The Stuntsonian

Feb 2, 2012
by Mitchell Scott  
 
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Not so long ago, stunts were the shining knight of mountain biking's bold and brazen metamorphosis. They made their way on to almost every trail in every corner of the world. A mellow XC trail now had a slatted jump. A winding skinny would emerge smack dab in the middle of an already super technical descent. From Tennessee to Williams Lake, Prague to Bristol, stunts became synonymous with the modern mountain bike trail. And they were a big deal. Not only did they add a new dimension of adventure to the ride, they caused a massive shit storm among land managers, trail builders, trail associations and user groups. Local governments saw them as endless nightmare of potential litigation. Builders and riders saw them as forest art. Hikers saw them as aberrations to the forest landscape.

But we loved them. So much so we were willing to fight for them. We built them illegally, sometimes in the face of very real consequences. Kids constructed gnarly monstrosities from stolen 2x4s and "borrowed" sheets of plywood. Forest artisans learned from trail building legends like the North Shore's Dangerous Dan and Todd "Digger" Fiander to construct beautiful, aesthetic, masterfully created bridges and skinnies. And for a time, they played a huge role in mountain biking. In places like Florida, stunts transformed otherwise benign landscapes into veritable adrenalin-fests. Some were functional: logs over creeks, slated passageways over swamps, built airs over otherwise unnavigable terrain. Some, conversely, were totally gratuitous. But no matter, stunts, for a time, were intimately tied to trail building and the ride experience. They broke bones and caused blood to rush, both within the body and out of it. And while they've stolen hours in the form of annihilated derailleurs and political debate, they've given back in countless years of unadulterated fun.

And then they started to rot.

Photo: Sterling Lorence

Today, stunts seem to be fading from the lexicon of the modern mountain bike experience. One of my favorite trails is the classic example of what I like to call, the Stuntsonian, a perversion of the Smithsonian, the world's largest museum and research complex. Many trails today resemble a ride through the past, with all the fade, decay, and antiquity that comes with visiting a time gone by. This trail, called the Vein, used to be the most challenging of endeavors. A punishing hour-and a-half-climb to a wildly technical descent. What pushed it over the top, however, was its bevy of super challenging stunts: consequential log rides, pin point ramp airs and slick skinnies hell bent on not letting wheels pass. To nail it--to clean the climb then rail all the stunts with out dabbing and eating shit--was considered a massive accomplishment.

  Photo: Sterling Lorence

But as the years wore on, as the winters came and went, and the rains would fall, and with them the wood rotting with age, everyone stopped riding the 15 or so stunts on the Vein. And somewhere along the way, people seemed to stop caring that this transition was taking place. Maybe our newer, plusher bikes and fought for speed and flow had us ignoring the patience and precision of riding stunts. Maybe trail builders began to realize that crafting challenge with dirt was a much more sustainable way to build. For whatever reason, the stunts on the Vein, those radical pieces of trail infrastructure, became less appealing. And so they were left to degrade. Cedar slats lay snapped in half. Nails worked their up and out of the wood. Logs began to rot and disintegrate, returning to the earth as the ants and mosses and beetles churned their structure back into dirt.

  Photo: Sterling Lorence

But still, the legacy of the stunt lives on. We just don't ride or build them as much. As I ride the Vein, as I cruise by the log ride that pitched me 10 feet into a creek bed, effortlessly speed past the slated air that dropped my rear wheel and tossed me face first into oblivion, there's both this sense of longing and of goodbye. My nature tells me that we've somehow moved on. Sure, stunts are still built, but they are of a different vein, so to speak. They're bigger, wider, more focused on flow and air then they are exposure and technical skill. Their raw nature, their intricacy and balance now replaced by speed and size.

  Photo: Sterling Lorence

The Vein today, nearly a decade after it was built, is like riding through a museum from another time. Each pass by a wooded relic represents a ride through memories of success and failure. Of making it. Of frustration. Of manufactured challenge that was real and different and totally unique to a specific time and place. I don't think I'm sad, but perhaps a little nostalgic. Technical stunts were an event. They drew out the time of the ride. You'd hike back up to see if you could make it. Riders would connect. You'd talk about them, think about them, dream about them.

Now it seems, for whatever reason, we've moved on. Which is fine. At least it's nice to still see them. Still recognize them. Might as well enjoy this trip down memory lane before the world swallows them whole.
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78 Comments

  • + 58
 to all the broken derailleurs and bent rotors!...
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  • + 41
 I'm happy to say I learned to ride in the era of stunts. I think it makes me a better rider and I have a lot of fond memories of eating shit a million times before conquering something and the sense of accomplishment that went with it. I may not ride them much anymore but stunts will always have a place in my realm of riding.
  • + 3
 I totally agree with you my old local had loads of wooden features and I used to eat shit all the time but conquering them was a feat to be proud of but now due to insurance they have all gone and it's a shame but it's like a fashion it has it's peroids and they will come back.
  • + 1
 Building them was def. the way to spend the summer as well, haha. But yeah I've gotta agree that elevations helped my riding so much.
  • + 3
 Vein, Burl Ives, and trails up by Mountain Station have lots of old relic stunts. you can recognize them from older bike vids. it's like riding through a museum made from the bones of old dinosaurs
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  • + 13
 When classic shore-style stunts were the norm you had to carry a full bag of riding skills to "freeride". Balls to let it all hang out or shoot a steep but also technical skills to track stand and wheelie drop from a standstill. Built well, technical stunts don't kill flow on a trail, they may change the pace of flow, but shouldn't kill it.
  • + 17
 The stunts are rotting, as are the riding skills. A dozen years ago we were all well-rounded riders, adapting to whatever the mountain throws at us. Up, down, high, far, skinny, buff, whatever. Coincidentally, bike park riding happened at the same time, converting our majority into one-dimensional lift jockeys. Stunt riding didn't rot to death, it was overtaken with 'new school flow' because it was too hard for the average rider, or more correctly, the average rider wasn't hard enough.
  • + 16
 I respectfully disagree, Brad. Plenty of people are still happily, and capably, riding "whatever the mountain throws at us". Just because the mountain is less littered with often sketchy, needless, and mostly illegal wooden stunt features, doesn't mean we have downgraded to "lift jockeys" as as a whole. Flow is something most riders strive to obtain. It's the end result of skills, speed, grace, and fitness , all coming together at the right moment. Don't get me wrong, I still love to see, and ride, the occasional wooden feature that skips me across a gully, or over a section of un-ridable muck, but for the most part I'm happy to say that that I'm glad the gratuitous 2x4s in the woods have been replaced by thoughtful, natural building. I only see the collective skill set of riders moving upward, even if the style has changed somewhat.
  • + 5
 Moving to WA and learning to ride stunts in all of the different hot spots was one of the coolest things that's ever happened to me!!! Each zone was indicative of the local scene, exuding different flavors and styles. To make a stunt section exceptional you had to be one part mathematician, one part carpenter, and three parts bold skilled rider. I have pics and vids that make me smile each time I view them. Memories engrained so deep in my thick skull that I'll still be smiling in my grave!! Thankfully not all have lost their style and passion for building and riding FREE!!!! Long live FREERIDE!!!
  • + 3
 Personally I still enjoy the challenges of skinnies, but there is A LOT more to being a 'well-rounded' rider than just woodwork. Fair play, the old-school FR pioneers were riding hectic skinnies and technical gnar on shitty 4" suspension nuggets (i.e. Simmons, Willows, Cowan on the Shore etc)! Look at some of Dan's work here: nsmb.com/4678-vidstory-dangerous-dan-redux
But - riding skinnies is only one aspect of technical mountain biking. That being said, I hate it when my mates pussy-out on what isn't even a super technical skinny; and the Whistler locals who think they're skinnies are difficult and stay away from them - i.e. lower Clown Shoes, In Deep etc etc. Difficult?? Try riding Salvation start-to-finish mo fo...
  • + 2
 Totally agree. Ripping the entire mountain on a 45 lb freeride bike was the norm not too long ago!
  • + 1
 Flow is amazing and I like to think it comes in many forms. It's not just speed and "cutties" (or whatever the hell that newer word for shreddin' a corner is) and berms and tables and gaps (although I DO love all those things). It's also hollowed-out logs with a 2x6 teeter-totter on a chain, steep double roll-down rock slab faces, gnarly root-beds, 5" wide slats on old, dead, small trees with a 10' fall to emptiness on one side, drops off of huge stumps and rock-gardens littered with baby-skulls to name a few. Now take everything mentioned, put it together and "flow" through it. Both worlds can coexist but there does seem to be a movement to build easier trails where there only way to challenge yourself is to go faster. That's fun and it's great to have some balance in trails but a mix of the two would be even better! (and is, if you're lucky enough to have such trails in your riding area).
  • + 2
 I think much of the issue is that either the builders moved on and the stunts they created were left to fall into disrepair or a lot of folks got tired of the constant maintenance woodwork requires. Personally, I'm really skeptical of riding woodwork that doesn't look like it's been maintained these days, as I know you are B-rad. Also, I look at the bridges and woodwork we build these days vs. in the past and I totally laugh. The skinny stringers and posts that would rot in a few seasons, the widely spaced rungs that were just asking for a broken ankle or arm if you landed on them, the "dansitions" off the drops, etc. Nowadays, anything we build is overbuilt, all cedar, much thicker rungs....just much better quality.
  • + 1
 Brad, look at Wink as an example. That trail requires a very high technical skill level to ride and flow properly. There is very little woodwork on that trail (except for that hectic, and very scary, log ride); but the trail is as raw and technical you can find. You don't need skinny after skinny to make it difficult. Steep terrain, difficult features and sometimes even the easiest, smoothest way down require a huge amount of skill and commitment. The 'plain-ness' and 'rawness' of a trail might make it even more difficult, comparatively with man-made features.
  • + 2
 You are right j, skinnies are only one aspect of mountain biking, and I was just referring to the fact that it is the only aspect that most folks pass on, whether it's falling apart from a dozen years of moisture or built yesterday. You can find most every type of feature imaginable in a bike park these days, except for the challenging stunts most notoriously carved into the north shore. Is it because they are more difficult, or because there is no demand for them anymore? I feel like skinnies got a bad rap because too many people broke their derailleurs on difficult stunts. Well, and the fact that the forest is now littered with abandoned woodwork. Can't really argue that! Just sayin, riding used to be more challenging with stunts. Is it more fun now? For some.
  • + 1
 when it comes to skinnies and woodwork, people are pussies... agreed. Park riding is also epic though, can't argue with that either!!!
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  • + 7
 I was sick laid up in the hospital. I was into BMX at the time had never heard of pinkbike. My old man brings me a mtn bike movie Union. It was my first time I seen footage of North Shore style riding. I said to my self as I was laid up in that hospital bed, "I want to do that!" 6 months later I bought a Kona scrap and started building my Green Dragon stunt trail on a remote piece of city park land. My whole story in relation to this trail and its history and progress is too long for this comment box. Lets just say my sketchy wooden structures became a bit of urban legend in my town with all manner of XC bikers too, hikers too pot smoking university students, too even management of said park would come out just to check out the wooden construction. 2 and 1/2 years into my new obsessive hobby I got a new bike my Kona bass and decided to do a little edit of my sketchy little trail. So most of the camera work was all me with a try pod and an ancient old Sony digital casset camera, I built almost all the stunts my self, even edited the footage all my self. This is my tribute to the DIY spirit complete with some rockin music and a few crashes and my dog Ember as co star. I bet back in the day this vid could have made VOD but who knows. Check it out. its a fun edit my od to old school freeride. www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_4FRAp-Hes
  • + 1
 Hey I love that video. But do you think you might have overused the star wipe?
  • + 1
 Nice one, PG!
  • + 1
 Nice old skool vid...That style of riding and building really takes me back. I know it was only a few years ago, but things have progressed so much it seems like a different age. There was a real cool vibe to that type of feature riding...definitely the golden age of freeride. Think I'll go stick in my copy of Freewheel Burning and soak up some memories.
  • + 1
 Must have been nice to see the fruits of your labour pay off! Nice work!
  • + 2
 why eat hamburger when you can have steak?
  • + 1
 Nice video! Good trail also I have been working on getting a good trail like that together.
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  • + 4
 I like the stunts but mostly because we lack them so much here in Colorado. I love the challenge they present and like the author said trying things over and over.. To me it just seems everyone in the DH scene here is all about racing.. i don't get it really, I love to ride and hang with the crew, build some trail, but its race, race, race.. thats probably why we don't see many new technical trails either, its sad...
[Reply]
  • + 4
 well written. I'm on the border of new and old school I feel, being roughly 30 years old. Personally I think a lot of "mountain biking" these days is getting away from the true essence of the sport and compartmentalizing itself into small distinct categories. The big air and slopestyle stuff and events like Rampage are the natural direction as bikes become more capable and riders become more fearless or...stupid. There is serious money in being of a select few who can send themselves into oblivion, and people know it. Not sure what my point is here, but I am certain that there should always be a place for "trail art", stunts, big and small, to diversify your typical trail ride, add fun to a jaunt in the woods, add practicality (combating erosion), and to offer a reflection of a period in our sport, that should not be forgotten. Personally, I love riding and building stunts. I look up to guys like Digger Dan and am amazed by the likes of the coastal crew and the creations that they make. I think everyone should grab a shovel and a hammer and spend some time building in the woods. You won't be disappointed.
  • + 4
 Digger and Dan are two different people...
  • + 1
 thanks for reading my comment.
  • + 1
 No problem! Wink I love stunts too and I agree with the rest.
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  • + 4
 Why is everyone so quick to call stunts dead? They are certainly my favorite part of riding, and they are still popping up all over the place in Colorado. Winter Park is out pacing home builders in purchases of lumber and even Keystone is building bridges all over the place. If nothing else this article states the importance of trail stewardship. I think I will get the dusty trail building kit out and finish a project I have been putting off for a while.
  • + 2
 I love winter park but those stunts are not anywhere close to the style of the original NShore stunts. Not anywhere close. They are high speed, smooth, etc. I like them both- don't get me wrong- but most "stunts" today are completely different than the "stunts" described here. Both fun though.
  • + 1
 It's no doubt that stunts are evolving. Kicking Horse Bike Park still has a few hair raising skinnies, same with Panorama. Though it seems that the younger crowd and the competition circuit favors flow and big booters over slower tech riding. Perhaps the change in exposure of stunts in media is partly responsible for this?
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  • + 4
 I guess I'm the new breed, but I can't see the appeal of going slowly! Wood features are great, but my mountain bike thrills lie with high speed adrenaline, not cleaning a skinny. No disrespect to those who feel otherwise, it's all good
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  • + 6
 Haha - thats OVER man, OVER! - Douchey Portlandia cyclist.

Maybe we just don't bother to tell the "flow" crew where we've built the new stuff?!
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  • + 4
 Great article. Stunts need to be built bombproof to survive the wet winters of the PNW. They also take much time and effort to build. The progression I've seen has been towards enhancing natural features - natural hips, rock rides/hucks, and finding natural transitions for jump building.
[Reply]
  • + 4
 Those were the best days of riding, Kranked Three and Four still put a huge smile on my face. Who could forget Dangerous Dan's "Flying Circus?" It was great to see that "Brighter" brought a bit of that back. Stunts and super technical slow speed trails are lacking for sure on the east coast of the U.S. Some people say they are still alive, but the speed at which you can hit these trails is far off what is was years ago. Skinnies and tight wooden turns several feet in the air are gone, now replace by large BMX pitched take offs and more skate park type tricks as wall rides and jump boxes. Such is evolution, but I sure do miss those days of riding.
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Again, Mitchell's on point. There's a time and place for everything. I haven't ridden CBC in a long time, but I remember most of it's bridgework was built to last. Some not. I'm curious to revisit it and certain Fromme trails one of these days, but in the meantime I'm glad I got to ride them in their heyday...
[Reply]
  • + 3
 Those style of trails are the reason i started riding "north shore" style to begin with. what people do a lot of now is fun to watch on the videos, but i dont realy want to do alot of it myself. i still like the 6"-10" wide trails that start out by having to ride between different trees up to the 6-8' above the ground mark. and then follow the slightly wiggly trail and hit the single, double, or even triple teeter totters while you are up on the narrow trail to begin with. then a nice 6-8' of when the trail gets down to the 4" width and either go down the steep narrow path, or hit the 3-5' drop off the end. btw: I started this type of riding when i had first heard of it in about 96-97.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Thanks man, well written. As a builder whom uses very little woodwork, this is a reminder of where we came from. I think the progression of trail building is great, and the convergence of wood and dirt will always be viable. It is just different these days.
[Reply]
  • + 2
 Speaking as a builder in N Van, I'd have to agree with Mitchell. Wood has a finite life span. It's sometimes necessary but its a maintenance legacy. Sure build it when you need it but gratuitous triple teeter totters probably aren't going to make a comeback anytime soon
[Reply]
  • + 2
 I always felt short changed by the stunts. We just don't have the trees, it's hard to make the stunts without them. Sure there are trees above 6000 feet, but there is snow there for 6 months or more out of the year. Tech riding still lives on here though. Flying Monkey anyone? But it's too true, it's about big air and style. However, to say that today's riders don't have the same skill is bs, watch Rampage coverage from the first years and then go watch 2010. Today's riders ride tech faster with more amplitude and so much style.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 reminds me of the days when i used to go visit the guys @ syncros when they were still in bc. damn, i'm old! i've always thought mtbs may have been born in cali but they grew up in bc. great writing, Mitchell. thanks for this one.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 I know this thread is a zombie, but i just found it and I gotta say Stunts are dead? WTF? Why do I keep seeing these stories proclaiming the end of an era. Am i living in a time warp where FR and stunts are still what we live for? I have only been riding about 3 years and Stunts are half of what I do in the woods. We build new ones every year. We fix old ones until they have to be put out of their misery. And it is not just here. I traveled to my wife's home town of Hood River Oregon and rode post canyon. It has tons of skinnies in the lower half. And they are old and new.
These end of an era stories are pretty and well told but they are wrong. This stuff isn't dead. it just isn't the focus of the mainstream this year.
[Reply]
  • + 1
 The endless rotting structures all over the world are just a natural progression of natures ebb and flow. I love them, always have and always will. The steeper, the skinner, and more technical, the better I say ! The thing is...they take time, and hard work to construct. and most people are forced into the instant gratification of today's fast paced click here society. While true there are ramifications of illegal building, but there are areas that are open to building with permits and even accessible grant money to pay for them. But it has to be done through land managers and state committees. It isn't that hard, it just takes work, and well spoken individuals and groups to put forth the request and designs for them...... not just the blood and sweat of building, but the proposals and elements of argument that is takes to get them ok'd legally. Stunts will never go away in the bicycle world, there were ramps being built in the neighborhood when I was a 4 year old BMX kid and they are still built and ridden, albeit of a different style today and I am 40 plus years old, and still riding them, still pushing my limits, still going big, and still loving it and getting excited about doing it, just like I did when I was a child. Digger and Dangerous Dan and all of the NSX freeride riders and builders inspired me, motivated me, and made my Northeastern winters a little bit less long and motivated me to seek, to build, to ride, and to share. Stunt trails will never die, they just fade away ...into a new stunt laden trail !! Keep it alive people !!! The only way to have good trails legal or otherwise is to get the tools and lumber, turn off the TV, get up off of the couch and go out to the forest and build them !! The trails we ride and love and want to ride must be built and maintained by us and our hard work....because after all ......there is NO app for THAT !!!!!!!
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Really back, back in the day the first 'stunts' I rode were snowmobile bridges back in Maine, like one 30' over the Cathance river that was just two telephone poles one pallet width apart with a bunch of plywood literally just lying on top of it. Every time you hit it more of the wood had fallen off, and there was no challenge to it except hoping you didn't fall through! Then when I moved to Canada there was cool stuff in the woods everywhere, and like some other people have been saying some of it was really artistic, like Andy Goldsworthy had been by. But I do still wonder what happens to all the nails. Are we headed for a Nailpocalypse?
[Reply]
  • + 1
 Stunts are fine but as I ride exit 27 a lot and see the old bones of rotting stunts I have to feel that they are an eyesore and detract from the beauty of nature sometimes we need them for a bridge etc where there is no other real option but nails and 2/4s in the woods just isn't natural when all possible build with dirt and rock and you will only have to tune up your trails not tear down and rebuild
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  • + 3
 what it feels like to lose a front wheel when your smiling cause u thought you were gonna make it. And cuss the wood like its at fault. I wouldnt trade that
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  • + 1
 Great article- I've been thinking along these lines with wood features on our trails that need to be rebuilt- and they won't be- we're going to have to find different options this time around...
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  • + 0
 Wood definitely has it's place when it's the best way to build a certain part of a trail, like a bridge or a drop. But it's frustrating when the trail builders put a supper long skinny over what could easily have been a fun, natural trail.
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  • + 2
 Yes Mitch, Yes Thank you for writing about the days when riding was most real. Burl Ives, General Electric, 13 Steps to doom and the fn meat hankey love you too. Cheers
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  • + 0
 Thank the trailbuilding Gods that we've moved on! I'm glad I got into riding when the gratuitous teeter totter skinny log ride ladder bridge slow technical trail was not the main focus. This is what progression is all about - skills have evolved, trailbuilding has evolved, riders have evolved. We haven't become "one-dimensional lift jockeys", our skills have just expanded. Wooden builds will always be part of our trails, they're just a lot more fun to ride now. No question, it's definitely beneficial to be humbled by an old school trail like Ladies for example - but even on that trail, who doesn't think that Digger's new Monster is way more fun than what was there before?
The forest will always reclaim the builds. And hopefully, we'll be there to re-interpret the flow in a new and fun way.
  • + 2
 It's also good to take note that "old-school" builders such as Digger have changed with the times and still use "old-school' wood stunts with their new "flowy" trails!!!!
If you ever see him in the trails doin his thing, please stop for a moment to say Hi and thank Digger for makin sure we all have safe, longlasting, well built trails.
He's a wonderful man and has many stories...
[Reply]
  • + 1
 It seems like if a style of riding falls out of favor on the north shore it is dead worldwide according to PB's writing staff.
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  • + 1
 man I remember riding the vein: both killing and being killed by the stunts on it.. while there is a touch of nostalgia there, I am glad things have progressed towards flow..
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  • + 3
 stunts are not dead, come ride with me and i'll show you a few
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  • + 2
 It's been interesting how stunts have evolved. This rider/builder likes where we're headed!
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  • + 0
 The trail looks fun & exciting but I don't think I can ride on it without falling. make sure to bring all you friends with you to try this trail, I will bet £100 at least 1 out of 10 will fall easily without a doubtSmile
  • + 0
 Granted ! I guess, that only Blair Witch from the local forest can ride on it without falling !
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  • + 2
 cool read.. its scary how quickly nature reclaims most things humans build ..
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  • + 1
 Great article. Awesome perspective on the creation and then evolution of the "true" , original Shore. Thanks!
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  • - 1
 We still build the living JUNK out of them here in Florida... 'Cause we have to for creative lines sometimes! togood2die.pinkbike.com/album/Skillzville
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  • + 1
 they are comin back........
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  • + 1
 I love stunts. Getting up on sketchy stuff is where it's at.
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  • + 1
 not gonna lie, i shed a wee tear reading this....awesome write-up.
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  • + 0
 Get out to Santa Fe, NM and check out the evolution of stunts. Too bad we don't have many riders there.
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  • - 1
 RIP skinnies and stunts, you will always have a special place in my heart... :o)
  • + 3
 uh.....they are still alive up here on the sunshine coast!!!
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  • + 1
 go pro or go home.
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  • - 1
 Hey, that would be a good trail name.. Blair Bitch
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  • - 1
 photo no. 3 looks a lot like Salvation...
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  • - 2
 Such a great place to ride ! Blair Witch is in hiding somewhere there !
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