How Case Magazine's Mike Netley fell back in Love with Trail Riding...

25 Nov 2014

Villij trails BMX 04 mn 1

Words and Photos by Mike Netley

I've not put pen to paper in over 3 years. I also haven't shot a BMX photo with any intent for almost as long. By 'with intent' I mean put much thought into if or where it might end up and given any more than a minutes worth of time to consider exposure, composition and lighting…

Since Case Magazine was laid to rest in the spring of 2011, I've honestly had very little interest in BMX and specifically BMX media. In fact, my interest throughout 2012 and 2013 didn't go much further than hitting the occasional concrete park or set of trails and that's assuming I so happened to even feel slightly in the mood. BMX however is contagious, and unless you've ever ridden a BMX bike then you might not be aware of the joyful feeling one can experience. Its something only a small percentage actually knows and is a feeling that doesn't easily diminish. Although the actual amount of time spent with 2 feet on the pedals was minimal, I'd often daydream of flowing a bowl effortlessly and with such power and style as your Brian Yeagle's and Chase Hawk's or simply taking a run through one of the many lines at Posh on any given day throughout spring, Summer or Autumn. I've even dreamt of filling wheelbarrows full of dirt on cold Winters' days. Like I said, BMX is for life, no matter how big or small the involvement.

Robbo seatgrab BMX 1 MN

After Case, I felt like I needed a break, so took a class at a local college and within a few months I had gained the required qualification to dismantle and perform pruning operations on trees. It was a simple path to choose and this path I'd chose stemmed from BMX. I wanted to be in the woods surrounded by nature, with like-minded people. Nothing more, nothing less. I work with people that ride or have previously ridden BMX, and we're forever outdoors talking about what an amazing woodland this would be to build a hut and a set of trails in. The scenery around the New Forest and the Southern Downs is quite spectacular too and I'd often ponder the thought-process of image making. Suffice to say, it didn't take long for me to relight my fire and to get back to the things I love. BMX, trail building and photography.

2014 has been a good year. Besides moving into a new home with a great girl, I'm running a team for a local Tree Surgery firm, I've ridden at more sets of trails this year than I'd ridden at trails in total during 2012 and 2013, a couple of new concrete bowls have popped up locally and I've also found a new digging home and a great sense of companionship with the locals at Sheet trails in Petersfield. I bought another Hasselblad after regrettably selling my old 503CX a few years ago and dusted off my remote flashes and light meter. Before I knew it, it felt like everything was back in place and I finally felt at home within my self and what I was doing with my life.

These photos you see here are the result of a weekend spent at Villij trails from September just gone. Said weekend involved riding with friends and camping. It was a loose plan but with a plan like that, why complicate things?

The date of my trip was set, my bike was running well, I was feeling good and I was itching to shoot some photographs at perhaps the best set of trails this country has to offer.

Villij trails BMX 03 MN
Villij trails peaker MN

The story associated with this weekend is both frustrating and yet funny.

Although I'd been shooting a little more this year, it wasn't until the Villij weekend arose that I'd considered external lighting. I charged my old Norman battery packs on the Friday night, bought new AA's not long after sunrise and set off on the 3 hour journey to Loughborough at around 9am on the Saturday morning. We headed straight to Robbo's shop to say what's up before heading off to meet up with Cambridge. (Tom) Cambridge is an OG War trails dude who'd moved to Loughborough a few summers ago in the pursuit for a consistent digging and riding routine. Imagine if you will a late 90's Standard 'Trailboss' with 990 lugs, a 44tooth chain ring, comp III's front and rear, jean shorts and baseball cap. That's Tom… style never goes out of style. Did I mention he can shape a mean lip and dug more than anyone ever has done in the UK? Unfortunately a turndown gone wrong stopped Tom and I from shooting a few images together.

Saturday afternoon was spent, meeting and greeting, sharing stories, reminiscing, shit talking, and getting used to the lines at a set of trails that I hadn't visited in over 5 years. Suffice to say, Robbo, Frog, Cambridge and the other frequenters had been extremely busy during my absence. We rode all afternoon and long into the evening before putting the bikes down around 8pm in need of hot dogs, beers and a dialled campfire.

Like I said, BMX is for life, no matter how big or small the involvement.

Robbo BMX tuck 01 MN 1
Robbo BMX whip 01 MN 1

Sunday morning started off with a few hazy hungover runs before presenting its self with the opportunity to expose some frames. Along with everyone's hangover sweating out and some much needed water runs. I fired off a few shots of the landscape with the available light and then proceeded to set up flashes near to where the action was happening. I turned on the battery packs of my Norman flashes and in front of my eyes appeared an illuminated red light. LOW BATTERY. Well there goes that idea I muttered to myself. With a feeling Frustration and the thought of “what a bastard my luck can be" turns out those battery packs were knackered after laying dormant for a good couple of years.

Keen to not ruin what had already been a great weekend, I thought 'fuck it', laughed about the situation and proceeded to enjoy riding the trails.

I was fortunate enough to throw an old Canon digital system that I owned into my bag before I'd left Southampton, consisting of a 15mm fisheye and an old Speedlite—which fortunately I didn't sell in those prior years. As the day went on, I grabbed said camera during breaks from riding and managed to fire off a couple of cool ones of Robbo. Not what I had planned but I'm happy with what I managed to put together from what resources I had to hand.

Hopefully this story and these images help to inspire others to keep your head straight and to do what you love. Sometimes it takes a little time off and a pinch of variety to spice up life. At the time of writing, it's 10:00Am on Sunday November the 8th. The sky is clear, it's cool out and Pie has just text asking me to bring an axe to split wood for the fire. I'm off to the trails. Here's to 2015 and a hefty involvement in the UK trail scene. See you in the woods.