Clive Forth has travelled the world with a bike by his side for his entire adult life, as a professional racer for Volvo/Cannondale back in the day, helping with the organisation of major races, coaching mountain bikers around Europe, compiling books and magazine features and for the simple joy of riding too. This week he has five of his fondest travel memories to bring us starting here with a journey back to the heyday of mountain biking and a trip across Europe for a race.
Words: Clive Forth
Photos: Frazer Waller
Back in the spring of 1995 I got a call from Volvo – our main sponsor on the Cannondale team – they had just made arrangements with the organiser of the Hungarian National Downhill series for us to go and compete in the inaugural Pepsi Max sponsored events, it was a real last minute thing and prep time was minimal.A blast from the past, this brings back many fond memories of road trip action.
What seemed like a few hours later the bike was prepped then stripped and stuffed in the bike bag along with as many spares as possible. Our BA flight linked us into the capital Budapest and a friendly chap who spoke no English met teammate Stephan Gleed and myself at the airport then drove us to the Stadium Hotel next to the dilapidated Olympic stadium
Eager and excitable Gleed and I got the bikes out and hit the city for some street riding, a tourist style trials lap of Budapest later and back for a night’s rest before our log haul in a Lada the next day up to the Czech border. The drive sucked, a guy who we struggled to communicate with and all of us in an underpowered clapped-out nail of a car crept us through the country on minor roads to our final destination, we just hoped the race was a cut above the car journey.
Another fine eastern block hotel complete with 3 star crumbling concrete awaited us after the eyeball-rattling journey was complete. With time to kill, Gleed and I found huge entertainment, no wait a minute, that thing about what goes down on the road stays on the road… Yes, well all I’ll say is that we were young and less responsible (marginally so) than we are today. And anyway, the call from the lobby put pay to us chucking stuff from the balcony on the 14th floor…
So the following morning we hit the first uplift: a dirty old army truck crammed with riders and bikes hit the streets through town and built speed to a max somewhere around 15mph. Moments later we were stopped by the Police, words and money exchanged before we carried merrily on our way, leaving behind the town, diesel fumes and various viscous liquids. The uplift route had obviously not been used since the harvesting equipment went in some years previously; we dodged and ducked under branches as the truck slipped and span its way up through the forest. Where we are going you don’t need roads Marty!
The course was amazing, a good mix of fast and technical, slow and steep, the icing on the cake was still to come as we discovered the track ran into the back of a sizable theater through the fire exit, it then proceeded to pass over marble floors and descend down marble stair cases before popping out the main entrance and finishing in the town square.
Racing went well and the locals were appreciative of us joining them, Gleed took the number one slot and I took a pleasing 3rd having wrecked my front suspension in practice. We celebrated with pizza and beer before returning to the hotel. The next day was a repeat process of our journey as our driver took us back to the Stadium Hotel.My XC bike has more travel than my 90s DH rig, I’ve been euro road tripping since the mid 90s and still love life on the road.
Back in Budapest we decided to go out and celebrate once more. Gleed arranged the cab into town and I was to deal with arrangements for our safe return. One dodgy and expensive Trabant ride later we arrived deep in the city, to be honest I can’t remember where or what we ate but I do recall some dodgy bar with the Hungarian equivalent to Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee giving a show.
As we staggered out the place a guy asked us if we needed a cab, “sure thing” I replied, he led us up the street to a BMW M3 and bleeped the alarm, “no way” cried Gleed.
A cab ride like no other ensued, the guy had it pinned the whole way, flat out on wet cobbles, running red lights and taking all manner of crazy lines between the trams and traffic. As for the bill, well it was less than half the friendly man in his pea green Trabant charged Gleed, result!
Before we knew it BA brought us back to the UK and we eagerly awaited round two of The Pepsi Max Hungarian National Series.
Join me tomorrow and all this week for more tales from the trails.
Clive Forth. MTBSkills, Transition Bikes.
Follow Clive on twitter – twitter.com/cliveforth