Swan Hunter. The Ouseburn. Jimmy Nail. These aren’t things that the young folk of the “Toon” will resonate with these days – indeed, the Quayside is a much more trendy scene, and the Ouseburn less of a place to trade second hand motors and more an area to listen to reggae music. Still, it retains its sense of place due to the nature of those who frequent it – salt of the earth, hard grafting and feisty Geordies.
The Toon, from the outside has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but underneath it all, the people haven’t changed a bit.
We’re on Westgate Road, and anybody who likes two wheels, the one’s with engines that is, will know about this iconic postcode area. It’s full of all the good stuff – 10-12 motor bike dealers jostle with the smaller independents less than 500 yards from the city centre. St Jame’s park is in sight but the focus here is speed rather than posts.
Skinny Mick is the man we’re here to see, who’s got a bike in the stand is beavering away under the guise of his aptly named “Skinny Mikes bike repairs” . It’s going well, and Mick is fairly busy tweaking and fettling bikes for many of the more serious riders from the area.
Yet, the real reason we’re with Mick is to go riding, for Mick has just landed himself a deal with Bergamont, the German brand who are self confessed “Straight from St Pauli” . That area shares a lot of similarities with here – football mad, not unknown to see some violence but really and fundamentally it is passion that drives them both.
Mick has been riding since lord know’s when, but he was a late starter to the race scene, and even now he prefers to simply play on his bike. He’s not really fussed as long as it has two wheels and can be thrown about with reckless abandon – in short he doesn’t give F**k as long as he’s smiling.
Newcastle has a compact but bustling city centre and Mick tells us that it’s a good area to go and grab a ham and peas pudding bap from and have a play while he’s on his lunch. We’re up by the castle keep, sometimes a spot for a dodgy deal or two to go down, but Mick is more into railing his CX bike down as many of the medieval steps as he can.
He’s laid back and smiling away, telling us how he just discovered the new Shredder mtb zine and how it appeals to him so much, being able to pick something up and read it. We both agree it’s how we like it, and that fashion, status etc..none of it matters really. We go on discuss the raft of print options available, such as the incredible Sender magazine and the Hurly Burly book. You could say Mick is a renaissance man; Mick really is here for a good time and his infectious enthusiasm for two wheels has won him a lot of fans in the local scene.
Aside from his annual excursion to a few NDH events, the local, grass roots events that are one of the few surviving “clubmen” style events going, Mick doesn’t race that much. Of course, Mick has duly won a few of these races and further cemented his status as a legend amongst his peers, but he sees more of a chance “to go fast with my mates and see who does the best” .
After our day in the toon Mick decides to head up into the hills with us – We plan on visiting some unknown spots before being granted access to ride the infamous trails just outside Alwinton in Upper Coquetdale. It’s an area that is just an hour from toon, but couldn’t be more different. It’s the place where the awesome Naughty Northumbrian Enduro is held and the chances of seeing anyone are slim.
I spent a lot of time in this ares in my youth, and while it doesn’t seem remote to me, it’s easy to forget that if you live in a city, a place which has less than 10 people per sq km is remote. Mick seems in his element up here – More sheep than people and valley’s that are a mix of open heather moorland and commercial Sitka spruce certainly appeal to Mick’s loose, but smooth, style.
We’ve had a canny day up here in the hills with Mick, a rider I can’t believe I’ve not known for too long. Somehow Mick stayed under the radar, but with his bike shop in full swing, his riding turning more than a few heads and a sense of humour that could sink a battle ship, we feel it might not stay that way for long.
We head back to town, and go for a half down at the Tyne bar. I ask Mick if he want’s a lift home but I should known better – he hops on his bike and rides back home. There is just no shaking this man’s love for wheels.