The Swatch Eye

Pilgrimage to style and sucess

Swatch Rider - Portrait Sam Pilgrim

July 14, 2014
From winning his first contest as a 14 year-old schoolboy to being one of mountain biking’s top dirt and slopestyle athletes, it’s been one long and eventful trip for Sam Pilgrim. By winning the Freeride Mountainbike World Tour overall in 2013, he has just scored the biggest success of his career. Find out what makes the latest addition to Swatch’s impressive rider pool tick and what keeps the Englishman pumped throughout the year.

When we contacted Sam Pilgrim to write a proper portrait of him, the 23 year old had more time to answer our questions than he would have liked or planned. While on an extended road trip with six other riders in California, the Englishman went down hard face first in an indoor skate park. Sam ended up bruised and battered, but he was still in high spirits. In typical Sam Pilgrim fashion, he lost no time to post both a selfie wearing a neck brace and a short clip of his slam on various social media channels — YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, you name it. This episode shows two things that make him stand out: his proficiency in playing the social media and his tough as nails attitude. Sam Pilgrim is not a rider who complains at contests. Much rather he lets his riding do the talking.

It all started when Sam entered a dirt jump contest as a 14 year-old schoolboy in England. He was not known within the sport yet and he was wearing a BMX helmet with a flashy leopard pattern design. As a consequence he got the nickname Leopard head, and he kept it ever since that contest — which he won, by the way. Even today where he could get any fancy custom helmet design he wants, the Leopard print shows up somewhere on his lids. “It’s become kind of a brand. The Leopard print helped me to stand out in the early days of my career in England, and this was definitely a good thing. So I’m trying to honour this”, Pilgrim explains about his nickname.

At contests, Sam Pilgrim is as approachable as it gets, joking around with riders and spectators alike. The night before winning the Monster Energy Slopestyle contest in Basel in 2011, he was the last rider to leave the riders’ party. Being the professional he is, he still nailed his tricks the next day, winning the contest and having a lot of fun while doing so. Killing it both at the party and at the jumps—that’s another trademark feature of Sam Pilgrim, as is a bag of tricks that keeps getting bigger every year. “On average, I can get a new trick dialled within a day at a foampit”, he explains. As for where he gets the inspiration from regarding new tricks and combos, Sam points at BMX riders: “I could watch new BMX edits on the web forever, I love them and I get cool ideas for tricks from these guys.”

As for 2014, Sam is poised to defend his title as overall winner of the FMB World Tour. En route he would like to win as many contests as possible. So keep your eyes open for the rider from Colchester with his seemingly endless bag of tricks.


How did you get into cycling and into jumping and doing tricks in particular?
SP: I got my first bike when I was about five. I only remember this because there’s a picture of my first day at school with me sitting on that bike. From about the age of nine I used to go on bike rides with my dad, and we used to find jumps that other people had built and I loved trying them out. When I was 10 years old I started to pull one-footers. I remember some older riders saying that I was good because I was jumping the jumps and already doing tricks at that age.


When and where was your first important contest, and what result did you get?
SP: The first contest ever was when I was 14. I actually won that event and that got my name out on the UK scene. But the most important event was 2007’s Vienna Air King: I was 17 and got second, which then gave me enough prize money to carry on to other events!


How would you describe yourself in a couple of short sentences?
SP: I’d say that I’m a fun guy who’s always smiling and having fun. Even in the worst situations I can still see the best in what’s happening!


What would a perfect day in the life of Sam Pilgrim look like?
SP: A perfect day would be waking up on a beach and then surfing in the morning then heading to some dirt jumps and riding my bike, followed by a motocross session and then a big party, that sounds pretty perfect to me, haha!


What are your strengths and what are your weaknesses as an athlete?
SP: I guess my strengths are that I’m very consistent, but I also have the top tricks dialled as well, so if I need to do more then I will! My weakness would be rampage style big mountain riding, just because I don’t live anywhere mountainous and spend most of my year training for slope style and dirt jump contests!


Do you have a philosophy for your life and for contests?
SP: I just want to have fun, that’s the best way to do well because you feel relaxed and comfortable. And with no stress you ride a lot better!


How many hours per week do you consider as work?
SP: With my style of job I’m always working, even if I go on my jetski or motorbike I usually load up to the social media like Instagram and Facebook. This is still work because it’s just helping to put you out there to the eyes of the public. I ride everyday mostly unless it’s really bad weather, so yes: My job is 24/7!


What percentage of that time do you spend in gyms? Are you into other sports or just riding a bike without specifically training tricks? And how much time do you spend on dirt lines?
SP: As my bike is my gym, I never do that. But I do sporting activities for about 85 percent of the week, maybe it’s motorbike or skateboarding, but I do a lot. Half of the time is on jumps and dirt lines, though.


As easy and stylish as your tricks look, how much work is behind them?
SP: Before a trick is dialled I have spent a lot of time with it, and the more time you can spend doing a trick the better it becomes, and it ends up being very natural. But on average I can learn a new trick in a full day at a foam pit. If I can do it like ten times in the foam pit I feel ready for the real thing.


What is your signature move, and what are your competition- winning moves?
SP: I think I’m most known for backflip no handers, as I
do them at most contests. But when something special is needed to make a difference, it’s time for flat drop backflips and 720s.


Which trick do you enjoy pulling most?
SP: I love pulling a 360 tail whip, especially when I land it mega clean!


Did you have an idol you were looking up to when you got into the sport?
SP: Yes, Travis Pastrana has been an idol of mine forever, and I think he always will be. He made freestyle motocross what it is today, and he was unbeatable! I really like his crazy style but he also is very professional, a very awesome role model.


Best place(s) to ride? Why?
SP: I love riding in California: the weather’s always great and there’s loads of brilliant riding spots. Apart from that I can also surf here a lot too!


Best contest you’ve been competing at so far? Why?
SP: I really, really love the Swatch Rocket Air Contest in Switzerland. It’s a slope style course but in an indoor area, so there’s no wind and no rain. Plus they give us so much time to practice that it feels like you are just riding for fun with your friends without the pressure of a contest.


What has been your most valuable win?
SP: The 2013 FMB World Tour overall was my best and most valuable win, that’s for sure!


Most serious injury you had so far?
SP: That’s pretty obvious, I lost my front tooth, haha!


What are your major goals for the season ahead? Do you have any other special projects such as movies or camps?
SP: I’d love to win the world tour again. Repeating that would be amazing, but at least I want to win a good amount of events. I love doing contests, and winning just makes it even better. I don’t have any huge projects for 2014 just yet, but I run my own Youtube channel where I put out loads of my own videos. I love to edit movies and I think I want to do that after bike riding.


What about Swatch: Were you aware of the brand before, and have you ever owned one of their products?
SP: Swatch is such a huge brand that I have known about them forever: Be it events or athletes they sponsor, they always have been huge and impressive. When I was riding bike trials as a 10 year-old, Hans Rey was sponsored by Swatch, and when I was even younger I got a very colourful Swatch watch that made me feel cool.


What does becoming a Swatch athlete mean to you?
SP: It means so much: I love that I’m part of such a famous team, and it feels really great that I was chosen. I won’t let you guys down!


And what are your thoughts regarding the Swatch Prime Line event in Munich?
SP: Yeah, I just saw this and I think it’s going to be amazing. There are always huge crowds in the Munich Olympic stadium, and I think it’s going to be an amazing show, both for the riders and the spectators.


If you were not living the life of a freeride pro, what would you be doing? Did you train for a qualified profession before becoming a bike pro?
SP: I think I’d be working with my dad as a roofer, that’s what he does. I helped him a few times and it’s so hard I’m glad I don’t have to do that for a living. Since I had already won some events before leaving school, I didn’t bother to go to college but went pro straight from school, so unfortunately the only qualifications I have is an A+ in freeride mountain biking.


Finally: Shout out to whom?
SP: Big shout out to all my fans and sponsors including Swatch, and also to my parents for helping me become what I am today! They used to take me to loads of events, so thanks a lot! •





The Swatch Eye newspaper reflects the everyday life of Swatch.


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