Interview with Jonathan Gosse a co-founder of the Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival and vice president of SMORBA

This week we interview Jonathan Gosse a co-founder of the Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival, Jamaica premiere mountain biking event. The Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival is a week-long mountain biking extravaganza that highlights Jamaica’s unique, vibrant culture and awesome trails.  Jonathan is also the Vice President of the St. Mary Off-Road Bicycling Association (SMORBA).  This non-profit organization has been running the event for the past 6 years.   SMORBA is dedicated to locating, building and maintaining bicycling opportunities on Jamaica’s famed North Coast. This year’s festival is February 19 – February 26, 2011.

1) How did The Fat Tyre Festival  get started?
The Fat Tyre Festival actually started in Negril in 1997.  Rusty Jones started it off and ran it until 2007 when he gave SMORBA the thumbs-up to move the event to St. Mary.  We’ve been doing it ever since.

2) How many people participated in the festival last year?
 We aren’t trying to take over the planet or run the biggest event – just the best.  We actually limit the total number of riders to 20.  We had something like 13 last year. 

3) Are their many people who fly in for the event?
 Most of the riders are from overseas.  Most Jamaicans – despite loving bicycles – have yet to catch onto riding through the bush.  Most riders are from either the States or Canada although we’ve had a couple Brits and a couple French riders in the past.  There are a few riders in Jamaica that make the effort to come for the Festival, but they usually simply meet us at the trail head and ride the trails rather than taking part in all the ‘festivities’. 

4) Is this an event for professional mountain bikers or can amateurs participate?
Definitely not a “professional only” event.  We’ve had professional riders come for the event and they’ve had a blast, but that is definitely not our focus.  We try to provide equal amounts of great trail riding and chill vibes.  While you will need to be a fairly competent rider to tackle our trails, if you are into all-mountain or aggressive cross-country riding, you’ll be set for our event. 

5) What is your advice to people who will be doing the event for the first time?
Get ready for a mountain biking experience that is vastly different from anything you’ve done before. 

6) How many communities are part of the trail during the festival?
One of the best things about riding in Jamaica is the fact that the trails are living, breathing things.  They all run through local communities and it is fairly common to pass persons going to/from work or walking to their farm.  As long as you are aware of this fact and treat the trails as the public ‘sidewalks’ that they are, it is a very cool experience.  Couldn’t give an exact number of communities we go through other than:  ’nuff!

7) How have the locals who reacted to the event passing through their community?
SMORBA has an excellent relationship with all the communities we pass through.  Mainly because Andy and myself have been riding the trails for so long that everyone is used to the idea.  We also make every effort to involve local communities as much as possible into the event.  We are constantly stopping at local shops (and bars…) and make the effort to stop and talk to people about what is going on.  I suppose it might be a different scenario if hundreds of people started passing through each week, but as we said before, we aren’t trying to take over the world or run the biggest event.  The reason why the Fat Tyre is so cool is that we are able to maintain the cool vibe – part of which is because it only happens once a year and local people are still excited about it.

8) Do you participate in the event?
Unfortunately, I spend most of my time during the event doing all the ‘back-a-house’ support type work.  Lots of driving around and making sure everyone has what they need to stay riding and having a good time.  Andy is the trail leader, so he gets to ride.  But I get to ride the trails all year ’round so giving up a week to allow others to enjoy themselves seems like a good trade-off.

9) Tell us about your training regimen leading up to the festival?
Drink lots of beer and try to get on the trails as much as possible…

10) Tell us about your mountain bikes?
Right now I’m riding a 10 year old Kona XC bike.  Desperately trying to save my pennies to get something a bit more burly.  Andy lucked into a Santa Cruz Heckler.  In fact, the frame was donated to him by one of the Fat Tyre Festival’s annual riders.  One of the highlights of the event for me is seeing all the super sweet bikes the riders bring down.  Very jealous…

11) As one of the Vice President of the St. Mary Off-Road Bicycling Association (SMORBA), it would very interesting to hear your opinion on where the industry in Jamaica is going?
As much as I like mountain biking, I’m not sure that it will ever become a hugely popular sport for Jamaicans.  The bikes are fairly expensive, it isn’t exactly spectator friendly and as mentioned earlier there is something about riding through the bush that most Jamaicans find quite silly.   Which is why SMORBA is building the first BMX racing track in the Caribbean right here in Oracabessa – but that is a whole different story…   Back to mountain biking – most of its potential lies in providing another reason for tourists to come here.  Obviously that is a double-edged sword, but I can very much envision a scenario where actual mountain biking could become another part of Jamaica’s tourism offerings – as opposed to a once a year event.  . 

12) Where is your favorite place to ride in Jamaica?
My favorite trail in Jamaica is Carlton Pass in Robin’s Bay.  Andy has done a tremendous job adding just a touch of man-made niceness to what is an unbelievable natural trail. 

13) Where is the best trail to get a really good view of Jamaica beauty?
 All our trails have something unique to offer.   But I’d say Pressure Drop trail (also in Robin’s Bay) is hard to beat for the scenery.  Great views of the mountains going straight into the sea…

14) Anything else you would like to add?
People should definitely come to check out the Jamaica Bicycle Bash on February 20 this year.  It is our attempt to celebrate Jamaican bicycling culture.  Great times at James Bond Beach.   

Information and dates on the Jamaica Fat Tyre Festival visit the SMORBA website.