Racing is a massive part of mountain biking and sometimes seems like the only path to a professional career in our sport. However, there’s one team that defies the norm! Led by ex-World Cup racer Josh Bryceland, the Cannondale Waves team lives and breathes one thing only – fun on two wheels! But how can a team with no racing ambitions thrive in such a performance-dominated sport?
Josh Bryceland (known by many as Ratboy or Rat, for short) should need no introduction. With numerous downhill World Cup wins and podiums under his belt, it’s safe to say he has experienced his share of success. However, after a long career at the top of the sport, the infamous “Ratboy” shocked many with his announcement that he would be retiring from World Cup racing after the 2016 season. The news left huge uncertainty in the world of mountain biking – what happens when one of the world’s best racers defies the norm and makes a U-turn, shifting their focus from fast times to good times?
The last year I did racing downhill, I really noticed the huge amount of privateers that rode so well but got so little in return. It made me think that I’d love to do more with my friends who weren’t getting a breakthrough from racing.
In January 2019, Josh’s new path was finally announced. He had formed a team with three young British riders, focussed not on racing but progression, fun and good times on two wheels. Backed by Cannondale and a host of other hand-picked sponsors, the Cannondale Waves crew was born!
The youngest team member, Sammy Cofano, is only 18 years old. He has been riding with Josh since the age of 11, which is clearly evident in his raw talent on a bike. His teammate Max Nerurkar (3dumb) brings skate-inspired creativity to the team. Living in Sheffield, Max met Josh through his involvement in the Wharncliffe Clay Spades digging crew. Completing the team is Sam Hockenhull (known as Dave). “I got to know Dave through his older brother,” Josh tells me. “When we first started he was just the little brother who would come along, just getting into riding. To watch Dave from a beginner to where he is now is insane! He’s one of them guys who can just pick anything up really quick. He’ll make a mistake, learn from it and do it better.”
or me, all I’ve ever worked on is racing – that’s all I’ve ever done. So to be able to get more of the lads’ support, not on a results-based thing, it’s a dream come true! They’ve got good personalities, they ride the hell out of a bike and that’s enough.
To find out what makes this unique team click, we headed to their hometown to ride, chill and get inspired. Located just an hour from the bustling metropolitan centre of Manchester, the town of Buxton is surrounded by the rolling hills of the Peak District. After a hearty breakfast with the Waves crew, we begin the ascent out of town and into the surrounding hills. A short pedal later, we’re standing atop a ridgeline overlooking the small market town, next to a two-storey high stone tower called Solomon’s Temple. The hillside around us is covered in grassy mounds and troughs. Once, these marked limestone quarries. Now, they make for perfect hips, doubles and bowls. Dumping their bags, the boys get stuck into the first session of the day!
The act of repeating a short section of trail over and over again, with each repetition bringing more creativity and sketch.
The formation of the Cannondale Waves team was exciting news for many. The team’s ethos and aims put it into a league of its own – never before had a team with no racing ambitions garnered so much support and attention. I turn to Rat, who is eyeing up a big natural double between two limestone mounds and ask him about the birth of the team. “Initially last year, it was hard to convince brands,” he answers, “But as the year went on and people saw what we were doing, any uncertainty faded away. The brands are stoked on our productivity and feedback and the support is growing!” Watching the four lads get into it, encouraging each other and boosting the natural double in front of me higher and higher, it’s easy to forget that they are teammates – the chemistry between them feels much more like family.
The BMX influenced MTB movement, like jibbing and sessioning… that all really seems to be gaining traction. It’s a rebellion, the opposite to just smashing runs and training rides…
The next spot takes us off the barren hillside and into the woods. The naked trees create a somewhat eerie atmosphere as the mist moves through their skeletal branches, before being burnt away by the rays of winter sun that manage to punch through the clouds. The ground changes from grass to thick loam. A small right hip jump leads into a big downslope before a left hip that can be boosted high, before landing in a deep 180-degree corner. The section of trail is no more than 30 metres long but provides countless possibilities and different line options. This is a different type of mountain biking, influenced heavily by the skate and BMX scenes. It opens up the sport to those who don’t necessarily want to race and train and makes the riding all about the fun. As if he’s reading my mind, Rat states, “I think the more there is to mountain biking the better, because then more people can relate to some part of it and get involved!”
Creating a team based on character and determination rather than race results is a breath of fresh air in a sport where everything seems dominated by performance. Every new product promises to make you faster than ever before and it seems like the fun that got us all hooked is almost lost from the equation. With the life of pros so easily accessible on social media, it’s no wonder that young riders are so heavily influenced by the racing scene. “It seems like there are a lot of kids who are more focused on being sponsored than just being a rider!” Rat explains. “It’s good to remember that that comes afterwards. Just be yourself as much as you can be and don’t think that you need a sponsor to make something happen. There are so many sick riders who don’t even care about being sponsored. Focus on the riding and do it for the right reasons.”
Other than riding for the right reasons, sustainability is also of high concern to Rat and the rest of the Waves team. The boys take care of their surroundings, never leaving litter behind and always taking other forest users into consideration. And their ethos isn’t limited to just their local trails! The team has already put plans into motion, doing their bit to make the MTB industry more eco-friendly from the inside. “I think the amazing thing about a company like Cannondale is that the opportunity to change is huge. In a big company like this, even a little change has a big impact and any further improvement we can have that runs down the line into the whole company is huge! We’re the positive voice in their ear!”
It’s as much how we travel and how we consume as a team. By travelling in the van wherever we can, not flying around, etc. There’s four of us living in the van, cooking in the van and all that. We’re not perfect, but we do as much as we can
It’s inspiring to hear how the team is taking the initiative to create change. However, while it is easy to get swept away by companies claiming to be 100% sustainable and eco-friendly, Rat keeps it real. “I wouldn’t go so far to say that we’re fully eco, but we’re definitely heading towards it and making big steps all the time.”
As the day draws to an end, we all head back to Rat’s place to wind down before going our separate ways. On the long drive home, I’m still filled with the team’s infectious stoke for riding. It’s easy to be sold the dream of becoming a professional racer but before you commit your time solely to chasing seconds, take a moment and think about why you started riding in the first place. The tides in our sport are changing from performance to fun and the Cannondale Waves team is leading the charge.
Words & Photos: Finlay Anderson