The Scottish Wildcat
For a man who confesses to having a fear of heights, I’m struggling to comprehend how Kriss Kyle defines “fear”. A simple search of YouTube will lead you to a video shot on location in Dubai, with the man himself leaping, bike and all, from an airborne helicopter onto a sky scraper roof. He makes it look easy.
By its very nature, BMX at the highest level flirts with the boundaries that society places upon us. It is unconventional, daring and at times fueled by a passion that can be hard to grasp for those who fleetingly encounter it or pass it by. And yet, it encompasses attributes that anyone would be pleased to possess - courage, determination and a balance of mind and body that allows creativity to flourish.
All of these dispositions are prerequisites for any aspiring rider who seeks to lead a life on bikes.
Yet if you scratch beneath the surface of the wild edits, YouTube viral fame and social media you’ll see that behind every jaw-dropping moment lies years of hard graft and absolute conviction in what he’s doing.
Kriss is Scotland’s, if not the worlds, biggest BMX star and he carries a humility, empathy and openness that counts for just as much as any ability handle a bike through flips, whips and endless spins.
The tale of how Kriss got here, to some literally dizzying heights, conjures up romance and could be the subject of a documentary in itself, but the reality of it is quite staggering.
Aged 14, Kriss left home to live at Unit 23 skate park near Dumbarton “The dream back then was to be a pro rider, but as a kid from Stranraer, I just didn’t think it would ever happen, it was pretty much unheard of, but I just kept riding because I loved it that much - I still can’t believe my parents let me go.”
As anecdotes go, this seems worthy of a chapter in any biography - to leave home at such an early age, and put all your chips on black or red could be construed as reckless.
Therein lies the juxtaposition of this mellow man - on the outside his riding is powerful, mesmerising and envelope pushing, yet beneath the exterior lies a calm, quick witted and deeply creative soul.
“...I wouldn’t change it for the world, it really helped shape my future”.
While to many 14 year olds this extended walkabout may sound like a dream, the World War era warehouse that Unit 23 is housed in was designed primarily to firstly build parts for planes fighting in the air above Britain, then as a bottle factory “night time would come, and everyone would leave. I’d hear crazy noises and it was scary as hell man, it really was.”
Despite not having any money for food and living on a diet of sweeties and wearing unwashed clothes, Kriss openly admits that he “loved it, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, it really helped shape my future”.
As a way of education it seems extreme, but you get the feeling that this is a man who was never going to follow the conventional path, and one thing is very clear, “hard” has a different threshold to the average human in this wild man’s mind.
Legacy is word often used to describe competing sportsmen and women, but Kriss’s legacy in BMX is firmly secure, so why then, start from scratch and explore mountain biking?
“Ultimately I ride for me, and not for anyone else’s opinion.”
It’s true that, like any bikes, there are parallels between 20” steel framed bikes and 29” wheeled full carbon sleds, but these two sports have often been split by a degree of simmering tensions and sub cultures “I just see so many people, Loosedog, Kade and others who are now riding BMX as well as MTB, it’s so nice to see. BMX’rs are riding mountain bikes, Matt Roe and others, it’s sick, we’re all doing the same thing that we love, riding bikes”
This passion-come-career is a personal endeavour and everyone, from the grom on the balance bike, to the seasoned pro has their own take on it. Kriss has developed an inner confidence and is entirely comfortable with his own choices “Ultimately I ride for me, and not for anyone else’s opinion.”
It’s a refreshing attitude that comes from a never ending desire to learn and to find new creative outlets. Given Kriss’s wild and free roaming nature, he seems to tie in perfectly with Endura’s long established philosophy of Renegade Progress. It’s true that sponsorship deals are handy - but real, shared partnerships are what every rider with an active mind craves, and it seems a natural tie-up between the two.
The influence that Kriss has is clear to see amongst a growing band of Scottish youngsters who are following his lead of pushing boundaries and redefining expectations - and no doubt the environment that this diverse landscape offers has played a part.
Truth be told, Kriss could choose to live anywhere he wanted, yet he’s stayed close to home, and fully embraced what lies on his doorstep “ I thought, I live in one of the best places ever for mountain biking, why don’t I do it more?
It’s not as if the thought of living in “San Diego, or one of the other iconic locations” hasn’t crossed Kriss’s mind, yet, despite the rain, returning home after riding trips is a moment to be savoured.
“I thought, I live in one of the best places ever for mountain biking, why don’t I do it more? ... There’s no one saying you can’t go here, you can’t go there. It’s the freedom that the land offers man ...”
“I really look forward to coming home; there’s something about it, I’ve never seen a country so green! All my friends are here. I’m 5 miles from the airport, 10 miles from Unit (23) and have mountain bike trails up the hill. It couldn’t be better, the air is fresh and I think it’s the best place I’ve ever been to”
While all of this seems idyllic, it might not be possible enjoy the same level of freedom in other countries. The right to roam, coupled with a bike offering new found suspension offers a level of freedom and connection to the land that Kriss holds dearly “There’s no one saying you can’t go here, you can’t go there. It’s the freedom that the land offers man, it’s why I called my signature BMX with BSD the Freedom - go anywhere, ride how you want.”
"...It’s a chance to be even more creative as nothing is even or smooth like in the city. Often I’ll just see something, and we’ll mess around on it to see what can be done.”
The difference between the urban jungle and the forests, hills and valleys of Scotland offer quite the contrast, and I wonder if this change of environment has led to the mountain bike being taken out of the shed with an increased regularity “You’re literally riding nature. It’s a chance to be even more creative as nothing is even or smooth like in the city. Often I’ll just see something, and we’ll mess around on it to see what can be done.”
Furthermore, Scotland holds less than 10% of the UK’s total population, meaning the opportunities in vast spaces are endless for a mind that is “Always looking around, I can never switch that off, ever”
After a brief pause, Kriss laughs his way through telling me “I always think, will this ever end? The search for lines is a constant that I can’t switch off”
Clearly, Kriss is the archetypal passionate Scot; “I never really thought about it, I’m so Scottish it’s unreal” he says with another infectious laugh.
While we may be laughing tongue in cheek, this is clearly an important factor is Kriss’s relationship with Endura, who have been based in Livingston for 26 years. Authenticity is a buzz word across marketing seminars across the world - yet it is ultimately true that you can’t put a price on honouring your roots. Both Kriss and Endura are now global brands, but they’ve never wavered in their commitment to the land that has inspired them.
“I mean who’d a thought it? I’ve so much to be thankful for, it really is a dream come true.”
Putting this sense of belonging into his new signature clothing line was easier said than done though with “countless sketches stuck to the wall” before ultimately taking inspiration from another Scottish icon - his very own wildcat “I took a photo of her back, and that’s her patterns on the back of my shirt, and it goes down my arm, it’s sick and means a lot to me”.
Coupled with Kyle tartan, the distinguishable kit was a chance to “see what I could get away with, but also have meaning. It’s the same as my tattoos, they all have to have a meaning”
It’s early days in the partnership between Endura and Kriss but again, we come back to the one defining trait that is central to his core - Freedom. “To be given so much freedom and support is incredible, especially as they are just down the road. With BSD just up the road, it’s amazing to represent two Scottish companies. It just feels right” It’s apparent in everything from the latest edit, where Kriss clearly relishes trying new and unconventional moves through to the signature kit, that Endura are keen to offer a platform for Kriss's imagination to come to the fore and be realised.
Kriss’s humility has surprised me, but perhaps it’s my own ignorance at play here. With such a back story of ultimate risk and dedication it comes as no surprise when Kriss laughs “I still can’t believe it, I’ll be flying across the world with a mate, thinking who the hell is paying for this, I mean who’d a thought it? I’ve so much to be thankful for, it really is a dream come true.”FOOTNOTES Words by Tommy Wilkinson, Photos by Eilidh McKibbin and Chaz Mailey. Dumbarton, Scotland, UK
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