I’m always been into each sort of Niche. Mass sports never appealed me that much, maybe because as communities get bigger, they loose that harmony and unity feeling that only tight groups can experience at its best. I spotted Clean Zine a while ago, and I fell immediately in love with it: a webzine, made in the most DIY way possible with the web, spreading simple things and quality riding of a niche like the street trial is. Later I learnt that the mastermind of the website was Mark Westlake, a name well known both in the trial community. Se let’s give room to Mark words, he has so much to tell…
Hello Mark; where are you right now and what are you doing?
Well, right now it’s around 1am and due to this heat wave we’re having here in the UK it’s too hot to sleep. Might as well be doing something productive!
Right before starting to write this interview, I learnt through the web you’ve been a lot of things in UK Trial scene, so I can say I killed two birds with one stone! So let’s start with the first thing I’d like to know from you: where is trial riding going right now? To my eyes it seems that the MacAskill phenomenon opened the doors to a more street oriented trials: is it right or not?
That’s a difficult one to answer – there’s been a strong 24” street trials scene in the UK for a long time that‘s been pretty underground, but Danny’s ‘April’ video definitely helped get it out there more, and also helped raise the bar as far as tricks went. I can still remember being blown away by a lot of the moves in it! I think that aspect of it helped further the 24” scene more and showed the riders already in the scene that there was a lot more potential there. Before that video footjam whips, G-turns and all those sort of moves didn’t really seem to feature in a lot of people’s riding, but afterwards that all changed quite a lot. In general though, it’s also helped show the public that this type of riding exists, and with how popular 24” bikes from companies like Inspired are these days it seems like it’s really helping people get into it. I think it’s a really cool middle ground between BMX, trials and to an extent mountain biking in general. They’re just a really good size to go out and have fun on!
Why you started Clean Zine? And what does the name mean, exactly?
I had wanted to start a little home-made print magazine (or ‘zine) for a long time – it was a project I’d had in my head for a few years, but the logistics of making it happen just meant I kept putting it off. In the end, I had so many ideas buzzing around in my head I just needed an outlet for them, so I made a quick blog to give them a home. The name for anything is obviously very important, and luckily the “Clean” name jumped out at me pretty quickly. I wanted to try and represent all different aspects of trials in there, so I wanted a name that would include them all. In traditional trials, where the aim is to try and get through ‘sections’ without putting your foot down a 0 score (which is the best score you can get) is often called a “Clean“. When you’re riding street the usual aim is to try and get a line as smooth as possible with no correction hops or pedals, and when you get that it’s usually “clean” too. It just seemed like the name worked pretty well, so I stuck with it!
My main aim with it was to try and highlight riders I thought were doing their own thing and were taking riding in a new and interesting direction. The trials world is quite often a lot about self promotion with riders trying to get their name out there above all else, and I didn’t really like that aspect of it. I knew of a lot of riders who were under the radar and deserved attention but weren’t really featured in videos much, so I thought I should try and show what they were up to. There’s such a good scene in the UK I wanted to try and help show that, and to maybe try and inspire people to do their own websites and get making videos and taking photos too. There have been a few other cool sites like Misconceptions Of The Ordinary (http://mis-conceptions.blogspot.com) that have popped up, so hopefully that means it’s working.
Still talkin’ about Clean; why that layout? You use the blog in a pretty strange but way cooler way, with all those freehand and type style texts and almost hidden article links..Is it a choice or what?
I guess the simple answer is that I thought it looked pretty cool, but there’s a bit more to it than that. I really like print magazines, books, going to art galleries, buying ’zines from random people around the world – all that sort of stuff. I just like having something physical and tangible you can hold and look at. When I settled on the idea of doing a website, I wanted to try and get some of that feeling there. It’s not just me sitting at a computer quickly typing away a little piece – I have to sit down there with either my notepad or my typewriter and take my time over it. It really slows down the whole process and makes me take more care over it all. Hopefully it makes it feel more personal for whoever reads it too because it isn’t just some text from a word processor – you can see where my handwriting sucks or where I made a mistake typing, and I quite like that.
It also means I have more control over how everything looks. I suck at using computers and creating websites, so by allowing me to create all my layouts and designs in Photoshop or by hand (then just scanning them in and uploading them) I can get things to look closer to how I want them to be.
Now back to Mark Westlake himself: when you started riding a bike and how you ended hopping on a trial bike?
It all started from just using my bike to go out and be free and more independent. The town I lived in didn’t really have anything for young people to do when I was a kid, so I used to go and ride all over the place for hours, just racing my friends and exploring. As time passed by I got more into riding around the hills we had nearby, and got into downhill riding. I wanted to get into racing more, but it would’ve been super expensive so I couldn’t really afford to get started. I began to enjoy the technical side of riding more, and after seeing a few trials video tapes by guys like Martyn Ashton I realised there were other people out there doing that sort of riding too. I’ve switched between a trials bike and BMX quite a lot, but now I’ve settled into my 24” bike I’m happy where I am. I can go fast and jump stuff if I want to, or I can go and ride some rocks and other trials-style things. It’s awesome having a bike versatile enough to let me do it all.
Tweak air on the rocks, please Ph. Steve Aitchison | 4130 Photography
Seems also that you and your dudes go around a lot, tryin’ different spots and locations: which is the best place you rode so far?
Another difficult question, haha! There are so many good spots in the UK – we’re lucky in that it’s only really a few hours drive from city to city. I can’t imagine what it’d be like living in somewhere huge like America or Canada. Inside the UK though, London is amazing. I lived there for 3 years and found so many cool riding spots that I can’t really ever get bored there. My friend Joel lives there too, and there’s never a dull moment when he’s around. Bristol has an amazing group of riders that are really fun to ride with too, as well as a lot of great spots. Outside of the UK, I got to go on a trip to Rotterdam and Cologne, and the whole culture there was really good. Rotterdam has a great attitude towards bikes – it’s really cool to see a society which really helps people try and get out and ride. With oil and fuel prices getting higher and higher and pollution still being a big problem, anything that helps people realise that riding a bike can solve those problems and be a fun thing to do is all good.
Which is the best adjective to describe Clean Zine?
I guess it’s cheating, but the only way I could describe Clean is ‘clean’! It describes it all – the look, the riding, etc. – it’s all just clean.
Who helps you out with Clean? Or are you truly alone? I saw some pretty rad photos and edits in there…
Thanks, I appreciate it! It’s just me, my 550D camera, a typewriter, a Dymo label machine and my notepad. People help out with filming sometimes, but that’s pretty much it. I wanted all the content on the website to be about the riders involved rather than being focussed on me making it, so I’ve consciously tried to not use my name or anything that really identifies me on there. Because of that, I don’t think it’d really work too well if there was another contributor. I suppose I’m a control freak at heart too, so it keeps me happy if I can do things how I want.
Who are the riders you ride with usually? Seems that you’re pretty tight with the Inspired team isn’t it?
The main person I ride with would be Alastair Clarkson, or ‘Ali C’ as he’s known to the world. We live on the same street and ride in a similar way (although Ali goes way bigger) so it works out pretty well. Apart from that I like to go and hang out with all the Bristol and London guys as often as possible. I’ve been lucky in that through my job at a trials mail order shop I’ve been able to get to know the guys at Inspired and have helped do some photo and video work for them here and there. It’s meant I’ve managed to meet their whole team, so from going out riding and shooting photos/videos with them I’ve got to know most of them pretty well. They’re a cool bunch, so it’s definitely a treat if we get to go and ride together! Travelling around and meeting new riders is always a good time, so I’m always up for riding with anyone.
I’d like to focus your attention on a phrase taken from the Sean (Watson) itw: lots of street trials riders hate on TGS (Tap Gap Side hop) and lots of TGS riders hate on the street trials riders. He was talkin’ about the fact that a bike is always a bike wether you huck or you hop. But I’d like to know if is it true that there are really rival parties in a niche like trials? If I can say express my point of view, I can only see that the street trial kind of rider is a bit different to the classic trial rider, both in technically and visually…something like cross country and dirt bikers..and maybe my point of view is only bullshit..
I’d say your view was exactly right. As with surfers, skaters, artists or other types of riders, people in the trials world are very passionate about what they do. Because of that, and how easy it is to communicate online on message boards and websites, it means that people like to make their feelings heard. That often comes across as there being quite a big divide between the ‘pure’ riders and the ‘street’ riders.
Personally, I view it the same as when bike riders started tweaking cruisers in the 70‘s and started riding down mountains, when skaters first started skating street or when BMX racers started having fun on their bikes off the track. The people used to doing things the traditional way usually don’t like change and are generally pretty hostile or unreceptive to it. For the guys who go ride comps every weekend or just ride ‘pure’ trials, street trials is something new and different, and it seems not many people really know how to handle it. I just see it as a lot of potential. By mixing in different parts of BMX, trials and anything else that influences you, you can create something new and unique to you. Guys like Sean Watson who are going out and coming up with totally new tricks or lines every time they ride are awesome and really help to push things forward. I think in the next few years big things are going to happen, whether people like it or not…
Ok Mark, thank you for your time: any last shout, fuck or thanx to anyone?
I’ve got to give a big thanks to Adam at www.TartyBikes.co.uk for helping give me so many opportunities. Without the support there I don’t think Clean would really have happened in the way that it did, so I can’t really thank him enough. The same goes for Inspired Bicycles too. Dave and Jon who run Inspired are both in it for the right reasons – it’s cool to see a company really listen to riders, and push to make things as good as they can be. In the trials world there are a lot of companies who seem to be in it just to try and make money rather than making good products or positive changes to riding. Seeing a company with integrity in an industry like the trials world helps keep me positive! Thanks to all my friends and family for everything; support, time, a place to sleep when I‘m on the road, coming out riding – it‘s all much appreciated. Lastly, thanks to you and the guys at Behind Magazine!