X-treme: The downhill rush

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Kids love bikes. Riding a bike is a rights-of-passage type of activity which takes your mind off other problems - like puberty, acne and hating your parents.

There is always one kid in every neighbourhood who pulls crazy stunts, the fearless one who never seems to appear in public without their bike. If you grew up in North Yorkshire near a kid named Scott Beaumont, chances are you would have seen the back of his head plenty of times as he sped away from the crowd.

His parents started him on bikes when he was four and a half years old. He's just turned 20 and, after years of BMX racing, has been crowned World Champion twice (in 1995 and 1996) and has won eight National Titles and eight British Championships.

Unconcerned that his mother might be a little weary of dusting all those trophies, Beaumont switched to mountain bikes two years ago in search of a new challenge.

"I achieved everything I wanted to in BMX, and I wanted to try something with new challenges and maybe the chance of an Olympic Gold," he says.

He's managed to find that challenge while remaining on two wheels, and now competes as a professional downhill mountain-bike racer. When I'm speaking to him, he's in Edinburgh for the third round of the British National Series. It's wet, and conditions for following day's race are clearly dangerous.

BMX racing lasts for about 40 seconds on a man-made course against eight other riders. Downhill mountain-bike racing, on the other hand, can last between three and five minutes with competitors racing one at a time against the clock. Whoever records the fastest time wins.

Beaumont also takes part in duel racing which sees two riders (in separate lanes) abuse gravity by racing side by side down the flattest and steepest hill they can find.

Downhill racers can reach speeds in excess of 50mph in conditions that are often wet, slippery and laced with mother nature's booby traps.

"I never worry about getting hurt," he says. "It's my job, and, whatever the conditions, I have to go out there with the right attitude and race as if I can win. This course in Scotland is everyone's worse nightmare, there are some of the biggest tree roots sticking out of the ground that I've seen, but it's the same for everyone."

Despite winning a National Race in his first year, Beaumont's performances on the bigger mountain bikes were initially inconsistent. After defeating all comers on a BMX, he now faces a greater challenge to improve in this new sport.

"I found out that first year that it wasn't easy to win events and I became inspired to stick with it and improve," he says.

Beaumont now works with a personal trainer for three hours a day and is currently lying third overall in the National Points series.

As riders strive to shave seconds off their times, manufacturers of mountain bikes are constantly offering new design innovations intended to give their riders an edge.

Beaumont rides a Kona bike worth pounds 2,300 which boasts a strong but lightweight aluminium frame and more features than you can shake a stick at.

"The technology in mountain bikes is improving all the time and that's one of the things that interests me.

"It's basically a race-ready bike that you can buy for around pounds 2,300, which is very cheap compared with other bikes. I have a race-ready bike that I can take straight out of the box and use without changing a thing, but some bikes can cost up to pounds 6,000."

You can start your career with a pounds 100 model from Halfords, but, once you give mountain racing a try, be prepared to be hooked for life.

"It's the buzz factor," says Beaumont. "Racing downhill at 50mph with trees rushing past you is incredible. You get really close to a tree and you think, `Whoah, I almost crashed there'. The adrenaline rush is unparalleled. People talk about a lot of other sports, but, in my opinion, you can't match it."

Watch out for Beaumont on the winner's rostrum at the 2004 Olympics.

For more information on mountain-bike racing call the British Cycling Federation: 0161-230 2301

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