Welcome to the first in (hopefully) a series of industry profiles, features and interviews of various mountain Biking VIP’s. People that have been there through the ages, observing, commenting on and sometimes defining the times we all now refer to as the halcyon days of our sport.
In the first of Retrobike’s ‘20 Questions* with…’ series, we are proud to present an interview with the creator of everyone’s favourite mountain biking sheep, Mint Sauce. To those of you not aware of Jo Burt’s colourful and imaginative mountain biking timeline, check out the website dedicated to our woolly little friend, his chums and their seminal comic strip at www.thisiswhy.co.uk.
*Retrobike reserves the right to make 20 Questions with… less questions if the interviewer runs out of ideas of good things to ask.
RetroBike: How, when and where was Mint conceived?
Jo Burt: I’m not entirely sure, a mix of pure brilliant inspiration and the bleeding f*cking obvious.
JB: Lunchtime, er, a while ago, about 23 years at a guess. Probably a Thursday.
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RB: Do you like to paint/ draw other artworks aside from the famous mountain biking sheep in your spare time? Or do you think ‘enough being a creative for the day’ and chill out in front of ‘Cash in the Attic’ with a cuppa instead?
JB: I do absolutely no drawing/sketching in my spare time, but I do like to paint other things apart from The Sheep. When I say “like” I mean it’s a sheer and absolute joy, getting a illustration job that requires neither ovine nor cycling subject matter is a wonderful thing. And it’s not too hard to spot the certain times in Mint Sauce where I’ve had enough and want to draw something different for a change, like planes, or a big blue sky, or just be horrifically self-indulgent, although some would say the whole thing is self-indulgent. But I digress..
RB: Desert Island Discs scenario…one luxury…bike or drawing materials?
JB: A bike, and a typewriter to get thoughts down with.
RB: Ok I think I knew the answer to that one, which bike?
JB: Not fussed, any bike really. Well, maybe not a road bike, I assume as it’s a desert island it’ll be somewhat lacking in tarmac. And come to think of it, it’s probably pretty devoid of trails too as well……. do I get a folding saw and a mattock to make some trails? I think the question is inherently flawed. Next.
RB: What’s Mint’s fave bike of all those Slingshot’s and Pace’s and Orange’s? Or is it just ‘not about the bike’ for the little woolly chap?
JB: Oh, I don’t know. I guess the Pace ‘cos it’s a bit iconic, and the square tubes were easier to draw and shade.
RB: What was it about Bath, Bristol and Brighton that had such an influence on getting mountain biking kick started in the UK back in the day? Was it just that they all started with ‘b’ and the rest’s co-incidence? Or was there a spiritual awakening?
JB: Did they?
*Er, not sure now. Might want to scrap that question, but then it won’t be 20 questions, it’ll be 19, so I think we’ll just keep it but ignore it. (ed).
RB: Best place in the world you’ve ridden?
JB: I think that’s impossible to pin down to be honest. I’ve been lucky enough to ride all over the world and each of the places I’ve been has been special in it’s own unique way. Some places are just spectacular places to be, some have fantastic riding, some have a whole culture/riding thing going on, some are all three and more, some are none of those but have a separate charm, some are a combination of all of those and the people I have been with at the time. If I had to pick just the one place to go back to I really couldn’t say. If I had to go on one last ride before I died it would be out my back door at about 5.30pm on a Summers evening for a romp across the tops of the Downs, because it’s my Home.
RB: Best tea shop bike stop in Britain?
JB: Just the one that’s on the ride usually, although I do miss Annies in Pyecombe. At the moment I am enjoying the post-ride one-more-hill earned hot-chocolates from a place in the middle of Brighton.
RB: I’m sure you can tell a lot from the answer to this next question, but as yet not sure what exactly. One day I reckon I will, so…which do you prefer, Raspberrys or Strawberrys?
JB: Hmmmm, raspberries I think. Strawberries can be watery and flavourless these days. And you get good value for money with raspberries as you’re picking the seeds out your teeth for ages afterwards.
RB: Should anodised purple ever come back?
JB: No. Not even ironically.
RB: Or are you unaware it ever went away?
JB: It’s always been there, like the nasty stain in the spare room.
RB: Progression is inevitable and usually necessary, but they just don’t make bikes as pretty as they once did do they?
JB: On the whole, no. There seems to be something unquantifiably pleasing to the eye about a classic frame, preferably in steel. But some of the little details that are appearing are quite aestheticly joyous.
RB: Bearing in mind, access, attitudes, bike design, (ahem) cycling fashion, the bikes themselves, personal fitness…what’s your favourite era of mountain biking?
JB: I don’t know that I have a favourite era. I can look back and go “That was a good time”, but that’s just a heady mixture of trails, friends and sunny summers rather than any specific era per-se, each was special for its own very specific reasons, and that’s without looking through rose-tinted Oakleys (is that VR28?).
Although I do look back on that year we actually had a Summer with a certain fondness.
RB: Are you addicted to eBay?
JB: Christ no, not at all, I have a friend who does all that for me anyway.
RB: I know you’re not a faffer, but are you a fettler? Or is your zone out bike therapy down time at the drawing board rather than in the garage?
JB: Often if I’m having artistic trouble and staring at a blank bit of paper I’ll potter downstairs and clean or fiddle with a bike and it’s a lovely quiet time, therapeutic almost. And quite often an idea will pop into my head, or a solution to a problem will arrive, I think it’s something about a repetitive menial task that frees the brain and allows trapped stuff to rush to the front.
And there’s something special about doing handlebar tape at one in the morning, it’s almost traditional.
RB: Is it me, or has the friendliness of mountain bikers you meet out there on the trail these days changed or are we just getting old and cynical?
JB: Well, I guess I’ll have to fall back on the “The world is full of c*nts, some of them ride bikes” adage here, and there’s more mountainbikers around these days, ergo, more c*nts. But yes, I think there might be more “attitude” out there, I guess it’s all part of the “hardcore” image, and I think there’s more “attitude” about in general life these days anyway, maybe I am just getting old too?
Although on the whole there is a big difference in attitude to the people you’ll meet out on a ride on a weekday to those you’ll bump into on a weekend. Make of that what you will.
RB: I’m sure there were more bikers out there on my patch 15 years ago too. More bikes sold now than ever surely, so where have they all gone?
*see above note from ed, similar considerattion please readers, perhaps a daft question, please ignore. (ed)
RB: People asking you to draw them a ‘quickie’..annoying or flattering?
JB: Just the one; extremely flattering, a queue of people asking; rather annoying after a while.
RB: Any chance of a reissue of the classic Mint Sauce/ MBUK Jerseys? Maybe an updated version where our hero has few grey woolly hairs and a bit of a tummy?
JB: I just had a chat with MBUK about doing some new Mint t-shirts. For the jersey with a few grey hairs and a bit of a tummy you want to go to the Singletrack shop surely?
RB: Any plans to put Mint and friends out to pasture, or are we all still be able to float away to a prettier place for a page every month for some time yet?
JB: Well he was very nearly Sunday lunch a year or so ago. A combination of Mint being 20, me being 40, both of us wondering what the hell we were going to do for the next 20 years, and MBUK being justifiably a bit confused as to why they were paying a lot of money for a rather esoteric page that would be better as an on-line shop advert all combined to points towards it being quite a good idea to end it all, and two decades isn’t a bad run for a cartoon strip after all. But we’ve come through all that and will be plugging away at the sheep for the foreseeable future, mainly because there’s not much else I’m qualified to do.
And there’s the book of course.