“It’s a brilliant time to be a bike rider and I wish I had my time again” – so says Chris Walker who is helping British company MotoDirect’s Cycle Division come up with bikes and clothing fit for a professional cyclist
It takes a talented rider to win the Milk Race (British stage race 1958-1993) and Chris Walker is just that. In 1991, Chris Walker won the Milk Race Pro-Am and in doing so, added his name to a long list of great names from cycling, including the likes of Malcolm Elliott, who have won the Milk Race.
Walker, from Sheffield, also rode for the Linda McCartney pro team and his palmares is long and distinguished. As well as the Milk Race victory, in 1991, he won four stages of an Italian stage race, the Settimana Bergamasca. His list of victories in Britain is far too big to have here but in short, he was also triumphant in the British Criterium championship several times and many British classics such as the Havant GP, Archer GP, and GP of Essex.
Jonny Towers, Gareth Hewitt and Chris Walker in the RST-Trigon showroom at MotoDirect’s headquarters near Derby.
For younger riders who may not have heard of Chris, then how about this from Russell Downing (Endura Racing in 2012) who said in an interview with the Telegraph. When asked who was the biggest influence on his career, Russell replied, “When I was around 17 or 18 Chris Walker, an ex-pro’ from back in the day, lived local and we used to train together. He convinced me I was good enough to turn pro’ – this was around 1997 or ’98 – so yeah, Chris Walker because he was the guy who convinced me to become a pro”.
But while Russell fought like a Yorkshire terrier year after year to get a pro contract, eventually succeeding with his two years at Sky, Chris packed the racing in and took to coaching some motorcyclists who also rode a push bike for fitness. That lead to him getting involved in the company that Jonny Towers (a former Elite cyclist in the same team as Chris) was a director in, MotoDirect, and cycling of the pedal variety took a back seat.
MotoDirect is a small company based near Derby with a small team of people designing and producing a large amount of products, firstly for the motorcycle market and now in the last year, also for the pedal bike market too.
Talking about Jonny Towers, Chris says “he was a talented guy on a push bike and was also a champion on the motorcycle before he had a big accident. That was how he ended up riding a push bike. We met because I had an interest in motorcycling and that’s how I became involved in MotoDirect”.
Chris modelling RST motorcycle clothing for his own brochures.
Long before push bikes were to enter the company’s portfolio, MotoDirect came up with a brand of clothing called RST for motorcyclists and in 10 years, they started from nothing to now have the leading brand in the UK. One look round the showroom and we’re not talking one or two items of clothing but rack after rack of specialist clothing for the motorcyclist. I haven’t owned a motorcycle since the mid 70’s but have sat on plenty over the years photographing bike races and the clothing was certainly impressive.
The brand is also a success abroad and one of the biggest brands in Australia for example but as ever, a new market was about to emerge for MotoDirect that Chris and Jonny hadn’t realised was there for them; clothing for pedal cyclists. Chris takes up the story ….
“We sponsored a lot of racers in the motorcycle market to get the product right” explained Chris. “Once we got the name out there, a lot of our motorcyclists we found were riding push bikes for their fitness training. It dawned on us that the guys we were sponsoring and putting a lot of money into, were riding in other people’s kit when riding the push bike and we felt we should have them ride in our own kit.”
“It took off from there and soon other people were asking ‘where did you get that RST cycle kit from, it looks really nice’. Not only did we know what we wanted with the RST motorcycling clothing, it was the same with the cycle clothing.”
Grace Garner, sister of World Champion Lucy, carries her Trigon up the muddy bank at Bradford where riding was impossible.
Chris had never lost touch with the cycling world and he would still see the likes of Russell Downing on a regular basis. His kids Jessie and Joey were also growing up and whilst Chris admits he wasn’t trying to push the kids into cyclesport, they were still exposed to racing like the day Chris took them to Lincoln to watch the Grand Prix.
“The kids have known Russell since they were babies” says Chris “and there we were at the Lincoln Grand Prix. We’re standing there and there’s this wall of sound as they come past with everyone shouting for Russell who went on to win that day. I just said to Joey off the cuff, ‘do you fancy this? That could be you one day’ and he replied, ‘yes, I’d like to race’.
“So we took the kids to a track for some coaching and they loved it from day one. Then Joey started racing and Jess was coming with us but didn’t realise what a wonderful scene there was with the women as she thought it was a boy’s sport. Both her and I were gob smacked at how big the women’s side was at races and now it’s a case of having to hold them both back.”
With Joey and Jessie involved in the sport, Chris found himself riding more, raising his fitness level to keep up with the kids and his wife Lynne, a former Great Britain cyclist, was also getting involved. They’d all go out together much to the amusement of many on the Saturday run in South Yorkshire but it was much more than just a way of keeping fit and being out with the family.
Chris was now back at races and seeing the latest trends in cycle racing, what was good and so on. Chris had raced in a different era and because of that, he had what could be deemed to be old fashioned ideas but he soon found himself having to take the new ideas on board and blend them with his own experience in racing.
Chris recalled what it was like in his day when riders would turn up with bikes that were all show. “I used to see these ‘shiny people’ as I called them, and it used to give me extra fuel to try and hurt them more!” A decade or so onwards though, these ‘shiny people’ are the norm at cycle races.
Looking good on a bike is what youngsters are about in these days of brand envy and so Chris has had to take that on board as well as making sure his riders also understand some of the core values of being a ‘racer’. Keeping them grounded and one way of doing that was to have his own team and so RST/Trigon was born. A team for young riders, they already have some talented riders besides Joey and Jessie.
The latter next year has been signed by Horizon Fitness/Prendas while the likes of Gracer Garner and Abby Mae Parkinson have been racking up wins during the winter at cyclo-cross wearing RST clothing and riding Trigon bikes.
The reason the riders are on Trigon bikes is because the Cycle Division knew they needed a bike they could sell alongside the RST clothing and instead of sourcing a known brand, they went in search of something new. “We found Trigon who are a well established company who have the values we were after” says Chris.
“They are mainly an OEM manufacturer making stuff for a lot of well known brands and we thought, we’ll have a piece of this.”
“We knew straight away the quality was there and were blown with the factory and testing they have. We rode the sample bikes back here and everyone who rode them, myself, Jonny and Gareth (Hewitt) were blown away by how well they ride.”
“The next thing was to get the brand known because I know, if we can get people on the bike, it’s a sale, for sure.” With the bike that Chris won the Milk Race on in the background, he talked about how good he felt the Trigon product is and the hopes he has for the success of the Cycle Division headed up by another cyclist, Gareth Hewitt.
Gunnar Grönlund on his way to winning the Hill Climb championships, quite a coupe for RST-Trigon.
Gareth still races and in my years covering races, Gareth has long been part of the line-ups at Premier Calendar events and so on. Like Jonny and Chris, Gareth has ridden many bikes for the teams he has been part of over the years and that experience is helping him get this new company off the ground and the Trigon name into the view of cyclists around Britain.
Chris says of the testing of the bikes, “we all ride hard and know how they should handle and even though the Trigon’s are as light as anything, one of my key requirements for a good frame is that feeling you know you’re getting the power down. You can pretty much feel if a bike is any good within the first two kilometres of riding it”.
It isn’t just the Trigon bikes that have been tested up and down hills and around corners at speed by Chris and his team but also many other test frames. The reason is because the Cycle Division’s Trigon frame is not the end of their look for a bike to sell to the British public. As well as Trigon, the Cycle Division are also looking to get their own brand established in the UK, that of ‘Curve’.
“We have tested an endless amount of frames until we found one that performed as well as the Trigon” says Chris. “It has to be a bike we’re happy to recommend and it should ride how we feel a good bike should ride.”
As a former professional, that standard of quality they demand is set very high indeed. I listened to Chris Walker talk about where exactly a bidon cage should be on the frame, the use of graphics on the frame and many other things he was able to correct on frames he’s tested and looked at. He doesn’t just ‘look’ at frames but is able to see things in a frame that others can’t see and that helps ensure the products are of a very high standard.
Abby-Mae winning at Derby for RST-Trigon.
For sure, Chris and his team are dialled in to how a bike should be and how the clothing should feel on the body. Based on their success with RST in the motorcycle market, I can’t see them being anything but as successful in the market feeding the pedal variety.
The Curve frame is yet to be launched but it’s arrival will only strengthen what is already a very varied line up of clothing, frames and bikes. Looking around the showroom, not only is there plenty of choice in clothing made from quality Italian fabrics but also Trigon bikes for the track, cyclo-cross, road, mountain biking and time trial/triathlon.
Bit by bit, the Cycle Division of MotoDirect are for sure creating a great portfolio of products for the cycling market. They haven’t been round long but a Trigon bike has already won a British Championship (Hill Climb) thanks to a rider in RST clothing, Gunnar Grönlund. With the experience of Chris Walker and his colleagues at the Cycle Division of MotoDirect, that championship is surely not going to be the last …