Billy Trailstar: Catching up with a legend
We first met Billy through another mountain bike industry legend, Mike Rose (we’ll be interviewing him at some point too!). Billy won’t admit it, but across his career he’s made a big impact on the UK and international mountain biking scene. His son Jack was a proud owner of a SKØG and now rides a HÜTTO.
We caught up with Billy to talk about the old days of Dirt magazine, trail building and, of course, his thoughts on Black Mountain.
BM: Billy, I doubt you’ll remember this, but we first met when I was working as a mechanic with Trek World Racing in 2010. The Parkin bros introduced you and Steve Jones as ‘these two clowns’. I believe you were doing the “Pit Bits” for DirtTV at the time.
Billy: I think it was the bright red noses and big shoes that gave the game away! Yes I do remember that, we used to do regularly interview riders and mechanics in the pits. Must have been Tracy Moseley, Justin Leov and Andrew Neethling on the team then? Then you worked the spanners for Emmeline Ragot and Ffion Griffiths? I’ve know I’ve got some photos on an old hard drive somewhere!
BM: Yep, that’s right! What a memory!
Billy: Rob and John Parkin transformed DirtTV from jam-on-the-lens, out of focus, shaking style to a slick 1000FPS Hi-Def, super slow-mo, pin sharp RedEpic cinema quality overnight.
They’re really nice guys who really know their video onions and work hard too. So with Parkins doing the high quality business, that left me free to loiter around the track and pits with a microphone asking the mechanics; “Errr…what is that bit?” and “Errr…how was your run?” type questions to the riders.
Steve used to come to a race now and then to add a drizzle of Welsh glamour and a slice of chaos to the video pantomime, as well as photographing and documenting the weekend for the magazine.
BM: Was your job at Dirt your first in the MTB world? If not, what did you do before that?
Billy: I did have a job selling inner-tubes door to door in 2006, but the company went through a bad patch and I was let down and then with inflation the company went burst. After that a temporary job in pest control saw me setting rat traps in an office block roof space, I slipped on some cheese and fell through the plasterboard ceiling to the office floor. When I regained consciousness Steve Jones and Mike Rose were looking down at me asking; “do you know anything about websites?”. I started the following day, after patching up the gaping ceiling hole of course and skimming through “Websites for Dummies”.
BM: DirtTV and the Dirt website got serious around 2009. It was the go-to place for World Cup updates, amongst other things. Good memories of that period? Do you have a favourite?
Billy: A lot of people say it got serious when I left! Plenty of happy memories from working at Dirt Magazine, I felt very privileged to be given the opportunity to travel, meet interesting people and to spill tea over countless computers. The internet was just a puppy in 2006, almost dial up speeds, 4:3 aspect ratio, and an innocent joy to work with. Hats off to websites these days, it must be a constant slog shovelling content to keep the consumers happy 24hrs a day!
BM: Due to Covid, World Cup racing took on a bit of a different format in 2020, with a two ‘double header’ World Cups and the World Championships. Did you get to watch any of the racing this year?
Billy: Yes, we always tune in to watch the finals, the double header format looked like it worked really well, might as well get your moneys worth while you're there! Leogang World Champs turned out to be quite the muddy thriller, it was very exciting to watch Reece Wilson conquer the gloop to win the Rainbow Jersey. Lousa was awesome with old skool Greg Minnaar showing the youngsters he's still got it!
BM: Yeah, it was great to see Greg get a win, and even better to see Reece Wilson conquer the world ! Whenever ‘Worlds’ is mentioned, I can’t help but to think back to 2011 in Champery and Danny Hart’s victory. Were you there for that?
Billy: I was in Champery for the build up and remember filming Danny and his dad talking about the real possibility of winning, but had to return home before the final. So, I ended up watching Danny’s winning run back in the office. Steve Peat’s 2009 World Champs win at Canberra was my favourite though. Blue skies, kangaroos and an emotional Peaty finally clinching the rainbow jersey that had slipped through his fingers for so many years.
BM: You left Dirt in 2013. The Dirt website noted your “boundary pushing video techniques”. We can testify to this…
BM: What did you do after leaving Dirt?
Billy: I chased a life-long trail builder’s dream to push a vibrating plate compacter through the undulating coniferous woodlands of Merthyr Tydfill. This dream was fulfilled and came to fruition as BikePark Wales came to life in 2013. Seven years later and a confirmed diagnosis of whitefinger, partial hearing loss and back pain, I’m still there living the dream working alongside a lovely bunch of fellow humans.
Rowan Sorrell and Martin Astley together with their better halves Liz and Anna are the masterminds behind BPW. I knew Rowan and Martin through Dirt Magazine so after an awful interview, landed a job on the trailcrew building and maintaining the trails.
It’s grown from about 15 staff, 2 buses and 20 trails to around 50 staff, 15 uplift buses and nearly 50 trails. We try and add one or two new trails a year plus revamp the existing trail network. We’re working on three new technical trails now, plus a big overhaul on the A470 jump line which looks mega!
Last year we added a 5km beginners trail for families, Jack rode it on the HÜTTO and loved it. Covid-19 has stalled our BPW rides but hopefully 2021 will bring more park adventures.
BM: I hate to confess, I’ve never actually been to BikePark Wales! But plenty of the team have, and it’s so highly regarded. Maybe when we launch a range of adult bikes…
Your boy Jack started on a SKØG I believe. Was he riding before that?
Billy: Jack started on an odd assortment of balance bikes then moved up to a second hand 12” Specialized Hotrock when he was about three. After that a great heavy lump of a thing but okay for the flat school run. A year later we thought we’d get him his first ‘posh’ bicycle. Mike Rose pointed me in your direction, and we picked up a SKØG, which was night and day from the banger he was riding! Unique look about it, and it’s growing capabilities. Felt good supporting a local business etc.
BM: How did he find the transition to his SKØG?
Billy: Very easy, as a bad Dad I’d given him a heavy lump of a bike (it was cheap!), so he was over the moon with the lightweight SKØG. He took to it like a duck to a swimming pool. He likes poking his fingers in everything, so the belt drive got the thumbs up for low maintenance and safety. And he could also use the brakes to stop rather than his wellies. 12 months later as the ink height marks on his bedroom door shot up we swapped the settings to the longer mode with the smaller gear for extra speed. His younger brother Sam, who is only three and a half, is now on the SKØG. He’s not quite 1m tall, but with the seat slammed, and tiptoes on the floor he’s loving it. The speed of the little chap is amazing, he can just about squeeze the brakes but usually it’s wellies scrapping along to slow down. It’s costing us a fortune in boots though!
BM: A few months ago Jack moved on to HÜTTO. How did you know when it was time to move up?
Billy: He’s been eating like a horse (smells like one too) so started to out grow the 16” wheeled SKØG, plus he needed gears since he’s going up steeper hills now and spinning out of the single gear. We got him the HÜTTO for his sixth birthday and it was a perfect fit.
BM: How’s he finding it?
Billy: He loves it! Jack says “It goes fast, it has 7 gears, number 7 is my favourite gear. I can do tricks on it. I can go down steep banks and ride through mud and deep puddles. And I’m faster than my friends on it!”
We’ve put a pair of Maxxis Daddy tyres on for the winter mud, which gives him a bit more confidence. The Covid Lockdown dampened our riding plans this year, but Jack has really grown in confidence with his ability.
BM: What about yourself, are you riding these days?
Billy: Not as much as I’d like to, but we’re lucky that we’ve got great trails about a 10min pedal away so try and get a couple of hours at the weekend. But it’s nearly as much fun taking the kids for a spin and watching them enjoy messing around on two wheels.
BM: For our own market research, what do you look for in trail / enduro bike these days? Is there anything you think the market is missing?
Billy: I’ve had an old Orange Alpine for the last three years or so and am very happy with it. It’s bombproof, low maintenance single pivot. I do lust after something a bit lighter or even an Ebike for towing the nippers up the hill, but the bank manager says that’s not happening any time soon!
BM: We’ll have to let you know when we release ours…! Any final words?
Billy: Thanks very much for letting us be part of the Black Mountain family, it’s been great to support an innovative local business!