Freestyle mountainbiker Lewis Jones intends to reveal a couple of new gems from his “big bag of tricks” when he competes at Farm Jam in Winton next week.
The 22-year-old from Waitetuna, who often features on the podiums of all the big dirt jams in New Zealand, has taught himself two new tricks, which he hopes to wow judges with at national competitions.
He’s entering Farm Jam, which combines natural-terrain freestyle motocross, BMX and mountainbike dirt jumping, on February 6, and the slopestyle competition – manmade structures, and all downhill, so no pedalling – of the Queenstown Bike Festival, held from March 26 to April 3.
“I always try and learn something new for competitions,” says Lewis, who has been riding since he was 13 years old.
He’s known as “the big bag of tricks” kid, although “I feel like I’m 50 sometimes”, he says of the aches and pains that come with his riding.
The young man with a mop of unruly dark hair and a cheeky grin lives and breathes freestyle mountainbiking, practising every day.
“I only work to ride,” says Lewis, who works at Plastic Welders in Frankton, Hamilton. “I wake up in the morning, work, ride at lunchtime, work, ride, then repeat.”
Lewis’ latest trick is a Superman backflip, which he says took him about half an hour to learn in a foam pit – a ramp into a pit filled with foam, “so you can learn new tricks without hurting yourself” – when he was in Whistler, Canada, last year.
“But I have had nowhere to practise it so god knows how it is going to turn out in the competition.”
Lewis has gone to Canada three times to train for his competitions in New Zealand.
He says there are not many places in this country where you can go to learn new tricks safely, apart from a mulch pit in Queenstown where he learnt his other new trick: a no-handed backflip.
A no-handed backflip “wins heaps of stuff”, he reckons, “but again I have had nowhere to practise it”.
He practises at his dad’s place in Cogswell Rd, Waitetuna, where has his own dirt jumps set up on the property, or at skate parks in Hamilton.
But because he no longer lives at home, “Dad flattened some of the jumps and made a paddock”.
Lewis, who is currently filming in various New Zealand locations with creative media company The Perfect Line, which promotes mountainbiking, skiing and snowboarding, says a number of international riders compete at Farm Jam.
The competition, which is on February 6, returns after a hiatus of a year. In 2014, Lewis came fourth in the mountainbiking division of the competition, and third in 2013.
He admits to nerves, having to ride in front of more than 3000 spectators at some events, “but it soon goes away”.
“They kinda yell at you, ‘yeah, do a flip’, it hypes you up, you get a bit hypo and then try it. That’s the fun bit of the competition. The scary bit is you have to push yourself a bit harder. But it’s just about practice and preparation.”
He says his most memorable trick in a competition was in 2011 at the New Zealand Dirt Jump Open at Woodhill Mountain Bike Park, north of Auckland.
“I won the best trick, which was like a superman seat grab over a jump that’s about 10m in distance, and that was pretty scary. It felt like I was in a dream, pretty weird.”
There have been a few casualties along the way.
“I wreck a couple of bike wheels and handle bars … heaps of ankles and elbows, skin off them, been spraining heaps of stuff.
“I’m finding it hard to walk at the mo.”
While riding, he wears an ankle brace, knee pads and helmet. But no gloves, his calloused hands reveal. “They scrunch up.” Gloves are annoying.
And there has only been one bad break: “I broke my leg in 2007, snapped it in half and was in hospital for two months.”
Lewis, who has gear sponsored by Behind the Bars, an online bike shop, and NS Bikes, says he would like to ride professionally and compete overseas but the cost is prohibitive – “if someone would take me on board and help me pay for my flights” – and freestyle mountainbiking isn’t well known in New Zealand.
“Not many people have really heard about it. They think it’s all BMXing.”
But he hopes to get enough cash together this year to compete in slopestyle at the Colorado Free Ride Festival in August, which is an event similar to the Queenstown Bike Festival.
“They have a practice from which they will chose people to enter the competition.”
Lewis reckons that unless he does some real damage to his body he’s still got a good number of years left in him, hitting the jumps. He hopes to keep riding competitively until he is about 35, “maybe 40”.
“I don’t know, until I can’t walk or ride any more, and then I will have to get into downhill wheelchair racing.”