UK BMX’s First National Number 1 – Alan Woods Interview

How did you discover BMX and what year?

Well I started racing motocross February 1976, age 11, we raced practically every weekend, all over the country not just regionally. I saw ads for BMX magazines in the MX mags and clearly remember seeing one up in Cumbria probably about 1978, a photo still sticks out in my mind in fact a rider doing tabletop off a small dirt mound and some photos of sidehacks. The first race we did was Little Lever near Bolton and we made the track ourselves.

Early days of BMX in the North West: Part One

Your dad was heavily involved in the sport in the early days. Give us a little background on his role?

My dad had a car repair garage in Hindley where we traded out of and initially he just wanted to help us get to the races, then build tracks. Three Sisters he did the groundwork himself borrowed a bulldozer and friends helped digging and finishing, Dave Arnold, Craig Borrows, etc. Later – and I don’t really know why – Sue Jarvis and those running UKBMX in the south – asked him to do it, so a while my mum and dad ran UKBMX together just the two of them, taking license applications and everything, this would have been about 1983, and you know how many riders there were back then. The whole thing was bizarre, they did OK though and my dad got to represent UKBMX at IBMXF meetings (the international BMX body set up by Gerrit Does).

What’s the early history with Alans?

No plan. Just do what you want to do. Certainly no deluded plans to rule world (of BMX). We actually started out selling MX stuff at the races in 1977 that’s where I got some funds to put into BMX when that started.

Give us a little background on bringing in Robinson & Torker and the iconic British Teams and riders you put together.

Late 1980 with an issue of BMX Plus! in hand, at age 16, I wrote to every company who advertised in there. A few companies wrote back, CYC and Robinson being two of them. We placed orders with them and in February 1981 me and my dad drove to Heathrow to pick up first Robinson frames in the country which all went to riders we’d got to know locally, Dave Arnold, Craig Borrows, Fenwick Carr, Jason Ramsden. Easter 1981 we went out to California and Chuck Robinson gave us a tour of the industry, which was amazing. At the time as Robinson was high end so we needed a mid-range brand so he took us to meet Steve Johnson at Torker where we picked up a Maxflyte complete bike, which we brought back for Mike Pardon. Looking back, because we already a business selling motocross gear, everyone was tricked out in JT gear, Simpson helmets etc so we definitely looked the part, compared to the more skateboard Pro-Tec helmet look of the guys from Rom, etc. From there because of Three Sisters I guess it just bred good riders – not that everyone was local – but I think we just had a good eye for fast dudes and making everything look good, which is a bit part of it I think. BMX is a much mental as anything.

The Wigan/Three Sisters Track was your baby how did you make it happen & who else was involved?

Probably mid-late 1981, me and my dad went to meet someone from Wigan council at Three Sisters, they showed us a couple of sites and the second site they said, you can put it here. My dad then literally got materials and a dozer and went ahead and built it, he did have some support from someone higher up in the council, whose name I forget unfortunately. I don’t remember applying for any funding or anything, maybe we got surface material from somewhere but my dad just did it from his contacts in the haulage industry. Oh and remember we had been involved with Chorley track before that with John Lee’s dad and that was an equally iconic track but is was always going to be temporary as it was in a quarry.

With guys like Tony Holland & Dylan Clayton just to name a few who were known for their skills and tech ability – do you put this down to the Three Sisters track and the good local scene you guys created?

Yeah as I said before it’s weird it just breeds a culture, much like El Cajon did with motocross in the early 80’s.

Who was the first rider to jump the legendary King Kong Pro Section?

I can remember this clearly. We hadn’t put the surface on yet and didn’t know if you could actually clear it so got Chris Welsby (who rode for us on Torker) to try it. He pedaled like mad round the pro section berm and up the face but he front wheel dug in, as it was still soft and endoed over the bars – but it was clear it was do-able. Thanks for that Chris!

It was pretty well documented the Three Sisters was a huge favorite track for most with some historical events in the UK during the 80s and early 90s – what was your most memorable event there and why?

Just the buzz really of the event and it being fast and gnarly. We really wanted a more wide open track as we had the space rather than the traditional U inside U. I’m sure we’ll get another this later but tracks with elevation change and multiple lines were something I always wanted to introduce, Whitehaven and Birmingham Wheels were another two tracks I designed which I think would stand the test of time.

You were the first official 16 plus National Champion from 1981 what can you remember about that year and some of the guys you battled with?

I think at the start of ’81 I was still planning on racing motocross. I did one race at Adbaston and had actually sold my new 1981 YZ125 to a customer who let me borrow it (I was racing the class above) and we ran out of fuel because we didn’t top it up between races. BMX wise we had Buckmore late 1980, then Worlaby, then Southport race (which was covered in OBMX No.2) and after we went to California it became clear it was going BMX all the way. Competitors I remember from ’81: Steve Gratton, Pete Middleton, Andy Davidson, Craig Borrows of course, Mike Chilvers who rode for us initially, Geoff Barraclough even and Tim did a couple of races that year. It was overall super fun: Ipswich Landseer Park, Ipswich Coddenham (start off the side of a lorry), Redditch, Eastway, Whitaugh Park – Peterborough was the last national on black gravel, like you‘d see on a road before the put the layer of tarmac on it. I did understand at the time it was important to win the title that first year just to look back on it and say who was the very first champion, you know?

You also played a huge part in the early days with magazines/media in the UK how did you feel the sport was documented during the 80s?

Yeah the magazines helped boost the sport a ton, both OBMX/BMX Action Bike and BMX News/Weekly of course. To an extent is kind of embarrassing to look back at the early newspaper Weekly, they’d just send Nigel Higginson to do a race report from Chorley which would be 5 pages on Robinson riders then they would have me Tony Holland, Tony Law or Mike Pardon do the bike test… But hey, ho it stood Martin Higginson well for the future.

I might be mistaken but you were the first British rider to head Stateside in the early 80s. Was America a huge eye-opener with potential ideas you could take back to the UK to help with its development?

Me and Dave Arnold from our trip Easter 1981 were the first British riders to race in the States. Chuck took us to every track in So Cal and we raced every night: Monrovia, Devonshire Downs, Lancaster, Azusa, Ascot, Rancho (San Diego) and more I have forgotten! Soon after that I think Tim and Andy went out for that big Knotts Berry Farm race for Mongoose. Me and Andy also raced the Pontiac Silverdome that year and got our photo in BMX Action.

We know you and Tim March have always been and continue to be great friends – but what’s your real feeling on the famous, aggressive move Tim March put on you at the UKBMX season Opener at Wigan in 83?

Honestly… that still bugs me! I had a great start and led all the way till that left hand 180 after Kong. I held my line on the berm, Tim carved inside me and lifted my front wheel of fetch ground with his elbow and down I was. I threw my custom Bell helmet about 30 feet into the mud infield. I complained to Alice Temple’s dad who was the official – who spoke to Tim first – and declared it not a T-bone, which I guess, was technically correct. In reality it was no worse than anything that Jason Anderson would put on Cole Seeley at any Supercross. Yeah its weird that Tim and me are on the same page with so many things – Geth too – I would never have guessed back then it!

It seemed like Andy Ruffell & Tim March maybe grabbed the majority of headlines back in the early 80s as the big 2, were you OK with it or did you feel you were overlooked from the BMX media especially considering you were doing so much more in the industry than just a racer and had your fair share of big wins and a National title.

Then I wasn’t arsed because it was a business for me not a career so I only planned on racing BMX a couple of years anyway. As for now and MK and stuff I guess it does a bit because I achieved a lot at a very young age and and have been involved in the sport as long as anyway non-stop, but it is what it is.

Who was the best guy you ever sponsored and why?

Tony Holland. Just deserved it as a local rider, then became an icon of speed and style from that era.

During the UKBMX NBMXA rivalry years you seemed to always focus more on UKBMX. Did you really think there was room for two associations in your view?

I think NBMXA started up because they thought UK weren’t growing the sport and NB was more grass roots, less teams and stuff. Reminded me of ACU vs AMCA in motocross. I think it definitely helped with participation and the size of BMX at the time could support two NGB’s but when numbers dropped off after ’86 it made no sense to compete against another. I raced a few NB – a handful maybe – but we were UK focused for sure.

Not only did you get to race the Kelloggs Channel 4 TV series in 1984/5 but you even got to win a round in Gateshead 84. How was the Kelloggs experience for you?

Well not many people know, the first year we protested because Andy and Tim had a golden ticket to the main all to no avail, imagine that happening today! “Maris you’re all good, lane 3 in the main mate”. Other than that it was awesome and amazing exposure for BMX. I remember going into a McDonalds in Nottingham on the Torker/Ford Freestyle Tour in 1984 and this girl saying “I know you” and I’m like I don’t think so and she’s like, “have you been on TV?” Hahaha. That was the end of that story, honest!

During the mid 80s a few new guys started to step up to the plate in the Superclass/ Pro classes. What were your thoughts on the likes of Geth Shooter, Gary Llewellyn & Craig Schofield as the moved into the Pro Class?

All good. Geth obviously was exceptional.

With a lot of politics going on at the time with the UK Pro Class during the Slough World Championships in 1986 the majority of the UK Pros decided not to race. In hindsight, should they have?

I dunno. I think we were all disgruntled with BMX at the time. I was due to fly out to Cali the day after skateboarding, so my mind was on that anyway.

It seemed like after the Slough Worlds going into 1987 a lot of the top names from the sport, yourself included, dropped out of racing, as it leveled out with magazines and the industry dropping off with a lot going into the early 90s. It seemed like the sport went under ground for many years. Why do you think this happened and did it affect your business ?

Well I started racing motocross again in 1985 and alternated MX and BMX each weekend so wanted to get back to do that full time. At the end of ’86 it just collapsed. The price of the bikes got too high and I guess it just became “uncool” across the board – racing and freestyle. By then we were already doing a lot of skateboards and music too which went hand in hand with that culture at the time and that part of the business took off and we rode that wave but always still did BMX.

How closely did you follow the sport during the 90s?

Not much. We had the record label and worked with touring bands at that time. In about 1997 we had a couple of riders and Robinson (Dylan Jackson) and Torker again then I went to a Coppull National and decided to put a team together, which was on Pro Concept and Supercross and later Avent that was early 2000’s I think. Then Mike Pardon came back from Australia and worked with us, we got Madison on board (Alans BMX/Shimano DXR) and we won the team title 3 years consecutively. When the Nationals switched to double header weekends it got too much for me to commit to, my son was playing football at an Academy and I wanted to support him with that.

Did you see much change in the sport moving into the 2000s with clips and the integration of IBMXF into the UCI?

Nothing looked to be too ominous at that point, we all wanted the sport to grow and this looks like be the only way to get funding, as we had council cuts and BMX tracks weren’t a priority.

After 3 Olympic cycles now in the bag do you see BMX participating in the Olympics as helping or hindering the sport?

Honestly? On participation I’m not sure. But on the sport itself, the way the bikes are set up etc, I think the effect has been negative.

Thoughts on SX tracks and racing?

It’s great TV but bigger isn’t always better and you tread a fine line taking the rider’s focus from racing each other to racing the track.

Does the sport need to take a step back before it can move forward again in the future in your opinion?

I have an idea and I think Tim shares this. BMX’s influence from track: narrow tires, small bars, etc to make these so-called “incremental gains” has taken away from what is BMX. You might’ve heard me compare modern BMX to more like Supermoto than Motocross. It’s too far gone to change it. What I’d like to see are more natural terrain tracks (not old school) but with big jumps and no tarmac, maybe a 10 person gate. Easy to make these tracks in warmer climates without surfacing even, over here it’s more of a challenge. Some of the 4X tracks I have seen could be adapted. It would attract more of an MTB crowd and even some of the dirt jumpers and a more fun atmosphere. You could run clips and Powerblocks if you really wanted but they wouldn’t do you much good… Again if you look at Motocross or even Supercross, yes the bikes and techniques have evolved and the tracks have more jumps but Unadilla or Maggiora are essentially the same as they were in the 80’s, 70’s even. So this new thing could co-exist with modern BMX much like MX and SX does today, the same sport with the same riders, but slightly different. It would also attract more “lifestyle” sponsors back into the sport we all love. How are we going to make this happen?

You’ve rolled out a GT Heritage team for 2017 give us a little background on the idea behind it and the overall goal of the team.

Alans BMX has a license for GT BMX Heritage parts and we had 3 riders out there on Hutch so we switched them over and added Joe Parr whose son Andy raced with us right from the very beginning and is from Hindley so it was cool to have him on board as he is an amazing rider, he actually left Factory GT to come to us that was flattering. Josie McFall who is on the team also works for it and did all the graphics and I think you’ll agree they came out amazing. The products we will sell initially, we have some cool 80’s T-shirts and the some 80’s parts, we will also be doing race shirts through the different eras and I am hoping we’ll have replicas of our team race shirts also. Goals of the team? Well just try hard, be rad and look good! Only 4 riders so not too much hassle, it has cost a lot more than I thought at first but can I give a quick shout out to our sponsors: Box, Renthal, WD40, ODI, Tioga, Lake, Renthal, Vans, 100% plus the people from Ison Distribution, Extra UK, Moore Large and Decade Europe.

Over the last 15-20 years, the Old School movement has really taken off especially in the UK. I’m thinking you actually held the first, ever official Old school event in Warrington in the mid 2000s. Do you have any plans to put any more events on in the future?

Well I was already racing Vintage Motocross from the early 90’s so knew this would be cool for BMX to have something like that. Was so good to see everyone after so long and really was blown away that so many came up. We did make a video of it which I need to get on YouTube. After that we did another couple and a 4 round race series at the Nationals with cash for the overall of the series which John Vile won. From then on it had it own life so I left them to it.

I know you support the Rad Event, which seems to be growing each year. How’s the event for you and do you think Tim March will ever make an appearance?

For me it’s like the Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool. For years I never went thinking it was cheesy retro, most of the people there were never really punks, etc. But I went and you just take it for what is and I loved it. Same with the MK event, just the it for what it is. I did joke that entry should be by shin inspection at the entrance though, if you don’t have bear trap marks on there, you’re turned away.

Since the 80s and 90s only Liam Phillips and Shanaze Reade are the only British riders to win in the Pro/Elite category at the highest level. Do you think there is a reason why we don’t share the same success we’ve had over the years and who do you think will be the next British hopeful in the next few years?

Haha, well, I don’t have answers. I knew Shanaze quite well and I think at the time – Beijing and London – they were still trying to figure BMX out and were going in too many directions. Another major factor is not enough racing for the Elites. BMX isn’t like track where its all about times, race craft is massive in BMX and being comfortable banging bars is something you need to keep doing.

We all see and read about politics surrounding BMX Racing and more specifically those affiliated with British Cycling. Should racing go its own way and move away from BC and take control of its own sport?

See above, we can’t change it now, so offer an alternative. There is a lot wrong there and thanks to Tim for tirelessly pointing out the injustices and wrongdoing.

If you could do 3 things over again in your BMX career what would you do differently?

I can’t say I would. I’ve had amazing experiences racing in the US and Europe and wouldn’t swap it for anything. Chuck Robinson (RIP) I have to thank plus my parents for believing in me.

Last words?

Thanks for the interview . Everyone coming through the ranks who might read this, remember why you first got into BMX, first and foremost, enjoy it.

Leave a Reply