Jim Barrow has been a big part of the cycling community within Sussex for longer than most people I know have been riding bikes. You can find him fixing bikes, leading group rides as well as teaching people MTB skills. He also had a life changing accident that at times, left Jim wondering if he would ever ride a bike again. I caught up with Jim recently to find out how he was getting on and to talk about his MTB Skills courses that I’m sure most of us could benefit from.
Tell us about yourself and how you first got into riding mountain bikes?
I’ve been MTBing for 27 years, which is a long time and feels like it too, I’m so obsessed with bikes it takes up my entire life and even my dreams at times! I was working it out the other day and the guys I work with said they were still in school at that time. It was an Easter bank holiday 27 years ago, my wife (then girlfriend) insisted that we went to a camp site in Washington and try this thing called a mountain bike which ideally didn’t want to do. However because I thought it would be politically correct, I said yeah although I was more interested in things with engines at that point and tearing around on a motorbike. So we hired these 18 speed Raleigh montages. We rode from Washington roundabout up the South Downs way to the first footpath on the left hand side which was probably less than half a mile, then rode back down to the pub and thought we were gods! You could say the rest is history. It took 6 months for us to decide what to buy and we both bought mountain bikes. Here we are dozens of bikes and thousands of pounds later.
Can you remember what your first MTB was?
My first one was a ridgeback 602 GS and we had many good times together. That one went to the top of Snowdon and back with its rigid steel frame and cantilever brakes. I’ve got some photographs of myself looking dead at the top!
From then I had various proper jobs and in-between being made redundant a couple of times, I ended up working in the cycle trade to pass the time. I think it was about 1993 I worked in extreme sports Worthing. During the time I was there I started guiding and doing their Tuesday night rides as well as doing the weekends rides for them. I’ve been doing that ever since really. I set up the Sussex MTB website after that shop had shut, the group of friends we had needed a way of keeping in contact and arranging rides. So out of that Sussex MTB was born, that developed into quite a large group that still ride together now and I ride with them from time to time. After everything that had happened with my accident, I lost the will to keep it up and couldn’t devote the time and effort it took to keep it running as I was more concerned with my own recovery.
For people who don’t know you, tell us about your accident and how you are recovering:
So a couple of years ago, September 2011, I was unceremoniously removed from my bicycle by an unoccupied Honda Fireblade travelling along the ground behind me. That’s so unlucky, and totally unpredictable! I still believe if that hadn’t happened to me that day a grand piano would have fallen on me from out of the sky somewhere else on the route. So that was as they say “a life altering experience”. I spent 4 days unconscious in hospital and had a leg injury which, at the time, I thought was the more serious injury even though I had a head injury too. As time went on really it became apparent that my head injury was the more serious. Even though my leg took 6 months or so to sort itself it finally healed up after a couple of operations, it now works fine and it only hurts on 12 and 24 hour races Ha I bet it does! But I suppose over time the big issue was the head injury and the troubles that has left me with. As a result of it I don’t have a short term memory, sitting in places like this (Tom Foolery Coffee Shop in Shoreham-by-Sea) having a conversation where there is background noise I find it virtually impossible to concentrate on what it is I’m trying to say. Its stuff like that and as a result of that I wasn’t able to go back to what I was doing before as I can’t hold the same levels on concentration that I had. So I retrained myself as a cycle mechanic, although in reality I had the skills anyway and just needed a bit of paper to say so. That was an expensive bit of paper! So now I mix in the 2 things, doing the skills coaching which I have been doing for 5 years and I work 2 days a week as a bike mechanic at Southdown’s Bikes, which is almost enough to survive. But not enough to buy lots of new shiny bikes! Although I need a new shed before I can buy any more bikes as I need somewhere to keep them.
So what made you start coaching?
About 5 years ago I was contacted by a local company while I was running the Sussex MTB site. At the time they were setting themselves up to do skills coaching and they invited basically people from practically every club in the South to go and have some free coaching and see what it was all about and obviously promote it for them. I went along and did the coaching day with them and by the time it got to the end of the day, the thing that really blew me away was the difference it had made to everyone and the difference in their riding and to them personally. So I thought “I could do that” and as luck would have it, I got made redundant in the job I was in at the time. As I had been working there for some time the redundancy package meant I could afford to go and do the courses necessary.
What qualifications and accrediting body did you go with?
The training was with the CTC, however before I could do the skills course, I had to do their two trail guiding courses. As I had 18 years’ worth of guiding experience up to that point, it was a little frustrating but they wouldn’t allow me to continue unless I did them. It was good fun though as I got to ride places I hadn’t been to before. One of them was down near Bodmin and the other in the Yorkshire Dales which was absolutely beautiful. Once they were done I went and did the skills coaching course which was at Aston Hill (where I had raced at a few times back in the day). That was a really good three days although it was incredibly intimidating due to the other people on the course with me. One was Jenny Copnall who was former elite cross-country rider and the other was Dan Yeomans who had ridden 4 cross at world cup level so I felt like it was little old me and here’s 2 superhuman people. But as it turned out, we were all equally as nervous of each other and what we were doing. The two guys teaching the course were Ian Warby and Clive Forth (former world cup DH and dual slalom rider) they were really good and managed to persuade us all to come out of our shells, which we did. It was a really good fun couple of days with lots and lots of riding and I tell you anyone who says cross-country riders are no good in the single track should try following Jenny down the black run at Aston Hill, I was on a 150mm full sus bike and couldn’t hang on! So I came away with the CTC skills coaching qualification as well as their trail guide and technical trail guide coaching qualifications.
How can people book themselves on a course or a ride with you?
You can go to my website www.southdownsmtbskills.com and generally the way I do it is by getting the person to send me a few dates they can do and I’ll pick a date from there rather than a set calendar of dates. I spent almost a year working at Quest Adventure in Worthing and pretty much since they opened I have been guiding their monthly MTB rides. The dates of those are on their website (and our events calendar) generally they are the 1st sat of each month. They are open to absolutely anyone who wants to come along and as long as you have a helmet, the bike isn’t going to fall apart and you have money to buy cake afterwards, that’s all you need.
What’s the achievement you are most proud of and why?
It’s a bit of a weird one I suppose but I’m proud of my achievement of still being here and actually being able to ride a bike. I certainly spent 4 or 5 months wondering if I would ever ride a bike again and when I ended up going to have a 2nd operation on my leg to sort it out I really did think, is this it, am I going to have to find myself something else to do? However as I said before, it all seems to work except during really long events. As a result of it I suppose the motto I live by is “enjoy the now, you don’t know what’s round the corner”.
And finally, what’s your favourite recovery food?
So anyone who knows anything about me or has seen any part of my online presence such as it is, there is only one thing a person can eat after a ride, or before a ride, or during a ride in fact, and that is cake. The ultimate would be a fresh Victoria sponge that had just been pulled out of the oven with preferably fresh cream and homemade strawberry jam. That is the way to go although failing that anything else in a cake form will do. If you are to come out on any of the Quest adventure rides, or indeed any ride that I am on, you can be assured that you need to take money with you as there is always cake involved, cake or coffee which is in fact what we are doing now, it’s always cake time somewhere in the world. If you want to see the true extent of the damage then I suggest you have a look at www.cakeaholicsanonymous.com for a record of some of my ingestion.