It’s been an interesting few years since I first heard the name Ben Towle. I’ll be honest, when I heard of him and saw some of his riding, I quickly dismissed him as a park rat. Of his own admission, as you’ll read, that was fair enough. However, since that introduction there’s been a fierce evolution in Ben’s riding, a sickening rate of progression and adaptation that comes from simply having bags of natural talent.
Wait, wait… It doesn’t only come from that, it also comes from a rider who’s willing to work hard, travel hard, ride everything possible, rough it overnight wherever he can, lean on other like minded riders, push himself constantly, make things happen. Ben will tell you his riding is getting lazier, I say he’s just getting even more comfortable being an exceptional bike rider.
This evolution in his riding seems to be continuing on that path – or on several paths. So this isn’t THE Ben Towle interview, it’s just the first one.
Words by Robin Pearson
Photos by Adam Lievesley
Originally printed in Ride UK Issue 199
Ever heard of Brigg? Me neither. Well, Ben grew up in a place called Brigg, Lincolnshire, where there’s a simple concrete park that he rode day in, day out, from the age of ten, learning tricks on the flyout and riding “The best hip in the world.”
You don’t get that good at big tricks from riding a small park like that. No, Ben quickly found resi (park rat incoming) and learnt big moves like 360 double whips, all the mad stuff he could think of. Thankfully, he also found G.Y.P.O. Trails down the road in Cleethorpes, which has become a favourite spot to this day.
“I learnt triple bars at G.Y.P.O. on Los Big Set. I couldn’t ride there when I was much younger, my mum wouldn’t let me get the train. But when I was a teenager I started going there maybe once a week, up until now.”
From the beginning, Ben’s riding has clearly been very trick focused. And he’s got loads in the bag. It seems that riding G.Y.P.O. gives him, for want of a better word, a happy place, a comfort zone. He says instead of just doing tricks in the skatepark he’s always rather done them over dirt jumps.
“Not like a style guy, I guess more of a park guy but riding dirt… Which people probably hate! I’m the biggest dry guy going.”
So, 360 double whips, multiple barspins… Self confessed park guy through and through, but riding dirt a lot. Ben’s park riding influences were the classic UK ramp heads, very focused around the peak of Harry Main’s career.
“What I liked the most were Harry’s 360 no handers and 360 inverts, insane. That was it. Plus Mark Webb, Alex Coleborn… Just the best park riding there was, end of.”
Talking about inspirations, Ben’s quick to shout out one particular local from Brigg, Ben Dent.
“He was a loose man! He’d just do mad no handers at Brigg, that’s who I looked up to riding there. He wasn’t that good but he was who I looked up to. Just a local guy, a bit fried, he wasn’t better than everyone else but he’d just hurl himself. I thought that was funny watching him ride, I thought I wanted to do that.”
How, why and when did the obsessed ramp guy shift towards the Ben Towle we see now?
“Well, I won at NASS. That was when I wore skinny jeans and had a bowl cut, riding a Mafia frame. That was what finished me being a park rat… Won NASS, I peaked, downhill since then! Haha. Nah, I don’t think it was NASS that made me do it, I just stopped caring about that side of BMX so much.”
It’s a natural progression. Either from a turning point like that or just through gradual evolution, as we’ve seen with many riders over the years who begin in park contests, get good results and then move on, finding fresh satisfaction in diversifying and translating their bike control and ability onto other terrain.
“Now I’d rather watch Lewis Mills or Boyd Hilder. And then, of course, I appreciate what Kieran Reilly and those guys are doing, it’s not what I prefer to watch now but I appreciate it, how hard it is. I used to be a park rat, it appeals to me in that way, it’s HARD, that stuff, I’m not surprised that I can’t be bothered to do it any more.”
It’s good he mentions Boyd Hilder, because I was just about to. With Ben’s new approach to riding everything, being well rounded, (and those dipped seat grabs he does over hips) we can’t think of a better example of that than Boyd. ‘Ride everything, ride with everyone’ seems to be Ben’s vibe.
“Just wing it! I’ll go meet Kieran Cooper and the Sheffield lot and cruise about riding street, then I’ll go to Corby and ride with Tom Russell and that, have a full athlete resi session, haha. I like being able to ride with everyone, know people all over. I just ride whatever whenever. I’m not bothered. If people are riding then I’ll go ride. Curbs, flatrails, indoor parks, outdoor parks, whatever. It’s just fun innit! I like it all. Sometimes I ride the same thing for ages, sometimes I mix it up every day, I’m not bothered. I like G.Y.P.O. because it’s straight, I get into it, then I’ll go to Grandma’s Trails and it’s dead hippy and I’ll get into that… I enjoy everything for what it is. I like spots because of how they are, you ride them to suit what they have. It keeps it interesting to ride different places differently.”
Ben is progressing, there’s no doubt in my mind. Progressing his riding and his way of thinking about riding, his approach. Diversifying has led to some recognition from sponsors as well, as we’ll cover later. From what I can see, he’s getting better and better. He claims he’s got worse.
“I used to do 360 double whips all the time back then, now I just don’t even dare do them. I sometimes don’t even dare doing 360 single whips. Those tricks, they’re too much effort! Triple whips and bars are too much. If I really wanted to do one, I could do one, but they’re so much effort they don’t seem worth it. I’d rather do a frontflip! They look better for how hard they are. I don’t sound like a bellend, do I?”
OUT AND ABOUT
It’s not all BMX. Talking about other things in Ben’s life, or just the way he runs things, can be a funny conversation. Ben’s quite a funny character in general, if he’s got an opinion on something it’ll be a strong one. What else is he into? Ask him that, set him off talking about CBD oil, his divisive on and off moustache, mention cars, and this is what you get:
“The lot! I love it all. CBD oil is unreal, it does help actually, I didn’t think it did at the start but it does work wonders. The moustache has gone for the foreseeable future… I don’t think I can rock it anymore. It was fucking ace is what it was! It was banging. What did you think about it, did you like it? It was the strongest look ever. We shot a photo of a handplant and put it on Instagram, nobody commented on the handplant, everybody commented on the moustache. I just ruin cars. I buy ‘em, because I need something to get around, then I lower it to the extreme and ruin it, then have to buy another one. I had an Audi, slammed it on the floor and it broke, so I bought a Fiesta, that didn’t last very long. Bought a Golf, that was standard for about six months then I lowered it to the max and was just smashing off the subframe every day. And then now I’ve got a zimmer, which I’m hopefully trying to keep as it is. It’s a BMW 520D, yeah, I’m not scared of ripping a sump off this. The Golf was still better.”
Getting around was the key takeaway from that chat, that’s Ben’s goal in a big way. He’s always out and about. Jams and contests, weekend trips with the boys, riding new places. Why does he go to comps if he’s not a park rat any more?
“I’d rather do a frontflip! I don’t sound like a bellend, do I?”
“I only go to see everybody, see all the guys who live far away. Like at Backyard Jam, everyone was there. It was packed. I do it more for the social side. Obviously I ride in it and try to do well, but even if I come 20th like at Backyard, I still get to see everyone, haha. I get to see Scott Hamlin.”
The social side of UK jams and comps is real. It’s why most riders attend, let’s be honest. The chat and heckling around Ben and the crew is at a high level now, to the point that there’s a significant level of shouting when Ben rides. Mid run heckling from the decks. How can he ride at contests with everyone jeering at him?
“I don’t really hear the heckling. Going too fast… Or just concentrating on not dying! And yeah, I plan my run, but I don’t expect to land half of it. I’ll have like two things that I wanna do, then whatever goes in between those two things. If I boot a triple whip, I must be in the mood, I must really wanna ride, and I’ll just boot it and hope for the best. And thankfully I’ve not died yet. I have missed my foot on a few of them.”
Riding at this level, Ben’s been fortunate with injuries until quite recently. Ten years of riding, nothing to report. “Mad, innit?” His first proper injury was a sprained ankle last year. To be fair, it was a heavy sprain and put him out for a while, but still, that’s a nice record.
The UK comp scene is clearly paramount to Ben and why he rides, but it’s interesting to hear that he’s not really been over to Europe to get a taste of that event scene. Oh wait, there’s the skint element…
“I want to go to all the FISE ones but they’re expensive. To buy a license and cover travel and accommodation each time. It would just be mad to go and see what it’s like in the proper athlete world! Not even to compete at that level, just to ride the course and see what it’s saying, they’re insane, those courses. They’re big aren’t they?”
Speaking of expenses, a couple of years ago Ben was going around the country for events, weekend trips to new spots, always staying in his car. We know why, but we had to ask him why.
“Because I’m absolutely skint! I’m not paying stupid hotel prices when I can kip in the car or a tent. Tom (Russell) and I were doing it for months and months. We were going places every weekend, places where it was too far to go there and back in one day so you may as well stay in your car, wash in the sea, take some extra clothes with you.”
“If my hand comes off, it’s going back on the brake lever. So I’d rather not ride one.”
That’s a level of commitment that not everyone has. Not only has it helped Ben get his name out there more and more, it’s allowed his riding to evolve into this new all round slayer of all terrain. Car trips are always with a little crew, the likes of Casson Downing, Sean Tompson, Tom, Matt Harris, Kaz Campbell, Tom Russell… And anyone else who could be dragged along. Some notable car camping jaunts have been down in Hastings, still the UK’s BMX capital.
“To be honest with you there’s nothing in Hastings other than riding and seeing the boys. Oh and Grand Elektra… Oh my god, can’t wait. We’re all fiending a Grand Elektras party! If you’ve not been, you’re missing out. It’s a vibe. It’s more than a fucking vibe mate. It’s unreal.”
Basically, camping in your car means you can spend your money on partying and stay skint. Do as much as you can and not spend money on hotels. Priorities correct for a twenty-one year old.
“Yeah, weekend millionaire! Just do whatever you want on a budget. It’s dead clever. I want a van, that’s my A-game… I can’t get insured though. Do I want to join in with all the Dead Sailor van camping crew? Maybe, but I still want to be a chav with it, you can’t do it… Haha”
HOOK UPS & SET UP
Running up to now, Ben quite suddenly found himself recognised by some key UK brands. Before we knew it, he had announced riding for United and Protec, but that wasn’t before Kaz Campbell prank announced him onto another team.
“The story goes… While Fooman and Ian were thinking about asking me to be on United, I got a Federal frame from Seventies, put a photo on Instagram of me stood with it, then set off driving up to meet Fooman at a skatepark a couple of hours from Hastings. Kaz took my phone in the car, changed the caption to “Stoked to now be riding for @federalbikes.” He did a ‘welcome to’ post without me knowing and I didn’t realise for a few hours! When we met Fooman to shoot some photos, he asked me about it then I checked the post… Kaz! I was on that frame for two days before Fooman called Stu at Seventies and checked it was all good, then he asked me if I wanted to ride for United.”
Other sponsors now include Substance BMX Shop, Forw4rd store, and Hippie Turtle Herbal Co.
“Hippie Turtle, CBD oil, I love it mate. I don’t use the oils but I use the muscle rub loads. Miracle stuff. The healing powers of kush! Haha. And Forw4rd in Cleethorpes, shoutout. They’ve supported me for a while. I just share it because I’m friends with the guy and I think it’s cool, basically.”
We had to mention CHD BMX, too. What was that all about? It’s how Ben and Adam met, about five years ago, shooting photos for a feature about the crew.
“It was who I grew up riding with, videos of our scene filmed by Mike Chudley. It definitely got me more well known. I think most of my Instagram followers are still from the CHD days. That’s how I learnt to ride street as well, the other guys had pegs so I’d fuck about on their bikes.”
Here we are then. Not the full evolution but a big leap from where we started, as a pegless, low slung frame, noisy hub park boy. Ben’s bike set up is quite different these days, taller standover, standard cassette, three plastic pegs, no brakes.
“Because I can’t do no handers with a brake, I grab the brake lever, I land and it snaps off. Barspins, no handers, t-bogs… If my hand comes off, it’s going back on the brake lever. So I’d rather not ride one. Cassette because I can’t afford a BSD freecoaster… And I can’t deal with the slack of a coaster, for park riding anyway. I do like it being silent though. If I was just jibbing about on a ledge I suppose it’d be alright. I’d much rather ride a cassette for everything, but a quiet one, I hate the ticking noise. I’ve only put pegs on… because if you do… it just makes you look better doesn’t it? It’s funny that. Nah it doesn’t really, I just finally dealt with the idea of riding pegs, I was always too scared to ride them, being impaled on them on a double whip or something. I can do them with three pegs on but I do think about it like hang on a minute, this could be deadly, I definitely have to concentrate. I ride plastics because steel is too core for me, haha. It wouldn’t be right.”
Chatting around a few subjects with Ben Towle, he obviously makes sure to give himself things to look forward to, constantly, but seems happy to stay in the moment and just run with it. Those are good qualities. I honestly don’t know what the future holds for him, but I reckon it’ll be funny, with plenty of penny saving, camping in cars (that are much too low) and impressive bike riding. Ben’s final thoughts?
“Just ride. Be skint and ride. Do whatever, enjoy life.”
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