JAMIE NICOLL: REAL WORLD AD­VEN­TURES

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents - W: ANNA BECK P : TIM BARD­S­LEY-SMITH

We caught up with the for­mer EWS star to find out ex­actly what his new life is like now that he’s swapped rac­ing and be­come a ‘pro­fes­sional ad­ven­turer’.

We are sit­ting in Jamie Nicoll’s house, in a pad­dock in Ro­torua. I use the term ‘house’ loosely, since his rubyred 1960 Bed­ford J4 school bus and abode are one and the same.

In some ways Jamie’s school bus is anal­o­gous to the man him­self. That’s not to say he is old or strug­gles to keep up with newer, shinier mod­els on the mo­tor­way or race­track, but rather that they’re both relics of a by­gone era and have un­der­gone mul­ti­ple rein­ven­tions and trans­for­ma­tions to get where they are now.

Any­one who has fol­lowed the EWS for the past few years will have a bit of an idea about the guy: he rides bikes, fast. How­ever Jamie had an­other com­monly-told back­story prior to his emer­gence on the EWS scene; of a traumatic ac­ci­dent in Chile that left him with 35 per cent full-thick­ness burns and a pro­tracted time in hos­pi­tal, in­clud­ing sev­eral weeks in a coma.

The story that fol­lows is noth­ing but in­spi­ra­tional, an against-the-odds tale that de­fies ex­pec­ta­tion. But Jamie prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to be de­scribed as a hero, or as an in­vin­ci­ble demigod of the bik­ing world. In fact, if any­thing, the main thing that struck me about Jamie was his deep real-ness; some­thing that’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to gauge and feel when in­ter­view­ing pro­fes­sional ath­letes who are used to toe­ing the line of spon­sor­ship obli­ga­tions and tout­ing the stan­dard race-re­port mono­logue. Jamie’s new role is not that of a pro­fes­sional EWS rider, but as a pro­fes­sional ad­ven­turer and brand am­bas­sador for Santa Cruz. We caught up with Jamie to see where he’s from, where’s he’s at now, and where he’s go­ing.

WHO IS JAMIE NICOLL?

It’s an easy ques­tion to ask when do­ing an in­ter­view - per­haps too easy - but ask­ing some­one to give a few words to de­fine them­selves can re­ally cre­ate a feel and agenda for a fea­ture piece. I ask Jamie and he just laughs a lit­tle, ob­vi­ously made awk­ward by my su­per­fi­cial-turned-deep line of ques­tion­ing.

Jamie pauses in the driver’s seat of his bus, which when spun rear­ward ca­resses the din­ing ta­ble in­side the Bed­ford. He seems all too aware of the com­plex­i­ties of the hu­man con­di­tion, and wary of the pit­falls of la­bels. “I guess it’s just my na­ture to get out and ex­plore things, and I guess that has led into ex­plor­ing rac­ing as well as al­ways be­ing in the out­doors. That’s a hard ques­tion to ask re­ally, it’s got noth­ing to do with be­ing a rider, or any­thing I have done or achieved in my

life, be­cause that’s not who you are, is it? But I am some­one that pushes my­self in what­ever I do. I like ex­plor­ing, I don’t take no for an an­swer… and that’s prob­a­bly still not who I am”.

It quickly be­came ap­par­ent that Jamie didn’t have a list of ad­jec­tives by which to de­scribe him­self, that by ask­ing such a ques­tion would be try­ing to sim­plify his ex­is­tence for the ease of oth­ers. Jamie doesn’t take the easy route; af­ter all, there’s no glory or sat­is­fac­tion in the com­ple­tion of some­thing that just any­one could do.

MOUN­TAIN BIK­ING: A CHANG­ING SPORT

So, if Jamie is un­able to de­fine him­self, the least we can do is tell a bit of his tale and let Jamie’s words and ex­pe­ri­ences paint their own pic­ture.

Jamie Nicoll cut his teeth, like many young moun­tain bik­ers do, rac­ing cross-coun­try in the ‘90s. Show­ing great prom­ise, he raced along­side stand­out New Zealand names like Kashi Leuchs. Nicoll rep­re­sented his coun­try in the 1995 World Cham­pi­onships in Ger­many. He then qual­i­fied for Cairns World Cham­pi­onships in 1996, but didn’t make the start line. “I guess be­ing a teenager and be­ing im­pa­tient with life, I guess I could see at that age - I was 16 or 17 - I could see this whole

thing of be­ing a pro rider, and even the way the pro rid­ers dressed I was like, ‘I never want to look like that’. It all looked too clear and con­trived and spelt out. I don’t know, I could just see where my fu­ture was go­ing”.

Al­ways an ad­ven­turer and some­one who takes the route less trav­elled, Jamie adds: “I was just like, ‘I want to do too many things in life’. It was too con­trolled. I guess maybe in a way it didn’t fit me, that whole cross­coun­try thing. I used to com­plain even back then about the ad­ven­ture be­ing taken out of cross coun­try. When we started, we used to do these big laps, the Kara­poti Clas­sic (as an ex­am­ple) where you do one sin­gle lap in the race. But by the end of that na­tion­als we ended up do­ing five laps and as a kid I was like, ‘That’s bulls**t, that’s not ad­ven­ture, and why do you need to do that?’ It’s purely de­vel­op­ing it just for the spec­ta­tors.”

From there, Jamie took a re­prieve from rac­ing, work­ing nu­mer­ous jobs - al­ways based in the out­doors - in­clud­ing a pe­riod work­ing for the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion on the west coast of New Zealand.

Jamie ex­plains the pe­riod in his life be­tween bikes fur­ther. “In 2009-10 I started tak­ing these con­tracts with Dodzy and Jeff (James Dodds and Jeff Carter, of NZ Trail So­lu­tions)… and I kind of re­dis­cov­ered what had hap­pened to moun­tain bik­ing in these years, and the ba­sic moun­tain bike had be­come this lit­tle trail bike which is bet­ter than my Foes Weasel I used to race down­hill on, you know. I started a con­tract in Mex­ico and came away from that buy­ing a new bike be­cause I had gone away with an old cross-coun­try hard­tail. I got a trail bike: a Santa Cruz. I was quite in­spired by that and we had some time in Canada, three months, af­ter that con­tract.

“I did the Enduro at Whistler in 2010, which was a mass start sin­gle-stage down to the bot­tom, and I was sec­ond be­hind Justin Leov and I was happy about that. I would still put my­self as an am­a­teur at that time - I hadn’t re­ally thought any­thing about pro rid­ing or worlds or any­thing yet. And then it was two weeks af­ter that when I flew back to Chile that I had the ac­ci­dent.”

RE-EMER­GENCE: FROM THE ASHES

The next part of the story has been told again and again, and de­spite Jamie’s burns ap­pear­ing well healed, to ig­nore his ac­ci­dent would be do­ing him a dis­ser­vice. The ex­pe­ri­ence is all part of the reemer­gence of Jamie in the moun­tain bik­ing scene, and as­sisted in de­vel­op­ing a fo­cus that has led him to dom­i­nat­ing in races such as The Moun­tain of Hell, France; and podium fin­ishes in Crankworx and EWS rounds.

While work­ing on a trail in the Patag­o­nian back­coun­try, Jamie was high above a ravine se­cured by a safety rope when he no­ticed his jack­ham­mer was leak­ing fluid. Upon in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the jack­ham­mer ex­ploded, re­sult­ing in 35 per cent full-thick­ness (or third de­gree) burns to his body. With knowl­edge of the 20 per cent rule - that any pa­tient that sus­tains more than 20 per cent par­tial thick­ness or a mere 5 per cent full-thick­ness burns to to­tal body sur­face area is cat­e­gorised as a crit­i­cal pa­tient - it is phe­nom­e­nal that he sur­vived. “The medics said I had a one in ten chance of sur­viv­ing,” he ex­plains.

In a first world coun­try such as Aus­tralia, such an in­jury would man­date im­me­di­ate he­li­copter, crit­i­cal care paramedic and med­i­cal of­fi­cer despatch. Be­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere, Jamie’s only op­tion was to lower him­self to a creek to sub­merge him­self in, be­fore even­tu­ally meet­ing medics to be trans­ported to hos­pi­tal.

Af­ter two months in a Chilean hos­pi­tal, in­clud­ing two weeks in a coma, Jamie awoke with re­newed vi­sion of what he wanted for his life; he had a vi­sion of him­self on top of a moun­tain wear­ing blue and win­ning a bike race.

As soon as he could hold the bars with his slow­ly­heal­ing hands - af­ter be­ing trans­ported back to New Zealand for out­pa­tient care - Jamie be­gan to pedal to his ap­point­ments. From there, in 2012, he took part in some lo­cal Su­per D events; the early in­car­na­tions of what has now be­come Gravity Enduro rac­ing.

“It was the ul­ti­mate en­durance event hav­ing those burns - and the fit­ter you were be­fore hav­ing an in­jury like that, the faster you re­cover. I came out of that and it was a longer jour­ney en­ergy-wise than you re­alise be­cause it’s such a com­plex in­jury that you’re deal­ing with. And even when I started rac­ing on the world cir­cuit I would look back the next year and think, ‘Wow I was so dead last year’. I was still re­cov­er­ing. It was stupid in one sense, like I should have been rest­ing, but it’s what I needed in a men­tal sense as well… some­thing to fo­cus on and, back to the ques­tion

at the start, it’s not cre­at­ing who you are but it’s a bit of an iden­tity. I didn’t look that great for quite some time af­ter my ac­ci­dent, but putting my full face on and my gloves and my long sleeve gravity shirt - you look like ev­ery­one else. You’re the same as the oth­ers, even though you def­i­nitely don’t look the same (un­der the kit).”

Sven Martin, renowned Nel­son-based pho­tog­ra­pher and ex-pro racer, had a hand in craft­ing Jamie’s path. “I was start­ing to feel a lit­tle bit bet­ter and stronger, so I thought I may do a Me­gaA­valanche while I’m over there, and Sven’s like, ‘Oh yeah for sure you should do the Mega, come two weeks be­fore and you can do this event, and two weeks af­ter there’s this race… and even if you come a bit ear­lier you can do this one and this one… and there’s Whistler of course!’ And it was a whole new world and I was like, ‘Why not?’.”

When the first EWS was an­nounced for 2013, Jamie com­peted as a pri­va­teer with just a bike from New Zealand’s Santa Cruz im­porter; a No­mad. He of­ten roughed it in tents with­out me­chan­i­cal sup­port, just rel­ish­ing the chal­lenge and ad­ven­ture that enduro tac­ing of­fered.

“I missed Pun­tala, but did all the oth­ers (EWS rounds) and end up eighth over­all for the year, and I was re­ally proud of that. It’s by far my proud­est sea­son be­cause it’s to­tally out of me and driven by me. There was no spon­sor­ship, there was no train­ing

“I’D THINK, ‘WOW I WAS SO DEAD’. I WAS STILL RE­COV­ER­ING. IT WAS STUPID IN ONE SENSE, LIKE I SHOULD HAVE BEEN REST­ING, BUT IT’S WHAT I NEEDED IN A MEN­TAL SENSE AS WELL…”

pro­gram; I was just push­ing my­self. I was just there be­cause I wanted to do it and do it the best I could. I re­ally had that fire to push, and I think that was re­ally key. Af­ter I fin­ished eighth I was some­how… some­thing as a brand, in a sense.”

Jamie was quickly picked up by the Poly­gon UR Enduro Team for a two­year con­tract af­ter that sea­son. “It was good, you got full ‘ev­ery­thing’. But at the same time it’s a pack­age and you’re spon­sored and it’s all pre­or­gan­ised, but it has a soul­less­ness… or a lack of con­nec­tion. You don’t know if any­one cares whether you did any­thing, be­cause you don’t even know who the per­son is that signs this deal with the UR team.”

Jamie says of his two years con­tracted as a pro­fes­sional with Poly­gon: “I was defi nitely suf­fer­ing in some way with those dif­fer­ent stresses, maybe be­ing away and then, things not be­ing the way you had been driv­ing them your­self in the past. Dif­fer­ent. So I did that two year con­tract then I wanted to re­assess and find some­thing­that pas­sion ­ or some­thing that I had lost a lit­tle bit of and so that was again pick­ing up those re­la­tion­ships, but also step­ping back a lit­tle bit.”

AN ON­GO­ING AD­VEN­TURE

Jamie’s two­year con­tract with Poly­gon UR was up in 2016. “I guess that was the thing: I never set out to make it a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional, it was just a by­prod­uct of do­ing it the best I could, and so then I went back to Santa Cruz”. He has al­ways felt a strong con­nec­tion to the brand. “Even when I was on Poly­gon they said, ‘If you’re ever down Santa Cruz way come in ­ we don’t care if you’re rid­ing for some other team. Come and hang out and go for rides with us’. So I have al­ways felt a strong con­nec­tion with that. I felt like I never re­ally lost that brand con­nec­tion with Santa Cruz, so it was easy to pick up again at the end of the con­tract.”

And now? “I’m not con­tracted to race; last year I didn’t race EWS. I have done some of the mul­ti­day ad­ven­ture races, as I’ve branded them ­ Trans Provence, Trans BC, Trans Cas­ca­dia. I hit up all those and some smaller events here and in Europe while I was away. “I guess we were try­ing to push some new ideas in terms of what we can do pro­mo­tion­wise for the sport and brand, what peo­ple might be even more in­ter­ested in. And me be­ing in­spired to get more of these ad­ven­tures and stuff hap­pen­ing.

“We trav­elled to Crankworx (Ro­torua) and along the way we vis­ited three bike shops and did ride­outs with the kids and adults and whoe ver wanted to join in, and many of the kids w ere so, so, so stoked to be out there shred­ding with Josh (Bryce­land) or Cedric (Gra­cia), lots of smiles around.

“It’s re­ally, re­ally great. It’s such good crew, too. You know, I was think­ing be­fore it, ‘Is this go­ing to be off the hook, am I even go­ing to have a bus or a home left by the end of it?’. Ev­ery­one is dif­fer­ent, but there was ab­so­lutely no clash­ing and we all had a re­ally good time, and ev­ery­one had some su­per wild mo­ments. I don’t know if you call them pro­fes­sion­ally wild guys, but they also had solid re­spect for things and so it was just great times.”

In terms of 2017’s ad­ven­tures, Jamie was off on an­other Euro­pean ad­ven­ture, leav­ing New Zealand in May, and also hints at up­com­ing ad­ven­tures in places as far rang­ing as Alaska. For rac­ing, he is only booked into the Trans Provence.

Jamie states they call his cur­rent arm of Santa Cruz the ‘Spe­cial Ops’. “It’s the joke be­cause it doesn’t re­ally have a name, but we’re sort of just do­ing these un­usual and in­ter­est­ing jobs. Where that goes, I guess it’s still com­ing out. But it gives a lot of ex­cite­ment to my work and keeps me busy.

“That’s been re­ally cool work­ing with Santa Cruz this year and com­ing up with ideas, dif­fer­ent ways of show­ing bikes to peo­ple. I guess for the ma­jor­ity it’s not about rac­ing, it’s not, you know, who’s go­ing fastest. Peo­ple like to know about what you can do and what can be achieved and where you can go and the things you can do with your bike. A very, very small per­cent­age of trail bike rid­ers can name rid­ers in the top five of the EWS.”

Nicoll’s mind­set and ap­proach are key to the in­no­va­tion, ad­ven­ture and re­mould­ing of tra­di­tional brand and mar­ket­ing ideas that help de­liver re­sults for Santa Cruz. His wan­ton need to push the lim­its, bend the rules and seek a life more au­then­tic has de­liv­ered him a mul­ti­tude of life ex­pe­ri­ence; much of it pass­ing by on two wheels.

By the end of the in­ter­view I had a much bet­ter idea of who Jamie Nicoll is; no list of ad­jec­tives would suf­fice. A deep thinker, philo­soph­i­cal, ques­tion­ing and end­lessly seek­ing ad­ven­ture, Nicoll’s story is an ex­am­ple of what can be achieved when driven from within.

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