Photos: Alberto Moya, Stephane Bar, Ride UK, Agency Photo, Kai Kussisto.
As we reach the final part of my Decade of Flatland article, the opinions are nicely varied. Opinions are just that, opinions (we all have one)…., we are at a healthy point in the progression of flatland where new tricks are shown almost weekly on instagram, and pretty much periodically, via video parts that are shown on the site.
For me, it doesn’t matter about your bike set up, brakes or brakeless. What matters is that your out there doing it, and living the culture of flatland and contributing something. For this final part I catch up with the boss Martti Kuoppa, Lee Musselwhite, and Jean William Prevost. All three riders, have massively contributed to the artform side of flatland, video parts, contests, and also the industry side of things too. Grab a cuppa, and enjoy this final part…
A decade on technically what’s different about your riding style? The tricks are obviously different, but has your approach changed?
Martti Kuoppa: Back in 2010 I was riding a lot in that white floor indoor spot where I filmed a lot of those videos you can see on youtube and now on these Jungle Rider clips I am posting on my Instagram. I would say that back in those days I had my mind very wide open to various techniques from front brake tricks to Megaspin Bunny whips to Kickflips to pivots to new rolling positions.
Basically I just allowed my mind to create whatever and then I went after them and those videos are the end product of that brainstorming. Then some years after that, the next flood of creativity came (and went) with the Stem tricks and I ended up doing an edit with Viki: “Bombarderos”. I would stop doing anything else than tricks on a stem and that video would define the style that I started getting more and more into until FlatArk 2015. Then, after several months process of getting the stem tricks consistent for the FlatArk my upper back ended up having a slipped disc and it was no longer an option to do stem tricks on that level anymore.
I can still do doubles and triples but going deeper into that style is no longer an option and I don´t have any interest to do them anymore anyway.
So, that being said: The very tech video stuff in the beginning of 2010 and the stem stuff around 2015 really did a lot of damage to my body. So coming closer to 2020, I am just being realistic because if I want to come up with NBDs that makes a “WOW” expression, it takes a lot of riding hours to get them done, and I am not in a place in my life that I could be riding 5+ hours a day to make it happen.
Lee Musselwhite: No it’s exactly the same as It’s always been, relentless determination to accomplish the challenge I set for myself.
Jean William Prevost: Hmmm It used to be more of what I could do, and now it’s more about what I want to do, I spend whole sessions on one movement, sometimes entire weeks or months until it becomes reflex. It makes for slow progress but it’s more rewarding in the end run to be doing you, also the tricks really depend on the spot I’m riding.
My favorite style is the back to back riding at high speed, once again though my spot doesn’t allow much of that in the winter so I have to do more rolling and learn switches on the pegs mostly. The approach is the same, give it all you’ve got or don’t do it at all! Choose wisely, time is precious!
Describe your riding ten years ago?
Martti Kuoppa: Very technical. Very difficult. No fillers. Highly original. Lots of NBDs. Non commercial.
Lee Musselwhite: I view riding like martial art’s and in particular developing your own distinct style with individual signature moves that set you apart. I like to think I’ve created something along those lines and have continued to progress with it.
Jean William Prevost: More front wheel, than backwheel. More unplanned and roaming the World without a penny. I’d describe it as a struggle, but those pains
were necessary to grow. Ten years ago seems like yesterday to me, it’s almost an awkward question and realization that time has flown by so quickly!! Where did my twenties go????
Describe your riding in 2020?
Martti Kuoppa: I have to be realistic and give myself props for doing all that work during the last 10 (actually 30 years) and now have a more “gentle to my body and to my mind” type of approach and just do much easier tricks that has a good flow. I am still searching for the right answer to that style but doing different Whiplash varioations etc. is pretty close to what I am looking for. Of course that means I won´t be able to post those “non camera moving” clips because it would require someone to film me, and honestly speaking there is no one in my life who would come to my spot, and film me for couple of hours every week haha.
Lee Musselwhite: More refined, more consistent.
Jean William Prevost: Doing more of my tricks than not. More focused than varied yet authentic and still travelling the World doing it . I’d still describe it as a struggle, but really it’s a labor of Love!
Are there any tricks or lines you still do ten years on and are still fun for you?
Martti Kuoppa: Multiple whiplashes, and some playing around with Jugglers is always fun.
Lee Musselwhite: Yeah all the core things I’ve invented/Innovated I carry forward to help define my style but… riding isn’t fun for me though. I enjoy the pursuit of pushing myself to some extent, but it’s more about the sense of accomplishment towards the goal. Some of the moves I almost hate because they are so hard hahah, but I try to embrace that, because it’s part of the bigger picture.
Jean William Prevost: It’s really hard to keep tricks if you don’t practice them, hitchiker whips are a lot of fun though, I miss front wheel, it’s like another sport entirely ! psyche!! I don’t miss it. I still do the butterfly trick. At least that’s how I call it.
What do you see the trend being for this year, and perhaps beyond?
Martti Kuoppa: Now that Flatland is becoming more and more official in sense of the competitions like UCI. I can feel that there is a lot more hungry riders out there. I can see that as an insider with everyone I coach. There is a big drive to get as consistent as possible, and do some “boat rocking” in those top 3 spots. So the consistency levels will increase and it will be tougher and tougher for the current top 3 to stay there. Which is healthy for the evolution of our sport anyway.
I am hoping to see some changes in the backwheel riding because now it is starting to look quite the same whoever is doing it, some exceptions of course but generally speaking now it really looks same. I am also hoping riders to let go of the mindset “is this trendy or not” because that surely kills all the creativity out there.
The thing about this is, that if it needs to be trendy, then there is a limitations to the mind already. Unless the rider is skillful enough to become a trendsetter. And to become a trendsetter, the rider needs to master many styles in order to become fundamentally so skilled that it is possible to start setting standards to new trends.
Lee Musselwhite: A trend on the back wheel coming out of japan right now seems to be 180 bike flips variations… I specifically stay away from trends. For me it’s just as important what you don’t do, as it is what you do.
Jean William Prevost: BACKWHEEL, BACKWHEEL AND MORE BACKWHEEL. YOU KNOW IT!
If you could describe modern day flatland in one paragraph, what would you say?
Martti Kuoppa: A label “modern” just refers to a date of the current time we are in, and riding with a clock around the wrist is not a way to do timeless tricks.
Lee Musselwhite: Overall a diverse bend of brakeless flow around the bike with intricate techniques on the front and back wheel.
Jean William Prevost: I’d say it’s a collection of colorful individuals who share the best passion in the World. There’s a handful of riders who actually get to constantly keep riding for a living and travel the World and you see them on most events, there’s a big portion of flatlanders who ride when they can and keep a decent level and there’s an even bigger portion of riders with bikes that rarely get the chance to ride anymore. Japan, France and Brazil seem to have the greatest numbers of highly skilled riders, if it’s just to name three.
Flatland has been reinventing itself for a long time now, and I believe we are on the cusp of seeing unbelievable manoeuvres start appearing in our sport. It has already started with kids around 10 years old doing tricks only pro’s could do a couple years ago. Flatland is as infinite as the universe and we will always get to see something new and exciting unless the State of the World doesn’t permit it.
One thing the current state of Flatland needs is a new generation to take over when this one won’t be able to offer anymore progress. New Flatland schools are popping up around the World, so we surely have a future and if we keep at it we will be able to witness a new rider boom and more mind blowing tricks and techniques in the near and long term future, especially if our sport enters the Olympics in 2024…
If the current PRO’s and casual riders keep getting involved in developing schools, contests and riding facilities, if they keep believing in the sport and the fruits it bears, our sport will be in it for the long run, our figures and history will stay relevant and our future will be bright! We have to believe in Flatland and take risks for it!!! If I hadn’t risked anything I’d still be working at the bike shop! Let’s keep at it!
What do you think has progressed about riding other than tricks learnt in the last decade?
Martti Kuoppa: The flow and style has progressed and difficulty hasn´t. When you really think about the smallest details.
Lee Musselwhite: Riders attitudes, towards specifically spending the majority of their time getting consistent for contests.
Jean William Prevost: The rhythm, flow and beauty of the riding.
Have you gone back over old tricks and thought of them in a new way perhaps with a modern day technique?
Martti Kuoppa: Sure, many times
Lee Musselwhite: Yea all the time always refining and building, it can take years to get to the point where you can push something to the next stage.
Jean William Prevost: Something like undertaker, or cherrypicker maybe?
How do you see your riding developing in the future?
Martti Kuoppa: Keep my body safe and have a smile on my face and let others do the hard work.
Lee Musselwhite: I’ve never actually trained specifically for contests before (bar a few weeks or a month max here and there). In the past for me, it’s always been about learning new moves over winter, then bringing them to the comp, and just trying to pull them for personal satisfaction. I’ve never placed any value in placing well as such.
Things have changed, and right now I want to get all my signatures moves dialled and see where that takes me…. I’m sure there will be new moves in the mix there too, going forward.
Jean William Prevost: Even more back to back, fractal patterns like recurring tricks or let’s say the turbine of tricks, in the same way that you go around the World, but in a rhytmical, dynamical and more geometrical fashion and then repeat it full speed if I can! The drawing of our tricks in the physical space is entirely geometric and it is a geometry based on gravity and physics. I see beauty in the amplitude and movement. I want to unlock new patterns, not just tricks.
Modern Flatland goes way beyond just tricks in my opinion. I am a proponent of Fractal Flatland. For example the look of Pivoting before changing direction versus changing direction and then pivoting. Totally different look right? Combinations of those can create beautiful movements in different positions, and in different tricks!
How much do you think bike technology has advanced the progression of modern day flatland?
Martti Kuoppa: Well… Majority of the bikes look like street bikes nowadays. And that is perfectly fine. 10 years ago bikes were built the way that it made riding and certain techniques easier. Now that is no longer the case in the mainstream. So again, we come to a place where things are developed to look good and stylish.
Lee Musselwhite: Lighter and smaller flatland bikes that have enabled the Japanese kids to start super young.
Jean William Prevost: Well this question is one for me. Wheels are still laced with spokes. No one has reinvented the Flatland wheel as of now. lol We are still getting our fingers stuck in the spokes. FEC has been putting in a lot of work in providing innovative products to the Flat, and I have worked very hard bringing it to the World. I’ve always been a proponent of Pure Flatland, and I enjoy seeing the different styles of bikes that Flatland has always seemingly kept bringing to the bicycle game ! I hope new shapes keep coming through without being too over the top!.
Technology comes in different forms, the shape of a part can drastically change the feeling of how you connect to the bike. The same goes to the finish and texture of a part. Having travelled extensively I have realised that often different climates require different tools for the job. Recently I released a new peg, the MIC Flex peg, the whole idea behind it was to offer a new way to connect which is more advanced than knurling or griptape. I chose the grits and materials carefully to manufacture a part that can be used in different climates. In the same way that you change tires in winter,
I change caps on my pegs depending on dusty or clean, dry or humid. Many factors affect the way I connect to the bike and count to keep working on new ways to find solutions to old problems. In my mind there is a lot of work to be done still to perfect the Flatland bike, and Flatland environment for the future of riding and especially for the standard of BMX Flatland competitions, and also it’s format. So I like to think that the Flatland bike is currently in a remake phase, and that by 2030 it will be entirely redefined!
If you had to pick one bike part you can’t ride without what would it be and why?
Martti Kuoppa: Nankai freecoaster hub with 14 mm axle. Because all of these new freecoasters sucks.
Lee Musselwhite: My frame, it’s a one of a kind.. Deco tubing supplied by Chad Degroot, then welded up by Dylan Worsley to my specific spec. What a combination from two of the very best riders!
Jean William Prevost: Ti Crank and IGI Sweet SPOT pedals. Ti Crank because it reduces the weight of the bike right where I need it and the pedals. I need them because all the other pedals just don’t have the stability when your standing at the edge of the pedal. Oh yah and the FEC coaster too! Couldn’t live without that either! It’s the best!
Are you particular with tyre pressure?
Martti Kuoppa: 110 – 120 psi. Sometimes I forget to pump and I ride with 80 psi.
Lee Musselwhite: Yeah, I run 80psi front and back.
Jean William Prevost: 120 PSI, more would be even better. I grew up playing hockey and learned how to skate at 2 years old. I like the feeling of skating, I like when riding feels like skating, like when it feels frictionless. When you lose friction you get more time to think about what to do with your inertia instead of having to add speed by pumpin, scuffing or something. I never really venture past 125 psi, especially when the tire is really nicely worn in, I don’t want to take the risk of popping the tire at that stage, that would be an unfortunate waste.
What’s your preferred riding surface?
Martti Kuoppa: Marble floor.
Lee Musselwhite: Smooth tarmac.
Jean William Prevost: STONE TILES, the grippy frictionless type made of Marble, Quartz or Granite. AND FLAT! MUST BE FLAT. Not an easy find in Quebec. Not easy to find in North America really…
Has the invention of trick positions become stagnant? If not, what was the last trick position you recall?
Martti Kuoppa: Yes and no. There are still possibilities but they keep getting harder and harder. Like that one guy came up with that “second floor” thing and Dub is doing that no handed pedal rolling too.
I was working with sideways rolling. Where I had an idea that I place my foot / feet sideways on the pegs. And keep my body and head also sideways. I could roll the timemachine position in a straight line completely sideways 3 meters but never really made an effort to polish the technique because it is hard as f%&*. Imagine doing a sideways rolling hitchhiker? Not sure how great it would look but it would be bizarre for sure. Haha. Now I don´t see myself doing all that work this technique would require. Anyway, I just mentioned that as an example that there are trick positions still to be invented for sure. It is just a matter of an imagination > hard work.
Lee Musselwhite: I don’t think so…. The last new position I came up with was a backwards 1 handed “minesweeper”, damn that was hard hahaha.
Ones I recall from other riders recently are:
-Pedro did a no handed kneeling backpacker & Sietse did that no handed thing on pedal and frame. Both awesome.
-There are obviously fewer, but loads that haven’t been done yet, I’ve got plenty I’ve worked on for months/years, but never fully finished or shown, because they are just so damn hard. Now a days there just going to take longer to bring to life.
Jean William Prevost: I think trick positions are infinite, not sure what you mean, we will never get to the bottom of this.
*If you made it this far, what are your thoughts? What do you take out of what Martti, Lee and Dub have to say in Part 4? Thanks for taking the time to read. I had fun putting this together, and reading the varied opinions…