Bradley Wiggins and Sir Chris Hoy ensured that cycling has never had a higher profile. But have you heard of Liam Killeen, Annie Last or Jaroslav Kulhavy? Chris Berry enters the world of mountain biking.
Liam Killeen and Annie Last were Team GB’s representatives in Mountain Biking at the London Olympics and Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic took the gold medal in an epic final mile in the men’s race.
Up in the sedate and magnificent woodlands of Dalby Forest, is a man who fell in love with cycling nearly 30 years ago and revolutionised the early mountain bike in such a way that five out of the first 10 in the Olympics were using bikes inspired by his own technology.
He’s now at home in the forest just off the North York Moors and enjoying what he terms as “kicking back” after years of building a business based on his pastime.
Adrian Carter, who hails from Bradford, had a successful career racing motorbikes at home and abroad in his 20s before discovering the joy of mountain biking
“I loved tinkering with bikes and was about 12 years old when I started going to scrapyards and buying whatever I could for a tenner. I’d then get the bike going and ride it around in fields. Later I’d sell it and move on to the next one,” says Carter.
“Since then I’ve always had a passion for things on two wheels. It must have been the adrenaline rush. That’s where bicycles and motorcycles have a commonality. They give you that sense of adventure and escape.”
But the motorbike sport that really hooked him was Enduro.
“It’s off-road racing, not scrambling. The best way to describe it would be to imagine rally car racing on two wheels. I was on the GB team for the International Six Day Enduro when it came to Wales and I won around 15 gold medals during my racing career.”
Adrian had started his own product and technical design company after leaving university. He married Cathy in 1980 and they moved from Allerton to Wilsden. His business was working well and he was a recognised name in his chosen sport, but it wasn’t enough.
“I was becoming jaded and bored with both my work and sport and although I wasn’t actively searching for something I recognised that I needed a change.
“It was Cathy who awakened my love of being out on a bicycle. She was off doing tours around the Dales on a weekend while I was motorcycling, so I decided to join her.
“During a national Enduro competition I was chatting with an American rider who recommended training on a mountain bike. I was instantly hooked.”
Mountain bikes came over from America in the early 1980s. They were based on what was known as a “beach cruiser” and the earliest club started near San Francisco in 1976. What Adrian didn’t know was that this was also to be the catalyst for his future business.
“I’d come from what was a technically very advanced machine, an off-road motorcycle, to a very simple and in many ways crude bike.
“I set off redesigning my own bike using the experience of having ridden off-road motorcycles. I chose certain motorcycle components and modified them slightly, making them more suitable for a mountain bike.”
Adrian joined forces with a fellow motorcycle competitor, Duncan MacDonald. “That’s when we decided to design our first mountain bike from the ground up. I drew it up on my design boards, bought some tubing from Spondon Engineering, a British motorcycling engineer, and we came up with it.”
That first design was set to influence generations of mountain bikers.
“I designed a frame and we welded it ourselves, but it was the front fork that changed everything. Up until that time the way the fork was attached to the bicycle was through a traditional method of a tube that was threaded into the frame’s headset. We took some of the traditional parts, re-machined and re-modified them and invented what is today the standard headset in a modern mountain bike.
“At the time this was all simply for our own pleasure. But a big UK distributor, who we were buying components from, got wind of what we were doing and invited us to put the bike on their stand at Cyclex the trade show in London. We were nominated for six industry awards and won every one.
“We decided to up sticks and take it to Milan, where the biggest cycle show in the world was held. We rented a camper van, built a couple more mountain bikes, produced our own promotional material and wondered whether Europe would be as positive about it as the UK.”
They soon found out and the interest they received was phenomenal. “We weren’t even as big as a cottage industry, but we were in the right place at the right time with the right design. The explosion of mountain biking had created a huge market place.”
Adrian and Duncan formed Pace Cycles Ltd in 1989, and created a manufacturing base. “We started a production line manufacturing what became a very high-end, high-performance carbon fibre suspension front fork.”
Over the next 20 years Pace Cycles forged a worldwide reputation. Adrian parted company with Duncan MacDonald and shifted the business lock, stock, family and tubing to North Yorkshire in the early 90s.
“We found this little one-horse village called Great Edstone, near Kirkbymoorside and shifted production into a large, deserted factory. We moved house and all of our team moved with us from West Bradford. It was a great lifestyle change and was very much in keeping with the product and where it is used.’
Pace Cycles became a multi-million pound turnover business in the ensuing years, employing nearly 40 employees and at one time sponsoring a 20-strong professional mountain bike team.
From Great Edstone the production base was moved to Wykeham before Adrian made his most recent move to his spiritual cycling home of Dalby Forest after selling their front suspension design, patents, design rights and tooling to DT Swiss, one of the world’s leading mountain bike manufacturers.
“We’d been in a very demanding business for a long time and the market had shifted. I’m now delighted to be here in Dalby Forest. I’ve always had this affinity with it. It was a concept that was designed to attract cyclists to forests and there are now 50 of them throughout the UK. The first national mountain bike event was held here in 1989 and World Cup events have also been held until recent years.
“Pace Cycles is based here although all of our manufacture is now handled in the Far East.”
This summer, Adrian and Cathy, along with their daughters Aimee and Sophie, also took over the contract for the mountain bike shop and hire facility in Dalby Forest. They have recently launched a new company under the name of Dalby Bike Barn Ltd.
“I’m very passionate about mountain biking and getting more bums on saddles. It’s great having our girls in the business too. That’s not something I ever thought about when we started but it’s a lovely by-product.
Dalby Forest attracts over 450,000 cyclists every year, many of whom may not have ridden a bike for 10 or 20 years.
“All they want to do is hire a bicycle to enjoy that feeling of release, that same excitement I got all those years ago when I found that same freedom and escape.