Photos: Veren Luka, Sevisual, Albero Moya, other photographers unknown.
I have had a great response to the first couple of parts to this Decade of Flatland article I have been sharing over the past of couple of weeks whether comments on the site or private messages. This week for Part 3, I catch up with Heresy rider and the man that made coin the phrase “Too good for instagram” Sebastian Grubinger, the godfather of UK Flatland, James White, and the current Women’s UCI World Champion Irina Sadovnik. It’s great and refreshing for my perspective to hear all the different viewpoints on the state of modern day flatland. Grab a cuppa, and enjoy this one!
A decade on technically what’s different about your riding style? The tricks are obviously different but has your approach changed?
Sebastian Grubinger: I would say what changed the most is that I think more about what tricks to do and how to get there before I go for a session. I probably use time more efficient nowadays cause I have less time to hang out at the spot. And I’m willing to spend more time in one trick/link than I was ten years ago.
James White: I don’t think my approach has changed since the 90’s. Maybe it’s subconsciously changed due to being more self aware of my riding style due to social media. But on the whole I don’t think it’s changed at all.
Irina Sadovnik: Especially during the last year my focus was a lot more on riding competitions therefore yes, my approach to riding definitely changed. I work more on my contest combos to improve my consistency, and I also try to perform my tricks on a smaller area to adapt to contest floors.
Describe your riding ten years ago?
Sebastian Grubinger: Around 2010 I was mainly doing whiplash combinations and started to think about and practice tricks I’m trying to pull now … kind of started to build the basement for my riding now. Well, sometimes it takes some time
James White: Ten years ago I was just coming out of my light bike faze, which was definitely a positive move. I cringe a lot of my riding during that period.
Irina Sadovnik: It’s not so easy to recall the tricks I did back then, but I definitely tried to get my focus more from scuffing into rolling tricks already. I started pulling my first cross handed whiplashes. and also worked on getting more consistent with rolling forward hitchhiker. I was already riding brakeless back then and still enjoy it a lot.
Describe your riding in 2020?
Sebastian Grubinger: Mostly rolling things on the back wheel thinking about tricks for the next ten years.
James White: Just Play and exploration. Rarely have a plan. Just go out, start riding and go with whatever happens.
Irina Sadovnik: As I did a longer break from riding due to my intensive studies and some
injuries, I would say my riding style didn’t change so tremendously over the past 10 years.
But for sure my tricks developed a lot; I do more extended or harder versions of them and also learned several new tricks/combos. As my riding wasalways very front wheel based, I now also try to learn some tricks and combos on the back wheel but that’s definitely still work in progress. I love to challenge myself with like cross handed or lately also cross footed tricks and it’s always great fun to ride with Coach Sebastian as he loves to challenge me as well. Also competing at Master of Creativity in 2019 made me totally think “out of the box” and I love all the new tricks and trick combinations I learned due to this video competition. And working with Coach Martti (since a few months before China) for sure also has a great impact on my riding level, consistency and trick repertoire and influences me in a really positive way.
Are there any tricks or lines you still do ten years on and are still fun for you?
Sebastian Grubinger: Yes. Whiplashes. Still love to do whiplash walkarounds. Unfortunately I’m not able to do them the way I did 10 years ago. Smaller bike allowed another technique.
James White: I’m sure I still do loads of tricks that is contained within my riding back then but as for lines I can’t think of any. Keeping lines or links bores me, always looking for that new toy to play with.
Irina Sadovnik: I would say that all of them are still fun! I still love to do my squeeker combo; still feels great to do this line, especially as a practice start or also as one of my first combos in my contest run. And I am also never getting tired of doing whiplashes in different variations.
What do you see the trend being for this year and perhaps beyond?
Sebastian Grubinger: Hmmm. I think people will continue with the Flat Street thing. I like it a lot, but unfortunately lots of riders don’t try to go further with it. Lots of similar riding on an average level. I hope to see more creative, individual riding, pushing the boundaries – whatever riding style.
James White: No idea. I hope it’s shorter more impactive combos. My patience is wearing thin in my old age.
Irina Sadovnik: Regarding riding, I think the trend is going more and more into showing as original and difficult tricks as possible. If that’s a trend or it was always like this, I can’t tell. But I have the feeling that being original gains a lot of attention and it’s for sure also important in regard of riding competitions.
In general, I have the feeling that BMX is on its way to attract more and more people, get more often featured by media channels or platforms and that everything is getting more
official. I know that not everybody is super happy about the last fact I mentioned but in my opinion it helps the sport a lot to grow and I am excited to see where this path will lead.
If you could describe modern day flatland in one paragraph what would you say?
Sebastian Grubinger: 80% similarity, 20% awesomeness.
James White: Uniformed and stagnated. I know that’s probably not what this question is about or what people want to hear, but generally I see a watered down version of the BMX I fell in love with. Long live the rebellion.
Irina Sadovnik: For me, modern day flatland is the same as it was when I started. People love to ride with each other, have fun and push each other. This is also one fact that makes this sport so special to me. And even when we are competitors during contest, it’s always a fair game among the riders and people are happy for others when they show a great performance. Love that spirit.
What do you think has progressed about riding other than tricks learnt in the last decade?
Sebastian Grubinger: I would probably say things just changed. Styles changed, trends changed, tricks changed, contests changed, media changed,…
James White: Again, In general we have regressed or at least this is what’s presented via the media. This maybe the view of a crusty old man that has spent too long on his bike, but I’m too long in the tooth not to say it like I see it. On a positive note, there are many exceptions fighting the cause, the trouble is it’s hard for them to have any impact amongst the sea of shit we get fed.
Irina Sadovnik: I think literally everything changed/progressed like riding styles, tricks, contests,trends, bike parts, media, etc.
Have you gone back over old tricks and thought of them in a new way perhaps with a modern day technique?
Sebastian Grubinger: Yes sure. I often think about old tricks in a new way. There are plenty of things to do (again) in a new way …
James White: All the time. I look at it like sampling – Taking bits of old records and rearranging it to make new music. I take old tricks or bits of old tricks and do them in ways that hasn’t been done. Sometimes the trick source is obvious sometimes it becomes completely invisible.
Irina Sadovnik: I definitely do that. It’s always nice to improve tricks you already know and to express them in a more modern way or technique.
How do you see your riding developing in the future?
Sebastian Grubinger: Honestly I have no idea! I have lots of things in mind that I want to learn. Let’s see how long it takes and where my path leads me to. It’s great not to know that!
James White: Slowly.
Irina Sadovnik: I am excited to work on that when my knee is ready to ride again. I definitely want to expand my trick repertoire in general and want to get more consistent in some tricks I am not yet. And there are so many tricks and combos I still want to learn and I definitely want to get stronger on the back wheel. As mentioned, I did a longer break from riding BMX so my tricks were definitely stagnant over a certain period of time. I am super happy that this changed already a lot over the last years and being super motivated and supported by my wonderful coaches, I am excited to see how my riding will further develop in the future.
How much do you think bike technology has advanced the progression of modern day flatland?
Sebastian Grubinger: Bikes got lighter and stronger what helps a lot for some tricks. Beside that I think it’s more a matter of style and trends that are influencing the bikes nowadays and in the end the progression of tricks. In my opinion today lots of people ride bikes that hold them back from progressing more more faster.
James White: Bikes have got better in many ways but I’m not sure it has notably helped flatland. We’ve been in a period of refinement for many years which is great and bikes feel great, but are there any tricks being done today which couldn’t of been done ten years ago?
Irina Sadovnik: As bike parts are getting more stable and lighter it definitely helps to learn or perform tricks easier. I can remember when I started riding Flatland in 2002 and my bike had like 14,5 kg. Now it weighs 9,6 kg and it’s way easier to move this one around. There is also a big variety of shapes, lengths or styles of frames/bike parts available so this for sure also helps to support a certain riding style.
If you had to pick one bike part you can’t ride without what would it be and why?
Sebastian Grubinger: There is no specific bike part I could name here. My bike is built the way I love it. I wouldn’t like to change anything of my setup at the moment.
James White: I don’t have one, I’m always changing things. Keep it fresh.
Irina Sadovnik: I would pick my fork. It’s relatively broad over the drop outs which helps me a lot to roll no handed frontyard. I already tried several other models but with none of them I could do that trick properly (or never tried long enough to get used to it! :-))
Are you particular with tyre pressure?
Sebastian Grubinger: I try to run not less than 7 bar. Sometimes I forget to pump it up after a couple weeks… so it gets less sometimes. No big deal.
James White: No. A question I get asked a lot. When I get a new tyre I go somewhere between 90 – 100psi. Then don’t touch them again until I get a puncture or whatever.
Irina Sadovnik: Yes I am kind of – still rule of thumb principle. I am not counting each psi but I feel very comfortable with around 110-120. I just change the pressure when I try to adapt to different surfaces.
The adventures of James White on the wheels of steel from James White on Vimeo.
What’s your preferred riding surface?
Sebastian Grubinger: Asphalt.
James White: I’m not fussed, I look at different riding surfaces like street riders look at spots. A slick spot is gonna be fun for sliding tricks, or a long track for straight rolling lines and so on. You can’t be picky in the UK.
Irina Sadovnik: The best is smooth concrete although I am riding a quite rough one most of the time. Would love to have a wooden surface though to practice also for contests, but unfortunately we don’t have the possibility in Vienna (so far).
Sunshine through the leaves – Japan 2019 – Teaser from Irina Sadovnik BMX Flatland Girl on Vimeo.
Has the invention of trick positions become stagnant? If not, what was the last trick position you recall?
Sebastian Grubinger: I think people are always coming up with new tricks/ trick positions and I’m sure there are so many left! Last one I recall is probably Dub‘s alienglide. Love it!
James White: It’s been stagnant since the 80’s for good reason. If your trying to invent a new trick by thinking of a new position then it’s gonna be some fucked up contorted weird shit. There are plenty of new positions being done they are are just being done for split seconds during a movement.
Irina Sadovnik: I would say NO. Maybe some trick positions will always stay attractive to some riders but still the ride ins and outs or how to combine these tricks develop a lot. I don’t want to pick out any specific trick now but in the last year I saw many new positions where I don’t even understand how they are physically possible.
Thank you for reading Part 3 of the Decade of Flatland: 2010/2020. The final part 4 drops next Friday!