Words: Jon Bentman
Images: JB & Husqvarna / Future7Media
Looking at the numbers, looking at worldwide exposure, if you had to name the top man in enduro today you’d probably call it as Graham Jarvis. He’s never won an enduro world championship, not so much as an individual round – and is unlikely to do so – but in the world of extreme enduro he is king. And – sorry Knighter, sorry Pela, sorry Antoine – we’re going to have to face up to this: the reason Jarvis is number one is because extreme enduro is bigger than conventional enduro.
Is the popularity of extreme over conventional enduro like that of freestyle as compared to motocross? We’re not sure, but the wider (non-motorcycling) public certainly relate to extreme – with its simple context of a seemingly impossible fight against the terrain and elements – and Jarvis, despite being one of the most introverted racers you’re ever likely to meet, is then the doyen of the new (extreme) enduro enthusiasts.
Just how big a name he is you can evidence by going on You Tube. There’s a video there of Jarvis ‘training’ in Spain. He’s not so much training as playing up to the camera. But, much like cycle-trials phenomena Danny MacAskill and Martyn Ashton, his antics have hooked millions of viewers – a colossal 2.265 million at the last count. That’s one huge number, and we’re talking enduro here, surely the least popular spectator sport next to, well, chess? A more recent shoot at a local skate park has already reached 900,000 views. Jarvis is huge in extreme events, his list of wins is huge, but it’s his reach through social media that really sets him apart.
“It’s certainly lifted my profile, doing the You Tube clips,” understates Jarvis. “The problem with our sport is it’s hard to film the whole route, so perhaps when people watch videos of the races they don’t see so much. So the idea behind the You Tube clips was to show them what I can do on a bike. If I’d made those videos riding a trials bike they wouldn’t have had anything like the impact; the public just don’t relate to them, but dirt bikes (as the Americans call them) they’re straight into.
“The first one we did locally, on some rocks, and that got a few hundred-thousand hits. But we did the one in Spain with a bit of urban stuff as well so I think people related to that a bit better. It’s captured their imagination.”
While his You Tube videos have gone from strength to strength, Jarvis is yet to cash in on their success. He’s been funded to make them by his regular sponsors and he says there is some income from the advertising revenue, but it’s not big bucks. So Jarvis still lives in a modest three-bed terraced house in Ripon, Yorkshire. His only vehicle is a loaned Vito van from a sponsor. He might even outstrip Travis Pastrana for You Tube views, but he’s a long way from enjoying a champagne lifestyle, it’s still Yorkshire pud and a pint of ale for Graham…
WIN WIN WIN
The You Tube stuff is only part of the Jarvis story though. It’s his huge stack of wins in the extreme classics such as the Red Bull Romaniacs and Hell’s Gate that have made his name. Every year for the last six he’s travelled the globe riding extreme enduros, time and again walking quietly away with the biggest trophy and the tidy stack of cash that typically goes with it.
And all this is a second career. Jarvis, now 37, had been a world-class trials rider first and foremost. His tally of four Scottish Six Days Trial and nine Scott Trial wins – plus five World Trials Championship round wins – already credit him with ‘legend’ status in the UK and wider trials fraternity. The extreme enduro career came about almost by accident.
“I did it for fun really. My trials career was coming to an end so I was looking for other things to do, and I fancied doing a bit of enduro as a way of having some fun again. This was 2006, I was still doing the British Trials Championship so I mixed in a bit of enduro.
“But pretty quickly I found with the extreme stuff I could win – and make some money – so I stuck with that.”
Of course, picking up a day job is a fairly acceptable way of earning more money, too, one that after 21 years of constantly chasing championships might appeal more than swapping saddles.
“I was ready to retire, I’d had enough of the constant travelling and the pressures, so yeah, I wasn’t looking to carry on competing. I’d been looking at doing trials schools and just play-riding when I wanted to.
“And yet here I am, six years later, second time around and loving it. If anything I’m appreciating it more. It helps that enduros are less complicated than trials so it’s easy to go out and enjoy it. It’s all fairly new to me as well, and there are always new events coming up; we’re always going to new places.
“And where I used to drive everywhere in my trials days – and that really takes it out of you, year after year – now I’m flying to the races, being met by a professional team with everything set up for me. It’s professional but I don’t think there’s the pressure. There’s no big championship we’re chasing, there are no big teams, it’s not down to fractions of a second where you’re having to adjust the bike to make up that last tenth of a second. You can just take a standard bike and ride, I love that about it.”
While Jarvis was immediately very handy at extreme, it wasn’t a case of overnight success. For his first few seasons he rode a Sherco 450 for his old sponsors, a bike he confirms wasn’t ideal for the sport. His big break came in 2009 when he teamed up with the Golden Tyre backed Flite Husaberg team (based in Italy) and knew immediately he’d done the right thing.
“I arrived at Husaberg just as they got the two-strokes, so I was moving onto a proven extreme bike – essentially a KTM – and at that point I knew I was on the best bike. The team was excellent as well, it was good to come into an experienced team. There was no looking back.”
Jarvis became a regular podium finisher. But it wasn’t until 2011 that his dominance really took a hold. He went from podiums to wins – every time. The 2011 season was crazy – Lagares (Portugal) 1st, Tough One 1st, Hell’s Gate 1st, Red Bull Romaniacs 1st, Red Bull Sea to Sky 1st, Roof of Africa 1st, extreme races in Ecuador and Australia: 1st. The 2012 season went pretty much the same way.
Only one extreme event has eluded him: Erzberg. Although that’s not strictly true. Twice he’s been first over the line. Only on both occasions he’s been excluded for missing a checkpoint.
“Officially it’s the only big extreme event I haven’t won. It is the biggest extreme event and gets the most publicity so that is frustrating. But deep down I know that I have won, or was capable of winning, the race. When they disqualified me I know that I rode a good race, I did all that I could, so I’m not beating myself up about it. And, you know, in 2012 I don’t even know where I went wrong for them to have excluded me.”
There are of course conspiracy theorists out there who say Jarvis’ disqualifications are ‘manufactured’ – Erzberg being in Austria, home of KTM and all that. None of it can be proved, and for his part Jarvis dismisses such allegations. You can, though, bet he’ll make sure that Erzberg is his in 2013!
ROCK CLIMBING WITH BIKES
Coming from a background of world trials – and if you watch any videos of that you’ll know they get up to crazy rock-climbing-with-bikes antics – was without a doubt a great grounding for the challenges of extreme enduro. Given just how extreme world trials is, you’d have to wonder if extreme enduro isn’t actually a step down?
“No, it’s still very much extreme, because the bikes are so much heavier and you have less grip. So it is different to trials, it’s a different technique – but at the same time it relates back to trials skills, finding the grip and a line and clutch control especially.
“Looking back I was probably in the wrong sport in trials because my favourite trial was the Scott (an annual British classic, being a 70-mile trial that combines observed sections with speed over the course) and that relates most to an extreme enduro. The events I do now are like the Scott Trial, without the observed sections.
“I like extreme enduro because you don’t think too much about the bike. I think more about my riding; you can adapt your riding to anything, especially with extreme, so it’s more down to the rider. With my bikes they’re mostly stock, I just mess with a few suspension settings.”
Jarvis acknowledges that his 20-something years in top level trials has made him a formidable extreme rider. He’s had season after season of top level experience, not just dealing with the technical matters in the riding, but maintaining the motivation to attack every new year and to keep on top of it through the season.
“I’ve got more experience than the youngsters coming into the sport, so I know how to deal with the schedule. And how to train – that really helps. I’ve had to change a few things, like I’ve put on about a stone and a half since trials as the weight of the bike is that much more and it helps to be a bit bigger. I just do a mixture of riding and gym work, something every day depending on how my body is feeling – you have to listen to your body at my age!”
And so, seven years after he was set to retire Graham Jarvis faces another professional season. And he remains the contradiction that he’s always been: the most reserved man in the paddock yet the most talented man on the course. He’s the last man to step forward for an interview, it positively pains him, yet he’s all over You Tube – he’s even been forced to act a little. “I am quiet, but secretly I do like the attention” Jarvis confesses, adding one of his trademark impish grins. But he doesn’t say any more.
He’s also most times the oldest guy in the entry list, yet he’s found a way to make every one of his years count to his advantage and he’s determined enough to make sure that he’s also the toughest.
Graham Jarvis has certainly earned his number one position – and we can’t see him giving up that status any time soon. Yeah, old guys rule!
THIS IS G-FORCE
There’s nothing like a quick-fire Q&A to get under the skin of a rider. Picture a pine dining table in a kitchen-diner in a modest terraced house in Yorkshire. A kit bag is half-packed anticipating the next ride, there’s a stack of Klim helmets (all used) in the corner, on the table is a mix of weekend newspapers, race entry forms and a tea pot. Outside it’s cold, snow lies a foot deep.
So here are 10 things Graham likes:
Films: I like action movies, the old Arnie stuff was great. I get dragged to the occasional chick-flick by my girlfriend and I’ll admit there’ll be a tear in my eye if it’s anything soppy.
Music: I don’t even know if it qualifies as old school, I listen to stuff by Elton John, Rod Stewart, people like that. And a load of 80s stuff – it’s what I grew up with.
Food: You can’t beat a good steak and chips. But fitness is so important I do watch my diet, I don’t touch junk food and actually it’s not that difficult for me to stick to healthy stuff as I enjoy it in the first place.
Drink: I don’t drink very much although I’ll have one when it comes to celebrating a win – but I stick to beer.
Tea or coffee?: It has to be tea. Herbal teas too, I’m drinking green tea right now.
Clothes: I’m guilty of mostly wearing team gear. I like nice clothes but it’s down to money again. I buy most of my clothes at TK Maxx.
Pets: I have a cockerpoo – that’s a cocker spaniel crossed with a poodle. He’s called Monty.
Cars: I fancy a fast car, but I’ve never had the money or opportunity, so my only car is a Vito van, supplied by my sponsors!
Newspaper?: Hmm, yeah, that’s the Daily Mail on the table isn’t it? I guess I’ve been caught!
Recreation: I don’t have any relaxation activities as such, just time spent with my girlfriend and with my kids (I have twins, a boy and a girl, age eight). Because it’s so busy any spare time I try to spend with them.