Waymarkers: Nick Clark and the Big Bike Bash

The Big Bike Bash is unique on the MTB events calendar in that it grew from a spur-of-the-moment party to a much-loved annual festival which sells out its 800 tickets in just a few days. Nick Clark, the man who kicked it all off, has given us the lowdown…

Hello Nick, would you like to start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your personal history with mountain biking?

Nick Clark of the Big Bike Bash
Nick Clark at the bike handover

As a kid I was always on a bike either ragging it down dirt tracks or touring on the road with a tent on the back. When I discovered girls, cars and booze it all sort of faded away. Fast forward to me at 30.

My boss was a keen mountain biker and invited me to join him for a ride one weekend. We rode the trails in Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield and apart from discovering I was unfit, I was really enjoying it. He was on his stupidly expensive Cannondale while I was on a rental bike made of pig iron but I was sure I could overtake him on the final descent. As I came round lying on the floor with two broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder I realised you needed ability as well as enthusiasm and that was my introduction to mountain biking.

Since that first ride I have spent many hours on the bike getting fitter and faster and probably a similar number in the A&E departments of the south of England which has led to my forum name of WorldClassAccident.

I’m aware that the Big Bike Bash has been running for some time now, can you tell us how it began and what it was like in the early years?

It all started with the wife wanting to watch Dancing On Ice which forced me upstairs onto the internet with a few bottles of Duvel. This combination has led to a number of interesting purchases in the past but this time it led to me putting an open invite to anyone to come to a party at my house. I promised a day’s good riding followed by food and drink. That seemed like a good idea so I wandered off for a pee. About 10 minutes later I thought I had better check the thread and discovered I had 40 people coming round to my house at the weekend.

The first year we had people sleeping on the floor, camping in the garden, sleeping in their cars as I only live in a normal three bed house. Fortunately I throw damn good parties and everyone was happy. So happy in fact that they all said they would be back next year and bring their friends.

How has it grown and what is the event like now?
It was clear that my house wouldn’t cope so I went looking for a venue to host a bigger event and I was lucky enough to find Avon Tyrrell Youth Activity Centre. The guy in charge of events there was a fellow mountain biker and all-round top bloke so I arranged to borrow the place for a weekend. Then I had to actually organise a proper event with tickets and paying guests, etc.

The first year was a shambolic mess with about 300 people there, six people including me organising about 40 events with no schedule or plan. The bands were playing on the back of a flat bed lorry and the ‘disco’ was someone’s laptop with external speakers plugged it. It was absolute chaos and totally amazing.

Over the subsequent years it became a little more organised but has always maintained a large degree of free-flowing chaos which seems to be key to everyone’s enjoyment. Over the 10 years it has been running various helpers have come and gone but there are still people, guests and helpers, who have been around since day one. We deliberately limit the ticket numbers to 800 so that it keeps the friendly vibe and remains ‘Nick’s Party’ rather than some corporate event.

 

lake jump
The Big Bike Bash’s famous lake jump

Who’s involved in organising it and how big an effort is it?
My guilty secret is that while I remain the face of the BBB, all the actual work is handled by a team of people with me doing little more than turning up, drinking and spreading fun. In 2016 the volunteers behind it formed Action Academy Charity, with a view to more formalising the organisation and as a vehicle to look at putting on other fun events elsewhere in the future. These guys have pulled off the amazing trick of having proper plans and schedules without any of the free-flowing randomness being lost.

Tell us a bit about Avon Tyrrell and what it does
As mentioned, I started by ‘borrowing’ Avon Tyrrell and then just giving UK Youth, the charity that runs the place, all money raised. Now we have a proper agreement in place and ‘rent’ the entire site for the BBB weekend. This is an amazing place am I have used it a few times for family get-togethers unrelated to the BBB. The description from their own website undersells it in my opinion:

“As a leading outdoor learning venue, the UK Youth Outdoor Activity Centre at Avon Tyrrell is dedicated to the continuous development of young people. Let us help you create adventures that realise potential and leave you with incredible memories. Through an extensive range of adventure, outdoor learning and tailored programmes, we recognise and reward achievements made outside the classroom, providing the opportunity for everyone to ‘Experience, Learn and Develop’.
With something to offer everyone from schools, youth groups and corporate companies to families and friends, anyone can enjoy an unforgettable time with us. We have a very unique and beautiful site with a Grade I listed calendar house with a remarkable history, camping and lodges offering a special experience for all. From flying down our zip wire to discovering the impact we have on our outdoor environment there is so much to see and do. Step outside Avon Tyrrell and you will find yourself in the heart of the New Forest National Park where you can explore and be inspired.
Whether you are looking to book a residential, a short break or visit us for the day, we are accessible to all and our staff are committed to making your visit an unforgettable experience, the adventure starts here……”

And is MTB a big part of that?
MTB is just one part of it. They have a number of permanent MTB trails around the site and a ‘gravity track’ that was part funded by the BBB. If you don’t know what a gravity track is, think of a grit surfaced BMX track flowing down a hill. This is great for jumps over the big tabletops, swoops round the fast berms and massive grit grazes when you get it wrong.

You’ve recently donated a fleet of MTBs for use at Avon Tyrrell, tell us more about that
Avon Tyrrell have a fleet of mountain bikes for people to hire, as well as off-road wheel chairs, tandems and bikes suitable for any level of fitness and mobility. Unfortunately not all the people who borrow the bikes are mechanically sympathetic and obviously they wear out over time.

The existing fleet of bikes were getting pretty worn out so the Action Academy team used their contacts in the bike trade to pull in all the favours they could and came up with a new fleet of 25 Cube mountain bikes that retail for £700 each!

It is when I see the benefits that Avon Tyrrell and UK Youth get from the money we raise that I feel most proud of the little party I started.

What are the plans for the future? Should people be saving dates in their diaries for this year?
This year the BBB sold out in four days so I can just sit back and relax while we wait for the chaos to begin again. While I wait for that I will be taking part in the Southampton Bike Park Dual Series (http://www.southamptonbikepark.com/dualseries). Anyone who wants to come down and watch or take part is welcome. I will be riding the first round with my ankle in a cast following another operation, so I won’t be winning but I should be easy to spot.

The Southampton Bike Park is another one of my beer-inspired ideas that has grown out of all proportion, but I guess that is something for another article.

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