A British world champion cyclist paralysed from the waist down when a stunt went wrong has used a specially modified mountain bike to complete the world’s hardest downhill course.
Martyn Ashton spent five months in hospital in 2013 after crashing heavily from a three-metre-high bar performing a stunt at a Moto GP event at Silverstone.
The damage to his spine left him unable to walk or cycle. Yet less than three years after the accident, Ashton has been filmed riding the Fort William track in Scotland during the recent World Cup.
On Sunday he released a video entitled Down Not Out, which showed him hurtling down the 1.7-mile (2.8km) course in a modified bike. It was pretty terrifying, the 42-year-old said, but he hoped to inspire others to challenge themselves and push the limits of what is thought possible.
Instead of a saddle, Ashton’s modified Canyon Sender CF bike has a Tessier ski chair that was adapted to fix to a standard mountain bike seat post. Ashton, who lives in south Wales with his wife and son, was strapped into the chair and his feet attached to the pedals, which he is unable to turn since his injury.
The second major modification was an electric motor to keep Ashton rolling wherever the trail headed. On the Fort William run Ashton used the motor wherever he would normally have put in pedal strokes: to power out of corners, grab a burst of speed, accelerate into takeoffs and maintain momentum on the flat or on rises.
A lot of technical design, engineering and 3D-printing work was carried out by Gareth Jones at Mojo and Tom Wheeler at Not Broken to keep the Tessier ski seat level, to keep the cranks and pedals at the correct angle for Ashton’s feet and to secure the battery mount to the frame.
Ashton, a world and multiple British BikeTrial champion, came to prominence with his hugely popular Road Bike Party videos, which showed him doing stunts on his racing bike.
The Down Not Out video features a certain amount of artistry. Though it purports to show Ashton completing the course in one go, it was actually shot over a week in the run-up to the World Cup. The final section was filmed on the day of the competition, with the real crowd drafted in to cheer him over the line. Some of his friends wept when he finished, though Ashton himself said he was too busy trying not to fall off. “I just wanted to get down and not make a fool of myself,” he told the Guardian.
The film also lives out his “absurd” fantasy of beating Gee Atherton, one of the world’s best downhill riders, and Danny MacAskill, whose street trials videos made him another YouTube star.
Ashton dreamt up the idea during what he calls his “long lie-down” in hospital. He insists he somehow always knew he would ride a bike again, despite accepting that his paralysis was permanent. “I don’t know what this says about my mentality but I never really thought, ‘I’m never going to ride my bike again.’ I was just thinking: how am I going to ride my bike again? I don’t like to think about what I can’t do, but what I can do.”