Darren Berrecloth, wallride. Photo: Ian Hylands
Rolling up to the event, it appeared that some type of futuristic soldiers were hurling themselves down a mountain on two-wheeled gravity sleds. Then I realized it was the Red Bull Rampage—the premier free-ride mountain bike event in the world. Since 2003, Red Bull Rampage has been bringing riders from all over the planet to the southern Utah desert to ride a remote area near Zion known as Virgin, Utah. The terrain in Virgin provides a unique landscape for riders to test their skills. Red Bull athlete Darren Berrecloth told me, “[There is] no other place in the world you can bring your mountain bike and send it like you can in the desert of Utah.” Imagine a post-apocalyptic Alaskan mountain range with big spines, steep faces, huge cliffs and endless opportunities for one to huck one’s meat. It’s big, bad, and it’s right here in our own backyard.
Although everything Red Bull does these days seems fresh and cutting edge, this particular event has some history. In 2001, the first Rampage was born and the mountain biking community had yet to witness anything of its kind. Normally in a race or free-ride event, there would be a set course that all competitors must follow, but not here. Riders would show up to the venue a couple of days before the event so they could build their own lines, to their own personal satisfaction, and anything could be possible. Over the years the sport of mountain biking changed—people started going faster, bigger and looked smoother doing it. The days of the ‘hate huck’ were gone and the community embraced the new breed of floaty, stylish moves like 360s and huge moto whips. As the sport progressed, the event evolved with it. The idea of allowing competitors to build their own lines was still a factor, but the addition of pre-built features such as massive wooden booters and some pre-carved jumps changed the face of the rampage forever.
Most sporting events are ideal for spectators, but the Rampage is not like most sporting events. It’s a four-mile hike or bike-in through the unrelenting Utah desert just to get to the venue and when you arrive, it’s as if Red Bull has set up its own army base. There are helicopters flying overhead and crazy four-wheel Tomcars that look straight out of a Mad Max film roaming around, not to mention the big military style tents all over. After you get past singing the M.A.S.H. theme song in your head, you realize that there is really no good place to watch these guys send it down the ridiculous dirt face in front of you. You have to start the hike up the venue, and up you go. It’s steep, loose, and you’re constantly looking to make sure you are not stepping on the lip of a jump or in the landing zone of someone’s insane line. You almost get the feeling that you are extreme by just watching the event, but then reality sets back in as you look at one of the sixty-foot gaps across a ravine of doom. This is some serious shit!
The Rampage draws a very elite group of riders from across the globe to compete for the title. What is unique about the talent in this competition are their backgrounds. Some riders, such as Gee Atherton, come from the World Cup Downhill Racing Circuit, while other riders like Andreu Lacondeguy are strictly slope-style competitors. The variety of talent and terrain sets the stage for anyone to take home the win.
The first day of competition, after the qualifying round, is a practice day for the big show. Riders get the opportunity to test their lines, check their speed, and ‘guinea pig’ that new feature they have been eyeing up. The newest, most-hyped feature of this year’s course was known as the Oakley Icon Sender. It looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean: a massive wooden roller down a cliff face to a forty-foot drop out of a wooden tower onto a steep dirt landing. This was a big move and it took some easing into for the riders to straight air off of it, but a straight air was not going to cut it. Many of the riders were staying away from the Oakley Icon Sender feature on the practice day and focusing on one of the other bigger features: a massive canyon gap. The gap spanned a solid 60 feet and had a run in that was far from ideal: a super-gnarly double drop into a semi-smooth landing before you had to come in at mach speed to cross a Knievel-sized canyon. A few guys were feeling out the run into the gap, sizing it up and, as the Canadians always say, “Give ‘er.” It is a highly impressive sight to see a mountain biker take flight on something that should be hit with a motor between your legs. With blue skies and some of that good old desert heat, the practice day was a wrap to let everyone rest up for the final showdown on the following day.
Sunday morning was the day that everyone had been waiting for. The sun was shining and everyone had their A-game ready to go. LifeFlight helicopters were on standby, spectators were applying their extra coat of sunblock and the riders were saying their final prayers—it was about to go off. As each rider dropped, a flock of photographers and spectators would shift to the rider’s line in hopes of catching a glimpse of his next move over that edge. After a day of practice on the Oakley Icon Sender feature, Cameron Zink stepped it up and went for a 360 out of it. With about a forty-five degree over rotation, Zink slammed so hard he cracked his helmet, leaving the rest of his day uncertain. After a bit, the medics actually cleared him for a second run where he went right back up there and stomped the shit out of possibly the biggest three in mountain bike history, which ended up securing him the first place spot. Gee Atherton landed a massive hip step down with that clean racer style he is known for to land him in second. “The Claw,” Darren Berrecloth, came in third with his ‘au natural’ run of wall rides, drops and a perfect 360 off of a 20-foot cliff at the bottom of the run. Berrecloth was the only rider in the top three to use only features that he built himself on the mountain by avoiding all of the pre-built stuff. It was an amazing day with insane riding and spectacular crashes. Fortunately, the only real carnage was damaged bike parts. Everyone walked away from their runs, which is an incredible accomplishment at this level.
The Red Bull Rampage was another day that will go down in the history books of mountain biking. I wonder what the next chapter will bring ...