“If there was more spin or less spin that was needed to land wholly on my neck and head […] I’d be dead for sure. I know it. I just know it,” says Martyn Ashton, mountain bike legend and YouTube star with more than 9 million views to his name for his Road Bike Party video – which saw him take the same bike that Sir Bradley Wiggins road to 2012 Tour de France victory, a Pinarello Dogma 2, and ride it well beyond the limits of what was commonly thought possible for a road bike. Martyn is talking openly and honestly about the recent accident that snapped his spine and very nearly saw him riding the big bike in the sky.
In a press release sent around the time of his accident, Martyn revealed that he and videographer Robin Kitchin had been secretly working on a sequel to their Road Bike Party YouTube film. “My main focus this year was to make my next video Road Bike Party 2,” Martyn said in the press release, “this has not changed. I’ve been training really hard on the new road bike and I’ve felt like I’ve been riding better on this video than I’ve ever ridden in my entire life. I was so confident on that bike. Unfortunately we hadn’t quite completed the filming – we were so close.”
The aftermath of his accident has undoubtedly changed his life by leaving him a paraplegic and a wheelchair user, but Ashton is not one to languish in self-pity, instead preferring perspective, pragmatism, and positivity. “I was immediately just so grateful,” he explains of his reaction to the accident; “I just felt lucky, you know? ‘F–k, I nearly killed myself’. But I hadn’t, so I felt really chuffed to be honest.” It also hasn’t diminished his passion for seeing his vision for Road Bike Party 2 through. Somehow.
Martyn was born on 12th February 1974, the youngest of three brothers. Through the inevitable osmotic pull of elder siblings on younger, Martyn quickly entered the world of motorcycle trials. “I was dragged along to watch,” he explains, “and then I got into riding motorcycles and fell in love with it – it became all I was interested in really.” Here he quickly excelled, competing at both national schoolboy and international levels.
Whilst growing up, he spent his time between his two respective homes: at the weekends in Windsor with his dad, and during the week in Newbury with his mum. For the motorcycle-obsessed youngster, this boiled down to “motorbikes of a weekend at dad’s house, and then during the week my Raleigh Burner [BMX] became my pretend motorbike until the weekend,” he remembers, “So without thinking about pushbikes too much I was practicing on them pretending they were motorbikes – I even made motorbike noises! I really did.”
In 1992, and with encouragement from his dad who was keen for his son to be part of a young, dynamic, and growing sport, Martyn and fellow motorcycle trials friend Martin Hawyes (aka Hawzee), went to a local mountain bike event. And everything changed. In between the downhill and cross-country racing, the two entered the trials event and blew away the competition. “We’d already started riding 20in push bike trials at that time so we were riding at a very good level for 20in trials,” remembers Martyn, “so when we brought that into mountain bike trials, it was way, way, way beyond the level of mountain bike trials. There was no riding at that level at all. We kinda smoked everyone really and I won that trial.”
The podium led immediately to a photo shoot with the foremost mountain bike photographer of the time, Steve Behr, which gave the two Martins their first magazine cover on Britain’s first and biggest-selling mountain bike magazine, Mountain Biking UK (MBUK). Together with an expansive feature, the exposure single-handedly kick-started both the Martins’ mountain bike careers, as sponsorship and national team call-ups soon followed, but also drove the development of the UK’s mountain bike trials scene itself, inspiring the careers of household names, such as Danny MacAskill.
In 1993, the following year, Martyn won the British Bike Trial Championship – a result that then began a decade of dominance of the British competition scene. “It was only really Chris Akrigg that was a problem for me,” says Martyn of that era, “although I’m happy to say that he never beat me. If I entered the British Championships, I won it.”
Ten years of intense competition and rivalry with Chris resulted in a relationship that Martyn wryly describes as “weird” – they were friends out of competition and throughout, and today he says that, “Chris is a fantastic friend.” However trials is a psychological sport: “It’s quite similar to golf in that way: that’s how a lap in a trial works – it’s like a round of golf. You start applying pressure and you don’t buckle,” he explains, “and my strength in trials riding was always, I can handle pressure very well and I can apply pressure very well.”
In 1995, Martyn was signed to the global and all-conquering Volvo-Cannondale Mountain Bike Race Team won a World Trials Championship, and then spent the next seven years traveling the world competing. Through this time, his focus gradually shifted away from competition riding and more and more towards live shows and media coverage, including magazine features, covers, live demos, and videos, following the template laid down by trials superstars Hans Rey and Libor Karas. “I was probably riding far better and I think I was more of a problem for anyone internationally in ’97 [than in ’95 when he won a World Championship title] – but I wasn’t really trying to ride competitions – I was trying at that point to push my media coverage.”