The Red Bulletin June 2019


MTB street

“When you’ve got a big

bike, you’re looking for

things only the craziest

person would ever dream

of doing on a BMX”


he British city street is under

pressure. It’s trapped in a

slow-grind crisis where stress

is rife and anxiety is the new

normal. But within its

concrete canyons, beasts are

stirring – and it’s not the rats.

Sitting astride burly, overbuilt

mountain bikes are a row of

riders in full-face helmets and

a patchwork uniform of gloves,

skinny jeans, unbuttoned shirts and freeride jerseys.

They stare down from a 6m-high asphalt overpass,

gazes locked onto a double set of red-brick stairs

bordered by concrete slopes, studded with rocks, and

scattered with the usual urban debris: broken glass,

cigarette ends… Breaking their focus, the riders split,

peeling off back up the road and out of sight.

Stop and stare in a city and eventually the street

will notice you. Here in Portsmouth, pedestrians

have begun to crowd along the top of the overpass,

looking down at the stairs and the small portable

ramp that has been set up at the top. The rising

whoosh of fat rubber tyres accelerated by pedal

power reaches their ears as a rider rounds the

corner, launches off the ramp and hurtles down

the stairs, whipping his back wheel in the air. But

he doesn’t quite clear the platform between the

flights of stairs, clipping his back wheel and, with

a tortured crunch, smacking the underside of his

bike’s frame into the edge of a step. Only strength

and experience prevent him from being catapulted

face-first into the pavement.

The rider swears into the city air. “That ramp really

launches you,” reports Simon Brettle, the 31-yearold

carpenter and mountain biker. “My landing zone

is exactly the same size as my bike – there is literally

no room for error.”

The street is built from intersecting concrete

blades. There are harsh, unyielding angles everywhere

you look. It’s a far cry from the rounded, flowing

lines and loose dirt of an off-road mountain-bike trail.

“I find that terrifying, to be honest,” says another

of the riders, Josh Reynolds, who is sponsored by

Sick Bikes and works as a fitness equipment engineer.

“Stair sets and bricks are a lot harsher. When you

start pushing it, everything becomes more highconsequence.”

Consequences leave scars, and

Reynolds’ injuries from both MTB and BMX include

a dented skull, blown ankles, a shattered collarbone

and smashed back teeth. He’s 24 years old.

“If you’re riding off-road, you’ll have a nice big

jump with a long landing to hit, which will slope

off into the flat,” he continues. “It’s not angular;

it doesn’t go from 45° to flat within an inch.” Street

geometry and the arithmetic of impact is violent and

uncompromising, but Reynolds isn’t complaining.

The riders all wear adversity like a badge of honour

– it shows they belong. At one point, Brettle and

local rider Ben Matthews compete to gross us out by

flexing their injured wrist joints – bones clunk and

push against the skin, unanchored by any ligaments

that may have survived previous crashes.

The bravado isn’t just a front, and you don’t

ride a mountain bike in the street to be subtle; it’s

a statement of intent. Reynolds grew up riding


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