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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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?
Photos: Dan Severson