Before and After

Deep snow carpets the Peak District. The track around Kinder Reservoir is barely distinguishable from the blanket of whiteness. Nick Craig and team mate, Rick Hammersley drag and push their new Muddy Fox mountain bikes along their chosen route. It is 1988 and their first ever mountain bike ride isn’t boding well. A few hours later, 19 year old Nick is back at his shop sponsor; Pedal Power in Huddersfield. Ta for the offer of the bike, but this new sport isn’t for him, thank you very much. Fortunately, the shop owner didn’t take his protestations seriously and suggested he take out a different, better MTB. 

Nick is recounting his early years of riding to me from his home in Hayfield. The now 54 year old is rattling off tales faster than I can keep note. There’s a lot to get through for a man who is almost synonymous with off road riding in the UK. I’m a decade or so younger than Nick, and he was already racing (and winning) when I flicked through my first mountain biking magazine in the early 1990s. In an era where race results were reported a couple of months after the event, tucked away in the back pages, N Craig was a consistent presence, with a 1, 2 or 3 next to his name. As the years passed, I bumped into Nick at races every now and then; or more accurately, he politely let me know he was about to lap me once more. He is known as “the nicest man in mountain biking” for good reason. Always smiling, friendly, and with time for everyone.

“So much of my racing career was before the internet really took off. There was definitely no social media. It meant that sponsors wouldn’t really have a clue what you were up to week-in, week-out. I used to compile these folders at the end of the year to show them. Race results and that kind of thing. But sometimes when I went in to see them, they’d show me a letter that a member of the public had sent in. “I saw Nick at such and such a race, and he took the time to chat and is an excellent ambassador for the brand.” That kind of thing. Imagine that now! Actually writing a letter to say that. But I think it’s part of the reason, I’ve always been able to find a sponsor.”

''There is a time before and there is a time after. Our lives can change direction in a single morning.''

Before mountain bikes.

Nick Craig grew up in the valley between Hayfield and New Mills, tickling the western edges of the Peak District. In fact, he has never lived anywhere else, other than a brief venture to Cornwall when he was nine. The business opportunity for his father didn’t work out, and they were back north within a few months. It was on their return that his father decided to start racing cyclocross again (Ian Craig had already won the legendary 3 Peaks Cyclocross race in 1963). Nick tagged along to help, and it wasn’t long before he found himself on the start line too.

“It was the local league; Leverhulme Park. I was wearing tight football shorts, a football shirt too. My mum’s gardening gloves. It was in those races that I first learned bike handling skills. You were constantly sliding around with bald tyres in the mud.”

As he reached his teenage years, Nick was becoming stronger, but also building a love for adventure by bike that went far beyond time between the tape. 

“I won school championships, but would also go rough-stuff touring in Derbyshire on a fixed wheel bike. My parents gave me the freedom to make my own mistakes. It’s something that I’ve tried to do with my own children. When I was 15, I got the train to Glasgow with a friend. We rode across the city at midnight on a Friday – an experience in itself – before getting the train to Inverness, then Kyle of Lochalsh. The sun came up just as we were approaching the coast. We jumped on the ferry to Skye (this is before the bridge had been built) and spent a week touring the island. We hadn’t brought a tent; just sleeping bags. We thought we’d just sleep on the heather. On the first day, we rode all the way to the top of the island. I think we thought it was bigger than it was! It was a glorious day though. I remember rolling out our sleeping bags just as the midges descended. Oh, the midges! We found youth hostels after that. We had the most wonderful week though, until I was stung by what we thought must have been a jellyfish while I was taking a dip in the sea. Every bit of my skin was itching. When we finally found a doctor, he thought it was probably a fish from much further south that had been carried up by a strong gulfstream. The experience didn’t take away from a great adventure though.”

''My parents gave me the freedom to make my own mistakes. It's something that I've tried to do with my own children.''

The time in between

It would be possible to write a book on Nick’s racing career alone, but – at its heart – this isn’t a story about racing. There were multiple national cyclocross and mountain bike championship victories, multiple Three Peaks Cyclocross wins. Olympic and Elite World Cup level mountain bike racing too, though Nick himself points out that the very highest tier was beyond him. “I was probably a step below the very best. I realised that I was never going to win on the world stage fairly early on. I learned to focus on the experience and I have so many happy memories from that time.”

Still, he carved a career in a new sport; through the early boom in mountain biking, with all the associated technical developments: suspension forks, v-brakes, then disc brakes. Our conversion veers down the gear geekery rabbit hole… a mountain bike from 1988 is barely recognisable as the same beast as its equivalent from 2023.

''I learned to focus on the experience and I have so many happy memories from that time.''

“I was always keen to embrace new technology, and always made sure I would feedback my thoughts to the team. I was keen on suspension early on, but I wanted a way to lock out the fork for the climbs instead of the fork bobbing away. A year later, Manitou added a lock out to the top of the fork. You still had to take your hand off the bars to use it, but it was night and day better. Much later on in my career, Scott introduced a 29in wheel XC race bike. It was a massive change for someone who had only ever ridden 26in wheel mountain bikes. I couldn’t get used to the way the bike felt, and I remember talking to one of the Scott engineers and half-jokingly suggesting they should make a wheel that was half-way between the two. He almost did a double take; it turned out that they had been developing a 27.5in bike ready for the following year.”


There were highs and lows. During the 90s, Nick joined the DBR international race team, racing alongside a young Cadel Evans, long before he made the move to road racing. By the early 2000s mountain biking had plateaued, especially on the cross-country side and money was drying up in the sport. Sponsorship was hard to come by. In 2002 Nick wandered around Perseverance Mills; then the manufacturing home of Pertex fabrics and agreed a year’s sponsorship deal, allowing him to continue racing. The reputation he had carefully built stood him in good stead.


It was after making a decision to retire from racing in 2004 (a decision that he quickly reversed) that he built a relationship with Scott Sports that still exists today. He had been attracted by their new Scale XC bike, being raced by Thomas Frischknecht and a very young Nino Schurter at that year’s World Championships in Les Gets. It had geometry corrected for a longer travel suspension fork (a heady 100mm) and the model has set the template for cutting edge XC race bikes ever since. Nick has gone on to work with and for Scott in the UK – a relationship that has lasted to this day.


A job in the UK allowed Nick to spend more time with his young family; wife Sarah and sons Thomas and Charlie. Weekends were still more often than not spent at race courses around the country, but the whole family would travel, immersed in the community that sustained them. More often than not Thomas, Charlie and Craig senior would all be racing their respective categories. And again, more often than not, at least one of them was on the stop step of the podium.

Nick speaks with immense pride about both of his sons. “Tom was born in 1997. He raced all the way through his childhood; won the youth and junior National CX Champs. Then he decided to retire to pursue a degree in Biomedical Science. I’m so proud of that decision. It took a lot of strength.”

Charlie was a talented racer too, but our conversation drifts to the adventures that Nick had with Charlie. Vivid, treasured memories. “When Charlie was 14, we cycle toured in France, following the Tour de France for a while. We wild camped, ticked off cols, and watched the race. I remember eating breakfast on the Col du Joux Plane, before planning to descend down to Les Gets. We found out that the road was closed and we couldn’t get through, so ended up taking the mountain bike descent down the hill side. There were riders going up in the chairlift, cheering us on!”

While they were away, Charlie and his dad had a conversation about social media. Should Charlie set up an instagram account to document their ride? Why did he want to, asked Nick. His son’s response was considered and thoughtful; many of his friends would never have the opportunity to have such an adventure. He wanted to inspire them and show what was possible. It is the Craig way of doing things.


There is a time before and there is a time after. They are very different places. Our lives can change direction in a single morning.

Charlie Craig went to bed on January 20, 2017. He never woke up. The inquest into his death found that the otherwise fit, healthy boy suffered a heart attack in his sleep. 

A black hole opened. The future shrank to nothing and expanded to infinite emptiness. 

“You just don’t even want to get out of bed. Making that first coffee feels like an achievement. The only thing that kept me going was a sense that Charlie would have wanted us to. Fairly early on, we got support from Dr Steve Peters [Peters is a psychiatrist  perhaps best known for working with the British Cycling team and stars like Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pemberton and regularly credited with contributing towards their success] and his colleague Tim Buckle. They helped us manage the burden of grief, and helped us find a path to coping. I remember one of the first things Steve told us was that he couldn’t bring Charlie back, but he could keep us together. Apparently there’s a statistic that something like 80% of parents who lose a child end up separating. I’m immensely grateful for everything that Steve did for us.”

''Charlie's death isn't something that happened. It's still happening. You never fully process or deal with it.''

The sense of loss never lessens. The pain never goes away. Charlie will forever be 15. There will be no more birthdays. There will be no sense of discovery as a child becomes an adult and finds their own way in life. There will be no fulfilled potential. This is the time after. Life and death is a one way street. Whether you like it or not, time keeps moving forward.

It would be easy to understand if Nick and Sarah had decided to withdraw from the racing scene and the constant reminders that Charlie was no longer there. Instead, they were drawn back by the friendships and support the tight knit community offered. 

“Charlie’s death isn’t something that happened. It’s still happening. You never fully process or deal with it. You just find a way to keep getting up and keep living. For me part of that is racing. Racing for Charlie, racing for myself. I also want to have more adventures again; Sarah and I have done more riding together. We went to Mallorca this winter and rode the Sa Calobra [perhaps Mallorca’s most famous road climb]. I remember pacing Charlie up a few years ago. This time around, he would have been so proud of how his mum rode.”

“Charlie achieved so much in his short life. He really did pack a lifetime of experiences into those years. In the same way that he wanted to inspire others while he was alive, it feels fitting to do something that marks his life in the same way.

“Our aim is to support young off road cyclists, who are or would have been inspired by Charlie to follow in his pedal strokes. We’ve been able to provide financial support for young riders to go to the European MTB Champs, MTB World Cup races and cyclocross in Europe. It doesn’t bring Charlie back. It doesn’t make dealing with his loss easier, but we are so proud of what these young riders are achieving and that Charlie is supporting their journeys.”

''Sometimes the most traumatic events shape our lives beyond recognition. There is no way back. That doesn't mean that there aren't moments of happiness, moments of meaning, moments of joy. In fact it is those windows of light that keep us going.''

After the after

“Sarah does a lot of crochet now. It’s actually something that Charlie loved. He was very arty. This is not the life that we wanted, but we are trying to find a way to live it. I guess there’s a kind of purity to it. You re-evaluate what is really important; and concentrate on that. Everything else can wait.”

It’s human nature to want a happy ending to every story. Everything will be okay in the end. Except, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes the most traumatic events shape our lives beyond recognition. There is no way back. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t moments of happiness, moments of meaning, moments of joy. In fact it is those windows of light that keep us going. 

Each moment is experienced not just for yourself, but for the person lost too. We bear a responsibility to keep seeking them out for those who can’t any longer. 

Our interview ends, and Nick has a work call, but our conversation drifts on a few more minutes as we talk about riding plans and potential adventures. In the end we dial off with a simple promise to meet up and pedal soon. When and wherever that is, we’ll be riding for Charlie too. 

Produced by: Coldhouse Collective

Words: Tom Hill

Photos Ryan Goff and Roxanna Barry

19 March 2024