Orange People: Carl Barnes and Sian Hughes

February 16 2011

I first met Carl and Sian at Geneva airport, Sian collected a group of us to stay with Endlessride, a mountain bike holiday company in Morzine. Winding up the long road to Les Get, Sian regaled us with stories of buff trails, epic singletrack and scare stories, roots of all evil and the Champery World Cup track. Led Zep on the stereo, we knew we were set for a good holiday, our introduction to mountain biking in the Alps.

Orange Bikes Endlessride Sian Hughes and Carl Barnes

Knowledge is key to making the most of a trip to the Alps...

Duly dumped at our chalet, we all parted company and our guide for the week introduced himself, a chap by the name of Olly. Despite a twinge of disappointment, we had a fantastic week of lift assisted riding, opening our eyes to things other than braking bumps, lift queues and boring ‘red runs’. Olly was great, but we couldn’t help feeling that the Morzine area had somehow shortchanged us, we hadn’t quite experienced the epic adventures Sian had promised as the VW Caravelle rocked and rolled its ill-held line up the Alpine roads. Back to Geneva, home time.

Sian Hughes Orange Bikes Endlessride

Sian's tales of the trails are inspiring, this is the scenery of the Alps...

In time for the following season I completed by SMBLA guiding course and rode with Gareth Jefferies, the main man at Endlessride. This time with a one-way plane ticket I headed out to Geneva, Sian again on collection duty and a quickened Caravelle pace showing that practice pays whatever your vehicle of choice. A summer ahead of me, I set to work following Carl and Sian wherever they rode. Trails local to Morzine within throwing distance of a lift station, but unridden next to the brake bump festooned slopes of the DH tracks. Awesome all day adventures over to Samoen, Flaine and beyond. Spending much of our time riding over the Swiss border to Champery, we were given the map of a massive area to play how we wanted. Phil Smith, the other guide working at the time, was a great partner in finding rough, technical and vicious switchbacks, with no end of challenging terrain at our disposal.

Orange Bikes Endlessride Gareth Jeffries Dave Flynn Phil Smith Lee Massey

Time for another run? I think so...

Was all good? Not exactly. Mid-season we were subject to the heavy handed smack down of the French authorities. It soon became apparent the ‘guiding’ situation was changing. A qualified International Mountain Leader and suitably granted equivalence for his mountain bike tickets, Gareth became the only fully qualified Brit in Morzine, he was busy…

Gareth Jefferies Endlessride

Mr Mountain Man. Something of an authority on everything outdoors... 

Gareth freed up more time for the rest of us to explore, Morzine quickly became the base for endless exploration. The highlight was difficult to decide, but riding back from Chamonix to Morzine in a day was perhaps the best epic I’ve ever done. Lots of pushing, but with descents few have ever ridden, rewarding is an understatement.

Gareth Jefferies Orange Mountain Bikes

Gareth in the mountains, proper mountains...

The point of this story? To promote an undersold area and contextualise where Carl and Sian are up to in their biking story so far. Accomplished guides and riders, they open up people’s eyes to what Alpine riding has to offer, not necessarily what you’d expect, more alternative missions which are forgotten in this world of lift assisted riding. Do you want to follow in their footsteps? I asked Sian a few questions about how they got to where they are and how biking has changed?

How’s things in the Alps?

Aye, biking is the name of the game around these parts this winter, it hasn't snowed for three weeks, get on the south side of the valley and the job is a good 'un, the big blunders [29ers] are working a treat, chomping up that dry singletrack!

Get on it…lets have one birthed into the Orange family! [erm, we’ll see].

We rode up Saleve yesterday (the big cable car on the motorway just outside Geneva) lordy lordy! It was so cold it was impossible, me fizz hogg [they're from Cumbria, no idea...] nearly fell off, it had to be at least -200 degrees, there was a bise (cold northerly) wind blowing on the ridge, totally rude!

Sian Hughes Orange Mountain Bikes

Every so often Sian heads out for a short spin on the hybrid...

So when did you and Carl start riding?

Carl bought a Muddy Fox Seeker in 1984 when he was working in the shipyard. He started touring/exploring/hiker biking around the lakes then Yorkshire, Scotland and Wales. Big rucksacks and hiking boots stylee.

He upgraded bikes a couple of times, Specialized Rockhopper, Horizon (Two Wheels Good bike shop) hand made Bromich, Fat Chance etc. The first Orange was an Aluminium "O" circa 1990.

Carl started working at Lakeland Mountain Bikes and racing cross country. In 1990 went over to Durango Colorado for the first ever UCI World Champs and combined it with a road trip to Moab, Crested Butte, attended the Pearl Pass tour (Crested Butte to Aspen over the 14,000ft Pearl Pass). That’s when we discovered proper singletrack.

In 1993 we both set off on a two year self supported cycle tour (America, Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia etc.) the tour was based around trying to ride at as many MTB locations as possible on route.

We then spent five seasons running a winter ski chalet in America for a UK tour operator. In the summer we spent the summers mountain biking or cycle touring and doing ad hock guiding for BikeTreks in Ambleside.

We both did our OTC mountainbike leader award in 2001 and went to Morzine on a summer holiday in 2002, that’s when we met Gareth from Endlessride. He offered us a job for the following summer.

Since 2003 we've spent eight consecutive summers working for Endlessride in Morzine, the perfect job, combining your interests with your work. We did our SMBLA mountain bike leader award in 2005.

Carl Barnes Orange Mountain Bikes

Mountain biking for most has always been about escapism

That’s Carl covered, what was your first bike?

I got my first bike in 1988, a Saracen Tuff Trax. In 1989 I met Carl and along with his mates we did some epic Lakeland hiker biker rides over the winter.

In 1990 I started racing XC (all that existed at that time). In 1991 we set out on our self supported cycle tour, the highlight was the racing in America and Canada. Kamakazi DH, the dual slalom, trials and the XC at Mamouth Mountain, very different to the races in the UK, all new disciplines.

How has mountain biking progressed since then?

I do think it's funny that the mountain biking that we used to do in the lates 80's has gone full circle and it is what we like to do now. We want to have big epic adventure days, we don't mind hiker biking to get to those special trails, quite happy to spend hours climbing to get the buzz of the all natural descent! Really the thing that has changed and made it possible for us to have bigger better epic days than in the 80's is the advance in technology in the bikes, 5 inches of travel both ends and it weighs less than my old 1988 Tuff Trax, oh and the brakes work too!

Sian Hughes Orange Mountain Bikes Five

Sian has mental bike handling skills, embarrassing downhillers is one of her fortes...

The mid 90's saw a whole wave of lightweight freaks, it was all about the grams and the one-piece lycra skinsuit, even non racers were obsessed, now it's mainly about kit that works.

Also interesting is the current UK race scene which appears to have gone full circle.

In the early 90's the NEMBA race series was based on a full weekend of racing. Saturday consisted of DH and trails, Sunday it was XC, all to be completed on the same bike. Now we see events like the Singletrack Classic Weekender and Hamsterley one-2-one run on the same basis as events 20 years ago…

What’s you connection with Orange Bikes?

Our connection with Orange is simply that they were there at the beginning, Lester and Steve were always at the races and events, both competed and Team Orange supported/sponsored a lot of riders at different levels. They were there right from the start contributing and developing the UK MTB scene from all aspects, as competitors, sponsors, bike developers/manufacturers and have had massive input over the years in moulding our sport into what it is today.

Endlessride Morzine Orange Bikes

Gareth and Sam rely on a good demo fleet, this is better than most...

There’s also the obvious connection with Endlessride who use Orange Bikes as their Alpine hire fleet. Endlessride have used Orange Bikes since 2003, it was Kona prior to Orange but they simply weren't up to the job of being an alpine rental (issues with pivots and a lot of daily maintenance) Oranges have always served well as a low maintenance solid bike that rides and works well. From Endlessrides’ point of view, it's great to support and work with a product that is actually hand made in the UK.

Cheers Sian, and all the best for next summer.

This story could go on, there's no mention of Sian's BMX triumphs or the countless recent adventures, no part of this is an individual episode that stands alone, it's just a continuous lifestyle, an endless adventure. Carl and Sian continue to be grounded in the Morzine scene, and this summer will be working for Flow MTB, still riding Orange Bikes while Endlessride take a years sabbatical. Gareth will still be guiding in conjunction with Flow, so get in touch via the Endlessride website. Orange Bikes are really proud of everyone who rides our bikes, whether around the local trail centre or epic Alpine paths. The fact that Carl and Sian have been around from the start, that makes them the first of a long list of undoubtedly Orange people.

Dave Flynn Carl Barnes Sian Hughes Endlessride

If you see them around, say hello, they're really quite friendly...

All photos courtesy of Sian, a regular contributor to the Orange Bikes brochure pages. Those without the watermark are taken on a £50 snapper from Morrisons (mine). If you want to drool at more Alpine scenes, take a browse of Sian's Flickr page, but if you’re sat in an office and of a jealous disposition, I wouldn't recommend it.

Carl and Sian for me? They’ll always be an inspiration to get out and ride, whatever your circumstance and wherever you are in the world. Oh, and if you’re visiting the Alps, look beyond the chairlifts…

Carl Barnes Orange Bikes

Until next time...

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