One of Hard Enduro’s most talented riders Paul Bolton is remarkable for being one of the few frontrunners to hold down a day job – as a truck mechanic! But while he admits it’s a struggle to always compete, he hasn’t let his privateer status hold him back and he’s a regular on the podiums of the world’s toughest events.
Like most Enduro riders, you began your career on a Trial bike. When did you make the switch?
When I was about 23, which would have been 2003 I think. Trial riding had sort of died a death in the UK because of the foot and mouth problem at that time. A few of my friends had Enduro bikes and I just decided to have a go at it. I wasn’t thinking about doing competitions though. I just bought an Enduro bike to go messing with at Motocross tracks. I was just playing around but I found that I liked it. I think my first competition was a Fast Eddys event. Yeah, it was definitely one of those because I remember having blisters on my hands afterwards and wondering ‘Wow, what’s this all about?’ I got so much more of a buzz from the Enduro bike. I always rode between the observed sections of Trials as fast as I could and would enjoy riding the Trial bike as fast as it would go, but when I got the Enduro bike it was like ‘Whoa, this is good! I like this!’ I just loved the outright power of it.
When did you start thinking that you could be competitive in Enduro?
Some friends offered me a ride. It was as simple as that. A guy called Martin Sandiford of Sandiford Offroad offered me a ride and I just went for it. He made a big commitment to me, and that made me commit to riding a lot more because I didn’t want to let them down.
Some guy said to me: ‘Do you want to come to Erzburg?’ and I was like, ‘What’s that?
When did you realise you were good at it?
I don’t know really. It sort of just came to me. I just remember doing things and people saying, ‘Well, that was good, keep going’. That was it really. I won a local Enduro and then I did the British Championship and that seemed to go okay, so it was funny, it was very natural. Then some guy said to me, ‘Do you want to come to Erzberg?’ and I was like, ‘What’s that?’ I had no idea it even existed. That was in 2007.
Was it a major revelation for you?
Yeah, completely. It was a bit of a baptism of fire. I remember looking around and thinking: ‘Wow, this is proper. This is a big event and there are a lot of people watching this.’ It really stoked me. I was ready to have a good go at it. I think I finished seventh that year. The following year I went back and finished third. It wasn’t all good though. Just after that third place, I went back home did a local race and snapped my cruciate ligament. With me working full time, it’s only really now that I’m getting back to full fitness.
Did that first Erzberg open up a whole other world of Hard Enduro to you?
Totally, yes. I had no idea it was out there. I thought: ‘Right, that’s for me, what’s next?’ It turned out the next thing was to go and have a go at Romaniacs and then Hell’s Gate. I’ve had a couple of fourth places in Romaniacs and a fourth at Hell’s Gate.
Being a privateer rider, with a day job, how hard is it for you to make it to these events?
Frighteningly hard! You can’t plan anything. I haven’t got a big sponsor behind me helping me out with anything or giving me loads of money, so even just entering an event is difficult. Often I won’t enter until the very last minute in case I hurt myself in the run-up and lose my entry fee. Everything I earn I spend on going to events. I do have some help: I get a KTM from EuroTek KTM and Alpine Stars give me some bits and pieces. But the travel and everything else is all off my own back. But, you know, it’s better than going to the pub isn’t it. Well, we do go to the pub afterwards but at least we have something decent to talk about over a drink rather than just a load of rubbish!
Would you take a works ride if it became available?
To be honest, I kind of like the balance I have now between work and riding but never say never. If someone offered you a dream deal and you’d get paid to ride your bike then you’d have to give a go wouldn’t you?
What’s your 2012 programme like?
I’m going to Hell’s Gate. I’ll do Erzberg. I’m not sure whether to do Romaniacs or the new event in Turkey [Red Bull Sea To Sky]. That looks like a lot of fun. And then perhaps the Roof Of Africa at the end of the year depending on funds.
What about the dangerous nature of the sport? Is that also part of the attraction?
No, not at all. I’d rather it wasn’t dangerous but it’s part of the package when you’re going that fast. The problem is that it’s just so much fun when everything is going right! When it all falls into place it is the best feeling. So I think that while there are definitely lows – like I had when I did my cruciate ligament – the highs do outweigh them.
What occupies your time when you’re not riding enduro?
I love mountain biking and I love snowboarding. Those are my two passions. I used to be pretty handy on a BMX too. I stopped riding BMX though because it hurt my wrists too much. I pretty much like anything that goes down a hill fast!