Interview – Keith Wilson

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How did you discover BMX? What year was it? How was your local scene, who did you ride with back then?
Growing up in the outskirts of East London in the 1970’s was a magical time for anyone who rode dirt bikes due to the close proximity of Epping Forest and untold wasteland as a result of all the damage done in World War 2.

The part of the forest closest to my house was littered with bomb-holes from German air-raids and as it was on a big hill. I was actually riding the bomb-holes as part of a big downhill track from the mid 70’s onwards.

Around Late 1978, we were all riding 24″ tracker bikes with Cyclocross knobbly tires and Motocross bike handlebars, The original ‘Hardtail Mountainbikes’ (20 years before they became fashionable) and whilst riding at a spot called the Hollow Ponds I met the Walthamstow riders of Andy Ruffell, Cav Strutt, Peter Middleton, Nicky Matthews, Steve Gilley and many others and instantly became friends with them. In early 79 we saw the famous episode of CHiPs featured bmx racing, we all knew we wanted to do ‘BMX’ instantly.

Pretty much straight after the CHiPs episode the Walthamstow boys suddenly appeared on modified Grifters, usually colour-changed to one of the colours of the main mx motorbikes, longer-straightened forks fitted, lightweight saddle/post, shopping bike handlebars and gears removed. They were the coolest thing I had ever seen and within weeks I had obtained one and carried out the modifications (real bmx bikes weren’t available in the UK at this time).

Whilst we were all riding at The Hollow Ponds doing big jumps, etc. a chap showed up in a three-piece-suit with a distinctive hairstyle and seemed to know a lot about bmx in America. I described him to my Dad when I got home and he informed me that it was Don Smith, a legendary motorcycle rider/racer from the area that had numerous World Titles to his name, next time I saw Don I certainly took notice of everything he said! He spoke of an upcoming trip to California where he would purchase the latest bmx bikes to import, and how he was going to organise ‘UKBMX’ races with a governing body and a professional class where we could all earn money racing bmx bikes! Don showed up with a full suspension ‘mountainbike’ in Spring 79 with mx style forks, twin shock rear suspension and hub brakes, we all had a ride of it and told him that suspension on bikes would never catch on! Don went on to write the constitution of UKBMX parts of which I believe are still in use today!

Early 1980 everyone of the growing crowd of riders had either a Mongoose or a Team Ace BMX bike. I had a very nice Supergoose 2. By the summer of 1980 races had already been held at Redditch, Ipswich (Coddenham) and Buckmore Park.

Who was your first sponsor?
My first race was right at the end of 1980 (or early 81) at Buckmore Park, the track was a quagmire of mud so the decision was made to race on the Go Kart track there with the start gate situated halfway up the hill that surrounds the track. The event was huge with hundreds of riders from far and wide in attendance. I met riders there that day that are still friends now and still race to this day. My next race was a few months later also at Buckmore park but on the proper track. I made the main along With Andy Ruffell, Jay Hardy and Craig Strong and got a good start and went into turn one with Andy but immediately wiped out. I had won all my motos that day with Mark ‘Sid’ Salisbury and Jay Hardy in them and it was then that I realised I could hang with the fastest guys in my age group and I wanted to take up racing regularly. The result that day led to me getting Sponsored by my local Bike shop ‘MASONS CYCLES’ in Wanstead and the manager there, Chris Wonfor was a great help in getting my racing career off the ground.

In winter 1980/81 I would rush home from school, grab my bike and sprint the 3 miles to Masons in freezing temperatures in the dark just to get the latest copy of BMS Plus or BMX Action to read about my heroes in the USA Stu Thomsen, Harry Leary and co.

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How long did it take until you got onto Redline?
July 1981 (on Royal Wedding day) I got the breakthrough I wanted in racing by winning a national (Andy Ruffell wasn’t there) and as a result got invited to try out for the New ‘REDLINE FACTORY TEAM’ at EARLS COURT a few weeks later.

I showed up at The Bike Show in Earls Court with my Mum for their try-outs and instantly spotted Stu Thomsen on the track!!! I was speechless! It was the guy from the magazines!! He came over and said hello to Mum and I and as I attempted to say hello back no words came out!!   They were picking 2 riders only, one 13 or under, and one 15 and over, all the other riders competing for the older slot were a fair bit older than me and a lot bigger.   We were to do some practice laps under the watchfull eye of Stu and then line-up on the gate for a one lap-no crap race with the winner taking the spot.  I put my hand in the bag for lane choice and chose gate 5 (6 man gate) and the other riders were all inside me and the first straight was short so getting the lead into the first turn was going to be a tall order.  As I put my wheel on the gate I saw a wheel line-up outside me in gate 6…I looked to my side, and up, and up….Stu was joining in…oh no!! Not only was I racing against older/bigger riders but now Stu was next to me on the gate!! nervous!!!

The gate dropped and I got a flier and looked across at the end of the straight…no-one there, whoosh I moved over and took the lead OMG OMG I’m winning!!!   Halfway throught the first turn I was hit from behind by what felt like a train!! I flew off my bike but I didnt hit the ground…because someone caught me.  Stu had slid-out in the first turn and accidentally hit me, but managed to catch me before I hit the ground!!  I was fine but upset because I hadn’t won the race.  Stu and the other Redline staff called a re-run because of what happened, and Stu told me not to worry as he knew I would win it, and I did so I was on REDLINE!!!  Stu shook my hand and welcomed me to the team and then handed me his race bike saying he could get a new one when he got home and I couldnt get a bike like that in the UK as it was custom built.

A few weeks later, I was racing at Outwell indoor and John Lee and Andy Ruffell were there and as John had been getting closer and closer to (the virtually unbeaten) Ruffell recently all eyes were on them as they took their gate positions for the final.  I even thought I was racing for third place at best with those two on the gate. The gate dropped and it all seemed too easy as I took the lead from the first pedal stroke and finished with a healthy lead over Andy with John in third.  It was October 1981 and I started to believe that I could actually win races whoever was there.

Who else was on Redline around this time?  I’m thinking; Stu Diggins and Gary Willats?
Initially, the Redline team consisted of just two riders, myself and Gary Willats.  Unfortunately, Gary got seriously injured in a car crash and missed a lot of races leaving me as the sole representative for quite a while.  Stu Diggins got on the team quite a bit later and not long before I left.  I got some great results with Redline but myself and the TM didn’t always see eye-to-eye so by June 82 I knew my days were numbered and when my friend Tony Slater expressed an interest in riding for Redline I didn’t stand in the way and parted company with the team.

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How did you get on Halfords and tell us about your first trip to the US?
It was quite a blessing, as I did really well at the Anglo American Cup at Redditch about a week later and was in the final where Tim March beat the Americans.  Halford’s main man, David Duffield was in attendance and was on the lookout for an unsponsored rider to fund for a USA trip to race at the upcoming (first ever) IBMXF World Championships at Dayton Ohio.  BMX Action Bike magazine’s; Richards and Jim Black, along with Dave Young (Chris’s Dad) were advising him on who to pick, and luckily I got on really  well with all those guys and had just had a two-page interview in the magazine, so I have no doubt that it was those guys that influenced him to pick me as the lucky rider.  A couple of weeks later I was boarding one of Freddie Lakers Jumbo Jets at Heathrow at 16 years old.  I flew to New York where I met Andy Oldham and his Dad who were also making the trip.  We flew onto Pittsburgh where the plane developed a landing gear fault and we actually crash landed onto a foam filled runway and Andy managed to sleep through the whole thing!!  We missed our connecting flight to Dayton and got a free limo ride to a hotel and flew out the next morning, pretty rad to experience all that at 16.   The heat and humidity of the Midwest was a big shock to me and even more so for the Oldham’s as they are Northerners!   Andy ended up getting injured in training leaving me as the lone Brit racing.  The parade lap was interesting with me myself and I carrying a massive Union Jack around the track.  I made the semis where I crashed and that was that.  While I was there I hung out with Greg Esser and he persuaded me not to go home but to spend the rest of the summer there following the NBL War of the Stars Series which was a great experience and I even won a round!   It was pretty surreal to be traveling, training and hanging out with the very Pro’s that I’d been reading about in BMX Plus just a few months earlier and they now all knew me by name!!!   I moved on to Canada after the race season ended and spent the Fall racing there, it was a good scene and about as big as it was back home at that time.   I returned home in late October 82 to find that I had still made national #3 even though I’d missed a large part of the season.Being local and racing with Andy Ruffell how was it being around during the start of his celebrity status in BMX?

Andy Ruffell was turning into a media celebrity by now and was getting so much tv work that it seemed like every time I turned the TV on he was on it!!  He was getting into the freestyle side of things but was still virtually unbeatable on the track, he was a true phenomenon for the years I raced!!

It seemed like you were not on Redline long before you got picked up by Torker, what was with the move?
Alan Woods contacted me in December about riding for one of his teams, I jumped at that as I’d always admired his set-up and the professionalism of the teams, etc. Initially he asked me to ride a Robinson which I was happy with as I knew them to be excellent bikes, but he eventually decided on me joining TORKER which was also cool as I was good friends with team rider, Darren Page (rip) and his family and they lived locally to me.

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Picketts Lock along with the Halfords NEC were big events back in the early 80s that were well-documented not just in the mags but also on TV as well. Do you remember much from these events?
My first race on Torker was at Picketts Lock in January 83 and I had both Tim March and Andy Ruffell in my moto which meant I was virtually guaranteed magazine coverage for Torker.  And yes, the centre page spread in BMX Action Bike Magazine was Andy, Tim, Sid Salisbury and myself hitting the first jump.  Alan Woods also gave me a Cruiser and I raced against Tim, Alan, Tony Slater and Jamie Vince and although I never won (Tim did) I got a solid second place.  I was having an decent season scoring regular top 3’s on Torker and won the inaugural British Championships at Knebworth House (the Trophy says British Open Championships) and got 3rd at the Halfords NEC race after almost going over the gate and being dead last until turn 2.  Seeing the race on TV was so cool!!

83 Worlds Slagharen Holland, how was that?
When the 83 Worlds came around at Slagharen for some reason I didn’t want to go and decided to go to the USA again instead, a week or two after the Worlds was a big race at Kettering, Ohio and it seemed like all the Americans that had attended the Worlds flew back for this race.   I raced Richie Anderson in Open Class and led him in a moto until the last turn where he blew by me (he probably spun on the gate) but it sure felt good to be ahead of him!

By the start of the 84 season you had disappeared from racing. What prompted you to stop; birds and booze?
When I returned from the USA in October 83 I got a job running FAZE 7 BMX Shop for Joe Burlo which was great but it was that that helped me to lose interest in BMX bikes as it became a 7 day a week thing, BMX, BMX, BMX all week in the shop, then BMX all weekend, it tipped me over the edge and I quit at the end of 83.  Looking back on how big things got in 84/85 and seeing that the Stars of the Kelloggs on TV were riders that I had beaten week in and week out a few years before, does make me bitterly regret giving up when I did.  When I left bmx I totally turned my back on it and have no memories of bmx after 83 apart from when Tony Slater was telling me about this kid from Derby (Geth Shooter) that was younger than us beating Stu Thomsen and co…that stuck in my mind.

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You got back into racing years later this time around with Mountainbikes.  What years did you compete and thoughts on the whole UK MTB scene.
Back in 1990, Tony Slater and Craig Schofield dragged me along to a BMX race at Ipswich.  My Torker had air in its tyres for the first time in 7 years and still had 1983 mud on them.  I did ok at the race for the first straight but always blew up puffing and panting before the finish and Tony and Craig kept giggling about me getting frustrated at trying to keep up with this 18 year old kid from Derby who was rather good…Dale something or other….haha

A few years later in 96 I fancied a go at Mountain Biking and went along to the Bike Show and bumped into Jay Hardy and Paul Roberts who persuaded me to enter the National Short Course DH Championships the following weekend.  I managed to win it at my first attempt which made me instantly well-known on the circuit and secured me a mini interview and picture on page one of issue one of Dirt Magazine.  I raced DH for the next few years winning quite a few Nationals along the way.   In 2000 I got the Bronze Medal at the World Championships in Canada and Won the British Championships in 2005.

By the mid 2000s you had found your way back into racing BMX and with only a handful of races, qualified and raced the 2005 Worlds in Paris and even put it in the main.  Seemed like you got the bug again?Yes, I decided to race BMX again and after 3 races back I found myself at the UCI Worlds In Bercy and cruised through the motos, then the 1/8th and 1/4, then I was at the back in the semi thinking it was all over and they seemed to go wide in the last turn so I went under them all and qualified for the main!!  Back in the stands it sank in that I had made a world final when Dale Holmes said ‘Hey Keith, you’re in the main’… A bit of a crash on the third straight meant it was a W7 for me which I gladly took.   I left bmx again after that world final, and kept on plugging away at DH getting more National wins and finally quit DH in 2008 to concentrate on bmx again.  I hooked up with Dialled Bikes in 2009 and won the British Championships in 4x for Dialled and followed it with British Championship titles on cruiser in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012 Mike Wong started up a new Brand FACTORY TEAM BIKES with me as the sole rider that year followed by a strong team from 2013 onwards.  I continued with FTB, becoming the team manager in 2014 and in 2017 I said that I would quit bmx racing for good if I won the British Championships that year.  My body was broken and aching and I really needed a rest so I gritted my teeth and became British Champion for the last time in 2017.

Let’s wrap it up final words?
I decided to take a rest in 2018 and in 2019 started a new cycle sport called Enduro. I raced the seven round series and managed to win five of them, one second and one third to take the title at my first attempt.  Next year, I’m taking a fresh challenge with yet another form of bicycle racing.   Did I mention that I love bikes?!   Thank you for giving me the chance to share a little bit of my history of riding bicycles on dirt.

1983 European Championships

Round 2 of the 1983 European Championships in Dijon, France (Indoor) 11-13 Open Final stacked with UK talent.  Stu Diggins on his way to the win over Chas Smith with Darren Wood in 3rd giving the UK a full-sweep on the podium.  Also pictured, Wayne Llewellyn who went onto win 12 expert in Dijon and the overall European title for his class.

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RADBMX MK19

MK19 is already looking like a huge event coming up this August that’s going to take place over in the UK. Bob Haro, Harry Leary, Craig Campbell, Alan Woods, Tom Lynch and John Buultjens are just a few of the names on the roster with an even rumored Andy Ruffell appearance. The Old Skool community continues to grow worldwide with events, ride out and gatherings going on, which is cool to see.

NBMXA Nottingham National 1984

The NBMXA 1984 season opener at Nottingham featured in BMX Bi-Weekly Volume 4 Issue 8. With registration, practice and a full National with over 700 riders to be ran in just one day, the NBMXA crew got caught off guard and by the semis, as they had run out of day light and didn’t have floodlights.  So, the race had to be postponed before the finals and finished as a double-header National later in the year. UKBMX regular Chris Simmons (Diamond Back) who at the time was looking to redeem himself in Nottingham after crashing out at the 83 Derby British Championships but after the lights went out he’d have to wait another day.

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Marcus Rich

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Shot of Marcus Rich at Southampton we’re thinking 81/82ish.  Marcus went on to become double British Champion in 1986 and UK BMX National number 2 the same year but for some reason never scored a Factory ride.

PC: Linda Rich

British BMX History Book

If you’ve not already checked it out there is a pretty cool Facebook Page at the moment that’s caught some steam in the UK BMX Old and Mid School World: We Were RAD. Basically, Anthony Frascina, Andrew Rigby and Clint Pilkington are putting together a British history book of BMX and people have been submitting photos, stories and interviews via the Facebook group. Check it out, there are some great images and it’s super cool the guys are documenting more British BMX history moving forward.

PC: John Davis

1984 NBMXA National Bromsgrove

1984 NBMXA National at Bromsgrove in the West Midlands has got to go down as one of the muddiest UK Nationals of the 80s and probably 90s as well thinking about it. What did make this race interesting was appearances from GT/US riders; Robert Fehd, Kevin Hull and Darwin Griffin who had made the trip over.  Fehd and Hull went 1st and 2nd in 17+ but Griffin had problems and didn’t feature top 3 in his class (15 expert) which was won by the new kid on the block at the time, Gary Llewellyn, who had just got onto Mongoose earlier that year.

Derby Greyhound Stadium

Image of the entrance of the Derby Greyhound Stadium which closed down in 1988 – after being a staple on the NBMXA side in racing, hosting the very first British Championships in 1983 sponsored by Halfords, until the last British Championships in 1988. Even though it seemed like the 80s boom had peaked, over 1,000 riders competed.

Photo: Derby Telegraph