What’s the best way to check out the woods? A gentle stroll? Well, if you go down to the woods today you’re in for a big surprise. There’s no better way to tackle that soft terrain than on the saddle of a bike with the ground falling beneath you faster than you can spin those pedals. An adrenaline fueled adventure like no other. That’s why Pedal Progression have set up shop and they mean business. We caught Sam from the Pedal Progression team to find out what they’re all about.
Hey Sam, how’s it going? Good thanks. The sun is out and the trails are running nicely which is a good combination!
Could you tell us a bit about Pedal Progression? Pedal Progression is a mountain bike hire and skills coaching team all rolled into a small space in the Ashton Court estate just outside of Bristol city centre. We also have a workshop and sell bits and pieces to keep you rolling happily along on your bike! We’re a 3 man crew, with my colleague Matt and I running everything except the spanners which is Ross’ domain, our mechanic.
Where did the idea come from & how did you go about setting it up? Matt and I realised there was a lack of mountain bike skills coaching available in the South West about 4 years ago. At about the same time, the old and very rooty and muddy trails at Ashton Court were being refurbished and turned into what are now the most popular mountain bike trails in the country. We both worked in the same bike shop at the time and saw a lot of people spending lots of money on expensive bikes and gear and we both knew that there was another, more rewarding way that they could improve their experience out on the new all-weather trails. We trained as guides, learned how to coach and ran our growing business from our laptops and bedroom offices. We built up a client base through word of mouth to the point we needed a proper HQ… That’s when the beautiful Ashton Court Estate became our home. Many happy, more confident and able customers later, we’re still helping people get the most out of pedalling a bike in the woods.
What’s your role within the Pedal Progression team? Our small shop needs managing. We do all the marketing, booking in customers, ordering and day to day admin ourselves – we send a lot of emails! On top of that we have the fleet of bikes to look after. We use quality Norco mountain bikes which are easy to keep running sweet and always impress our customers with their smooth ride. Matt and I both take out clients for guiding and coaching sessions throughout the week. People come to us from all over the country based on our reputation as coaches and we work our magic to help them progress, ride faster, smoother and more in control. I like to specialise in helping people send it off big jumps and not hurt themselves in the process!
Have you always been big on biking? Always – I first turned pedals when I was 3 and have kept on throughout the times when I could have easily turned my back on it. It kept me busy after school, distracted during exams, entertained at university and when I learned to drive, it was the new places I could ride that got me excited rather than being able to hang out in fast-food joint’s car park!
Where would you say your love for riding has come from? You only have to ride a bike fast through the woods once to realise that it’s the easiest way for a young man to get a hit of adrenaline, show off to his mates at the same time and not get arrested. You don’t rely on a team to do it with you, certain conditions like surfing or to live in another country like snowsports, you don’t need a lot of money like motorsports, you don’t even need a proper mountain! It’s a wild sport too, fun to watch, full of style, aggression, danger and fitness is only a tiny aspect of it – all the things a good endless youth needs! It has been the best way to explore, adventure, escape, socialise and have fun for me ever since the day 26 years ago that I stopped crashing into the hedge whilst going round in circles in my back garden.
We noticed you hire out Freelap Timing Poles to fuel a bit of competition in riding – would you say you’re pretty competitive yourself? Yes I’ve always wanted to be faster than the next man and I would be racing every weekend if I had the time and money to throw at it! Racing is an expensive side to the sport and I’m more than happy to leave it to our race team and just ride for fun. When the brilliant Freelap poles come out at the woods though I have been known to stay until it’s too dark to ride trying to beat a time…
You mentioned before you’re in Ashton Court. Why did you choose to set up here? We saw the opportunity to open the shop in July 2013 after other contenders pulled out and had to decide if we wanted to jump onboard or let it slip through our fingers. Bristol City Council wanted a bike hire company to move in, and although we had a few logistical issues to work out at first, we saw it as being another string to our bow and ultimately we took the gamble. We bought 10 bikes to start with, kitted the shop out with a second hand sofa, made a counter from timber from Bristol Wood Recycling project and went at it. The venture allowed us to both go full-time with Pedal Progression in early 2014 and we now have 30 bikes and the phone is buzzing with hire and coaching bookings.
Where else is great for cyclers in Bristol, both on & off-road? There are loads of great routes for bikes all over the city. It’s easy to get a map and plan a mini adventure using Sustrans routes, cycle paths and country lanes. It’s by far the best way to see the city – walking is too slow and driving a car around Bristol is a bad idea at the best of times.
Has Bristol always been your home? I grew up in Nailsea just south of the city and although I went to university in Plymouth and have been to various mountain biking meccas around the world. Bristol just feels like where it’s at. It’s easy to get to loads of great places from the city, Bristolians are great and there is always something going on.
When you’re not riding or at Pedal Progression what do you usually get up to in Bristol? Anywhere we should be heading? Haha umm, well… I don’t usually do much else! I guess I go to the woods without my bike and dig trails instead. Other than that is all about chilling with my wife and friends and exploring the countryside when we get the chance. I’d give a shout out to North Street in Southville as a great place to go for its independent shops, eateries and bars.
What’s in-store for Pedal Progression in the future? Anything we should keep an eye out for? We’re looking to acquire some land so we can build our own bicycle obstacle course and expand our coaching with even better facilities…
Anything else you wanted to add? Big thanks to the Bristol bike scene, all the other great Bristol bike shops, Norco Bikes and the Belmont Riders!
Photographs by Dan Hearn Photography.