WHAT’S UP WITH UK ? DOWNHILL
DH ain’t dead, but the future’s not looking rosy
THE UK IS famous for its downhill scene, with our small isle producing some of the world’s top racers. But with both the British Downhill Series (BDS) and SDA (Scottish Downhill Association) cancelling races this year and BDS organiser Si Paton announcing that he’s stepping down, it begs the question, what’s happening to UK DH?
On a worldwide scale, the sport is booming. More viewers than ever are tuning in to watch World Cups online and a record 22,000 spectators attended Fort William last year. Away from the spotlight though, organisers are struggling with dwindling numbers and rising overheads. Simply put, fewer people are racing downhill – and enduro has a lot to answer for that.
When a trail bike can do so much, it’s difficult to justify
owning and maintaining another bike. With bike parks springing up all over the place, people are less inclined to drive long distances to get their gravity fix – especially to visit the same venues we’ve been racing at for the past 15 years. What’s the incentive, when you can go to an enduro and ride freshlycut stages all weekend? For many, the format of enduro trumps DH too. Would you rather ride all day on multiple tracks or sit around waiting for one shot at the prize?
And even the prize isn’t as alluring as it used to be. Before social media, the pathway to becoming a pro rider was to win races, but these days the industry sets as much store by Instagram followers as podium places. A rider who promotes ‘the lifestyle’ in videos is more alluring to sponsors than a mid-pack Elite-level racer. Why commit to the cost, time, pressure and risk of racing when the rewards aren’t there for anyone outside the World Cup top 20?
Regional race organisers need to think about how they can lure people back. Whether that be by racing on new trails or mixing up the format with one-day races or by adding a trail bike category – as Si Paton has done. At a national level, we can hope that the popularity of World Cup DH will attract bigger sponsorship for domestic racing, but achieving this is down to British Cycling. They need to recognise the importance of homegrown racing and support it, because if it dies, then the stepping stone to World Cup racing is gone and where’s the next Danny Hart or Rachel Atherton going to come from?
Previous page and top The Fort William track is a classic and the BDS round held there always attracts plenty of international riders keen to get some practice in before the World Cup comes to town Above Britain has produced an astonishing six DH world champs, including Danny Hart. But will that legacy continue?