Why Red Bull Rampage Is the Most Extreme Mountain Biking Competition

1


Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

If you drove out to hike just north of Gooseberry Mesa on the outskirts of Zion National Park 50 weeks out of the year, it would look like any one of the thousands of red sandstone cliffs that make up Utah’s Mars-like landscape. But for two weeks in October, that particular spot turns into a whirlwind of activity as mountain bikers from all over the world descend into the desert to prove their mettle at Red Bull Rampage, a competition of skill and guts that takes mountain biking to new stomach-flipping extremes.

Not only does Rampage take place across one of the country’s most physically demanding terrains, it is also the only mountain biking competition where the course isn’t pre-built for the competitors. Instead, riders and their two-person dig teams have four days to plan and dig the routes down which they’ll hurtle from the top of the mountain, at over 5,000 feet elevation. Nineteen riders competed this year; not a single one rode the same line.

“This event is one of a kind,” says Darren Berrecloth, who returned this year to ride in his seventh Rampage. “The only other sports like this are big mountain skiing or boarding, where they basically ride down a mountainside similar to this. But they’re not digging or building anything themselves.”

Getty

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

When competitors arrive at a Rampage venue, the mountain is typically in its raw, natural state—a blank, rocky slate for the bikers to create the kind of course they want to ride. It’s up to the dig teams to haul pickaxes, shovels, and sandbags (no power tools allowed) up the mountain to carve out the jumps, berms, and paths that will get them to the bottom. “A lot of what you see appears impossible, [like] there’s no way you can get through that stuff, but you take a pickaxe and start chipping at it, and you can make some headway pretty fast,” says head judge Randy Spangler, a former Rampage rider.

“It’s still just as gnarly and scary as it ever was,” says Spangler. “It’s controlled chaos.”

This was the second time Rampage was held at this particular venue near Gooseberry Mesa, which provided the dig teams with a bit of an advantage; there was already a path to help the riders get to the two main peaks at the top of the mountain, courtesy of event organizers. “There was literally no way to get the riders in,” says Spangler. “As a crew, we chiseled out climbing trails, hung ropes to help with hiking, and created a way for them to get off that peak. We gave them a base to work with for safety and to save the time it would have taken them to achieve that build on their own.” The riders—many of whom returned to the course—instead worked on making landings wider and smoothing out some of the jumps, in addition to adding new features. “It’s still just as gnarly and scary as it ever was,” says Spangler. “It’s controlled chaos.”

But that fear is a tool, says Berrecloth. “You don’t want to let it rule you, but you want to use it in a positive way to keep you in check and keep you alive,” he says. “If there’s no fear in it, there’s usually something wrong—with your head.”

That’s why it’s imperative that each rider’s team knows what it’s doing when crafting the trail—including the biker’s skill level. “You want to make sure you’re riding stuff that’s well within your riding capabilities,” says Berrecloth. “Sometimes the lines kind of just jump out at you, and sometimes it takes a couple days [to build them]. But you’re really just trying to avoid dying—some cliffs are fine, you’ll get beat up a bit, but other ones can really hurt you.”

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

The enormity of the task actually seems to bring the riders closer together pre-competition. “If it was just me and my team, we’d never finish in time,” says Berrecloth. But because some of the jumps and builds are so big, his dig team ends up teaming up with three of four other riders to complete them. “Yes, we’re competing against each other at the end of the day, but we’re really close friends, and we’re all stoked to see each other get down the hill safely and have fun doing it,” he says.

The riders each have their own vision, too, of how they’ll flip, twist, and jump down the mountain, and bringing that to life is the most crucial part of Rampage—one that plays into the riders’ scores on race day. “We don’t judge the riders on their line choice, per se, but rather an overall impression of amplitude, style, progression, and speed,” explains Spangler. “But obviously the line they choose is going to play into that because it lets them amp up each element. That’s what’s unique about this event over all the other bike events.”

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

And the riders know what they’re up against. At the peak, there’s the Goblin and the Knoblin—two two-foot wide ridges with 80- to 100-foot exposures on each side—which the riders can drop off onto the mountainside. Or they can go down the middle, a route riders call SFD, or Straight Fucking Down. Below the drops, there’s the Great Wall of China, another narrow ridge bolstered by a wall of sandbags, and T-Mac and Claw, a 30- to 40-foot jump named after the riders who built it last year, Tyler McCall and Berrecloth.

“You’re really just trying to avoid dying—some cliffs are fine, you’ll get beat up a bit, but other ones can really hurt you.”

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Rampage, by the way, is not a course on which riders try new tricks. Potential competitors—who come from freestyle, downhill, and freeride mountain biking—must submit video proof of their riding experience on similar terrain in order to be invited by the promoter; if a rider doesn’t have the chops to back up their application, they won’t be competing. “All of this stuff is based on prior experience,” says Spangler. “You get a feel, visually, as to what the calculations are—when do you need to pull up on the handlebars, when do you maybe give a little brake check, when do you need to change your body position… It just comes with time and experience. There’s no measurement, there’s no math; it’s all visual.”

Despite the terrifying locale and gravity-defying tricks riders perform, there have been no deaths in Rampage’s 12-year history. And while there have been cringe-inducing crashes and potentially career-ending injuries, it’s not because adrenaline-junkie bikers are heading full speed down the mountain without any sense of what they’re doing.

“A lot of people think we’re just a bunch of wingnuts, like, ‘Fucking look at that cliff! Let’s go! Hold my beer, watch this!’” says Berrecloth. “There’s a lot more to it than most people understand.”

An eye for rocky terrain, for one. Sheer guts for another.

Watch Red Bull Rampage now on Red Bull TV, or tune in to watch on NBC on Sunday, December 24 at 4:30 p.m. EDT.



Source link

Loading...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here