Interview: Martin Astley of Hotlines - Bike Magic

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Interview: Martin Astley of Hotlines

Martin Astley works in the mountain bike industry and plays an integral part in one of the most important UK distributors – Hotlines UK. Away from his daily life promoting brands and organising events, Martin is a passionate and accomplished bike rider who has taken his bike across the world in search of good riding and a great lifestyle.

Read Martin’s interview but beware: lifestyle envy may be a possible side-effect.

Martin Astley.
Photo © Andy Lloyd.

BM: Name and age?

Martin Astley, 30 years old, just.

BM: Where are you from? 

I’m originally from between here in the FOD (Forest of Dean) and Gloucester. That’s where I grew up. So I used to ride the FOD all the time until the age of 18. At 18 I wen to university in Bristol and I have lived there on and off ever since. I lived in Canada for two years but apart from that I’ve been in Bristol all the time.

BM: Where in Canada did you live?

Actually, my time there was split into two parts.

So the first time I was there I lived in Whistler. I spent a winter working as a rep for a ski company, which was really not good… Then in the summer I worked as trail crew for the bike park, so building trails, which was pretty much the best job you could ever imagine.

I did that for one year, and then because I was on a temp work visa I had to leave the country at the end of the year. So I went back to the UK and used my degree for a bit and worked as an environmental consultant for a year and a half, which was really interesting and it kind of felt good to be doing something worthwhile.

But then at the end of the day I just felt totally drawn to the bike industry and like a lot of us I couldn’t keep my mind off it; I just wanted to be involved.

BM: What’s your job title now?

My job title now is marketing manager for Hotlines. Hotlines is the distributor for various top brands in the UK. So Lapierre, NukeProof, Ghost, Deity, Manitou, Hayes. We’ve got a pretty big portfolio of brands.

BM: How long have you worked for Hotlines?

I’ve been there now…over two years now, coming on two and a half years. I’ve been in the same job role for that whole time.

BM: Are we right in saying there was a gap between your time as an environmental consultant and your current job? What did you do in that time?

Yeah, I worked for an environmental consultant for a while and then wanted to make the leap into the bike industry, as I said. When I’d been in Whistler I’d made various contacts over there. It was actually the guys at Kona that I contacted and I think my email actually read “I’ll clean your toilets, I’ll do anything, I just want to get a foot in the door”.

BM: Did they take you up on that one?

They actually landed me a sweet job in the end! I fully expected to just be the boy who just did whatever was given him but they put me in charge of running their demo tour for the summer, in Canada.

So I turned up in Vancouver and got given a big truck and a massive trailer full of bikes. I was given a schedule and a route and just spent four months going point-to-point running demos with shops. Which was amazing because I went all round Vancouver Island, all round BC and then into Alberta to Lake Louise, Jasper, Banff and then all the way east to Winnipeg and Regina, which is in the middle of nowhere, the middle of the prairies. Not the best place I went to.

But that was just a great job because I basically worked weekends – I ran the demos on the weekends – and then I just rode my bike during the week, I had Mon-Fri to ride. You’re just going to all the best spots to ride so that was pretty cool.

Martin Astley is a great rider, which is proved in his long list of race results. He’s also travelled the world with his bike and spent two years in Canada. Jealous?
Photo © Andy Lloyd.

BM: So that was your foot in the door?

Yeah, and I wanted to stay in Canada but my visa ran out again so I came back to the UK. Just before I came back I landed a job over here as the brand manager for Iron Horse. But then they went bust and the company who distributed them wanted me to move to Eastbourne and work from their office – I was working from home in Bristol before that.

As a mountain biker Eastbourne is possibly the worst place to live. I went down there and tried it for a little while.

BM: Did you move there (to Eastbourne)?

No they basically paid for me to go down there and try it for a while – about 6 weeks – to see how I liked it. It just wasn’t for me. If you wanted to go anywhere with a proper hill it was something like a 5 hour drive it was just… it would have just destroyed me I think. So sadly I had to hand my notice in and leave that job.

I then went straight back to working in a bike shop, so I kind of did everything the wrong way round. I worked in Mud Dock in Bristol for 18 months, ended up managing the shop for a while.

BM: Did you start on the shop floor though?

I started on the shop floor yep, but quickly moved up to managing the shop. So that was pretty cool.

BM: Did you get free meals (Mud Dock’s café is well known for its food)

No! There’s a bit of a war that goes on between the café and the bike shop. The café staff and the shop staff don’t get on too well. So no, no free meals.

BM: So now you’re the marketing manager at Hotlines, what do you do, what’s your day-to-day?

There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ day really. I work from home in Bristol and I guess my responsibility is to market all of the products in our portfolio. So that involves marketing directly to our consumers, the man out on the street looking to buy a bike, and also to our network of dealers around the country.

We have a vast network of a couple of thousand dealers who buy product directly from Hotlines so obviously we need to manage the relationships with them and make sure they’re aware of the products we have and the benefits of those products. Then at the same time dealing with media like yourselves.

BM: Does that mean getting out and about a lot?

I don’t tend to visit dealers because we have a team of reps who do that as well but I have to work closely with the sales guys to make sure I’m on the right page because it’s easy to lose touch with the actual day-to-day marketplace. For people like us who are fortunate enough to have a lot of shiny product in our hands all the time it’s pretty easy to lose touch with reality as to what people want to buy and what’s actually affordable. So it’s pretty important to keep in touch with the sales guys for that reason.

We hold a lot of events throughout the year for our dealers. We hold a Lapierre camp in the summer for example when we invite all of our dealers to come along and see the range, get a talk through and so that they can see all the product before anyone else.

I have to do events like Eurobike and Interbike too, I design the stands and get the entire product ready and arrange the staff for those. Because Hotlines owns the NukeProof brand it means my job is international for some brands. What I mean is that for Lapierre we are only the distributor in the UK but for NukeProof we’re the worldwide distributor so it means I have to do the marketing for NukeProof in the states, in Europe, everywhere.

Riding bikes is high on Martin’s list of priorities. This may sound obvious but he will only live near trails and even gave up a previous job because from the location he was based he had to drive to ride his bike.
Photo © Andy Lloyd.

BM: NukeProof is a huge part of what you (Hotlines) do. Are you involved in the running of the company and product development?

Definitely. A small but core group of guys who are all super keen riders run NukeProof. The brand manager – a new appointment – is Ali Becket, who used to be Ben Reid’s (Dirt/Norco pro rider) mechanic. Ali’s a super good guy, really switched on, really passionate and he really knows what he’s doing. I think he’s doing great things with the brand. So he’ll speak to me and he’ll talk to the other guys at Hotlines about what we think and what our feelings are about where the brand should be going. Obviously the wheel size debate is kind of a big deal at the moment so we’ve had a lot of discussions about that and what we think should be done.

BM: Are you prototyping stuff for NukeProof then?

I couldn’t possibly say…[nervous laughter here]

BM: Do you have a favourite brand that you work with?

Um. Obviously NukeProof is exciting because we have so much input into the development of it. But I have a soft spot for Lapierre for sure. It’s just such a good brand.

BM: You race yourself. Do you race on a Lapierre?

Yes and that’s really a personal choice. I’m not pushed into riding any particular brand; I can ride whatever I want. But like I said I do have a soft spot for Lapierre and I’ve been working with the team there for a couple of years now. I really like the people there [at Lapierre] and I like what they’re trying to achieve with the bikes.

Lapierre talk to us a lot for input because the UK is a really important area for them, especially in the full-suspension mountain bike area. For trail bikes – 120-160mm travel – we’re one of their most important markets worldwide so they listen a lot to the feedback of what the UK market wants because it has a big impact on them.

BM: Perks of the job?

Ha. Getting to ride awesome bikes all the time is definitely a perk. I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the bikes that I ride all the time so yeah that is definitely a perk! The people I get to work with is also a big perk; all the guys at Hotlines are really sound guys, like to go riding all the time and everyone’s really passionate about riding. I get to go away on trips as well.

I get to travel around the world quite a lot and get to ride with some pretty cool people in some pretty cool places. Those are the perks summarised I’d say.

Martin Astley taking a moment to rest after riding at the Forest of Dean.

BM: So you live and work in Bristol. Is it easy to get out on the trails?

Yeah it is. I’ve always specifically chosen to live somewhere that I don’t have to drive to ride my bike. It’s a big deal because even if it’s just chucking the bike in the van and driving for five minutes it just makes the whole deal so much harder.

In Bristol, I can ride straight from my door onto trails so in the average week, I mean it varies, but in the average week I must ride three to four times. It might only be an hour at seven in the morning or seven at night but you’ve just got to get out really.

Bristol’s got some surprisingly good riding as well. There’s all the stuff that everyone know s about around Ashton Court and Leigh Woods but there’s also loads of kind-of hidden trails, they’re not exactly secret, but there’s lots of more natural stuff down into the gorge. We’ve got loads of pump tracks and BMX tracks too. There’s just a bit of everything from DH to trails and pump-tracks. But I’d say the majority of what I do is just trail riding.

BM: You’ve raced enduro for quite a few years and you’ve done very well in the past. Any racing plans for this year?

I’ve done well in the past yep. But I’ve got a busy year ahead of me so I haven’t got any huge plans to follow a whole series or anything like that, what I’d like to be doing is the whole Enduro World Series, but with work commitments and stuff it’s a bit unrealistic for me to be doing that.

However, I’m planning on doing some races at the beginning of the year so I’ll probably do the first couple of rounds of the UK series, maybe a few of the smaller enduros in the UK too.

I always try to get away at least once a year to race abroad, sometimes two. Last year I did the first Super Enduro race in San Remo and, as you know, those races are just amazing. So I’d really like to go and do another one of those this year. I don’t really care which one, they’re all really good.

BM: Do you think the Italians have the best infrastructure etc. for enduro racing?

Yeah I’ve kind of done a lot of races – stuff in Canada, the UK, I’ve done Maxiavalanches, Megavalanches and French enduro series races too. But I think the Super Enduro has the best formula and the best trails.

BM: And the best food?

Yeah! And the best people actually. So they’re winning at the moment.

Martin styling it up. He says he mainly rides trail bikes, but that doesn’t stop him riding at enduro pace.

BM: Moving on, you have a small side-project going on, right?

So I’ve been helping the team who are building the bike park at Gethin, which is called Bike Park Wales. They’ve got a great team putting that project together and I’ve been trying to help out since the early days when the project was conceived. They’re coming pretty close to that coming to fruition.

BM: How do you support them?

I’ve got experience from Whistler from when I was working there and I’ve done work with Rowan (Sorrell, of trail building company Back on Track) in the past trail building too so I know a fair bit about what works and what doesn’t. Along with Rowan’s massive knowledge of trail building and my knowledge of the industry we’ve worked to try and aim the bike park at typical British riders. So the fact that I see where the UK market is directed helps those guys to build the right trails at the park. That’s how I support them.

BM: Whom is Bike Park Wales going to appeal to?

The aim for that park is that it will appeal to everybody really. The difference to places that exist at the moment is that there’s not an awful lot to ride if you’re a beginner. Likewise if you’re a trail bike rider there’s not very much to offer unless you’re a very advanced rider.

We’re hoping that the majority of the trails will be ride-able on a trail bike. There will be some DH bike specific trails too but the concept is that it will be uplift assisted trail riding so there’s going to be some relatively long descents for the UK; 15 or maybe even 20 minute long descents.

So it’s going to be a new concept to a lot of people because there are a lot of riders in the UK who would class themselves as  trail riders but who have probably never done an uplift day before. The facilities that exist at the moment are really for a DH rider or your more advanced rider. So they’ll be able to access riding in a graded scale where they can work from a blue trail through to a black trail and they can spend a day getting loads of descending in and generally improve as the day goes on.

BM: When are we going to see that open then?

It’s going to be open late summer this year.

BM: Thanks Martin.


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