Intro and interview by Brian Tunney | Photos* by Kano Kane
(*unless marked otherwise)
Almost twenty years ago, Will Jackson scored the cover of DIG issue 39, as well as a full-length interview in the magazine. Hailing from the North of England and riding for Wethepeople, Will Jackson was not a superstar rider you’d see on televised events or in ads for energy drink — he was just a dyed in the wool BMX rider that lived and breathed riding, and did everything he could to quietly mine his own path through the murky depths of professional BMX riding.
Through local videos, Backyard Jams, and eventually bigger video projects like Wethepeople’s “Etc.” video, Will Jackson started to get noticed. He possessed an impeccable barspin to icepick, navigated technical grind combinations on rails with ease, and threw in the odd tabletop when you least expected it. As a pro, Will managed his expectations, never got a big head, and continued to search for the perfect bank to rail setup throughout the North of England. That was a long time ago.
Somewhere along the way, Will Jackson the pro BMXer with no responsibilities became Will Jackson the family man with a teaching job. But, he never stopped riding. In fact, Will’s riding circa 2023 feels like a natural extension of the same Will Jackson that appeared on the cover of DIG almost twenty years ago. He hasn’t toned it down or switched up his style to “go easier on the knees.” He’s still out in the streets, hopping, grinding, and quietly mining his own path through BMX.
Recently, we hit Will up to get his take on getting old, riding for Wethpeople, still getting out in the streets, and his thoughts on how commonplace helmets have become. (Will was an early adopter.) He’s also been documenting his riding in both photo and video. And what’s really amazing is that Will is still riding some of the same spots he was riding in his interview in Dig in 2004. Clearly, there’s a reason this video is called “Muscle Memory.”
Enjoy this early Xmas gift, courtesy of Will Jackson.
Will Jackson, December 2023. Photo by Paul Robinson
So, is it officially 20 years of riding for Wethepeople now?
It’s a little longer. I got my first frame at the back end of 2001. Half a lifetime ago. It doesn’t feel too long ago that I made a 10 year video for WTP but then I remember that there is a 12 year old in my house who wasn’t born at that point. I have been riding a WTP for a long time and I’m glad to still be involved, even if it is on the peripheries these days.
How have things changed since you first started riding for WTP?
WTP was a really small operation comparatively back in 2001. It was run by three people in an office above a warehouse next to the house where they lived. It’s hard for me to overstate how transformative an experience it was meeting the people in that small office. Getting out of Preston, travelling with the team and people like Rob Harrison and Thomas Fritscher changed my view of the world. It always felt like more than a team and more than just a bike company and I feel lucky to have been supported by them for this long. Of course, Wemakethings has expanded exponentially in this time. Having spent years visiting Cologne regularly, I have observed from further afield more recently as it has grown. It has been good to see it grow and watch the team and the products evolve. I get the sense that those involved now get the same out of it as I did.
Has anything remained the same since you first started riding for WTP?
Harry is still the driving force behind the whole thing and the feel of the company remains the same to me. I think their approach to pushing the design and manufacturing in BMX is still unrivalled. In my old age when I look down at my bike and think about the pain and inconvenience of mechanical failure, I still trust what the team in Cologne produce. I’m keen to get back over in the new year, see the current set up, ride Cologne street, and eat some falafel.
2004, DIG issue 39. Photo by Ricky Adam.
What's a typical day in your life look like now compared to 20 years ago?
A typical day was much simpler 20 years ago and my plans were really only determined by what I wanted to do. I have more things, and more people, to think about these days. Riding has always had to fit in around other stuff, but the list of things I need to sort before I can get out on my bike is a bit longer now. I still spend much of my time at university, as I did then, but I’m teaching now rather studying. My job makes it reasonably easy to be flexible so I can work from home quite a bit and be around for the kids. If you had asked me what my day was like 10 years ago, when my kids were young, it would have been much more hectic than it is now. Now they are older and more independent I can get out more. Organising riding poses more logistical challenges these days and synchronizing the schedules of a crew of folk in their 30s and 40s is hard at times. We rely on Jonny Devine a lot to organise and motivate everyone. In terms of continuities, the main obstacle to riding and filming remains the weather in the north of England.
How has your bike setup changed since your feature interview in DIG issue issue 39?
It is largely the same but a less garish colour. It has got a bit higher, longer, and lighter, but it has still got four pegs and no brakes. I am keen on modern BMXs - I have warmed to the idea of plastic pegs and have a set in my bag when spots call for them - but I much prefer the feel of steel.
Do your wrists still allow you to x-up stall?
Yes. I am seemingly blessed with flexible wrists and this is still a favourite of mine.
"It’s 20 years now since I filmed my first section for ETC"
- Will Jackson
WILL JACKSON - 'MUSCLE MEMORY' | WETHEPEOPLE X DIG
20 Years On WTP - More Info
I noticed in your last part for Splendid that you actually had a back brake on for a few clips, including a fufanu. 1) How long did it take to adjust to riding with a brake? and 2) Did you already know how to do fufanus? That doesn't seem like something you could just casually pull out after riding brakeless for most of your teenage and adult life....
I have always flirted with a brake. I really enjoy riding with brakes (front and/or rear) when the opportunity arises but what I gain is offset by how it changes the way a bike rides. I enjoy trying to do brake tricks, and there are a few I learnt back in the early 00s that have stuck with me. However, it doesn’t take long for me to get sick of the way the bike feels with the bars cluttered up with brake levers. I took them off a long time ago now and the bike feels best without them. If I get the opportunity to ride trails, I will put them on and if someone has a bike I can borrow to try a fufanu or a nosepick, I am always keen.
You were one of the first riders to ride with a helmet at all times and continue to do so. How does it feel to see other riders finally rocking helmets in video parts and on the streets?
I think it is great that it is possible to ride street with a helmet now and, for the most part, it is not an issue. I am sure that some people in BMX, like most in skateboarding, still think it diminishes what a rider is doing if they wear a helmet, but I am glad that more and more people can now cut through that bullshit. It is pretty commonplace these days compared to when I started wearing one religiously; having people like Alex D at the forefront of street riding wearing a helmet all the time is encouraging. Ultimately everyone makes their own choice, but I think it is sad if some riders who would wear one don’t feel they can if they want to be taken seriously. I think that problem has lessened now, and I would hope that people don’t get grief for wearing a helmet today. I would be happy if my wearing a helmet over the years has encouraged anybody else to do the same.
What's the status of Hard Dad these days?
The Hard Dad moved down south and took up a new hobby. BMX’s loss is fishing’s gain. We occasionally get a guest appearance from Northern John back where he belongs, and he’s still got it, even though he’s now reached Level 5. The days of doing Hard Dad clothes and parts is long gone but it would be good to see some of the old HDP videos digitised and put online. If there is a break in the fishing season sometime it might happen…
2004, DIG issue 39. Photo by Ricky Adam
Does your brother still ride?
Yes. He moved back to the UK from Austin last year and is back on his bike regularly having refound his mojo. Being able to ride together regularly for the first time in 10-15 years is great. We have a good scene here in the north west - motivated largely by the energy and enthusiasm of Jonny Devine - and we have a good skatepark at Junction4 in Darwen to keep us going through the winter.
I noticed you seem to be a Relic supporter these days. How important is it for you to support smaller UK-based brands?
I really like what Ashley is doing with Relic and grateful of the support he gives me. There is substance to it and a drive to do things in a considered and purposeful way. I like the fact that he has built it slowly and is seeking to reflect a version of BMX that he believes in. I am not sure my riding is in keeping with the Relic style, but I wholeheartedly support the ethos. It is not new or radical to suggest that some companies involved in BMX have a positive influence on the culture and the scene and others are parasitical. I think, to borrow a phrase, BMX is best kept in the hands of BMXers.
Can you explain what it was like growing up riding in the North, surrounded by an influx of rider-owned brands in the early '00s?
I think I had the good fortune to grow up in a time and place where BMX was really interesting. I am not one for misty-eyed nostalgia that suggests that everything was better in the ‘good old days’, but my formative years were exciting because of the DIY ethos/politics that informed what, how, and why we rode. The bit I was lucky enough to be involved with – characterised by riders setting up companies, organising jams, putting out zines etc – was productive and interesting but it was not radically new and nor is it lost in the scene today. Alongside Relic, I look at what Jack does at Dub, what Clarky does with Strangeways and Central Library, and what John has long done at Bicycle Union and see that this general approach to BMX is alive and well.
I think for us the drive to do things yourself was born out of necessity in a BMX scene in the 1990s that was small and the north felt pretty excluded. We were influenced by things that had come before, not least the aesthetic, ethos, and personnel of Dig. No-one was motivated by making money, or ‘making it', but simply aimed to build a scene. I also think the scene evolved in the north (and elsewhere) in the way it did at that point in time because BMX was not cool and the people who gravitated toward it were open to alternative ways of doing things. The people and ideas of this period have had a lasting impact on me.
Riding street into your 40s at your level is a relatively new thing in BMX. What steps have you taken to ensure that you can continue to ride street (and bunnyhop) without wrecking your body?
When I first started riding it felt like BMX ended at 30. Now it seems like the limits are not necessarily set by age but by a combination of good luck and good planning and there are plenty of people older than me who are still riding as well as ever. I am not sure that I am doing everything I should, but I definitely pay more attention to my physical condition than I used to. I realise that keeping doing this at a level that I enjoy requires me to look after myself and I think I have been lucky so far that I can keep riding, and riding street, in my 40s. I know plenty of friends who would like to, but their bodies won’t allow it.
Doing other things to exercise and stay in reasonable shape seem worth it now, in way that they didn’t when I was younger. I am not sure how long it is possible to keep riding and especially riding street. I know its not something I could do every day, but for now it feels good, and my body is holding up. I am unlikely though to join in with the current craze for dropping off roofs. I get the most motivation these days from seeing what other people of my age are up to. Riding with, or seeing stuff from, the likes of Owain, Ashley, Newrick, Clarky and Gaz, is very encouraging and suggests that the version of BMX I am still beholden to (street or otherwise) doesn’t have to stop at 40.
A lot of riders get into bigger bikes, touring, MTB, as they get older? What keeps you riding BMX?
I have a big bike as a mode of transport, and I enjoy riding it over decent distances but nothing I have tried on other bikes is as fun as riding a BMX. I understand that MTBing is fun for many of the same reasons, but it requires more time and effort to do. I am still drawn to the fact that you can grab a BMX and be ‘doing it’ straight from your door.
23 years and counting...