Seeking Out The Dry Patches
I’m not going to lie, the prospect of spending a whole week in London didn’t exactly fill my heart with joy. Having spent most of my years in Farnborough, Hampshire, a mere 40 minute train ride from the nations capital, I had spent enough time there both on and off my bike to know that it’s place I only enjoy, or endure as the case may be, for short periods at a time. As I get older I like those short periods of time to become increasingly shorter still. Some people thrive on the hustle and bustle, the vibrance, different cultures and sensory stimulation, but all I see is a loud, smoggy, suppressive environment filled to bursting point with people so eager to go about their day that they don’t have time to put in to practice any of the manners they were taught as a child. A selfish, faceless, transient place of residence which is always 17% grey.
The prospect of the forthcoming week wasn’t all doom and gloom I might add, as I would be spending the week with a bunch of riders who I knew would make it fun. Most of whom in fact are already good friends, and those who weren’t before are now. Being the oldest collection of riders out of all four teams I’m sure we didn’t party as hard as the other boys, but we had a bloody good time from start to finish, even if that meant picking on each other for entertainment!
Why London? What’s more, why London in September? Well I guess the whole M25 outer boundary is pretty handy to set the rules, and actually it’s not all built up and has an abundance of spots, so that answers the first question to some degree. But September? It’s that time of year where we’ve had a good run of warm weather, a few weeks without rain and we’ve forgotten what the weather is ‘normally’ like. Sure it’s still quite warm out, not quite autumn. It might even be sunny for now, but at any given moment it can, and normally does rain for the rest of the day. September is just so damn unpredictable, so in the week leading up to the start of London Calling I just reigned myself to the fact that we’d be riding Bay 66 for 7 days straight. Yay 66!
We’d be doing a whole lot of riding that was for sure, I mean from A-B that is, as well as hitting the spots along the way, so I made a decision long before departure that I’d be doing so in as much comfort as possible in the form of my road bike. Never has it become so apparent to me exactly how much more effort it is to get around on a BMX than a bicycle designed for commuting; I barely had to pedal to keep up with everyone else. What this bike lacked in agility up and down curbs it more than made up for in speed and comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I love BMX. I love the freedom of exploring a city, popping manuals and stopping to session what we find, but all too often this just doesn’t happen if you’re a photographer or filmer. I’ve been on too many trips where although I’ve had my BMX with me I’d be too tired to appreciate riding it after the 5 mile slog with 20kg on my back, and whatever riding I do get to do will inevitably be cut short when it’s time to shoot photo’s. Well aware of this sad reality I weighed up which bike to take and how much shit I’d probably get for it, but I was chillin’ all week and my full wrap mudguards kept my ass as dry as a bone so I have to say it’s the best decision I ever made!
Fully loaded I made my way to the big smoke on the train and followed the dot on my phone until it led me to the door of a flat in Farringdon. Three flights of stairs later and I was slightly regretting the big bike decision, but no matter, I couldn’t do anything about it now! Inside the flat were two bedrooms, a TINY kitchen, a couple of bathrooms and a sort of living room.
Beds were distributed randomly throughout and bin bags full of last weeks waste sweated in the corner of the kitchen. Ok let me rephrase that. Inside the flat was… a squat. Well maybe it wasn’t quite so bad, but with more bodies than beds and what appeared to be the remnants of a greek wedding strewn about the place (thanks to WeThePeople!) I couldn’t help but consider a daily commute back to my parents house!
No, I take it back. Having just thought of all the places I’ve slept as a road-tripping BMX rider over the years this was actually pretty good. A bed is a luxury item and there was more than enough floor space to go around, and even though I was one of the last to arrive the lovely Northerner Johnny Devine was kind enough to give me the bed he’d baggsied. What a champ.
So we were all there – well nearly: Martyn Tambling, Lima, Priesty, Biz, Brian Yeagle, and Johnny Devine all riding, with myself and Pete Adam behind the lenses. A fine bunch indeed, and so we were just waiting for Greek rider Panos to arrive. When on Facebook I happened upon a comment from Pierre Hinze, the German team rider who’d come on the Verde UK shop tour the summer before with a reference to London. It was in German, we didn’t really know what it said but oh how we laughed about him probably being outside waiting for us. I mean there was no mention of him coming on the trip, Panos was the Euro guy after all so imagine our surprise when someone went out for a ciggy, only to come up stairs with the man himself! Confused looks darted around the room, we actually had no idea he was going to be here, our jokes actually turned out to be pretty accurate! Maybe Panos wasn’t coming after all and Pierre was his replacement, but no, the Greek arrived an hour later. So the plentiful floor space wasn’t so plentiful after all, but we were stoked to have everyone there, accidentally or otherwise, and as they say the more the merrier!
The week began as I’d expected: predictably wet and a bit cold. We ventured out none the less to see what we could find and it was actually surprisingly fruitful. We were trying to get to a park of some kind, I forget where now but it was probably a bowl.
After going round in circles for a while we bumped in to a young rider from some foreign land who insisted he knew the place we were after. Half an hour later my suspicions that we were heading in the wrong direction were proved right when A) He declared that he’d only been in London for a couple of weeks and B) he had no idea where we meant.
To be fair I think he was just super stoked to be riding around with Biz, and he randomly knew Pete from Belfast. The place he took us was far from perfect, and not what we were looking for, but actually kind of weird slash fun looking, so although it was too wet to ride we made a note to come back.
While scoping the lines I tried to convince Biz to make it look like he was eating this awesome rainbow which appeared, but he was having none of it, so I had to settle for a bar fakie with the rainbow in the background instead. I still think my idea was better.
The first day or two was a little wet, but we made do. We only had to ride Bay 66 once in the end and actually it was pretty productive. I got a shot of Priesty doing a downside footplant on a backboard obviously not designed for such activities. It flexed so far back that you can clearly see a large crack in the upright. Half the park gets taped off when it’s wet as it’s open sided. Pierre enjoyed using this to his advantage though by hopping the tape into opposite over-ice to back on a flat bar. Actually upon reviewing all my photo’s of Pierre once I returned home I realised that they are all opposite (I refuse to acknowledge the term ‘switch’), which instantly makes them a hundred times cooler than they are already! As the days went on the weather did improve so we weren’t all forced indoors. We revisited the humps that we’d been taken to on the first day and Martyn saw a big old fufanu that he wanted a bit of. Unfortunately we had to wait until playtime was over as the place was full of excited kids. As soon as they were on their way in and the boys began riding the kids were just going mental! Every time someone did so much as a bunnyhop they’d be screaming and jumping up and down. I think they might have even been allowed to stay out a bit longer to watch. It was pretty funny and you never know, maybe a couple of them will ask for a BMX for Christmas!
Each day we would check the weather and see what’s close to us and worth going to. None of us have a great knowledge of London spots, so we just decided to keep it simple and ride what people enjoy riding. Due to the time of year we just had to think on our feet and not plan too far ahead, or at least if we did plan ahead then have a contingency plan if the weather was a bit iffy.
This approach worked pretty well actually, because quite often one idea would lead to another, then en route we’d stumble upon something interesting and a session would go down. It meant there wasn’t ever really any stress on finding a particular place and the whole project remained organic and care free. I mean what’s the point on going on a BMX trip at all if it’s stressful, so this really was just a week long hang out!
If there was a destination further than riding distance then we were forced to get the train. If anyone has ever tried to use the London Underground with a bike before you’ll know full well what a massive pain the arse it is. Some areas let you use bikes, others only within certain times. If it goes overground then underground you have to get off half way through the journey, and some lines you just can’t bring bikes on full stop.
To say it was not ideal would be an understatement – traveling on the tube is horrible at the best of times, but with a bike it totally sucks. Travelling in a group of nine, with bikes and big fucking bags, often unsure of our destination… well need I say more.
Still, we would always manage in the end, even if we did get split up a few times! Martyn was a funny one actually, he’s pretty good at organising people and would often be the one with the map in his hand, but you see Martyn is from Devon – population of about 2000 or thereabouts. Everything moves slower down there, people aren’t so in a rush and the only time they see a traffic jam is when there’s a cow blocking the road.
Martyn doesn’t often visit big cities like London, so if he ever had to stop to consult the map, or wait as part of the group for others to pass through ticket barriers etc, you can bet your bottom dollar that he’d be right in the way, blissfully unaware that his bike is hanging across the pavement or he’s stood at the bottom of an escalator or something. After a while I stopped telling him and just enjoyed the tuts and quiet insults projected by the hurried commuters trying their best not to trip over him, his bike or his belongings. That at least made the commutes slightly entertaining!
We rode some awesome places throughout the week. The bowl setups in London are plentiful and although one might argue a bit obvious, they are always going to make for good footage. And anyway who doesn’t like a good bowl setup? The more street orientated riders were kept happy too though, with plenty of flat bar action going down.
One place we went, I forget the name of it now, it was just full of brick banks. I’m sure anyone with a bit of knowledge of London street will know immediately but I actually can’t ever recall seeing it before. Panos hit a decent rail straight in to a steep bank to 180 bar out, fast as you like, It didn’t look too comfy, and Pierre straight hopped a decent size barrier to flat which was cool.
Biz was round the corner hitting a long access up rail to hop over at speed. He’d done it a few times but we were trying to get the pic just right. One of the runups though his chain snapped which was not pretty at all, and he wasn’t hanging about. A bit bruised with a bashed knee was the only damage fortunately, but it definitely ended his riding for the day. Especially as the local bike shop wanted £30 for a shit painted chain!
One of the best sessions of the week I think has to be at The Spot. Brian has an uncanny ability to make every place he rides appear as if it’s his local, carving the tightest lines and airing all the weird transitions like it’s nothing. I don’t recall seeing him even do any tricks as such, I mean apart from a 180.
Oh when I say that I mean it was a full speed stupidly perfect 180 from one side of the channel over the opposite wall and on to the grass, like it’s nothing, it was pretty cool to see. In fact he was generally going higher and faster than most of the people who’ve ever been there, but that’s just Brian through and through, and that kind of riding never gets old! The sun was shining throughout that whole session, and being such a photogenic and unique place to ride everyone was loving it, clipping hard and everyone got at least one photo.
Towards the end of the week, with our train confidence high we decided to hit up Harrow, which is still very much alive and well despite having its ‘closing’ jam a good 4 years ago. Being of the classic 70’s skate era it’s obviously a bit unusual to ride, a fact we all know, but I think the Europeans and the American contingent weren’t sure what to make of it all.
But it’s just one of those places which is aways fun to ride. Priesty and Lima were sessioning the hips on the snake run, boosting really bloody high and doing their best to avoid any scooterers. Martyn was obviously loving the place, and no stranger to an odd tranny (make of that what you will) the U-pipe was being ridden hard.
For those unaware, it’s a 10 foot vert ramp with no flat bottom and no decks (the vert bits stick out of the ground). It’s pretty much impossible to ride well and if you get it wrong the thing will eat you alive. That said, Martyn was still airing a few feet out happy as Larry while we all shrieked and winced like scared little girls every time he did so. We rode there until it got dark, and then headed as per every night back to the squat, I mean flat, to check the footage of the day and have a beer or two.
So in the end, after what I thought was going to be a total washout I have to say it was a pretty fun week. We got half lucky with the weather – it started off a bit waffer and didn’t look good, and I felt very righteous and ‘told you so’, but as the days progressed and the sun came out I have to admit that my preconceptions of it just being a massive wet chore were wrong.
We saw some awesome riding and hit up a few awesome spots and the people we met along the way made the trip memorable. At the end of the day you just have to make do with what you are given, but we didn’t have to compromise too much. The Verde team as a whole are all so easy going there’s probably no way in which we could have had a bad time so if I was asked to do the same thing again I’d say yeah! Only on the condition that if WeThePeople have the apartment for a week before us again they leave us some plates!