It’s an odd scenario, many motorcycle racers use cycling to keep fit in the off-season, while for mountain bikers and downhill racers, it can work in the opposite way.
We caught up with World Cup Downhill racer, Phil Atwill to find out what motorcycling means for him and why dicking about on a 100-quid moped can leave you grinning from ear-to-ear…
Known for his seemingly care-free antics both in and away from the races, the Propain Dirt Zelvy rider just loves being on two wheels, it’s as simple as that.
You’re a pro mountain bike rider, where did the whole motorbike side of things start for you?
To be honest, I got into mountain bikes first when I was real young and then motorbikes came around as soon as I was 16 and got a moped.
My mum didn’t let me get something second hand, so she bought me this horrific Chinese thing. I tried to de-restrict it myself, cocked it up and it ended up costing a load of money.
Then I sold it back to the shop and bought myself an Aprilia RS125 and rode that solid for a couple of years.
Where do mountain bikes and motorbikes cross over for you?
Well, at the moment I've got a Husqvarna WR125 and I've also got a TTR. I like to get out on the WR for a bit of Enduro training, a bit like downhill. I do like a bit of motocross, but I’m not that confident on the massive jumps. The more I can get out on the WR and do the enduro stuff, that really helps coming across to mountain biking which is nice.
I've seen that quite a lot of pro riders use motocross as a way to train, is that something you do as well, or is it more of a fun thing? Do you use it as a release where you don't have the pressures of riding a mountain bike?
The motocross is a brilliant way to release but it’s definitely training. If my bike's working, I like to get out on it two to three times a week if I can afford to and if it's possible, yeah definitely. I like to get out on the motocross bike, a good day out on the motocross bike has to be some of the best training you can do I think.
So, what's your mission when you go out riding? Is it solely training, or is it fun, or both?
Well, it's fun and it's training I guess. Smiles and training, you can’t really complain.
And what about mopeds? You seem quite a few videos of you on them on your Instagram account...
[Laughs] I bought my Piaggio Zip off my mate Luke, and he put a 70cc kit in it. But he didn't quite work out that you had to re-jet it. And I was like "yeah don’t worry, I’ll be able to fix it", so I bought it and just put a bit of duct-tape over the air filter. And that worked sweet for about 6 months until I wanted to go faster and re-jetted it. My mate Lee down the garage helps with those bits. It cost me a hundred quid and it’s got a 70 kit in it -flat out! Good looking scooter that one.
Do you give the Piaggio as much abuse as you can then?
I dunno, it was my commuter for getting around town but it’s sorta been put to one side at the moment because it's a bit cold. I did a little video on it for Instagram and I broke the back-brake lever, so when you wheelie it now it's actually quite dangerous because the lever could just snap off in your hand, so I kinda need to fix it.
But I will get that fixed and that'll be back and ready for Fort William [Downhill World Cup round] and somewhere else this year I'm sure.
And what bikes have you got in your garage at the moment then?
Well, I haven’t got a garage, which is a bit inconvenient – if there's anyone out there that wants to sort me out a garage that'd be lovely! We've got a few sheds in the garden, I've got my Husky, my TTR and my Piaggio. My dad’s also got a Triton that he's been building for the last 30 years.
Yeah, 30 years. He's had this bike since before I was born and he's rebuilt most, or pretty much all of it on a lathe in the shed. It's quite a masterpiece, even like the little bits like the clutch lever tensioner started off as a lump of metal. He's made all sorts, new splines, you name it, he's made it like. It's nearly there, he's covered 25 miles on it now, but it needs a new gearbox so he's bought another gearbox and he's rebuilding that so it's coming together nicely.
So, there's a few little toys yeah. I've normally got a few more things, but at the moment it's just the scooter, the TTR and the Husky, my sister has a little 125 that she uses for commuting as well.
Have you ever done any motocross racing then, or has it always just been a fun thing for you?
I would love to get into motocross a little bit more, well, not so much motocross, but I'd love to do a few more Enduro days if I could get the time. I'd like to get a bigger enduro bike, maybe something like an XC250 or something and have a little go at some enduro races.
And do Propain mind you doing that? Motorbike racers are sometimes criticised for doing flat track or off-road riding, especially when they injure themselves and need time away from the circuit to recover. Does it work the other way around for you and are your sponsors alright with you doing it?
Yeah, I think the sponsors are happy like, if they see we're having fun and we're training I don't think they've got anything against that, it's all good.
...I think they all want to do it themselves as well.
Your team does seem to be perceived as having quite an interesting way of working... or it seems that way anyway
I'd say we've got quite an interesting balance of keeping things fun and serious and things, which is nice.
Do you ride yourself do you James?
Yeah, I'm not that great though, I just try to avoid breaking my collarbone every time I go out.
Yeah, they're a bit disposable aren't they.
I tried to get my road licence at the start of the winter, but failed my theory didn't I.
Do you ride around on a CBT at the moment then?
Yeah, I've got a CBT, well actually I haven’t even got a CBT if I'm completely honest, I just sort of ride around. I'm insured and that and have L-plates and stuff – they’re covered in mud somewhere. Actually, I'm not sure, I might have a CBT, how long do they take to expire?
Yeah, I think I might still have one. That was the plan, to get my licence so I could get a bigger bike for off-road.
And that would be something like a 250 or something like that?
Yeah or I would be tempted with a road bike again, but that's pretty dangerous. On my old RS125 I used to take it to roundabouts and just session it for about half an hour trying to get my knee down.
What would you get then if you were to get a road bike then?
I did always want a VFR400, with the alloy single swingarm, but I think they'd be quite small for me now to be honest, but I wanted one of them when I was a bit younger.
What also got you interested in motorbikes as well? Was it that mountain biking translated over for you?
To be honest, from school when I was into my mountain bikes I always wanted to go on to be a motorbike mechanic but I couldn’t actually find a course near to where I was. There were no courses so I didn’t end up being a motorbike mechanic, simple as.
In fact, the first motorbike I ever got wasn't actually that crappy scooter…
So, I separated my collarbone in a mountain bike race when I was about 12 or 13, and my mate had found out that someone was selling his bike. I bought this Jianshe 80 for like, 20 quid off my mate, so that was the first ever bike I got, riding up and down the road with a separated collarbone.
Do you often ride with any of the other mountain bike guys? You were riding with Dirt for the Slice of British Pie films.
That's coming up again actually. It's happening in the next couple of weeks, it had to be rearranged because the track flooded.
That was with Warner and Peaty wasn’t it?
Yeah, I went out on motocross bikes with Warner the other day, he's pretty good. He flies on his little Husqvarna. I mean, with my Husky, I haven't had it that long and it's got some teething problems, so I've got the carb off at the moment and I've got to adjust float height and a few bits. It was bogging out when I went out which was quite scary to be honest. I need to get that fettled and ready, it's probably why I'm quite nervous taking it off some jumps because it'll bog on the lip and it'll kill me.
So, do you ever do anything like trails riding? I know that Warner and a few others are really into their trails riding aren't they.
I've never really done any trails, I mean, I've had a little play on a trials bike but I’ve never really got into it.
To be honest, most motorbikes I ride are TTR's, as much as possible. I think they're the best motorbikes that's ever been invented.
And for you, what would a perfect day out on the bike be?
Well on a motorbike it would be a sand quarry, on the TTR and with all the boys, that would be the perfect day. Or up at my mate's woods, something like that. You can't beat a day out on the TTR. I mean, we had a couple of good days near the River Themes, there's a good little spot near the bridge, that one's pretty good. But yeah, you can't beat a day out on the TTR with all the boys, no way!
And do you get to ride much when you’re travelling, like when you’re racing and do you get to ride motorbikes then or is it strictly mountain bikes or downhill?
It's not strictly anything really, if there's room in the truck to bring a TTR then I think the manager would put a TTR in there which is always fun, it keeps things interesting on the road.
But yeah, when we're busy with races there’s not really much time to play around too much, we normally just keep the mountain bikes in there. But yeah, the TTR comes out every now and again which is good fun and makes for good videos.