of riding that’s either impossible, or just plain miserable on a regular bike. Routes that were too steep, too long, or a bit of a slog are now great fun and my local loop just got three times bigger.

If I’m riding with mates on regular bikes, I’ll leave my ebike at home (or bring a tow rope) as it’s miserable trying to keep up with an ebike if you don’t have one. If I’m on my own, it’s power-assist all the way because it makes the boring bits fun, and I can fit more of my favourite descents into a ride. Who doesn’t want that?

What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?

It’s not exactly unusual, but I do have a habit of wrecking wheels. I don’t know why? It doesn’t seem to matter how bombproof they are, if I’m running inserts or 50 psi, wheels just don’t stay round for very long if they’re underneath me. Come to think of it, this could be linked to another habit of mine which is eating too much cake. If there are any wheel manufacturers or cake makers looking for a product tester, hit me up.

Photo by Andrew Leinster.

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

Turn off Strava. Take home litter. Clear puddles. Spend money on coaching instead of buying another shiny bit for your bike. Join your local Trail Association (or start your own) and give back to the trails. Sorry, that’s more than one piece of advice.

Ignore industry hype trying to sell you stuff you can do without. If the rider on the beat-up Hardtail has a bigger smile than you at the bottom of the trail, who’s the winner?*

*Spoiler: It’s the person on the ebike doing three times as many laps and I’ve just contradicted myself.

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?

Aw man, that’s like choosing a favourite child. They’re all lovely….

One particular ride that sticks in my head is an impromptu solo mission at my local in Pitmedden. It was a late summer’s evening and the kids had just gone to bed. The sun was setting, and the trails were running fast and dry, so I jumped on my old hardtail and blasted up the hill to catch the last of the light. The forest was glowing orange, there wasn’t a soul around, and I rode flat-out until dark.

It felt like I hit every bump, jump and apex perfectly without even thinking. It was an amazing ride on an average bike, in my jeans and t shirt and on my local trails. That’s what mountain biking’s all about, the feeling it gives you, not the gear. Who cares about ebikes anyway?

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?

A few people have already said the same thing on this feature, but it has to be social media. It’s just such a massive time vacuum and I hate to imagine how many days/weeks/months I’ve spent browsing on social media since I first joined Facebook in 2011. It sucks you in, and before you know it you haven’t showered for three days and the cat’s eaten the goldfish.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an invaluable tool for promoting Muckmedden Events over the past few years, and it’s still a great way to get a message out, but more and more people I know have ditched social media lately.

At the moment we’re taking a break from organising events to focus on the mobile Pumptrack hire side of the business, so I don’t use social media as a marketing tool like I did when we had events to promote. I still check in and share what we’ve been getting up to, then I’ll have a quick nosey to see if I’ve missed anything and log off again pretty quickly.

Everything’s fine in moderation I suppose. Apart from cake. You can’t have too much of that.

Photo by Ian Potter.

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

If I’m struggling to get my bike out of the shed, I find that fixing up my local trails really helps to motivate me. If I can’t get a full dig day organised, I’ll head out myself and drain a few puddles and cut back gorse and overhanging branches. Fixing up a trail that’s been annoying me for a while always makes me want to go out for a test ride.

I also find a trip to a trail centre thrashing around some blues and reds helps me get my mojo back if I’ve been slogging through mud at my local for a while.

Or just get an ebike….

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

If I’m totally honest, these days I probably ride for my mental health as much as I do for any other reason. For me, that mix of adrenaline, endorphins, and the feeling of being ‘out in the wild’ is unbeatable and it really keeps my mood in check.

Thankfully more people are aware of the healing powers of going for a ride these days and I feel lucky that my favourite thing to do just happens to be great for my mental and physical health.

Photo by Andrew Leinster.

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

It has to be the untimely passing of Rab Wardell, which was a huge shock and a tragic loss for so many people. Unbelievably sad.

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

I’d love to see homegrown talent being crowned at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships in Scotland next year. A homegrown world champion in every discipline would be nice. Even in that completely bonkers discipline ‘Cycle Ball’ that looks impossible and weird.

Who else should we ask these questions to?

Tom Durham (Aosta Valley Freeride – Collective Trax – Aosta Valley Trail Care). He’s always got good stuff to say.

You can keep tabs on Aaron’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.