Endless Trail - The Hans Rey Interview

Mar 14, 2013
by Dan Severson  
 
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When you think about the sport of mountain biking and the people who made it what it is today, only a handful of names rise to the top. One of those names is, undoubtedly, Hans Rey. He is known as a world famous trials rider, a freeride pioneer, world traveler, TV personality, stuntman, trail builder, spokesman ... the list goes on. Whatever you know him as, one thing is for sure, he may be one of the greatest ambassadors the sport of mountain biking has ever had. Now, let's check in with Hans and see what it's like to spend a day in his Adidas.



Getting close to the edge. Watching Hans ride is pretty amazing. He sees things completely different from most other riders.

Originally from Germany, how did you end up living in Laguna Beach? What made you decide to call it home?

I was a trials rider, born and raised in Germany, although I have a Swiss, and now also an American passport. Trials was a European sport, unlike BMX or mountain biking. Kevin Norton was the US National Trials Champ and in 1987 he was sponsored by Haro as one of the first ever pro trials riders. Trials was part of the early mountain bike races. Kevin invited me to the States to show the Americans what real trials riding was about. A short visit to Corona del Mar, California, became a few months, years, and now decades. Kevin introduced me not only to GT but also to real mountain biking and the legendary Laguna RADS Club - the original freeriders - with whom I still ride today on a weekly basis in Laguna Beach.


Can you give an example of what your daily life is like, when you're not traveling?

My daily schedule can vary a lot. At the end of the day my job as a pro and sponsored rider is a full time marketing/PR job. I spend many hours every day in my office, on my computer and phone. Since I not only manage myself, but also plan all my trips, work on films, projects, adventures, product ideas, media, and run my charity single-handedly with my wife Carmen - work never stops. Oh, and did I forget to mention my travel schedule and riding, testing, and training time? I'm not complaining, but it is a lot more work than most people realize. All those things together make a full and successful package for me; I wouldn't want it any other way.

A couple more of Hans shredding in his back yard trails.
www.danseversonphoto.com

Your book just came out last last year. What was the process behind that? How long did it take to complete?

Yes, my coffee-table book, "A Life of Mountain Bike Adventures - Hans Rey", came out to celebrate my 25th anniversary as a pro rider. It was basically a self-published project supported by GT and Adidas to offset the cost. It features my greatest adventure trips and career highlights - it's a high-quality, hardcover, 224-page book. Lucky for me, my career has been well documented by some of the best photographers and filmmakers, nonetheless it was a lot of work to make this happen and to pick the photos, etc. I'm very proud of the book, even though it only reflects a small amount of all the great places I have had a chance to ride and visit. It can be ordered on hansrey.com


What is your favorite destination and why?

That's a tough question - I've been to about 70 countries - each one of them was unique and left fond and lasting memories. Lately, I've been riding a lot in the Alps, specifically in Livigno, Italy - they offer a great infrastructure for any kind of cycling and they have some killer trails and one of Europe's best bike parks. We also built the first Flow Country trail there a few years ago with trail guru Diddie Schneider. Last but not least, it's my passion for the Italian culture and food that always brings me back there.


You've been called the "Indiana Jones of Mountain Biking." What makes your adventures different from other bike trips?

Haha, yes some UK magazine called me that not too long ago. I guess what sets many of my trips apart from others is that we usually have some sort of a storyline, a mission. Be it a search for new trails or a search for something historical or mysterious. Sometimes, the story is more important than other times, and sometimes more serious than other times. Sometimes we also try to raise awareness for an important cause and actually make a difference for the people and the places we visit. Often there is a challenge or goal; my trips are often filmed for TV and I like to appeal also to non-riders, make it an interesting, lighthearted cultural journey. The word 'adventure' has been overused in recent years - most so-called adventures are just rides, or even worse, action photos in exotic locations.

www.danseversonphoto.com
www.danseversonphoto.com

How is Flow Country going? What is the main goal behind the program?

Flow Country is word I came up with for a certain kind of flow trail. There is a whole family of flow trails out there; I thought it was time to start to define the mountain bikers language - with the hope that the next time someone talks about a 'flow' trail I will get a better understanding of what exactly they are talking about. For some people that means huge berms and big jumps and gaps, for others it might be a trail with just one berm. Flow Country trails have a certain standard, that's why Diddie Schneider and I have teamed up with IMBA - this kind of trail is never extreme, never steep and never dangerous - they have a certain length, quality and they can basically be ridden by any skill level and with any kind of mountain bike. Trails like this already exist in places. I don't think every trail should be built like a Flow Country trail, but I do think that purpose-built trails have a huge future and will shape our sport and industry in the next 10 years more than anything else. One doesn't necessarily need a bike park or a ski lift to build a flow country trail, it's basically a giant pump track on a slight downhill slope. More on Flow Country can be found on my website.


I understand you have a new line of products coming out soon. What can we expect from "Hans Rey Certified?"

How did you hear about this? You are the first to know about the "Hans Rey Certified" P&A line I'm planning with GT Bicycles to be launched later on this year. We are working together with several of my sponsors (Deuter, iXS, SQ-Lab, ….) to make some quality products that are designed and chosen by me, including helmets, lightweight pads, gloves, backpacks, an exciting new grip by SQ-Lab and some other cool swag.

www.danseversonphoto.com
www.danseversonphoto.com

You have a long history with most of your sponsors (25 years with GT), how do you maintain your value in this age of quick contracts? Is being a good rider all it takes?

The age of quick contracts (as you call it) and short careers has always been the case - it takes a lot more than being a good or great rider to maintain sponsorship and to add value to your sponsors. At the end of the day, it's a business, sponsors have reasons why they sponsor a rider - if you deliver, that's great - if you over deliver that's even better. For some riders competition results may be the only thing that matters, which is fine - but one can only compete so long and there is only one winner per event. You're only as good as your last event. Winners usually get media exposure which translates into sponsorship value - a value that is easy to measure - coolness helps too, but it's hard to measure and it is often short lived or seasonal - except if you're a bloke like Steve Peat. There are many other ways to get media exposure without competing, and there are many other ways riders can add value, the trick is to document it, which is a lot easier said than done. It also takes an understanding not only of your sport/discipline, but also of the industry, the sponsors, media, fans, etc… understanding a sponsor's goal is important. Understanding that most marketing guys in our industry are overworked needs to be considered, they may sponsor you, but they can't constantly babysit a rider and stroke their ego.


What advice would you give to the next generation of riders trying to make it in the sport?

Live your dreams, it's all possible - look how Danny MacAskill demonstrated that not too long ago. But don't wait for opportunities to come your way, you may wait until you die, create opportunities, make them happen, pursue them and grab a chance when you can. While creating opportunities, try to see the big picture. I always tried to find ways to make sure everybody involved will be stoked. Be it the sponsor, the media, the fan, the organizer, manager, or whoever is involved - if everybody else is happy - chances are you've done a good job and will be rewarded properly or you put yourself in a position to ask for proper compensation/recognition the next time. I call this a win-win situation. Some guys might say "All I want to do is ride my bike" - that's fine too, and I respect that very much - because having passion about riding is maybe the most important ingredient, however, if that's all you want to do, then don't complain about not getting proper sponsorship.

www.danseversonphoto.com

You were in the first ever X-Games back in 1995. How was that experience?

That was actually very cool, back then in the first year it was actually called 'Extreme Games.' They had a trials comp, slalom, and giant slalom. I got a silver medal in the trials and got eliminated early in the giant slalom. This was back in time when mountain biking was booming and was very professional, in contrast to sports like BMX and skateboarding that were almost non-existent at the time. NORBA (the federation) told ESPN that we had to be in the mountains (first mistake) at Mount Snow (VT), while the rest of the event was in Newport (RI). NORBA was on their high horse and didn't see the opportunity to get mountain biking in the mainstream. I got extremely fortunate, that very year there was a major strike in baseball and hockey, ESPN did not know how to fill their programming, consequently they aired a lot of extreme sports to prepare their viewers for the first ever X Games - I was one of the athletes they singled out and featured on TV all day long, along with guys like Tony Hawk for skate and Mat Hoffman for BMX.


What made them drop mountain biking from the program?

I think it was a combination of reasons, one was that we insisted we needed mountains - ESPN was drawn to bigger cities. Another reason was that mountain biking was quite commercial at the time and had lots of corporate sponsors, some of them conflicted with ESPN's sponsors. At the time, mountain bikers, even downhillers, were still wearing lycra. All this just didn't really fit the format. They went on to put mountain bikes in the Winter X Games. The ESPN folks also remarked that NORBA was extremely unprofessional to deal with, which meant a lot considering most other sports had hardly any governing body. Glad to hear that slopestyle finally earned a place in the X Games.


What was the most embarrassing thing you ever had to do for TV?

Hmmm, there have been a few incidents, some were embarrassing at the time and some were rather embarrassing in retrospect. Maybe my appearance on Tammy Faye Bakker's TV show? I've done some funky Hollywood work in weird outfits too. Doubling as a woman comes to mind in a cool moment, when I was asked to chase a bad guy on my bike in a Pacific Blue episode, the bad guy would turn around to throw a baseball bat at me from 10 yards and I was supposed to deflect it with my front wheel by pulling a wheelie. Good luck making that happen I thought - first try it worked out - classic.

www.danseversonphoto.com

Scariest moment on your bike?

When dealing with mother nature, you are usually not the one in control. In the early 90's this crazy German filmmaker asked me to come to Hawaii and ride my bike on and around the flowing 2000 degree hot lava. He wanted me to do this dance on the volcano, on the cliff where the hot lava was flowing into the boiling ocean and fist size lava pieces were flying through the air. All filmed at night, with the steam from the ocean being lit red by the red hot lava. I was told to put on 3 layers of clothes to protect myself from the heat. And so I did, not worrying about the fact that the ground I was on wasn't even 24 hours old and red hot lava pieces was exploding around me...


One thing that people don't know about you?

That I almost quit biking in 1991 to become a professional rollerblader. Thank God the late GT founder Richard Long came up with the idea of making my first video.


Who would you like to thank?

Everybody.

www.danseversonphoto.com


Photos: Dan Severson
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76 Comments

  • + 29
 awesome! this guy was my hero when i was getting into mountain biking!
  • + 6
 I can't say the same because it was Dangerous Dan and Wade that got me into it but Hans is that guy every biker accepts as one of the most influential and legendary riders.

Shameless Claim: I got to hang out for a bit with an older fella at the Rampage, he turned out to be long time friends and current neighbors with Hans and one of the fellas responsible for the first biking movies. I got 2nd hand starstruck, haha.
  • + 8
 pods..pods everywhere
  • + 21
 We'd like to see the lava edit! -Pinkbike Users.
  • + 6
 I love how he rocks a 160mm Fox fork on that Force, but when you contact GT to ask if it's safe, they reply no.
  • + 2
 Robby; Every frame manufacturer does this. Pros live by a different set of rules and it's not very tough to figure out why.
  • + 2
 For me it was Hans all the way. Libor Karas & some of the other trials guys had an influence, but Hans was the guy I studied in videos more than anyone else to learn new things. Then Ryan Leech came along........
  • - 7
 whos hans ray again?
  • + 3
 Robby- it probably is safe but because the manufacturer doesn't test with every fork available, they have to say it's unsafe because they simply don't know. If they told you it was safe and then something happened, you could sue them. It isn't worth the risk of a lawsuit.
  • + 1
 Always the possibility that it's a Float 34 shimmed to 150mm travel. Putting a 160mm on would tweak the geo and the bike would handle completely differently. Shimming a 34 would save the geo with the benefit of the added stiffness.
  • + 0
 "Robby; Every frame manufacturer does this. Pros live by a different set of rules and it's not very tough to figure out why."

Not true. Some manufacturers are ok if you add a longer fork. I did it on my AM bike after they said it would still be under warranty.
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  • + 9
 Great to see he is still so involved after all these years. I can still remember watching Hans No Way Ray back in high school and how much it changed my riding style. I couldn't (and still can't) mimic 95% of what was in that video but I watched that VHS enough that the picture turned snowy.
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  • + 5
 Hans Rey is the man. I always rode bikes as a kid but in 7th grade I saw my first Hans Rey video and it changed my whole perspective on riding. Unfortunately I can't remember the name of the video, but me and my buddies must have watched it a thousand times. I have an autographed Jersey of his hanging in my office. I look at it everyday and it still gets me stoked. Thank you Hans for the inspiration to push the limits and creativity of what is possible on a mountain bike.
  • + 1
 you sure it was a Hans Ray video? I wish I had seen it.
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  • + 3
 No, Thank you Hans!! I've told you this before, but without doing a career day in 96 at my middle school i wouldn't have become exposed to to mtn biking, at least at that age. You invited me and my friend to come up to Big bear for the NORBA races to check them out. needless to say I was blown away by the biking culture and atmosphere...I was hooked. Now I'm 29 and have 3 mountain bikes in my garage, and countless memories of years of riding adventures with my buds in the mountains. Awesome interview and Photos Dan!
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  • + 3
 I was just on a ride this past weekend in Delaware that was set up by Wooden Wheels and the Delaware Trail Spinners. (plug: www.trailspinners.org)

Hans was the "guest star". He rode all day, posed for pics, rapped with riders, gave our local DH/FR park some props (plug: Launch Bike Park / Spring Mountain, PA), and later, gave an hour + presentation / slide show on his awesome bike career.

Very cool dude.
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  • + 2
 I had the pleasure of seeing him performing live at one of our boat and sports shows here. It was my first time seeing a trials rider, and it just happened to be none other then Hans Rey. Needless to say, my jaw was on the floor the whole time. He comes across as passionate about biking and grateful to be part of it. Really a perfect ambassador for the sport. A class act through and through.
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  • + 2
 A definite legend of the sport. Watch 'Tread' with Hans Rey and HB. It IS very tame compared to the modern mtb films. It's one of the original mtb films which was the template for many films which followed it. Hopefully I'll be able to put it on you tube soon ;o)
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  • + 1
 Hey good skills, I remember see Hans doing a demo at 1993 world champs and riding on to the top of a C15 van and getting a rear flat
I wish I had tried harder to ride profesionally, maybe would have made it easyer to get my bike ideas making money
www.pinkbike.com/video/218538
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  • + 4
 HR seems like a legit dude. Why can't we have more stuff like this on the main page?
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  • + 3
 Great interview. He seems like a well spoken, down to earth guy. No wonder he gets so much respect and has lasted so long in the industry.
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  • + 6
 Fruit-Booter?
  • + 4
 hey at least he didn't say "pro scooter rider"!
i still remember his epic cliff ride in lots of magazines, i think it was Moher, Ireland.
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  • + 2
 Han's U inspired me through your bouncing career of sort's. And hope u don't go back to fruitbootin anytime soon. Shred on tht GT for life!
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  • + 3
 No way Hans Ray. I'm glad trials is getting more and more coverage lately.
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  • + 2
 The FlowCountry in Geiskopf is one of the finest and fun trails I've ever ridden. Thanks Diddie and Hans and the others for making it possible.
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  • + 2
 met Hans Rey at the Fruita Fat Tire Festival a few years ago and let him know I've hurt myself many times trying to imitate his skilss. A talented gentlemen.
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  • + 1
 Ned Overend, Hans Ray, Tomac and the ultra cool Pro-Flex bikes. When I started riding Ned was the "Father of Mountain Biking" and Hans was the "wild child" doing things people didn't know were possible.
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  • + 2
 Glad he mentioned his work with Pacific Blue. I fucking loved that series back in the day. As cheesy as it seems today, it was the definition of cool to me as a kid.
  • + 1
 Hans was/is the only reason to ever watch Pacific Blue!!! Wink
  • + 1
 Plus the opening song. And the boobs Wink
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  • + 1
 his description of scariest moment on a bike sounds epic. only a crazy german film maker would ever think of doing that and hans rey was the guinea pig, LOL!
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  • + 1
 Been rocking Hans Rey Kenda dh tire on rear and a nexcavater on front and i love it!!! it can handle bootleg and it rolls fast..
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  • + 2
 Wonder how long it took him to find his his gear he dropped by the curb in the Audi pic?
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  • + 1
 San Clemente right there haha. I grew up here and i have biked in this exct spot
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  • + 1
 who else noticed that in the fifth pic there were adidas gogs on the ground. lense against cement...
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  • + 1
 I recognize all of these trails, guess we are neighbors. I'm going to keep an eye out for the legend when I ride.
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  • + 1
 Mount Snow is a great place! X Games come there often now. Vermont represents! Once again. Smile
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  • + 1
 No way Ray!! Yeah.. very nice to see the man still rockin!
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  • + 1
 Hans "no way" rey. what a boss!!
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  • + 1
 ...and then one realises that one has never thought about him.
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  • + 1
 yeah, it's nice to have money for audis and bikes
  • + 1
 Agreed. He is a hero, but I found the car photo rather pointless.
  • - 9
 quote : "an exciting new grip by SQ-Lab and some other cool swag."
i stopped reading after this..
  • + 18
 What's wrong with that? Gwin is always getting his Camaro into shots. If he's worked hard for 25 years to help grow the image of the sport into what it is now then he can afford to buy a nice car to ferry the bike around.
  • + 7
 Yep, it is nice to be able to bust your hump for 25 years and afford a nice car. Big deal, get over it. He earned it. Who are you to say what he should buy? Tell me Mr. Marx, what kind of car should Hans drive?
  • + 3
 How do you know it is his and does not belong to a rental company or a member of the photo crew? Also...who the f cares? I can't stand people who look down on rhose who work their ass off so they can have nice things. You are both presumptuous and jelous.
  • + 2
 I agree adam and it's a nice shot.
  • + 0
 I got neg-swagged Eek
  • + 2
 With all the work and how long he's been with GT...... they better have given him that dam bike.
  • + 1
 hahaha mr. marx. i just got that.
  • + 1
 Big Grin Did I say what he should buy or that it's wrong or something like that? read more presume less.
  • + 1
 I assumed that this was a sponsor provided car. German and all.
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  • + 1
 He lives in Mountain Bike Heaven! So do I. Great article on HR!
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  • + 1
 cool hans prost from la cleta bicicafe ecuador.
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  • + 2
 X-Games pioneer!
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  • + 1
 The green suit ROCKS!,Where can i buy it?!
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  • + 1
 Of course Han's drives a German car
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  • + 1
 Hans is a legend, truly one of the pioneers of the sport.
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  • + 1
 Great interview Dan! Really enjoyed that.
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  • + 2
 WE WANT LAVAAA!!!!
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  • + 1
 German --> Laguna Beach...Interesting choice! Salute
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  • + 2
 Chocolate foot forward!
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  • + 1
 Awesome interview, specially when you are in boring class like me
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  • + 1
 (waiting for RC to post a comment about Audi owners)
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  • + 1
 Hans is a beast!
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  • - 2
 could someone explain to me why he is a 'hero'? don't hate me, just asking.
  • + 5
 I don't fault you for this question because you are too young to know. In fact, a lot of you here are too young to know Hans Rey. I won't take the time here to explain it, but just look into him, you will see.
  • + 5
 hero is just a personal perspective but he is a legend to the sport. darkstar is right. easy to check out his catalogue. he's the original "where the trail ends" rider!
  • + 4
 Ask anybody who has been around MBing for more than 10 minutes and they will let you know. Guys like Petey, Wade Simmons, Tomac...they all give him tremendous amounts of respect.
  • + 5
 So Hans Rey was basically the first pro rider that wasn't wearing spandex and racing XC. Instead he was jumping his hardtail bike off of house rooftops. His skill set has no equal, unless your name is something like Ryan Leech. His stunt videos are legendary. Great interview , I will be ordering his book shortly.
  • + 2
 I'm not so sure about his skill set anymore. I go back and I look at his real old videos, and his riding is much more "comp trials", less freestyle trials that has been made today and is a combination of BMX/Trials/MTB. Also, Hans wasn't really a gravity racer, so he never really fit in with the "Kranked" style of riding. This isn't to say that he's not an excellent rider, because he is, but Hans Rey made "ride anywhere" his business. Back in the early 90's Hans was riding stuff in far off places that no-one had ever heard of before. He's ridden crazy trails on just about every continent, and made new trails in places where there aren't any. He's a dude who just loves the bike.
  • + 2
 @Saidrick, actually Hans used to wear spandex in the beginning of his career - just as any trials/mtb rider at the time Wink Otherwise you nailed it as far as a one-sentence summary of his career goes. Read this, kids ^
  • + 1
 homeboy was around before all the pro mtn bikers like Tomac and Peat (both my all time favs). he was pretty big time - in terms of pro cycling - in the 80s and 90s.
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