Interview with one of Britain’s Most Decorated Sportsmen Dougie Lampkin
Dougie Lampkin, is a legend in the sport of trials biking. Following in the big footsteps of his father Martin, Dougie became the crown jewel in the Lampkin dynasty, racking up an incredible twelve World Trials Championships, an MBE aged just 25 (the first person in his sport ever to be honoured) and a host of incredible feats for his Red Bull team such as pulling a wheelie for the whole 37.7 miles of the Isle of Man TT course. With his brilliant book Trials & Error out now, we spoke to Dougie about his stellar career in trials, how much preparation goes into his amazing stunts and how much fun it was to ride over an F1 car…
The MALESTROM: Tell us about how you got into the sport?
Dougie Lampkin: I got into the sport before I was born if you like. My Father, Martin Lampkin, was World Champion in 1975 and I was born in 1976. When my Mum announced she was pregnant the company that my Father rode for gifted a motorcycle ready for me, so before I arrived there was a motorcycle waiting for me.
TM: And you were actually named after a motorbike…
DL: Yeah, I still have the actual bike, It’s a 1923 Douglas, two and three quarter horse power.
TM: So did you know that would be your life from the very start then?
DL: No not really. I followed my Father for a couple of years, in the early years before he retired, we used to ride a little bit, I used to play a lot of golf as well, probably as much as I rode my motorbike. I didn’t really have a particularly successful schoolboys at all, it wasn’t until I left the schoolboys and went to the European Championship when I was 17 in 1993 that progression really kicked in and I started winning.
TM: A lot of people will have first seen you on the TV show Kickstart…
DL: Whenever I’m explaining what I do, you mention Kickstart and your somewhere near there straight away.
TM: How much was that show responsible for getting other people into bikes?
DL: I think it was massive back then. It was pretty much classed as an extreme sport, whereas now there’s tons of them, so BBC Kickstart was massive. I think it’s still one of the most watched TV programmes in history. So to be part of it was fantastic. To go back to school with a bit of cash in your pocket and having a couple of days off to go on the television was every kids dream.
TM: Did you feel like the conquering hero when you came back from the show?
DL: Well, yeah, you certainly did feel pretty good that’s for sure. It was an amazing opportunity. I was always a little bit nervous there, the results didn’t show my sort of level, but luckily I got over that a few years later.
TM: How physically fit do you have to be for trials? You talk in the book about not being a gym lover, of course you’ll have to be extremely fit mentally as well in terms of the concentration required…
DL: That’s right and I think also we’re lucky within the sport, we’re not road racing so we don’t need a circuit, we’re not Motocross so we don’t need a big track with marshals and permission. I live in North Yorkshire, we’ve got lots and lots of terrain around us to ride, we’ve been riding for years and years so the land owners are very helpful with places to ride. I’ve always thought the best training was riding your motorbike, so I try to focus on that as much as anything, obviously with the gym you’re never going to get away with it, but I was never the biggest fan of it. Them days have passed, so I can now not bother going to the gym and do other things which is great.
TM: What do those twelve trials titles mean to you? You must be so proud to have got there?
DL: I mean there’s no question when you’re a kid you want to be the best, you want to be world champion, or certain things, there’s so many different things kids want to do, I was no different I wanted to be the world champion and focussed everything through that. I was world champion in 1997 for the first time and I quite liked it, so I pushed a bit harder and tried to get a bit further from the others and got a taste for it, the thing is when your winning all the time there’s only one place to go and thats down and I hated losing, so motivation was never a problem because I was frightened of not winning.
TM: You mention in the book about how being the best in the world is an addictive feeling, dangerously so, do you still feel that passion for it?
DL: Absolutely, there’s no substitute for that feeling of an event or a world championship, or that pressure. Since retiring that’s been few and far between, I’m still winning the Scottish six days, which is great. That gives me that feeling again of the preparation in the morning before you set off which people normally hate and can’t eat and can’t get ready to go, that’s the bit I absolutely love more than anything else, that’s the sort of thing I miss from the world championships. It’s the training that’s the problem. It’s when you have to go back on your bike by Monday which sounds ridiculous, but you miss Monday, then Tuesday you don’t really fancy it, it’s the training I think that stops people more than the competition side.
TM: Congratulations for your victory in Scotland by the way…
DL: I nicked it at the end. That was one of those moments when the pressure got to James (Dabill) after leading all week, I didn’t need a second opportunity, that’s that feeling I was talking about, that last six sections in that last group on Ben Nevis took me back to winning the world championships under that sort of pressure, that’s where I thrive really.
TM: Obviously you’ve had incredible success. Do you think that runs in the blood, with your Dad being such a wonderful rider himself?
DL: I think so yeah, obviously I’m the one holding handlebars and things like that but throughout my career the pointers that I’ve had from my Father and other members of my family have helped and have definitely put in a few short cuts there, but you still have to do it yourself, it’s man and machine, your not part of a team or anything like that, it’s down to you. But definitely an advantage with the help I had from my Father all those years.
TM: Tell us about any injuries you’ve picked up along the way…
DL: I have been pretty lucky, touch wood. People have had a lot of problems with their knees and things like that, but I’ve had a good run really. I broke a scaphoid (the bone below the thumb) and had to ride with that for one round which was incredibly painful, but fortunately it was at the end of the season where I could have some time off. I seem to have had a lot of problems with my ankles, it always seems to be the ligaments, I think it would have been easier breaking it a while back. I’ve had the odd dislocated finger and broken bones, but for what we do it’s part and parcel of it.
TM: Would you say you’re quite fearless? Have you had any nervous moments on the bike?
DL: When I was younger I never even thought about it, that never came into it. When you get a bit older you start looking over the sides of these big drops like that roller coaster I did in Italy with Red Bull, it was 22 metres down, there was no getting away from it that I definitely didn’t need to be going off the side of it, so that plays on your mind a little bit now, but back in the day you never even went close.
TM: A lot of people will know about your amazing feet pulling a wheelie for the whole 37.7 miles of the TT course in the Isle of Man. How did that come about?
DL: It was my idea. I’ve been with Red Bull for eighteen years now, you’re always encouraged to think of places where you’d like to ride, or locations for videos or photos. I was thinking about a new project, because I’d done quite a lot of things in amazing places with them, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, Finland, and I was thinking about when you were a kid on a pushbike you either wanted to jump or wheelie and I thought I can’t jump I’m on a trials bike so a wheelie would be pretty good.
After a couple of meetings I was thinking about circuits and things and my manager Jake mentioned the TT course would be good and that was it, everybody’s eyes lit up and I thought, oh my word. I said, “how far is it?” There’s 37.7 miles of it and I could wheelie about 100 metres at that time, so there was a hell of a lot of modifications and a lot of time, around about 1000 miles of practice, it was a real 50-50 chance when we set off. One of the big ones, a massive achievement really, I’m very, very pleased and proud of that.
TM: It sounds like a hell of a thing to prepare for…
DL: There was a lot going on, my father was ill and then he passed away just after we got confirmation that we were going there. Then I did another project with Red Bull, I went to the Maldives and Sri Lanka with them in between, then I came back to get stuck into it and realised we were sort of hitting a brick wall and banging our heads really. So I cancelled everything else apart from Goodwood and just focussed on the job in hand, I had a great team around me to make it happen and we went there and managed to pull it off, but I don’t think I’ll be putting myself under that much pressure again.
TM: Who’s been your inspiration?
DL: Apart from Dad I’ve sort of grown up and when I was riding and winning and just coming up to that stage I got friendly with some great other riders. One of them was Mick Doohan, who was a 500cc world road racing champion, he was one of my favourite riders. And then on the Motocross side there was a man who was of a similar age to me called Stefan Everts. One year when I was at Honda he was riding to 250 and the 500 world championship which happen on the same weekend, so he was riding double what everyone else was doing and he ended up winning both championships that year. Little things like that stand out like somebody just doing one event, there the ones I think back to.
TM: Obviously some of the Red Bull stunts have been pretty crazy. Do you like to keep pushing the boundaries?
DL: I do like to keep pushing the boundaries, but now the opportunity of riding in such amazing locations that wouldn’t have been possible during my competitive career, so the options I’ve had with Red Bull over the years and going forward, we’re constantly trying to push. That’s what the focus is now, it still keeps me keen for riding the bike.
TM: Another proud moment must have been the MBE, the first British trials rider to be honoured, although from what you write in your book it didn’t seem to sink in at first…
DL: I mean it’s not something I’m going to use everyday, it’s not something I want to brag about, trials isn’t the biggest sport in the world, that is for sure, so to have recognition, really from the top is fantastic. I got presented by Prince Charles down at Buckingham Palace, it was certainly a very special moment in my career.
TM: Millions have seen your ride through the Red Bull factory, tell us about that one…
DL: It was an interesting time, Red Bull had just had a few problems in Monaco, where there were some team orders given and it didn’t quite work out that way. I was doing various videos, I was doing things in Monaco at that time in the hospitality unit, I asked if I could ride in the factory over a car. They were toying with the idea of it, so I asked Christian, I thought I’d go straight to the top with the boss Mr Horner. He was a little bit worried about the car, but they have several, so we opened it up and did a bit of a factory tour, so people got to see in there, it was very carefully done obviously, because there are a lot of computer screens on with very sensitive information, so it was a long couple of days, but a great experience and I finally got to ride over an F1 car, so that was a big box ticked.
TM: All without putting a mark on it.
DL: Yes, and I didn’t scratch it!
TM: What would you say was your greatest achievement on a bike?
DL: I think my world championships will never be beaten, especially the first one, but then things outside the box that aren’t really anything to do with trials like the wheelie, that’s one that stands out and of course the MBE as well, so they’re the three quite diverse things I’ve achieved.
TM: Where do you see the sport going from here?
DL: The sport’s going well. I wouldn’t say it’s growing rapidly, but it’s holding its own. There are so many other sports out there in the same position, fighting for a little bit of television and a bit more promotion. But like I say there’s a lot of us in that boat, trials is doing well at the moment.
TM: Do you think you’ll ever stop riding? Is it something you’ll always continue to do?
DL: I think so, I still love riding the bike as much as ever. I ride where I want now so that’s a lot different from how it has been for a lot of years. As long as I continue enjoying it I’ll keep riding.
TM: Is there a piece of wisdom you can offer that you’ve picked up from your life in the sport?
DL: You only get out of something what you put in. And that’s certainly the case in any sport, not just trials.