FeaturesMatt Noel

Matt Noel

What started out as a hobby, hanging out with his mates after school, soon began to snowball thanks to a bit of healthy competition between friends and before he knew it they’d all found themselves partaking in an arms race, saving to buy better components and build more capable bikes with a view to going faster and jumping higher than one another.

From the dirt jumps and downhill runs where he cut his teeth, to turning his hand to trials and refining his craft with pinpoint accuracy and onwards to performing in stunt shows and demonstrations, he eventually competed at a national level in Australia before his return to Jersey, even picking up a few sponsors as his two-wheeled journey progressed.

Fast-forward a couple of decades from where this story began and Matt’s gone full-circle, returning to downhill. He’s become more sensible as time has passed, he says. I’m not sure I believe it personally – launching yourself over gaps and pulling whips at high speed is hardly crochet, after all! Speaking of whips, Matt rates those and a good old tabletop as his favourite downhill stunts, with the feeling of landing a 360 from of a drop right up there when it comes to riding a trials bike.

Bike technology has evolved significantly since he first became involved in the different disciplines, but without a doubt the biggest game-changer for him has been the introduction of dropper seatposts that allow the rider to adjust their saddle height at the press of a button to get it well out of harm’s way during steep descents. Coming a close second in his eyes, however – and he seemed almost ashamed to say it – is the eBike. Truthfully though, it makes perfect sense – the ability to get an extra few runs in over the course of a full day’s riding without destroying yourself on the uphill leg, combined with the additional weight teaming up with gravity to expedite your descent seems like a no-brainer to me. Despite all of the technological advances he’s seen though, some things never change – and for Matt the one constant has been the Renthal  handlebars he’s been fitting to his bikes almost since day one.

These days, Matt’s all about riding for fun and tries not to take things too seriously, although he hasn’t fully retired since his competetive racing days in Australia, having taken part in a few of the local downhill rounds, although he tells me there haven’t been any held in a while. In light of that, I couldn’t help but wonder where his favourite place to ride was. Without hesitation, it’s the French Alps and neighbouring resorts Morzine and Les Gets in particular. There, he says, you’ll find a huge variety of terrain to choose from; riding the ski lifts to hit the downhill runs one day, riding trials and soaring over massive boulder gaps the next. When he’s there you’ll probably find him channeling his inner Andreu Lacondeguy (Catalan rider and Matt’s biggest influence) who is famed for his agressive riding style and mind-blowingly huge airs.

On the subject of huge airs, you don’t grow confidence or refine your talents by taking things easy, and going big inevitably results in the occasional big slam. Matt’s worst? ‘Probably getting blown sideways on a tabletop jump and trying to hang onto it, landing on my head from a good twelve feet up’ and resulting in ‘a pretty good concussion, winding up in hospital for a few days’. Maybe that’s the difference between something being a mere hobby and becoming a passion? Taking such big hits for your sport without hesitation requires a certain mindset, but that’s what it takes to succeed, and ultimately to continue to gain satisfaction whether that’s on race day, after work on a weekday or during a holiday.

No stranger to an adrenaline-fuelled life both at work and in his spare time, Matt’s also a keen surfer, seemingly only taking time out to rest by photographing other surfers (you can see some of his work on page 28 of this issue), and it does make me wonder if he might be the kind of guy who wouldn’t struggle to fall asleep on a rollercoaster, such are the scope and pace of his interests.

My final question for Matt probably holds the most significance before the imminent arrival of autumn; Maxibon or Twister? Naturally, his answer was ‘Maxibon for the win’. Clearly he’s a man of exquisite taste.

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