Q&A with Lee Musselwhite

Lee Musselwhite

Visitors to this year’s Royal Bath & West Show will be treated to an awe-inspiring demonstration of motorbike skills, complete with soaring no-hand tricks and death-defying backflips. We meet the man behind Xtreme FMX – British champion Lee Musselwhite.

How did you first get into bike competitions?

I was born in Torquay and my father was always into bikes. He got me a BMX and although I found it really hard to do tricks, I wanted to get better and just persevered and practiced until I got it right. I wasn’t very good academically and didn’t really like school – I was quite badly dyslexic. I entered a few competitions when I was 15 or 16 and became known for creating my own tricks – I still like to push the boundaries in that way.

Flatland BMX is like break dancing on a bike. It’s very difficult and I used to train for six hours a day – and I still train daily now.

How do you get to be a UK number one?

The UCI is the body for BMX sports and it ranks riders according to their placings in international events. I used to travel all the time – Japan has a big contest every year but Montpelier has the biggest competition in the world. It attracts 600,000 spectators and takes over the whole of the town – it doesn’t get much bigger than this. It’s quite scary but I was 5th last year which ranked me number one in the UK and in the top 10 in the world.

So why did you branch into events?

I’ve been riding for 22 years and set up Inspire Shows 15 years ago. You can’t really make much of a living off being a professional rider, and I saw a gap in the market; at the time there weren’t many bike shows. Having started out doing Flatland displays I decided to combine with others to offer a package – we now have motorbikes, car stuntmen, the lot. In a previous job I sold BMX skate footwear and I figured if I could do that I could sell shows. It just grew and grew, and now we have some really big sponsors and contracts.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I manage my time between running the company and competing. The shows are my priority – we can have four shows a day in different places, so a lot of my time is spent organising and sending the teams out. Some companies have their own display riders but we don’t have a regular team. It’s an extreme sport so people can get injured, and I can call on anyone in the world to fill a spot that we need.

I still love competing – it lets me know that I’m still at that level, and of course it helps with the sponsors. But the shows are the most enjoyable, because you’re pulling all your friends together and we all feed off each other. We have different disciplines and there’s no pressure. All of the riders are true professionals and once it’s choreographed we don’t practice it – we know what we’re doing.

So what can spectators expect at the Bath & West Show?

We usually turn up the day before with a big lorry and a kicker ramp for the big jumps. We start with the relatively simple tricks and then build up the difficulty – everyone can choose their own tricks and you do bounce off each other. You see everyone raising the bar – hence it’s called ‘FMX Bike Battle’ – it’s enjoyable for us but is co-ordinated by our commentator so that the crowd know what’s going on. There will be handless tricks, bike grabs, dynamic air moves, and even the elusive backflip.

We’ve performed on BMX bikes in the Sports Village for the past two years, and it went down really well. I’m really excited to be running the motorbikes in the main ring – it’s always absolutely packed and the atmosphere is really buzzing. It’s going to be a really big spectacle. The Show is just amazing – it’s a really cool showground and it’s huge, with really good food. And every time I’ve been there the weather has just been amazing.

How do you train?

I train on my own for hours every day so I wear headphones, both when I’m training and competing – it helps me deal with the pressure. It’s also my escape, I can just focus on my own world. I’m lucky enough to be able to train indoors at the leisure centre and I’m building an indoor training area in my garden at the moment. It’s very hilly around Torquay and Paignton so it took ages to find a house with a flat large garden!

I only have one bike – a Deco BMX – which is designed to all my own specifications. I don’t like to change bikes – it’s like a glove.

You hold a Guinness World Record – how did that come about?

My first one was a no-handed spinning trick – I did 62 spins in one minute – but that’s now been broken so I’m tempted to try and get it back at some point. Then in 2014 I did a spider glide – the first trick with no hands or legs on the bike, and for which I still hold the record. I’m known for developing my own signature moves – I’m always actively looking at different directions to take things.

You also do school workshops – what does that involve?

I go in to promote cycle safety, healthy living, and perseverance: Practice makes perfect. The kids absolutely love it and it’s really rewarding for me, too. Sadly, it’s Government funded so it’s slowed down now, but I was doing three or four school visits a day for a while. I’ve always liked kids and it’s cool to see how much they take away from the school shows.

I’ve got a daughter who’s four now, and she’s been in shows with me on the front of the bike. She’s got stunt pegs on her own bike now – she just finds it really normal. When I was small it took me a while to realise that you do get better every time you fail and practice more – it’s an important thing to learn.

Lee in a minute:

Highlights of the job

I was in the new Mary Poppins movie – we recreated the chimney scene with bikes and did another big scene at Buckingham Palace. Emily Blunt can’t ride a bike – one of my guys was a stunt double for her.

Funniest moment?

Organising my wedding was pretty funny. Don’t Tell the Bride was my wife’s favourite TV programme, so I pitched a concept to them, with a fusion of bikes and stunts. Within a week they called me up – I organised a gauntlet of bike activities for her, a stunt car on two wheels, a superbike, BMX stunts, the lot.

Last book you read?

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne.

Favourite music?

I ride to hiphop but I like all sorts.

Proudest moments?

My wife and my daughter. And all the tricks I’ve invented when I’m on my own – realising that something is possible that nobody’s done before. Also, building my company from nothing – I’ve got a lot of things to be grateful for.

Favourite place?

Japan. I like the culture and they’re big into Flatland. I’m also quite keen on martial arts – I like the discipline of it.

Favourite food?

Roast chicken dinner with stuffing, Yorkshire pudding and peas. My wife is a really good cook.

How do you keep fit?

I try to eat as healthily as possible. I don’t go to the gym – I need to be on my bike as much as possible, it’s about muscle memory and reaction speed.