Way back in the early days of World Cup Downhill racing, the Irish always held a very strong presence at all the rounds. They were known for their antics off the track as much as on them when they all got together; wild men indeed! One of the leading figures of this rowdy bunch was Glyn O’Brian, fast as hell on a bike, always cheery and a massively popular character around World Cup and the UK race scene. Now at 38 he still rips it up, but more so in the enduro world, he also manages a fine balancing act of running the successful Vitus First Tracks Enduro team and race series of the same name, plus running his business of First Tracks Coaching and Guiding over in Northern Ireland. We got old buddy of his Jim, to catch up with him for a chat, whilst over at the first event.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 1

This was the second consecutive year we had made the trip over to Northern Ireland’s Castlewellan Country Park. Glyn’s races are run to perfection, great banter, friendly atmosphere, prizes, goodies and totally issue free. This is testament to what Glyn has experienced throughout his life as a bike racer at all the different events he has competed in. On the friday evening before a very wet race we sat down over a few coffees and chewed the fat over what led him to where he is now.

Enduro: So tell us briefly about your riding history.

Glyn: So you want me put my last 38 year into about 3 sentences then? (laughter)
I suppose I started out racing BMX when I was 4 and that went on till I was 16, when it all seemed to fizzle out a bit. I did Motocross then for a couple of years, after that a friend of mine who I used to race BMX with got me into downhill mountain biking in about the mid 90’s. My first DH race was October 1995 and I haven’t looked back since really. I started racing World Cups in 98 for Rotec/White Brothers with Jonny Cheetham and Paul Plunket, that was a class team, really good set-up, it just didn’t have the budget. Next up, in 99 I got onto the Animal/Orange team and it was all good from then on really. I ended up doing the World Cups up till 2006, when I gave up the full time racing. I still wanted to stay in the MTB profession, so I set up First Tracks MTB for the coaching and guiding. Since then First Tracks has evolved into what it is now, coaching, guiding, bike hire and the last few years we’ve run events. So we started kind of doing the one-off events, like the Irish Downhill races and other bits and pieces. We’ve now got the series up and running in the last few years, we are constantly learning from previous events, so it’s onwards and upwards.

Enduro: How many rounds are there a year in your series?

Glyn: Five rounds this year, we did four in 2015, but upped it this season due to demand from racers.

Enduro: This is your second year running the event at Castlewellan, what are you expecting?

Glyn: Last year everyone kind of expected this event to be a bit of a walk in the park, with the easiest round being the opening round held here. But it surprised everyone a bit, as it turned out to be quite technically challenging and quite a good day on the bike; as good as any other enduro. It has a really good mix of actual parts of the un-touched trail and existing trail-centre. This year we have introduced a Sport category, where those riders do a shorter loop with less stages, just to get more people introduced into racing enduro. That seems to have been quite a success with the entry numbers.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 2

Enduro: After coming over last year and racing one of your events, we were very impressed with how it’s run, especially compared to some of the shambolic events I have seen back home with organisers at each other’s throats, have you ever thought of doing anything over the water or getting any big events over here?

Glyn: We have thought about it yes, we do pride ourselves on being super organised and we pride ourselves on how all the riders like to get involved and support our series as well. It’s good to have the Forest Services, Mountain Bike NI and all the councils on side, they are really supportive as well. That keeps the whole thing positive and keeps our lives a whole lot easier too. They want to see this kind of thing happening you know, and this year we’ve been spread about a fair bit more around Northern Ireland then last year, we’re moving up to Ballycastle which is on the North Coast. We did chat before about having a round of the UK series here last year, unfortunately it never worked out for a few different reasons, but it’s certainly something we would like to look into for the future. Then we would like to maybe even go as far as having a round of one of the EWS’s over at one of our locations, I mean we have huge potential over here.

Enduro: Has there been any progression towards the possibility of an EWS round over here?

Glyn: We’ve tested the water a little bit to sort of get a feel for it and see what needs to happen, but we are just going to let it run its course and see what happens, Niall in the South is doing an amazing job for Ireland and we’ll just see how the future pans out on that one.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 3

Enduro: Was last year your first year at running the team?

Glyn: No, we started that in 2014, but there was only two of us on the team that year, then last year we built the team up a little bit, especially getting VBitus involved as a main sponsor. So we’ve continued that this year with Vitus and we now have five riders on the team.

Enduro: Are you on the carbon Vitus models yet? (I have a big grin on my face, as I have come over to test their first one available!)

Glyn: We will be very soon, you’d better clean it up well for us on Sunday night, then mine will be good to go! (laughter) I’ve done the car-park test, had a bit of a bounce, but haven’t actually ridden it yet.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 4

Enduro: Tell us about your team riders then.

Glyn: We’ve got J-mac James MacFerran, he’s Pro Elite and is our main downhill guy, hopefully if all goes well he will be fighting for the Irish National Championship. He may get across to do a few British ones, but he’s pretty much our only downhill guy, but he does enduro as well, so can mix it up pretty good, he’ll also be doing a couple of the EWS races with Ireland, Italy and Spain planned. Then we have Alistair Baron, who’s just moved up from Juniors, this being his first year racing as a Pro, he races enduro with the odd downhill just for fun, he will be doing the EWS too, he’s studying and about to move across to Sheffield. Apparently there’s a really good mountain bike scene over there! (laughter) Yeh, he’s going to be doing a degree in engineering in Sheffield for the next couple of years.

Enduro: They’re all Elite riders then in the team?

Glyn: Yes, well, except for myself the old boy in Masters here, I just like to see what I can do and enjoy myself nowadays. I like to give these guys a bit of a platform so they can maybe move onto bigger and better things in the future. We have another rider, Nathan Mc’Comb, he is already anyoung legend with huge potential, he’s had top 30 stage times at the EWS in Ireland.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 5

Enduro: I rode with him last year on our tour of Ireland and was blown away by how good he was then as an unsigned rider.

Glyn: Nathan has unbelievable talent on a bike, he has a fantastic trials background before enduro. He only took up mountain biking for a bit of cross-training for trials, then we did a bit of riding with him and he’s been kind of flat-out doing it for the last couple of years. He’s going to be hitting the EWS series quite hard this year, as he wants to do all the European rounds, then hopefully next year he can move into doing the full series. Then there’s myself and Catherine (Glyn’s wife) we run the team and she does the more sort of endurance style events, like Ten Under The Ben and cross country style events like that. I myself try and still do a bit of everything and just enjoy myself.

Enduro: When it comes to the team and the race series who are your sponsors?

Glyn: Yep we have a really good lineup of sponsors for this year, great backing for the team. Obviously Vitus Bikes are the main sponsor. We also have Actisnack, Royal Racing for kit, 7IDP for all the pads and protection, 100% goggles, Think Studio for all the graphic design. First Tracks (my business) obviously are in their too. The great thing with Vitus being a Chain Reaction brand is that we have them backing us too, so all our needs can be met.

Glyn O'Brian Interview Action Shot 6

Enduro: Well thanks a lot to Glyn and we wish him and his team all the best for the future and a big thanks for being so hospitable over the last couple of years for our visits.

For more information on the Vitus First Track Series Glyn runs head to their Website.

Words: Jim Buchanan Photos: Dermott Sweeney / Jim Buchanan

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