Since I first met Chris Birch back in 2008 on Red Bull Romaniacs, he made his way from the mud to the stars and now he is one of the most respectful enduro riders in the world. His motivational and instructional coaching classes are very well known among the people who live for motorbike sports. I am happy to share this exclusive interview with Chris that we made after our photoshooting before this year’s X-Ross Challenge on Tara mountain.
PERSISTENCE, DETERMINATION AND INDEPENDENCE ARE THE THREE THINGS THAT I LEARNED FROM HARD ENDURO!
When you grow up in a family in which all members ride motorcycles then it is natural that you also become “addicted” of two-wheeler and that this addiction at some point becomes a lifestyle. This is the exact sequence of events in the life story of Chris Birch, one of the best hard enduro riders in the world, who we had the opportunity to see at the Xross race at Tara mountain this year where he took second place. But just like the hard enduro track his career is also full of uphills and downhills as well as challenging obstacles that had to cross. Believe it or not Birch found out about hard enduro in 2007, and only one YouTube video turned him away from the idea of riding the mountain bike. Did he made a good choice? We would say yes, since he had achieved impressive results which carved his name in the history of Hard Enduro. The Ace from New Zealand exclusively for X Sports Magazine talked about his career, future plans, but also about his time on Tara mountain.
– Motorbike is quite popular sport in New Zealand. You know, we are a farming nation, so I grew up driving a motor on my parents’ farm. In New Zealand people ride motorcycles for fun or as a common means of transport, not only as a sport. My father raced in the enduro races, my mother also rode motorcycle, so it was somewhere natural for me to start riding when I was four years old – says Birch. His first discipline was trial that he was riding up to his 16th year when he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and begins to ride enduro. In his career he has eight titles of enduro champion in New Zealand.
– I grew up with my father’s stories about Enduro and I really was very interested to ride in that discipline. However, over time regular enduro became boring to me. Courts are more or less similar and all came down to beating the clock, and it’s not overly exciting. At the age of 27 I was seriously thinking of stopping my motorcycle riding and to start ride mountain bikes, and then I accidentally bumped into one video on YouTube and it changed everything – says Chris.
It was a video of the Red Bull Romaniacs, very famous and one of the harshest and toughest hard enduro race in the world that takes place in our neighborhood, in Romania. I haven’t been aware that sport such as Hard Enduro even exists until I came across that video. I liked what I saw very much – remembers Birch. He was so thrilled that in 2009 he decided to embark on an adventure called The Red Bull Romaniacs hoping that this hard enduro will bring a dose of excitement that he needed.
– At this first Romaniacs race I had no idea what I was getting into. I passed the first part, and then in front of me I found a crazy downhill and I was like, “Wait, you are kidding me?! You really think that’s the way to go? I’m not sure I can do it.” And the other riders were like, “Come on, try it and see.” The first day of my first Red Bull Romanics race ended up with me being in the last place, but I completed the whole race on the podium in second place – which is impressive. I think that it is the most important moment of my career. That first success has motivated me to continue with this sport which is obviously enough exciting and unpredictable. If your first day is bad, it doesn’t mean that you can’t triumph in the rest of competition because there are so many elements of the race and you never know what could happen – says Chris.
Since then, he was on the podium of the famous Red Bull Romaniacs competitions six times, and in 2010 he was the winner. In addition, this guy fought for himself the title of one of the most capable, most durable and most courageous rider in the world, and under his wheels remained races such as Erzbergrodeo, Red Bull Last Man Standing, Hell’s Gate and the Roof of Africa where he won three times.
– Hard Enduro has taught me to be determined and gritty, but also to be resourceful. This is an individual sport and aside of my current sponsors it is not easy to get sponsorship in New Zealand. I went racing completely alone and I had to be the mechanic at the same time, which was not terrible because I have knowledge of mechanics. All this has taught me to be well-organized and independent – says Birch. This young man loves to generously share all his knowledge, thus he began to organize hard enduro clinics where he teaches the riders about basic techniques of the sport. It is also one of the ways by which he manages to sponsor his career in this sport, which is not cheap. Moreover, it must be added that he is also husband and father so he needs to support his family.
Chris held one of his clinics in the off road center NOMAD near Belgrade just before the race at Tara mountain. He is equally dedicated to coaching as to racing and he always makes sure that each “student” gets enough attention. I really enjoy while coaching clinics and I think it is beginning to replace the bike riding. When I stop competing coaching will definitely be the job which I will deal with – says Birch. His skills were tested to Tara mountain which fascinated him with its beauties. He also liked the organization of the biggest hard enduro event in Serbia, and he hopes to come again next year.
One of the best things in this sport is that you can travel to places that you normally might not have gone, and there you meet a bunch of interesting people and enjoy the race. Tara is absolutely beautiful and often that beauty of nature took my attention of the race while I was riding and it was hard to stay focused. Race was very challenging. The track was good and it has all the elements, including the stones in the grass which I do not really like and that I was pretty scared of – says Chris of his impressions. In this race he found himself again in the lens of Predrag Vuckovic, with whom he also worked at the Red Bull Romaniacs race nearly 10 years ago.
In sport it is good to have such guys as Predrag, who works with professional athletes and understands sport that we do. He is very creative. Every time that he explains to me how he wants to photoshoot it sounds so strange to me that I always look at him and think: What are you talking about, man. However, when put into action, and when I see phenomenal results in photos then I realize that it was a great idea. He even made me lie down in the mud. He was like, “Put your head a little closer, a little closer, a little more…” Finally when my head has touched the mud, he said: “Okay, not that close.” – says Birch with a smile.
Until we meet again, what else to say to him except: Chris, enjoy the ride!