Vert's Lonely Path

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Simon Tabron, moments after pulling the world's first back-to-back 900s.

I've always been enamored by Simon Tabron's vert riding. The problem is, I can't exactly describe why. There just seems to be this indescribable "thing" that separates him from the rest of the vert class; a certain Blyther-esque-ness about his riding that brings a very defined flow and grace to the vert ramp, something that not many riders are capable of. I guess the easy way to say it is that Simon Tabron makes vert riding look awesome. He's got the height, the pump and the variations to win huge contests throughout the world, and although he rides a ton of comps and does well at them, that aspect of riding doesn't seem to be his focus. He's also one of a very esteemed few that's gone brakeless on vert and made it work to his advantage. And of course, a Simon Tabron intro wouldn't be complete without mentioning that he owns 900s, and also that he's the only person in the world to ever pull back-to-back 900s. Recently, Simon switched things up a bit, moving to California and leaving his longtime sponsor Mongoose, so I thought it would be a good time to catch up and see what's new. Here's the good word from the world's one and only guitar-playing brakeless owner of the 900 air. How did you actually come to be living in the United States?
I've always wanted to live in the U.S., and especially California. Certain things in my life changed, and the opportunity arose, so I jumped on it. Did you used to live in Dubai as well?
I had a place in Dubai. I bought a place out there as an investment, and I hung out there for a while. I didn't really live there; it was literally just a nest egg for the future. How do you like California so far then?
It's always been my favorite place in the U.S., and after living here since just December, I pinch myself every day when I wake up. I'm really surprised. Everything has been great. I have a bunch of friends out here already. And then there's crazy stuff like riding with [Brian] Blyther and [Mike] Dominguez, who were essentially my childhood heroes. And now they're friends that I call to go hang out with.
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Can you name some differences between the U.K. and where you live now?
First big difference is the weather. I've always lived in the rain and miserable weather. And it seems like the sun is out here almost every day. It's a nice little community that I live in here. I just use my bike as transportation, riding down the beach path every day. It's just a good feeling to be outside every day somewhere nice. I guess one of the big things I wanted to ask about was what happened with Mongoose, and what your current sponsorship situation is?
Mongoose, I was coming to the end of my contract. I was coming to the end of eight years with them, and they set up a meeting, they told me it was a contract renewal meeting, and they just said that they were changing direction. And that they didn't want to renew contracts with me. So I said, "Okay, thanks for everything," and got up and left. I mean firstly, they were a great sponsor for all of those eight years. They enabled me to do a lot of really good, fun things, and see part of the world, and treat me really well. But all good things come to an end. And in a sense, I was relieved to no longer be riding for a company like that, cause for all the good things they did for me, it was time for a change. I'd been a Mongoose guy forever. For me personally, for my riding and the things I want to do, it's actually been a liberating experience. How so?
Just to not have this big company standing over me the whole time. Not having to second guess everything. I was always a rebellious kid, just trying to do whatever it was I wanted to do anyway. And I would always be conscious of Mongoose, whether they would like what I was doing or not. It was kinda like having parents watch you the whole time. I was responsible to them for their brand image and everything, so in some ways, I had to second guess everything they did. And sometimes, I'd find myself doing things I didn't necessarily want to do... It changes the dynamic. It just means that I literally now ride my bike for me and nobody else. Fortunately, I still have some great sponsors, the kind that are supportive and helpful for me rather than trying to make me into something that they want.
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It always kinda bothers me when I look at the vert class. It's the guys doing the craziest stuff in BMX and half the pro vert class can't even get a bike sponsor. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I think it just mirrors what happened in skateboarding in the '90s, where because vert is difficult to relate to, it seems to be the most intimidating thing as far as going from just riding your bike down the street and learning the basic skills to riding a 14-foot tall vert ramp. It kinda seems far fetched, whereas to go grind ledges or ride trails seems a lot more accessible to the average bike rider. And I think that's the same in skateboarding, because everybody has access to the streets, but not everybody has access to a big crazy ramp facility. I think it's the inaccessibility, and maybe somehow within our industry, it's as though vert is almost suppressed a bit, because it's not the most popular or thing of most interest. It's kinda suppressed within our media. However, because it's on TV and all that, I guess the industry kinda scorns that a little bit. And I'm not trying to say that in a derogatory way to anybody. It's just how I see it and how I perceive it. What do you think the future of BMX vert is going to look like then?
Tough question. If you look down the vert class age wise, there's a little jump from guys like Jamie [Bestwick] and I to guys like Chad Kagy in terms of age. Chad's five years younger than me, and then Steve McCann is maybe four years younger than Chad, and then Zack Warden and Coco are a few years younger than Stevie. There's definitely a future there. If you wanna know it's going to look like, I guess you just go down the list of names... To me, I knew there was never going be a thousand top vert riders. You know yourself, you can go around the world and there's amazing street riders everywhere. Many of them can do amazing things and everybody has their own style and everything, but for me, vert was always going to be a lonely path to walk. There was never supposed to be a thousand amazing vert riders. I guess the stakes are a little bit higher for us. I mean, every top vert rider has been smashed up at some point. And for the average person, the last thing they wanna do is reenter that arena after a crash.

For me, vert was always going to be a lonely path to walk.

--Simon Tabron

I know you can pretty much ride whatever you want to. Did you ever think that you needed to basically prescribe to what everybody else was riding?
I do and always have ridden everything, flatland included. When I first started riding, I was a BMXer, so anything on a BMX was what I did. But as BMX has evolved, it's become more and more segmented, and now you do have specialized flatland riders and vert riders. But to me, I've always ridden a little bit of everything, but because I've always had this passion for vert, that enabled me to have the freedom to be able to do everything. Whereas there was a time when I used to go work 40-50 hours a week, now I can spend that time riding my bike the way I want to ride, away from the TV cameras, the media or anybody seeing me. To me, I hate to put it this way, but vert riding is my public aspect. That's the side of my riding that people see and the rest of it is my own private business.... I started racing when I was a kid, and I got into freestyle because of the word "free." It was my own rules and I was able to just ride my bike and do what I wanted to do, and that's what I've always tried to do, whatever involves my bike and putting a smile on my face. As far as prescribing to what the industry appears to dictate or whatever everybody else is doing, that's the last thing I would ever do. I got into this to avoid doing that. It's about making myself happy on my bike. How much time on the average do you spend riding per week?
I don't know. There are weeks where I ride everyday, and weeks where I only ride one day. I don't have any set thing. It's about who calls or what's happening or how I feel. That's something I've always been really careful about. When I talk to people in regular life who don't know anything about BMX, and they ask what I do, they always ask me about how I train. I just ride my bike, there's no gym on the off days, I just ride my bike. And I ride when I feel like riding. It has to be natural. I'm not gonna force myself to ride for four hours.
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Casual one-hand toboggan at height.

Okay, to change it up a bit, I wanted to know what made you want to ride brakeless?
I started riding halfpipes in the late '80s, and the only people that had them were skateboarders, so I had to ingratiate myself with the skateboarders, getting into their scene and being polite so they would let me use the ramp. To this day, I still session with skateboarders on vert more than bike riders, and I always looked at the way skateboarders treated the ramp versus bike riders. And I remember in the mid '90s, it became such a problem to me that we were always in the middle of the ramp going backwards and forwards doing really formulaic things, yet skateboarders could use the ramp edge to edge and be more creative with it. It really started to make me think about being able to go both directions and being able to use the ramp in different aspects. And then I started to think that skateboarders don't have pegs, and they don't have brakes, and I kinda became obsessed with the idea. I started thinking all the time about stripping my bike down to make it more basic so that my skills would have to override it. I remember hanging out with Chase Gouin after he took his brakes off and being amazed that he could still do everything. And it made me realize that everything I could do, I could make it new again by changing the rules for myself. It removed me from what everybody else was doing and renewed everything. That was pretty much it. Is it, say, harder to do a 900 with or without brakes?
There was couple of tricks I was really concerned about losing when I took my brakes off. 900s were definitely one of them cause I always used to land with my back brakes pulled and tag the landing. But it just made me think that I have to deal with it and maybe learn to nosedive it more and not land back wheel. So that was the biggest trick I was concerned about, and it just didn't seem to be a problem. Because I'm not holding the brake, my body is a lot looser in the air, so it actually ends up being a lot better without brakes. I'm gonna say that for just about everything I do. Everything turned out to be a lot more fluid. And also because I haven't had the safety net of being able to pull the back brake for a sketchy landing, it meant that I had to commit to everything. I had to loosen up and become more committed, and I was very conscious of that going into it. What's next for you this year?
I don't know. I guess the world is my oyster right now. All I'm really focussed on right now are the things I want to do on my bike. Tricks I'm working on and things I wanna learn, but for no purpose other than making me happy. As far as contests, I'm still gonna ride the same contests this year, but I also want to go on some fun trips, and now that I'm in California, my opportunities have opened up a lot more. so really, just do all the things that make me happy. Riding my bike, and keep on keeping on. Thanks for that Simon. And in case you wanted to see what Simon's been up to in recent months, here's a link to a recently filmed session at Woodward West.
-Brian Tunney

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