Mike "The Hippy" Williamson has been ripping corners and doing skids since, well, probably before most of you were born. He's been an integral part of the Wellington digging community for over a decade, so much so that we can't really do without him. Of course this means that he's buggering off overseas.
We tried to catch up with the boy before he jumped on a jet-plane, and failed. But the interwebs being what they are, distance isn’t a big thing.
Fortunately Mike can ride better than he can spell, but our dedication to editorial authenticity is so strong we’ve left his responses intact.
How old do you feel?
Ummmm let me think, that’s a hard one, I mean it changes as to what your doing and who your with, I guess on average thirty sumfin. The EX once said twenty five, and walking down the hill at work in the snow recently made me feel somewhat older as I chose to take my time and sensibly avoid possible injury.
But then how old were you when you really enjoyed learning to skid on a bike on the streets because ive had awesome fun taking that to the next level lately and that must mean we should add 12 to the list.
That’s the great thing about mountain biking, a group can be a mixed bunch of ages, sex’s and everyone will be enjoying the situation as much as each other without consideration of anyone’s age. Dunno maybe that’s just me and part of the reason ive been able to get so much help with so many digs and events ive run over the years.
Staying fitter and stronger plays a pig part, besides its great being able to keep up with kids half your age and rub it in, inspired by there old man jestures. (aye Sarah!)
Age isn’t something I really think about , to the point where I kinda have to backtrack the current year to check how old I am. Last time I checked there wasn’t any age restrictions on getting out and just doing the things you enjoy doing. My mum used to say “ there are two type of people in this world , doers and non doers , the problem was the non doers spent too much time telling the doers what not to do”. Guess I took from that to think for yourself and don’t get hung up about what other people think.
Think im just one of the lucky ones that hasn’t the comitments of kids ,but then I sometimes wonder if me getting out there and doing it means there is still hope for those of my age that cant and they in some way live though me vicariously.
And how old are you really?
41.5, yup good old 1970 is where it began for me, had a few ventures in cycling over the years but never really took to it till I was abo ut 10, jumped on a mates chopper for the first time on a bike in years and loved it, had a massive hoon around the school playground, it was awesome, bummer was that earned me a detention from the feared headmaster and dealer of leather pain and misery Sister Ruth. Seriously I don’t think I ever saw her smile.
You know your old when you need to add your date of birth to a website and your year is just off the ones listed on the screen.
Crikey! How do you keep your body going that long?
If you aint moving it or using it then your losing it !! that keeps it simple.
This means keeping your fitness and skills up to date on a regular basis but in a way that mixes things up and keeps thing interesting , and it doesn’t all have to be riding. For years and years id do an evening mid week and a full day weekend ride as a staple diet.
I'll go through Bi-monthly fazes where a particular type of riding will be the aim between the usual social rides. Ill do some Dh shuttles in the weekend and add some Bmx track mid week, also night rides off road in the winter but break it up with street rides and skate park without the need for helmet lights, but there will be the odd XC mission in between
Taking time to warm up , reckon too many people go a bit gung ho on their first descending runs before their muscles and co-ordination have had time to kick in. because of that I don’t reckon I crash so much which helps a lot. Its not unusual for me to not hit any of the kickers on the first run and then start knocking them off one buy one as the confidence rolls in.
Where do you call home?
When overseas it would defiantly be Wellington. When in NZ id say about 3-4 weeks into where ive moved to , usually about the time you feel the need to rearrange your room and it feels right and more relaxing to chill in or maybe when you feel like its ok to strip your bike in the kitchen.
And what do you fill you days with?
As a minimum breathing.
Well ive come from a career in printing, then done an engineering design course, then got into Structural drafting for a lot longer than I was expecting.
So you've been a printer, and then an engineering draftsman. And you're on a bit of a sabbatical at the moment. What prompted the changes?
Not so much a sabbatical, more a next phase. It seems Ive done near on a ten year stint in the last two jobs and pretty much got as far as I could in each before things started to stagnate and go backwards and not really show any promising future, its about this time people settle in for the retirement long haul.
I like the idea of working to get as much out of my employer skill wise to benefit my career as they get for the sacrifice of my time.
The change to move to Nelson to dig is little bit bigger than the rest but at least this time I’ve started with an ample CV on the subject opposed to being an apprentice. Id say the interest in this job is 50% about a job with riding and 50% about having a physical job in the outdoors and being in a more social environment. The up skilling side of things has been great too , to the point where I had Byron Scott in for a day giving a bunch of us some lessons to think about our riding , in the guise of health and safety in initiative of course.
The real change that freeded up my options was prompted by a decision to mutually agree to separate from a marriage that wasn’t working as well as it should have been after twenty years, just one of those things that happens , no ill feelings and it happens a lot more than most people think.
So its really just left me with this awesome opportunity to get out and do a bunch of stuff on my own terms for a while, something a few readers im sure would be jealous or envious of. Don’t worry I would have been one of them not that long ago too.
I guess ill be out there doing for those that cant and they can live vicariously through my face book posts.
From there its easy to think you can go anywhere do anything quite easily , but in haste it could be a waste of limited saved funds so I gave it a good six months before making some commitments
You're heading off overseas soon. What will you be doing over the next year or so?
Currently I’m doing some time down in nelson digging trails and living on site. Id committed to going to Chile for six months later in the year and figured it would do me some good to learn a thing or two about how this business builds trails when there is plenty of funding to back the project. Although I’ve got years of experience in all aspects of trail building and managing a project I’m lacking in day in day out fitness and strength.
After that I’ve booked a holiday of sorts that will be based in Morzine France with the intension of doing mega avalanche and several euro dh races with Bryn , Richard Leacock and Sarah Atkin. This about catching up on being part of something I could have potentially done ten years ago had I pursued a racing career. Nice to be able to do a trip like this with people you know. Its also gonna be great to be there to add some support and cheer these guys on for sure.
What interests me about Chile is Ive done a few overseas trips as a tourist and have always wanted to stay in some of those places for longer periods, but with that you will need to find some work and with the NZ Trail Solutions contracts it solves all your problems, sounds like a plug if I ever heard one but its true.
After that im not sure , would like to fit in a trip to brazil while im in south America and see a mate Fabio. Also hoping during my time in morzine I would have made some contacts that would make life easy to return there.
Anything you really want to do while there?
Get laid by some french chicks for sure J. (wish me luck on that one because ive been told id have a hope in hell, )
I guess meet more people and make some new friends, share some stories and learn from other peoples experiences. Ive not really done enough of that in previous travels but when I have its made the world of difference to the travelling experience. And when I say people I really mean locals, these are the people that know whats really going on in town and where to go. Staying in one place long enough you get to scout the towns out a bit and find your niche, it might just be a café that plays the right music , or a bar with a similar age group of people or sifty charactors , either way sounds like a good starting point on a mission to meet some locals.
You used to do DH races back in the day. What's changed with DH since the 90's?
A reliance on transport. Gone are the days of pushing up a hill several times for practice runs at a downhill race, but if you could you generally did pretty good.
I guess it would be the that the sport has become very specifically its own where as when I started it was XC people that decided they preferred the descending challenge. This has led to more specific equipment that relied on Transport.
Technology has defiantly gotten better and the frames seem to last way longer concidering the hammering they get , mind you some of those formula one type brands still need a warrenty after a year.
Its funny ive got some old dh tyres from ten + years ago and people go wht the hell are they , but I reckon they would make for great super d tyres, light but still a load of chunky tread.
People still jizz on about the latest this and that ,people still break stuff and someone else is the next person to beat so in somes ways things havnt changed a bit and I guess they are the things that hold it all together.
One thing I would say is ive not seen so much ghetto fix’s etcx , used to be fun to see what some garage grom or guru and managed fabricate into a chain guide or brake mount, a small part of kiwi engiunuity is being lost there.
Reckon there is products available now for every little problem , odi’s solved many hours of grip problems , minions and high rollers meant we arnt waiting for your mate to fix his flat, and sram gave us shifting system that meant we didnt have to service our gears for ages.
How do you keep staying interested in racing for so long?
Guess its all about how you define racing , the great thing about downhill is its time trial so its not so competitive as 4x or bmx.
Ive done the whole racing and trying to stay at the top of the pack type of thing and after while I just found the rewards wernt worth it any more and I kinda lost interest in racing. It also sucks having to race when you don’t want to , but feel the need to hold this status because you have some noteriy.
This years approach was really about focusing on the whole idea of having some fun and that the weekends racing is really a shuttle day in which there is only one track and the more you ride it the more confidant you get and end up riding way better than any other time of year. Getting to know a track that well and riding to the best of your abilities is one of downhill mountain bikings great highs, cant really compare the feeling of finishing a race run knowing you did it faultless and couldn’t have done any better , the placing is really just a bonus.
You took a more relaxed approach with the national series this year (with hawaiian shirts and Iron Madien on portable speakers in your race runs). Did it pay off?
Hawaiian shirt came about because it was my favourite shirt and I never really had many chances to wear it other than Christmas, combine that with not being able to find anything I really liked in the last troy lee catalog. The whole race top thing wasn’t quite what I was looking for I guess but I still liked the idea of a bright top , preferably red.
The speakers came about when I got the 666 number plate at the Nationals Wellington and took it to Napier National round. Thought it would be good to play on this theme and have my mate Andrew that works at weta cast me up horns for my helmet. But any good look needs a soundtrack and that was provided by a loud speaker playing Iron Maidens “number of the beast” , great thing was it has a spoken word intro that gave me time to start it all up and get it back into my pocket before the guitar solo kicked in moments before the starting beeps. up side was when the qued riders heard that guitar go off I got heaps of applause and encouragement there and all the way down the track , so yea defiantly a success.
The darker side to this race was I had had my worst ever crash there several years ago which left me with a dislocated shoulder, so that was playin on my mind somewhat, figured a diversion of sorts would help distract my thoughts and it worked a treat.
Do you have any hints for people trying to perfect their skids?
Yea save your old tyres and let loose , restraint isn’t what this is about.
Its just good old bogan bike fun.
Go watch some rally car or stock car racing then get out on your bike and try it.
I used to play colin mcray rally on the play station on the new Zealand level which was on gravel and learnt some cool moves.
I prefer to think of it as learning how to rear wheel steer. Its not about learning to skid on the trails, its more about learning to keep your bike in control by counter steering to maintain your balance when its lent over or breaking loose. I also found it’s a good way to develop skills for riding in the mud.
Best thing to do would be to place your riding bag on a smooth tarseal area, school tennis courts are good , and then practice skidding around the bag but gradually get used to the idea of leaning over the front bars more and leaning into the corner ,also you will need to swing your hips around a bit more. Practice will get you there.
The next one to try would be the sessssys, find a nice straight decending road , get some speed up, learn over the bars, lock the brakes on and start moving the hips left to right. The goal is to see how many ‘s’ you can get in your skid , you will be amazed how long a tyre will last doing this stuff.
Your riding style is agressive yet calm. It flows with a kinda zen action. Any thoughts on how it developed?
Id say it came from spending years riding a hard tail downhill competitively and regularly riding skate parks and bmx tracks on a full suspension mountain bike. To me skate Parks are really just scaled up pump tracks only you can get way more air time do so many more turns in the air. Granted it is harder work but if you stick with it some fun can be had when you take those skills to the tracks J
The 90's was an exciting time in NZ DH. Were there any riders that you looked up to from back then, and why?
Definatly in my world with the people I hung out with it was Glen Sisoritch. It was all about the lines and the flare and showing of a bit, guess you could call him a bit of an anarcist of riding in that he would always be looking outside the tetrahedron (squares were so 80’s lycra).
Now days it seems to be more about holding apecx’s and looking smooth. I cant help but wonder if this new wave of wide bars has limited riders ability manuver around on their bikes and show a bit of Imagination, but Glen was also what I would call a genetically inclined freak and Im sure plenty of people will agree with me on that one.
What inspires you to get out and dig?
I got into volunteering on track building because id ridden the wellington tracks to death and needed new stuff to ride. I also think id kinda burnt out a bit from years of racing and wanted to still be involved in some aspect of mountain biking.
Id also taken on the mantra that it was a good time to give back what I had taken from the sport. Pretty much ticked off all the goals by making a downhill track, being club president for years, and running many years worth of events.
I helped out on track building days a bit for a while and had some great ideas inspired by all my time spent in bmx & skate parks on the dh rig but these ideas feel on deaf ears when mentioning it to the existing dig leaders who gave me these strange looks and gestures id been smoking weed.
Quickly learnt if you have a something you want built you’re the best person to make sure it gets done. Bit by bit I took on bigger corners and obstacles, then whole sections and then before you know it id committed to the construction of a full length DH track (Jawbone, Long Gully Wellington). If id had known it would have taken a couple years (weekends and between event management) might have been somewhat less enthusiastic. That said I had a great time, made heaps of grouse friends and learnt a ton about all aspects of trail building.
I guess what I leant from that experience was that I like to ride a wide range of stuff on the rig and wanted to make a track that could utilise these skills.
I had so fun much riding skate parks I wanted to make a downhill version so people could see how much fun it was.
Track building for me is about giving people a chance to learn something new but to also get more people involved by designing it so the majority of skill levels can ride it.
I once quoted in a club manual that dig days are really the clubrooms mountain biking ,its where people learn to dig, learn to get the confidence to lead and teach others, its where people get to hang out develop great friendships with like minded people. If you havnt helped at dig days before id highly recommend it, at the very least turn up on those days the weather is a bit average and you don’t fell like riding, usually a good turn out then.
Because of all that free time ive given up ive managed to short cut a career in trail building with nz trail solutions. Ha volunteering trail building does pay!
Is there anything that you've really wanted to build but haven't got around to yet?
I once had this crazy idea of an Infinity loop, not sure how to explain it, not seen it but if I youtube it itll probably be there. The idea is a figure eight lengthwise and verticle, a tad like a spine between two quaterpipes. Hmmm bit tricky to explain. It’s an idea that I think about when im going through a phase of dirtjumping.
I guess the type of trail I like building is one that takes full advantage of the momentum created while decending. Most of the trail ive made can be ridden chainless and ive gotten pretty close with the design of Jailbreak to be breakeless. So I guess the ultimate track I would like to build would be a bermed, tablehopped, chainless, brakeless track that anyone could ride and if done correctly it would be very sustainable.
Where do you most want to ride but haven't yet?
Im not really sure but I did say the other day that it would be nice to ride in America at some point. That was based on the fact that id done whistler, will be doing France. I think the general theme was to work my through a bucket type list of most recommend riding spots around the world, buckets empty at the moment partly due to my laid back slackness, oh but more than anything I want to go to a monster truck extravaganza somewhere in the states in some big stadium, and take in the epitome of American bogan culture.
Ive thought about this and cant really think of much, I could tell you of a number places that have been sold to me in magazines and videos. I guess that’s just me though, I don’t get excited holiday and overseas trips till about the first week into the trip, then and its like “Im not in Newtown any more bro”.
Half the fun of riding new places is about who your sharing the experience with, meeting people at these new places and then them wanting to show you their favourite club trail etc. So although flying to some big forign big bike park will be great fun , there is also an unknown random eleimant that’s kinda exciting. that said I do like the odd ride going solo, but that would be more of a scenic sifty thing.
Is there anything on your bike that you haven't sorted out a ghetto fix for yet?
Hmmmm that’s kinda broad, I guess you could say I have done quite a few dodgy fix’s in my time, I’ve also tried a number of things that didn’t work and from those experiences id say I’ve learnt a hell of a lot more.
Ive been through the phase of taking on the challenge of fixing parts that most people would replace, taken to a new level as a poor student for two years.
The way I see its no different to any kind of puzzle game really, use your imagination and see which option pans out to solve the problem.
For the last few years I gave that up , partly due to club and trackbuilding commitments that left me with little spare time for pottering. So now i just buy stuff as I need it or when its cheap and keep a stockpile.
But then ghetto can come in various shapes and forms cause at the moment im in france with F-all tools and its surprising what you can get by with , reciently found a kitchen draw makes for a great vice to straighten a calliper, an old bald tyre with cut up tube straps can make for great elbow pads to overcome rules and the chain on your bike can still be used as a chain whip.
And zip ties – yea you should really have some of these in your riding kit but they will give a fix for just about anything.
Do you have any hints for passing Rod Bardsley while riding?
Well I do remember this move that worked really well some time ago.
You know that thing they do in karate where they do a floor sweep and knock their opponents off their feet, I managed a sweeping skid to rods front wheel with my rear wheel on an inside line on a hairpin, stopped him dead in his tracks, hmmmm he was pretty dark about that for quite a while though. Totally unintentional, but he never believed a word of it.