As one of Townsville Rockwheelers’ foundation members; Haydn Tilley introduced his son Nelson to the sport at the tender age of 10. With the 21-year-old now the Elite Men’s Queensland State Champion, the pair don’t get as much opportunity to ride together as they once did; but the sport is still very much something that unites them.
“Riding was the only sport I ever wanted to do; I think mainly because every son wants to be like his Dad” – Nelson Tilley
It’s an unseasonably cold and wet Townsville day when TheGo catches up with Haydn and Nelson in Juliette’s; all huddling around a table inside and warming our hands on cappuccinos and mochas. Haydn has just come from Douglas Mountain Bike Reserve where he and a team of Rockwheelers volunteers have been inspecting the brand new double black diamond trail (translation: bloody difficult), constructed by one of the world’s best trail builders Glen Jacobs (more about this in another story soon). Showing pictures of the steep rocky drop-offs on his iPhone, Haydn has been mountain biking in Townsville for 24 years. Now trail building coordinator, he was one of the original members of Rockwheelers when it formed 23 years ago and used to build the Douglas trails by hand.
It was Haydn’s and his mates’ enthusiasm that drew his son into the sport, with Nelson admitting that every young boy wants to be like his Dad. “I used to listen to the way Dad spoke about the guys at the top end and I’d watch them winning the Paluma Push and, instead of wanting to be like JT or other NRL stars, I wanted to be like them,” Nelson explains; who was third at the recent Cairns RRR (June 1). “Riding was the only sport I ever wanted to do; I think mainly because every son wants to be like his Dad.”
As one of the best elite men’s mountain bikers in Townsville, Nelson has triumphed on the state and national stage since starting to take the sport seriously at the age of 16. But now — after recently finishing his diesel fitters apprenticeship and moving out of home — he is considering taking a step back from the competitive side of the sport for a year to start enjoying his riding again. “There’s a lot of pressure when you’re winning to keep winning and, while I take my hat off to the guys who can eat, sleep and live competitive mountain biking; I think after doing it for five years I need a bit more variety at the moment,” says Nelson, who was training 17 hours a week on top of working full-time. “That’s not to say I won’t return to it, but sometimes you need to take a step back to go forward.”
But even while he takes a year off from the competitive stage, there’s no way Nelson can take a break from the sport, saying he’ll remain a part of the mountain biking community by volunteering at events and helping with trail building. At which point Haydn good-naturedly interjects: “Really? I’ll hold you to that”, handing him a mock contract and motioning him to sign. Nelson also hopes to mentor some of the younger riders coming through who he describes as integral to the future of the club. “Rockwheelers needs more younger kids involved who will represent us at big events,” says Nelson. “With me going to the Nationals and States I felt like I was putting Townsville on the map and people from down south would hear about our club and the great tracks we have here.”
So does Nelson’s temporary hiatus mean he’ll have more time to ride with his Dad now? They both look at each other and laugh. “I can’t keep up with him!” says Haydn.
Photo of Haydn at top courtesy of Russell Baker