Damn, this guy is clean cut I think to myself as Chris enters his pristine truck and reaches for an antibacterial gel dispenser. He clinically rubs the palms of his hands together before buckling up. “I’m just a nice guy – I’m no Mike Hoder”, he says looking uneasy at the prospect of his biography being laid bare, possibly ashamed of his own good fortune and considers himself to be boring. “I’ve read the other interviews and it’s always guys who’ve had it tough like Seth Kimbrough, guys who’ve had to stick by their guns. I grew up in a decent neighbourhood and had a good upbringing. I wish I had badass hobbies like Eddie Cleveland with his motorbikes and guns. I’ve a got dog – he’s a real killer”, Doyle says joking.
At first glance Chris is the squeaky clean friendly white guy, showered in success and applause. His haircut is worthy of a prom king, his smile beams constantly from a chiseled jaw, he’s intelligent, generous, polite and funny. He is quite possibly faultless, a perfect blend of both Clark Kent and Superman. It’s a wonder his teeth don’t sparkle with a ‘ting’ at the end of every punch line to every sarcastic joke. He looks like a stranger to the darker experiences of life, someone who’s ridden an idyllic wave of success and happiness. But this story doesn’t end at ‘he’s nice guy’, nor is this a collection of amusing stories from his seemingly perfect life as a substitute for failing to find dirt where there genuinely is none. For two weeks of autumn I experienced two very contrasting sides of his life as a professional rider, firstly as a trails digger deep in the secluded woods of Pennsylvania and secondly as a competitor surrounded by the glamour of Las Vegas. Over time I learnt his story, it was a story far from the one I expected to hear, a story that is as hard as any other, as hard as they come.
The Dew Tour contest starts with the US National Guard holding guns aloft singing to a crowd of young families their National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. It was a patriotic opening to an event set to be dominated by Australians. I awkwardly watch the ceremony in silence not knowing whether to close my eyes, salute or grope my left breast. “Keep your head up. Stick close to Doyle.” I remember the words of advice from Jay Roe, Doyle’s team manager who I’m standing in for in Las Vegas, a city driven by indulgence and sin, a void of taste or modesty. Nowhere could be more fitting for such an event.
“It’s a circus man, you’ll love it.” I recall Doyle telling me and a circus it is with its share of clowns, freaks and a ring master who struggles to announce the tricks with his robotic like voice, who in place of naming tricks uses catch phrases such as “that’s insane” or simply “awesome” after every jump. I sit in the stands next to people busy eating, burning under the intense sun. I take in the scene, chewing on it with irritation. The towering roll-in is smothered in branding and an 8.0 litre Toyota truck glistens at its base, dumped in shot for the TV cameras. Never has product placement been so shameless and crude. “What the fuck is GoDaddy.com?” I think to myself and the logo burrows into my subconscious as I watch riders who can front flip on demand struggle with the three rollers before the first lip. I wish I shared the same excitement as the short Asian man wearing a white trilby hat, ¾ length white shorts and a shirt with the collar fully popped dancing to the loud chart music in the wheelchair zone of the spectator stands. He nods his head in time with one finger in the air, sipping occasionally from a bottle of water and cheering enthusiastically at every flip variation. He’d look more fitting at a Miami Beach party hosted by Justin Timberlake or in the long queue outside an early audition for American Idol – anything but a BMX contest.
The jumps look only days old, built for a television audience of millions, ridden by a mere handful for a few short hours of scheduled sessions highlighted in orange marker pen. Once the last run of finals is over no one will take to the thin yellow imported dirt again. To the riders the jumps are no different to the gambling machines in the casinos that surround. They buy gambling chips with blood, roll the dice and cash in. This is the world of corporate BMX. A world that has its own species, the contest bros, a breed of Blink 182 look a like VIPs, walking energy drink adverts with more ink on their skin than in the books they’ve read, self proclaimed punk badasses with a soft spot for Nandos and dance music.
Looking out of place without a tattoo and a faked breasted sidekick sits contest veteran Chris Doyle, looking humble yet proud. He greets his peers with a dignified shake of the hand opposed to the obligatory bro knuckles. He naturally stands out from the riders that surround him and is happily out of place. “I’m the only one who turns up with dirt on my tyres.” Chris had told me the week before. “The majority of riders who enter the dirt contests aren’t trail riders. If you look back to the dirt contests of the mid to late 90s it was mostly trail kids with the occasional rogue freestyler. Now there’s a lot of people who can do all the tricks and the jumps aren’t necessarily too hard and they end up doing really well. Today it seems the dudes in a dirt contest that don’t ride trails heavily out number the guys that do, it’s all changed.”
Alongside Gary Young, Doyle’s runs that afternoon stand out in a wash of new age flips, whips and spins. Chris keeps to the classics and places well after qualifying 3rd the day before. “I think the lack of trail riders makes it easier for me because I’m doing something different, even though I’ve been doing the same tricks for years. I just do the stuff I feel looks better and it stands out from the two thousand tailwhips that the crowd and judges have seen that weekend. If the other riders do get pissy, I don’t hear about it. I’m sure a lot of them don’t get it and think ‘I did a double tailwhip and he did a 360 table, why did he place higher than me?’ The crowd probably gets upset too. They don’t understand why I beat the guy who did a huge front flip tailwhip.”
During his stay in Vegas, Chris keeps the circus at arms length. Opposed to staying in the luxury of The Hard Rock Café where most of the riders have expensive rooms, Chris stays across the street at the much cheaper and desperate Terribles Hotel. In the evenings, Chris avoids the sponsored parties and free G-Unit concerts, opting for early nights. With an idyllic family life thousands of miles away, I’m curious why he comes at all. “I was chatting to Gary Young about coming to Dew Tour. I said it would be cool to not come to Dew Tour and not bother with the circus, and he put it into perspective. He said, ‘I think you have to come to these, because people need to see that a 360 table top or turndown still holds value and it should not all be about the big circus tricks, you can have style, avoid the big circus tricks and still be successful’. Gary told me I have my role here. Prior to that conversation with Gary, I thought about just being a video rider and not going to contests. I have a role, albeit a small one, to let a kid know he doesn’t have to learn to double flip whip to be successful.”
Aside from carrying the torch for classic tricks, events such as Dew Tour have a second, more tangible draw for Doyle. After the contest we hastily leave in the direction of the media office to collect his winnings, our walk pleasantly dogged by signature requests and chats with riders. When we arrive at the office to find a large admin girl sitting behind a desk eating PowerBars that guarantee to enhance sporting capability, becoming fatter and less athletic with every bite. She hands Chris a box of cheques. He sifts through passing pay slips up to $60,000 until he finds his own for $3,500 for coming 7th that day and $5,600 for coming 6th overall in 2011. He routinely collects the cheques showing little sign of the lottery win hysteria that would overcome many. I then realize the Dew Tour jumps are not gambling machines for him, they’re cash machines dispensing free money. There was never a chance of him returning empty handed.
“The Dew Tour just put a roof on my house, if you can do these contests and make some cash you might as well. I only come for the free money, and I hope that doesn’t make me sound bad. I got married last year and my wife and I really went overboard on the wedding. I was hustling hard at the contests. If you get invited to Dew Tour you’re guaranteed money. Spots 10th to 30th might be $500, but a top ten spot is guaranteed $1,500 and then if you get top ten overall at the end of the year then the pay out is really big. Last year I got 7th overall and that was a cool five grand. So that was the DJ, cake and photographer covered. I also got 2nd at a Red Bull comp and got twelve grand, that took a big chunk out of the wedding bill.”
Before the heat and cheap glamour of Vegas we’d spent a week in and around Doyle’s home city of Pittsburgh, making the most of a late autumn heat wave. There he lives in a large house deep within the safety of middle class white suburbia with his Labrador Cosby and his beautiful and friendly wife Denise. All the houses of the neighbourhood are large, their green lawns are immaculate, deer wander freely between the gardens, the locals kids roam the streets some aboard pro level bikes fashioned from Chris’ old parts. It’s an idyllic community with little need for locks and crime only exists on the TV News. A plastic skeleton hangs from a small tree in Chris’ front garden and other Halloween decorations litter the home from the pumpkin tea towel to witch’s hand soap. The house is fitting of a middle class family, you’re only reminded where you are by the neat stack of worn VHS cassettes beside the television and the layers of CFB trophies, X Games medals, Nora Cups, magazine covers and giant cheques for thousands of dollars that shine in a basement room Chris calls his ‘den of narcissism’.
“Welcome to suburbia man.” He says to me one morning as we look out across the pristine streets, in full autumn colour stood high up on his roof.
“Are you guys getting high up there?” A friendly woman shouts up from the street below with two children. Chris laughs as I back up from the edge.
“You know I don’t get high. We’re just hanging out up here shooting some photos,” Chris replies shouting down to the street.
“You know your neighbour used to get high on his roof all the time, he sure was a wild one.” She replies laughing.
“Yeah I’m not like that, I’m no wild guy.” Chris shouts down, waving goodbye.
The guest bedroom has been prepared for me with clean bed sheets and towels laid out ready. Each morning Chris would knock on my door at 9am sharp. Once up I’d find him eating a bowl of granola and watching a trails video dated by a pop punk soundtrack, baggy jeans and chain wallets.
An East Coast Heritage
“What video’s this?” I ask on the first morning.
“1201, you’ve seen it right?” He replies, surprised. The name rings a bell but I shake my head. “You haven’t seen 1201? Jesus man. You haven’t seen 1201?” He repeats himself, shocked. “This video changed my life. I remember the time Van Homan threatened to throw Ronny Chalk out of a car because he hadn’t seen this video. Sit down, we’re going to watch it.” He orders. To Chris my ignorance seems sacrilegious, it was as if I’d just told Jesus Christ himself I hadn’t read the Bible. 1201 was to be the first of many historic Pennsylvania trails scene videos Chris showed me each morning, some I’d seen before, some I hadn’t. Anthem, Lights Out, The Push Video and Broken. Each video sacred to him, each a gospel.
“When Chris came up, the internet did not exist. He watched VHS cassette tapes. Chris bought every damn video. He studied those old trails videos. He studied them all,” Kris Bennett had told me one night in Vegas, as Chris was sleeping back at the hotel. “He respected the videos and he respected his elders, like Chris Stauffer, Brian Foster and Punjab, he respected them all. That’s why Doyle is Doyle. There’s not going to be another Doyle. The East Coast still has good trails, but kids don’t look up to their elders at the trails anymore. Back then it was all race influenced, now it’s foam pit influenced. There won’t be another Chris Doyle”. Bennett had told me, shaking his head as if to be prophesying the end of an era clearly dear to him. To Doyle’s face the nearest Bennett gets to a compliment is ‘nice hair cut faggot’, but behind his back Bennett speaks of him as the chosen one of the trails Mecca that is the Pennsylvania scene. The last of a dying breed of dirt contest riders with East Coast trails pedigree whose straight up authenticity has never been in question.
Doyle’s local trails are set on the side of a hill next to a graveyard deep in the quiet and dark woods of Pennsylvania State. Old vines cover every surface and the constant repetitive call of crickets hangs in the moist air. The trails are secluded, undisturbed and out of public view. The jumps are big and hidden in a density of autumn leaves, preserved by a reluctance to damage the trees and vines. “Hazelwood is [Brian] Yeagle’s brain child. He was first to put spade into soil. He draws the blueprint and we all build it.” Chris tells me as we walk through the dense woods, along a faint path to meet the local riders Tom Arkus, Mark Potoczny, Brian Yeagle and Popple, greeting them with a sturdy handshake.
“I THOUGHT IT WOULD ALMOST BE HILARIOUS IF I WON THE X GAMES DOING THE SAME EXACT TRICKS I DO AT THE TRAILS EVERYDAY”
Here in the tranquility of the woods Doyle looks at home, spade in hand, working the dark rich soil. The conversation between the diggers drifts from discussing the classic works by George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984, to the state of the economy, all as Popple’s gun dog sits fighting the dirt for attention. The setting of Hazelwood trails could not be further from the ‘made for TV’ dirt course and jock attitudes of Dew Tour. Just one element is consistent – Doyle’s riding. “Riding in the woods is what is important”, he makes a point of telling me as we sit in rush hour traffic on our way back to his blissful neighbourhood, as the autumn sun sets behind the old steel mills of Pittsburgh and ‘Hey Suburbia’ by Screeching Weasel plays from the stereo amongst countless songs inspired by his VHS collection. “When I go to a contest like Dew Tour I always do what I do on a regular day at the trails. Everything you saw me do today at the trails, I’ll do at the contests, there’s no real difference, there’s no contrast. I don’t have any tricks I hold on to just for contests to make a dollar. I’ve never been good at learning stuff especially for contests. When people see me ride a spot they always think I’m training and getting my stuff dialed for the contest, they don’t understand that’s just how I ride. I’ll do a suicide double truck and people have been like ‘Woo, Chris is hungry – he’s training’ and I’d say ‘No that’s just what I do.’ I’d be down the trails doing all my tricks if I had a contest coming up or not.”
“When dirt was in the X Games, the last few years I did really well, I got two third places, two 2nd places, and a 4th the very last year. I remember a week or two prior to the X Games, half the dudes invited for dirt would all be at Woodward, trying stuff into the resi and getting stuff dialed. I’d get calls saying so and so is trying this thing into the resi, and I’d say ‘Oh well I’m just going to go down the trails and ride’. One year I was in position to win, and I thought it would almost be hilarious if I won the X Games doing the same exact tricks I do at the trails everyday, because there were dudes in there that had seriously trained and learnt 75% of their contest tricks in the foam.” Doyle says putting an emphasis of disgust into the word ‘foam’. “In the end Corey Bohan won it and deservedly so. Everyone said ‘Man, are you bummed?’ I said I’m not bummed because I got 2nd place and I didn’t have to do anything – I just rode. It was like a day at the trails for me but there were way more people watching. I remember knowing 1st place got $50,000 so I thought I must get at least 30, but I got $16,000 and thought ‘Jeeze that drops off fast.’ But I’ve always been content with every placing I’ve got, be it a 2nd place or last place. I’m not a guy who wins things.”
In 2007, ESPN axed dirt from the X Games schedule placing it in a reject category of extreme sports considered non-profitable and lacking fan appeal, joining the ranks of flatland and street luge. Four years on and dirt is more popular than ever but remains left out to the dismay of the constant petitions and calls for its reinstatement. As a veteran of dirt contests I ask Chris his opinion on the X Games, he takes a moment to consider his words. “It’s a double edged sword. One side it’s good, if dirt was in the X Games, it’s good that a kid can see dirt on TV then go into the woods with his buddies, build some jumps and start riding. On the other hand it’s not a good representation of what I would consider a good dirt contest to be. I feel the X Games can make riding look really lame. If they’re not going to do it right then they shouldn’t do it at all. I don’t care if dirt isn’t in the X Games, I don’t lose sleep over it.
“After they kicked dirt out I got a call from Hoffman inviting me to compete in Mega Ramp, I said thanks but no thanks”. Doyle says laughing at even the notion of him riding Mega Ramp. “I laughed on the phone. I’ve never ridden one of those things in life, nor can I imagine when I’d get the chance to ride one. At the time there were only two in existence. When I was a kid watching TV and I saw Evel Knievel on a Harley Davidson trying to jump 15 cars, there’d be no way in hell I’d want to do that – that’s the way I feel about Mega Ramp. If I was a kid and I saw someone getting hurt on Mega Ramp I’d never pick up a bike. Mega Ramp gets ratings, I reckon it’ll stay around for a while, people like the crashes. The X Games doesn’t care about what is pure in BMX, they care about dollars so why should I care if dirt is in the X Games?
“On a positive note I do remember when I was younger and I watched X Games 1996 on TV. Joey Garcia won with really cool barspin tricks that no one else was doing like bar catch bar and barspin to X. For his last trick he did a big beautiful no foot can can. Meanwhile TJ Lavin did back flips for just about every run. The crowd was behind TJ and thought he should have won. But it turned out Joey won it with all his tech tricks, and the crowd booed him. Joey was really calm, put his helmet back on, walks back up to the ramp, drops in and does a perfect backflip over the set and the crowd starts going nuts. Joey could do a backflip but knew he didn’t have to. He wanted to win doing credible tricks. Joey Garcia was a big influence growing up. That memory really stuck with me.”
At the time Garcia won the X Games, Chris was a long way from being the professional rider he is today. “Chris was a Honda Hill kid” Chris’ long-term friend Cory Muth had told me in Vegas. “Those kids would be dirty, all covered in mud with shitty bikes, they had shitty Diamond Backs, no shirt on, just shorts, no socks. I’d go there and see these dirty kids riding the dirt fly outs and amongst them were Doyle and Ryan Barrett. I told them I’d been riding Push and Posh and they couldn’t believe I’d been riding with the likes of Brian Foster and Chris Stauffer.”
Meeting Cory was set to have a significant impact on the young Chris, it was a meeting that changed the course of his riding and life. “I’d never witnessed style until I saw Cory Muth ride. That’s a big moment in a rider’s life, that first time they see someone with great style. As a kid I recall trying to do every trick possible, at that time I was just concerned about tricks. One day Cory showed up and his riding just looked so different and he just did an X-up, a table top or a turndown. I couldn’t understand why it looked so good. That was the first time I recognised style. As I started to progress I began to look up to people like Todd Walkowiak who had a ton of tricks and a ton of style too and Kris Bennett was a huge influence as he was the only East Coast rider on S&M and I loved S&M.”
With Cory Muth’s industry contacts on his side, it didn’t take long until Chris had a full factory sponsor. “Cory was really good friends with Steve Buddendeck who at the time was the marketing director for DK. Buddendeck would always come down to 401 trails shooting photos with Cory. Every time he was down the trails with his camera I would always try to show off, I was 15 at the time. I had a broken frame and Buddendeck offered to get me a DK frame at cost, I phoned him up and got two. That Christmas I asked my mom for a plane ticket to the Christmas Classic race which had a dirt contest. Prior to the contest Buddendeck rang me and said ‘If you wear a DK jersey I’ll pay your entry fee, and if you need anything for your bike just let me know.” I was blown away. At my very first contest I had a DK jersey with my name printed on the back. I was 16.”
Recognising Doyle’s potential, Buddendeck and Muth fostered his talent and hunger. Under their wing a young and unknown Chris Doyle suddenly found himself side by side his idols. “Brian Foster has been a hero of mine since I was 13. I had posters of him on my wall. The first time I met Foster was at that Christmas Classic race. This was a time when Brian could win the AA main and then win the dirt contest in the same day, he was the man. Buddendeck introduced us and I freaked out. I shook his hand and he said, ‘You’re one of the guys. Man, there are three dudes out there today who I’ve never seen before and they’re killing it. You’re one of those dudes.’ I was blushing. That was my first contest. There were 90 competitors and I made it into the final of 12 beside all my heroes from videos and magazines. I had to pinch myself… I thought holy shit I’m sat next to Kris Bennett.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but that first contest launched him into a career as a professional dirt rider. His stand out classic trails style inspired by his elders Muth, Bennett and Foster, combined with a faultless consistency quickly propelled Doyle to the center stage of BMX. Every step of the way supported by DK and Buddendeck. “At that time DK were at their peak, or close to it. All of the sudden I was on a team with Dave Friemuth, Leigh Ramsdell, Colin Winklemann, and Mike Ardelean – the team was insane. When DK was at its peak it was all because of Steve Buddendeck. It would have made way more sense if my jersey instead saying of ‘DK’, said ‘Steve Buddendeck’. I rode for Steve Buddendeck. He became one of my best friends. Steve’s a really creative person. After a while he started to feel working for DK was holding him back, and he needed to branch out and do his own thing. He started his own media company called Axis, and he took DK on as a client. He was still doing their marketing but he wasn’t an employee of DK, but I could still call him and talk to him about matters concerning DK. Soon that ended. Once DK and Steve severed all ties, DK started making bad decision after bad decision almost on a weekly basis, it was only a matter of time until I got kicked off. And I got fully kicked off. I had planned to drive out to Ohio to renegotiate my up and coming contract, there was still two months left on it at $4,000 a month. I got a call, not from the owner but from one of the other guys that worked there in the office, he said ‘Hey Chris are you still planning to come out to Ohio to do this contract?’ I said ‘Yeah definitely I’m coming out there on Tuesday’. His reply was ‘Don’t worry about coming. We’re not going to resign you. Actually, we’re going to terminate your contract right now’. I was amazed. I said to him ‘You’re not going to pay for my last two months of my contract and I’ve been on your company for nine years?’ Afterwards they said the reason was my involvement with the grip and tyre company Duo, which I am a part of and do part own. In reality, it came down to a matter of ego and the owner of DK having a personal gripe with Steve and Cory.”
Up until that point, Doyle’s career had been a dream come true, nine years of highs with very few, if any lows. “I was really upset about it. I was devastated. It was sad to me, they were the first sponsor I ever had, it was all I knew. I felt my name was so synonymous with the brand. They always called themselves ‘the DK family’. I thought OK ‘DK family’, you just kicked off your son. It was a hard pill to swallow. They made it convenient, they kicked me off a week after the last Dew Tour that year so they got one last contest out of me. Before that I had a good relationship with everyone, and now I don’t talk to those guys anymore.”
The Second Era
Without a bike sponsor, with almost a decade as professional rider under his belt and at an age where many of his generation and elders had left BMX behind, Doyle found himself at a junction in his career. Eager for change, he took a risk on a little known and struggling company. “I started talking to Zach at Kink, he came to Pittsburgh from Rochester. It was a quick transition to Kink…about three days. Around that time Kink had gone silent for a while too. Zach really wanted to reinvigorate the brand, I felt I should do the same, I felt I needed to start over. It was my opportunity to get in there from the ground up with a different brand. Kink didn’t have much of a team or frames or parts. I felt that we needed each other. Talking to Zach convinced me. He seemed like the kind of guy who wouldn’t bullshit me. I thought ‘Yeah definitely, lets do this’. Looking back it worked out better than I could have imagined. Getting kicked off DK was the best thing to happen to me.”
Reinvigorated and with a new found hunger, the move to Kink ushered in a second era of Doyle’s riding career. Today at the age of 30, Chris’ career currently stands at 14 years without plans or signs of fading. Whereas the peers from his generation, the likes of Ryan Barrett and Todd Walkowiak, have left their riding careers long behind for conventional jobs, Doyle has remained a permanent fixture of BMX. As riding has rapidly expanded and evolved, Doyle’s timeless trails style has remained consistent over time but also constantly on point, outliving countless fads, faces and fashions. Aside from the obese jeans and dinner plate sized chain ring, his contest runs of today aren’t too dissimilar from those at that first Christmas Classic contest 15 years ago.
“I’ve been pro for 14 years. At 17 I didn’t believe I had a future in BMX. I planned to graduate from high school, go to college and become a weather man. I didn’t think I was good enough to be a fully paid professional bike rider. I feel I’ve done a lot with only mediocre talent. I’m surprised I’ve been able sustain myself. I’ve tried always to ride in a way that feels right, but you also have to change with the seasons. Everything changes, styles come and go, soon enough the way you dress or the way you set up your bike won’t be cool anymore. You can either embrace the change and go with it, or talk shit on it. You hear some older riders say stuff like they’re not cool anymore because they don’t wear a beanie in 90 degree heat or don’t grind a foot high ledge. I think it makes people look foolish when they talk shit on the current trends in BMX.”
“I’ve also noticed retired pro riders take on a mentality that what they’re doing isn’t cool or relevant anymore, and it destroys them. They need to remember people just want to see you do what you do. I remember a few years ago telling Kris Bennett that people just want to see him do a huge Superman, and he’d say ‘No one cares about that shit anymore, that’s ten year old shit.’ I had to tell him yes they do, you’re Kris Bennett.
“I’ve always embraced the changes. My bars got bigger, my sprocket got smaller, my jeans got tighter. But I don’t know how to change my riding. I don’t ride little ledges because I don’t know how to do it well. I understand jumping. I understand going fast and I understand trying to roast a big air out of a quarter, I understand all of that. It makes sense to me. I’m not a street tech dude. Does anyone really want to see me struggle to ride a two foot high ledge slower than walking pace?”
As we sit at a skatepark outside Pittsburgh it is clear that the understanding of going high and fast is a shared virtue of the entire Pittsburgh scene, as the riders queue to hit the biggest quarter few failing to go below 6ft and meanwhile the grind ledge and flat bar rest redundant and ignored, a refuge for beginners and children. In contrast to the nearby peg-dominated scene of New York, the riders in Pittsburgh have brakes and wear helmets for a reason: they’re believers in riding fast and going high.
In The Blood
One thing was blindingly obvious from the first day shooting photos at the parks of Pittsburgh: Doyle is a class act, he is a man with his life in order, I doubt he’s ever gone overdrawn or run out of bog roll. He approaches every aspect of life with structure, holds a strong work ethic and leads an exceptionally healthy lifestyle. He is as motivated, fit and healthy as men ten years younger than he. He has kept an iron grip on the temptations of women, drugs and alcohol, in striking contrast to the growing number of riders whose careers have been cut short by a failure to appreciate the meaning of moderation. “I didn’t start drinking ‘til I was 28. Two years before that I drank a couple of glasses of wine with Ruben in Malaga, but that was just nothing really. But at 28 I started drinking regularly. The reason I did not drink for so long is 100% due to my dad. My dad was an alcoholic. My dad’s father was an alcoholic. My dad’s brothers were alcoholic. I’d heard it can run in a blood line, so I steered clear of it.
“My dad was a bad alcoholic. He crashed every vehicle my parents owned, from drunk driving, he had multiple DUI’s, [driving under the influence] he also smoked weed and even sold marijuana to the kids my mom was teaching at the high school in our town. Ultimately he chose that life over his family. My mom wised up and divorced him. He was perfectly fine with not seeing any of us ever again. I haven’t seen him since I was four or five. I didn’t know about the weed stuff till later on. I don’t smoke marijuana but I do think alcohol is more dangerous. When I do drink I stay mellow and don’t take it over edge. I waited to start drinking ‘til I was at a point in my life where I thought I could control it rather than it controlling me.
“I remember this. I remember being in my dad’s car. I must have been about four years old. I was in the back complaining that I was really thirsty, he said ‘here’ and passed me his beer. I took a sip and spat it out, it so was so disgusting. Then he said ‘are you still thirsty?’ I gave him the beer back and said I was fine. I remember the bitter, bitter taste. That’s one of my earliest memories and one of my only memories of my dad.”
As Doyle tells me the story of his father, I’m shocked at his words, and embarrassed thinking back the numerous occasions I’d referred to his parents and he’d discretely not corrected me. I ask him if he’s happy for the story of his father to be printed. “Yeah sure. I’m not sad talking about my dad. He was never there in my life to begin with. You can’t miss what wasn’t ever there. People always say ‘I’m so sorry, it must be hard’, but it was just something that made me who I am. My mom always said I’m your mom and your dad, it’s on me, I’m playing both roles. I think if my dad was in my life growing up I think it would have made everything a lot worse, trying to deal with him and his issues. I’m proud of my mom for leaving him behind. Growing up wasn’t difficult since my mother was so honest with us. It was something I was always aware of. It made me more mature. I understood what divorce was and what alcoholism was at five years old. My mom was upfront and honest with the way things were, we never wondered where’s dad? Or why don’t we have the things other kids in school have?” Doyle says, showing little sign of emotion or regret.
His words drive a crack through the fairy tale like picture I had of the seemingly impeccable life of Chris Doyle. My perception of his childhood of him riding jumps with friends over long summers, being an A grade student, nailing the girl on prom night and pitching baseball with a loving father as a boy in Cary, North Carolina just got shattered. “My mom was a gym teacher when she divorced from my dad and was left with sole custody of three kids. And teachers don’t earn shit, so she was a gym teacher by day and at night she cleaned doctor’s offices. She didn’t want to hire a sitter so she would take us with her. We’d clean the offices with her and she kept track of our hours and pay us. So at the age of a second grader [seven years old] I was learning about money, as my classmates played video games I would be cleaning doctor’s offices all night. Later she landed a job with Pfizer the pharmaceutical company, she had a knack for being a great sales person. She was ‘sales person of the year’ for five years in a row. She made good money and worked her ass off for it. Most of the people in Cary, North Carolina, were from inherited money and she was a single parent who worked damn hard. She sent me and my sister to private high schools. She had quite a lot of money but still didn’t spoil us. She bought me my first truck for six thousand dollars and made me pay her back. I gave her $200 a month. So I knew nothing was given, everything had to be earned.”
White Collar, Red Heart
Through his mother’s hard work and sacrifice, Chris with his brother and sister were raised in Cary, a desirable white-collar town of dentists, lawyers and doctors. It was a town that bred the American upper class and Chris found himself next in line. “Cary is the type of town where a kid turns 16 and they inherit the family BMW or Mercedes. At 18 most of the kids I went to school with had their whole lives mapped out. They knew which college they’d go to, what job they’d get, they knew the wife they were going to marry, how many kids they’d have, where they were going to live. The crazy part is, for most of them it worked out that way. They studied law or whatever as they decided to 10 years before, met the hot wife at college, got the job and it worked out. At the age of 18 I saw that, but had no idea what to do with my life. I did decent in school but I didn’t know what to study in college and what I was going to be. Saying I was going to be a weather man [on his Props video bio at the age of 17] wasn’t a lie. As I was getting ready to graduate I wasn’t that interested in becoming a weather man anymore. Everyone I grew up with was certain about everything in their lives and I was only certain one thing – bike riding.”
Chris’ mum had worked day and night as a single parent to provide Chris with a private education and a sure route to a successful life. At 18 the college education, the evitable high earning job and the big house all lay before him – a privileged life was there for the taking. Yet Doyle made the hard decision to ignore that guaranteed path his mum had worked so hard to create for him and turned instead to BMX, at a time when the financial rewards that today’s top riders enjoy couldn’t be even dreamt of. “My mom called me and I had to confess I hadn’t been going to class for two weeks and was going to leave college to pursue a career in riding. She thought I was putting my future in the hands of something that was so uncertain. In her generation there weren’t professional BMX riders. She thought I was throwing my life away. I tried to convince her I was doing what I thought was right. It’s really hard for someone from my mom’s generation to understand it, when all she knows are the values of education and hard work. A few years later, I remember my mom coming to Pittsburgh to see my house after I bought it and see how I was living. I remember she sat me down and really apologised. She said ‘I should have trusted you to make the right decision with your life, I should have put my trust in you to do the right thing and I’m really proud of how everything has worked out.’ I don’t do things to satisfy my parents, but it was nice to get her approval after all those years.”
When asked what the worst thing he’s ever done is, Doyle’s answer is pocketing small sums of money from the cinema he worked at as a teenager with Will Stroud to buy pizza after their shift. Chris was right; he is no Mike Hoder. He is far from the Gabe Brooks type of character. There’s no hiding his privately educated background and squeaky clean life – rough round the edges he is not. His story is far from the cliché of a troubled man who found BMX and it saved him from a life of crime and wrongdoing. But what is harder; to choose BMX opposed to a life of trouble, crime and drugs, or to choose BMX over a life of conventional success, security and wealth? Which is more commendable? Which shows greater dedication to their passion? A man’s passion is what either makes us or breaks us and for Chris Doyle his passion was his making.
Doyle has a rare combination of a solid work ethic, calculated judgment and a strict moral compass taught to him by his mother, interlaced with an East Coast trails heritage he had installed in him by Foster, Bennett and Muth, his heroes who he now joins in the elite ranks of the trails legends. It’s a combination that has created the Chris Doyle that the world of BMX knows, applauds and loves. During his career his growing legacy has become a corner stone of trails riding, a cornerstone that will never subside, a legacy that can be counted on just like his honest character. His career stands as a testament to the value of style over tricks. Doyle is a needed reminder that the spirit of going high and fast is alive and well, and that spirit will never grow old. He is one of the last heroes of a golden era when trails riders dominated dirt contests, a time that doesn’t look set to be repeated. Bennett was right; there won’t be another Chris Doyle.