It’s a cold day in the heart of Bedfordshire. As the black of last night becomes the grey of a wintry British morning, we stand shivering in a lay-by listening to the surrounding birdsong. The thunderous sound of Matt Jones’ 500+ brake horsepower Mercedes AMG is the wake-up call we badly needed. It’s certainly an impressive way to arrive at Woburn Sands – a trails spot that’s somewhat legendary in UK dirt jump circles.
Matt’s affinity with Woburn Sands goes back 15 years, to a time when 24in wheels were all the rage and Matt was nothing more than a local kid with a natural talent for riding. Since then, the 24-year-old has toured the world on the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour, won countless competitions, filmed mind-bending video parts and pushed the sport to unthinkable new heights. He’s also inspired – and continues to inspire – the next generation, so riding with us today is 10-year-old Joshi Woods, the winner of ODI Grips’ ‘Day with a Pro’ competition. On a bike, Joshi could easily be mistaken for a young Matt – albeit with a bit more of a northern twang.
Venturing into the woods, we find a treasure trove of trails and jumps. It’s easy to see how Woburn has produced such world-class talent. As we make the short ascent to the head of the trails, Matt and Joshi are chatting like old friends, sharing stories of their countrywide riding adventures. Their age gap is irrelevant – these two are fuelled by the same burning passion for mountain biking. As the fog starts to lift, we slam our dropper posts, and crank full pelt into the ‘Transfer Line’.
The first two catch berms have an unreal amount of grip, pinging us from right to left like a pinball. Matt might be famed for dirt jumping, but it’s obvious that he knows a thing or two about how to hit turns at race pace. Joshi is hot on his heels, floating over the jumps in the line with little encouragement.
After a cruise down some of the better-known trails, Matt shows us to the step-up, which was built for his first double backflip attempt some years ago. A steep roll-in leads into a near-vertical take-off, but Matt isn’t going to let the fact he’s on his trail hardtail stop him, and as if hitting 30mph down a rain-rutted run wasn’t scary enough, he decides that backflipping over Joshi would crank up the fear factor (for us at least!).
Practice makes perfect
Our next stop is Matt’s private compound, where he trains for competitions during the off-season. Towering over the entire enclosure is a scaffold-constructed roll-in to drop which is easily the height of a three story house. From the top, the 8ft take offs that follow look like kindergarten stuff. As terrifyingly tall as it is though, it matches the build quality of the rest of the compound, and Matt’s dedicated spade work has paid off. Training compounds like this are now commonplace in most top slopestyle competitors’ backyards; gone are the days of relying on luck and throwing a few backflips.
Wings give you wings
After a short and brain-rattlingly loud drive to Matt’s favourite chicken shop, we sit down and discuss what fuels his ambition. He and his twin brother Jono were always A-grade students at school, but whilst Jono ended up with a job in the city and is happy to ride at the weekends, Matt admits that a normal 9-5 job just wasn’t for him. “So I had to make it work as an MTB pro!”, he laughs. His journey to the top hasn’t been a fast one though, and picking up his first sponsors at age 13 – long before he became a full-time pro – he fully understands what it means to be a professional, both on and off the bike.
After getting our fill of riding (and chicken), we find ourselves kicking back at a neon-lit bowling alley. Matt explains how important it is for him to make time for friends outside of riding, “All the mates I grew up riding with now have real jobs, so when it gets to this time of year, we don’t get to ride together much. It’s important to grab food together and come to places like this to catch up”. As you might have guessed, Matt is annoyingly good at bowling too, as well as seemingly anything else he turns his hand to. But he didn’t get to where he is without some dedication. He is without doubt one of the hardest-working and most talented riders out there, but what makes Matt the online personality loved by so many, is that he hasn’t forgotten how to have fun, He’s definitely inspired young Joshi too and after watching him ride today, perhaps in 15 years time, we’ll be writing a similar piece about him, as he dreams of following in Matt’s footsteps.