I doubt it’ll surprise you when I say that health and safety is rarely a concern of pro mountain bikers. Spending much of my life travelling with this lot means I’ve ended up in a fair few sketchy situations. Of course, I’m usually behind the lens rather than in the firing line, but I invariably have to pick up the pieces when stuff goes wrong. One guy who’s been involved in more than his fair share of danger is Gee Atherton.
I’ve known Gee since he was a nipper and he came on an early MBUK team trip with his brother Dan in the late ’90s. After he over-jumped a sand dune and landed on his head, I should’ve known he’d go on to get into more trouble. But the thing about Gee is that he’s tough as nails and tends to get up, shake himself off and jump back on the bike. Except when he doesn’t – but that’s another story.
On this occasion, we were at one of [UK freerider, and now EMBN presenter] Chris Smith’s local Somerset quarries. It was summer 2004 and we were roadtripping around for an MBUK feature series called ‘The Gap Tour’. Chris and Gee were trying to outdo each other all day, hucking off various rocky outcrops, and we worked our way round to a section of the quarry where a couple of climbers were roped up and scaling what looked like a near-vertical 75ft-high wall. ‘I reckon I could ride down that,’ Gee said casually.
After dismissing it as ludicrous nonsense, I went back to shooting Chris doing something vaguely sensible. Gee went off and was soon perched above the climbers still making their way up the cliff. ‘Excuse me, would you mind getting out of the way? I’m going to ride down here!’ he shouted. I tried to talk some sense into him, but when it became clear that he had no intention of listening, I gave in and set up for the shot. ‘I’ve tried and failed to talk him out of it,’ I reasoned, ‘so I may as well document what happens.’
Illustration: Kevin February/Main image: Russell Burton
Gee took off and we all sat there, hearts in mouths, waiting for him to tumble to the bottom. He started steadily, but rapidly picked up speed until he was tearing down the face, miraculously still in control. The transition at the bottom was severe and he came into it flat-out. I don’t think he’d fully thought that part through, but somehow he muscled through it, and it would’ve looked smooth if it wasn’t for the terrible suspension bottom-out clunk. We all cheered, impressed at how easy he’d made it look, but more relieved that he’d survived.
Some months later I visited the Athertons’ family home in Wales. Gee’s mum was a little frosty. ‘Oh, I told her that you made me ride down that cliff,’ he said, with a cheeky grin.
Who is Steve Behr?
Steve Behr has been shooting for MBUK since the very beginning of the mag. You’ll know his pictures – and his face too, if you’ve ever watched the seminal 1994 bike video Dirt. When he’s not snapping or surfing, you’ll find him out riding the trails of Swinley Forest or the roads around his Berkshire home. This mild-mannered South African has shot some of the biggest names in mountain biking and he’s our go-to man for tricky shoots – even if it’s pouring it down in a dark wood and he’s got so much mud in his eyes that he can’t make it back down the hill, he’ll still get the goods! You can view his pics at www.stockfile.co.uk. Follow him on Instagram @stevebehr0.
This story originally appeared in MBUK issue 376 (December 2019). Subscribe here to get MBUK delivered to your door every month.
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