The Thrill Of Down Hill

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Bully and Rizal break down the finer points of shredding hard.

It has a reputation of being way gnarlier than the word gnarly itself. Massive drops, nasty rooted sections—you name the game. Cycling Malaysia sat down with the two trailblazers of the downhill mountainbiking in Malaysia.
Bully and Rizal spoke of their intimate relationship with gravity, their fondness for speed, and the real deal behind the thrill of downhill.

MEET THE THRILLSEEKERS

Uncle Bully – “The fear is there. It’s looking out.”

Bully recalls feeling afraid at the kick-start of his downhill affair in 2000. Everything’s in fast motion on a tight plunge downhill. Just how fast things picked up for him from the moment he got introduced to cycling. No stranger to bicycle training wheels at 4 years old, Bully upped his game from owning his first bike at 7 to doing BMX at 9.

“When we go to bike shops, you see BMX posters. ‘Oh, cool guys!’ That influenced us that time. Some friends took it a bit further, and from there we learned from each other.”

Maneuvering over obstacles has always pulled that extra bit of confidence from him to keep it going further. With Bully, it’s always been a playful affair with anything mischievous, especially since 12, when his father bought him his first mountain bike.

From the adrenaline surge of stunt riding, one wheel in contact with the ground, to plummeting downhill at some gnarly speed, he would chase his next high through races.

Being neighbors with a national rider, his first ever downhilling buddy, played out well for him. “He lives only three houses away from mine. He saw me and asked me to follow him to cycling. From there, we both got attracted to downhilling and pursued it.”

The first race he entered was locally organized among friends at Bukit Kiara. “It’s just for the sake of fun! Gradually, we began going to Penang for national races, then an international race in Selangor in 2003.”

During that time, downhilling was picking up locally that you would find Bully and his friends wherever the races were.

He was lucky enough to be stationed in Penang, as the biggest scene was set there then. Although, it was also that time when the community began creeping slowly across the country, to Kuantan, Johor, among other states, as far as East Coast Malaysia.

Red Rizal – “Going down at tremendous speed is not as crazy as it was during that time.”

It has been all downhill since 2006 for Rizal. Before that, the last time he hopped on a bike was at 10, as it was just skateboards afterwards. Like Bully, he gets his kicks from pushing himself to the edge in extreme sports. Tricks and transitions were his game. On a tiny wood plank, he skates along the streets at high speeds.

He took a break from chasing the extreme when university and work life dawned upon him, until his friend who co-owns Fakawi Bikes got him into MTB. “Before that, cycling for me was just two wheels and pedaling.”

“That was 2003. That time, I still didn’t have time for anything, as I ended up working 24 hours a day for three years as an investment manager, but I guess it opened up my mind, so I quit my job eventually.”

Rizal turned to selling T-shirts for two years. “I was working two days a month!” He laughs and explains how that gave him a lot of time for downhilling.

“Tech wasn’t there yet then. Everything’s just three inches of travel. It’s basically taking up an XC bike that’s picking up a couple of inches of travel and you call it a downhill bike.”

Nowadays, downhill bikes are built to be abused for extreme terrain, with up to 10 inches of suspension travel, packing that extra weight and feeling the loss of pedal power efficiency when riding uphill, but are definitely built for control over rough terrains at high speeds.

“Things are different now,” Bully says. “It’s a lot safer now,” Rizal adds.

BEYOND THE THRILL

Things started to evolve since 2000 for the sport, but it was in 2007 when technology from motorcycle racing was brought in. Engineers took methods used in the motorcycle industry to develop the sport and the equipment further.

Even the downhilling community has grown in number over time that, “Last time you can count them. I wouldn’t call it small now,” Rizal says.

Since races began picking up, the growth of the sport became more apparent. Bully began racing in 2002 and Rizal in 2007, six months after trying downhill.

Both had their fair share of broken ribs—an answer that we already got desensitized to hearing from downhillers.

Bully says, “I broke my ribs one day after he broke his.” Rizal says, “I busted my knee one day after he busted his left knee.”

“When one of us gets injured, we try to stay away from each other,” Bully adds.

Since they started with the sport, both have been so active in growing it, by organizing and supporting races. This only shows how their passion for downhilling goes beyond the thrill of it.

“Last time, we were responsible for two years of the national series. It was 2010 and 2011,” Rizal says. This was discontinued after they experienced problems with the governing body for cycling. During that time, they were also attempting to create a Malaysian Downhill Association to act as an umbrella organization that works closely with the race teams, organizers and other stakeholders to develop and promote the sport.

He adds, “Initially, they were quite supportive, but when our application went through the registration, we were informed that our application got rejected. They never told us why.”

“When you try and try, yet it keeps getting blocked, you kind of get frustrated.”

If being kept out of the loop was not enough frustration on top of being levied 30% for MTB equipment, until now it’s looked upon as a leisure activity rather than a sport.

Bully affirms, “It happens all over the world, but it doesn’t mean that we should just accept it. So, we continue the fight the way we know how.”

“We are in the position where we just swim or drown. If there is any interest from the authorities, they don’t tell us. So they can’t blame us for seeing it this way,” Rizal adds.

Both aspire for change in how things are working out now for the mountain biking scene and hope for more participation from the industry.


CARRY ON

Bully and Rizal never lose heart for riding their passion. They shared with us stories of digging and riding.

“For races, say June, we try to prepare the trail by December. There goes our weekend. We can’t ride anymore,” Bully says.

“The trail does not grow by itself. Someone has to buy the equipment, time and knowledge to go there and actually dig. There was that time we spent six months building track for a Kiara race. No riding at all, just building!” Rizal adds. They would test and make the trails more technical. This way, they could help improve the skills of the downhill riders and racers.

Bully explains, “We show them, ‘This is how you enter, this is how you exit,’ and they would learn from us and they would start doing it.”

It’s no question that Bully and Rizal will continue trailblazing the sport and establishing a competitive environment for downhillers. For them, it’s not just a sport, it’s a lifestyle.

For Rizal, “MTB is great because you forget everything. We always look forward to hitting the trails.” Bully quickly follows up, “We live like that. It’s life. We can speak 24/7 about bicycles.”

On top of all these efforts, they also sponsor riders. Rizal says, “When I first met Aaron Chan, he was just about 17. We took him out, gave him a bike, talked to the parents. We sent him to Indonesia, New Zealand, among others. I would pick him up every weekend to go ride.” Both would help promote race awareness as well through marketing and social media platforms.

It’s not just about testing how close to death they can go as they downhill faster with gravity, but how they aid other riders in getting to the finish line. It’s still a long journey for Bully and Rizal, as they continue sharing smooth lines till they’re 50, but their dig days are not yet over, and they would never tire of building the trails towards a better downhill mountainbiking sport in Malaysia.

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