6 November 2017
"Putting a positive spin on things" - How Simon credits mountain biking with getting his life back on track
Stressed, depressed and racked with guilt after his injury, Simon Taylor was struggling, then he had a go on a bike.
Simon Taylor, a former Sergeant in the Light Dragoons, remembers feeling depressed as he struggled with multiple medical setbacks after being hit by an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Then he was given a mountain bike and his life changed for the better.
During a training day tearing through Thetford Forest, Simon talks through his bumpy road to recovery – which has ended up with him competing for a top mountain bike race team – and explains how the off-road sport can benefit everyone, regardless of injury, ability or experience.
Road biking is hugely popular among Members. Should they consider tackling some off-road tracks?
Road bikes are fantastic, but they’re not for everyone. I find it a bit boring to be honest – wearing lycra and looking at somebody else’s backside all day long isn’t for me! I love the accessibility mountain biking gives you. You can get up in the Atlas Mountains on a Blesma trip to Morocco, or just ride some trails through your local forest. It gets you out in nature, to isolated places. You can stick a lightweight poncho and a bivvy bag in a backpack, and be gone for the weekend. I love it
What about adapting to amputations? Doesn’t that make the bumps tricky?
Not at all. Last year, I went to the Atlas Mountains with Alistair Cope, who organises a lot of Blesma’s cycling trips, to scope out the Morocco expedition. We were with another below-knee amputee and a Member who is missing an eye – and we were all fine. It’s a mind-blowing journey, and I’ve seen people with missing arms and legs complete it. We’ve even taken a handbike to an event in France for a Member who is paralysed. Off-road cycling is accessible to all.
“Mountain biking became a form of escape. I was just thinking about not falling off – and how knackered I was!”
Biking has obviously helped your recovery. Can you tell us about your injuries and how tough it got?
I started as a Gunner in the Light Dragoons and later in my career became a PTI and Sergeant. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan, and in 2009 took part in Operation Panther’s Claw. I was injured that September. It was a silly thing, really. I remember my dad, who was also in the Army, used to say: ‘Never volunteer for anything!’ But, unfortunately, that day I did!
I volunteered to go and help fix a generator. We were in a REME recovery vehicle when we drove over what is thought to have been a 50kg pressure plate IED. Our driver was killed immediately. I was luckier – but my helmet came off and smashed my jaw and teeth, I had a brain injury, I broke L1-5 in my spine (which was also compressed), I broke my collar bone, several ribs, my hip, my femur… and my right foot was annihilated. I woke up from a coma in Birmingham a month later.
And you’ve since been signed up by a team?
I now compete for a team run by Steve Peat, who is a legend in mountain biking circles. He’s focused on developing riders to where they want to be. For some, that’s on podiums, but for me it’s about improving and being competitive with myself, becoming the best rider I can be. I want to get faster, but I compete mainly as a showcase to get more injured guys involved.
And this is where Blesma has come in?
The Association has funded my racing, which I’m very grateful for. It’s been an excellent learning curve: the team have helped me with my technique, I’m using a better bike and different kit – I’m learning all sorts. And Blesma’s annual Morocco trip is just fantastic. We want people to enjoy not endure it, and that’s exactly what happens. If you’re tired, you can hop in the van. If you want to go slowly, you can. It’s as demanding as you want it to be. But it’s a spectacular place. I measure how successful a day on the bike is by the size of the smile on my face, not by my time.
Beginners wanted to be Blesma bikers.
Cycling is a great pastime for many reasons: it is accessible to Members with almost any disability, it is a great form of exercise that doesn’t cause too much strain on the body, it’s a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and it’s incredibly sociable.
Any bike will do
“Obviously, it needs to be safe, but I started with a bike that cost just a couple of hundred pounds and it was absolutely fine for everything – from the Blesma Morocco trip to the Atlas Mountains, to cycling around my local forest.”
Manage your injury
“I have a spinal injury, so I’ve got a bike with adjustable suspension. The great thing is that the gear is out there to make mountain biking accessible to just about anybody. Whether it’s an electric bike or an off-road handbike, it can be done.”
Go at your own pace
“I like to bomb around, jump off rocks and do all sorts of extreme tricks – my neighbour told me to grow up the other day because I was doing wheelies off the pavement! But you don’t have to be like that. Anyone with basic riding skills can complete a good day’s mountain biking.”