I will be writing a series of articles this year. This first rambling, of many to come, is a basic timeline of my life and mountain biking as I lived it and saw it before I turned pro ten years ago...
I kept asking my Dad for months for a full suspension mountain bike. I needed a bike to rip around the streets of Carson City, but I wanted something I could race downhill on, but wouldn't hold me back from anything else I could possibly ride. On my ninth birthday he pulled out a brand new, fully rigid beauty. I was not disappointed, but elated, for it was a brand new, high quality bike (you can guess the brand all you want but I ain't tellin'). I will never forget that feeling; I doubt anyone forgets their first mountain bike. It is a life changing experience. I already had a BMX bike that I would ride to school and had jumped some tabletops on, this bike was a whole new world of opportunity.
I started racing later that year, and after only a couple races I dreamed of becoming a professional mountain bike rider. With no thought in sight of the freeride world we know now, my tricks and jumps stayed at the school yard. Jumps on my BMX bike and my other non-suspended whip got me some podiums in the local cyclocross series and XC races. I rode my first couple DH races on it, but was not able to podium until I upgraded from that bone jarring rig. However, they did eventually come and ever since the beginning, all I wanted to do was practice, race, jump and ride anything that would build my bike control. It was my main focus (along with having fun of course) and I am still doing the exact same thing today.
Prior to Shaun Palmer and Kirt Voreis in their heyday, John Tomac was king and racing both XC and DH was the way to do it, so I tried to keep doing both. I raced XC at Sea Otter one year when I was about 10. I will never forget the announcers over the loudspeaker, prior to us juniors getting sent off the line, making every one of us appreciate our parents who supported us and got us there. No matter how far along any sport will take you, you are never there alone and you couldn't do it without the help of others. The gun went off and I struggled, but after a long grueling race, there was a steep, muddy section with drops toward the end. A place close to the finish where racers loved ones lined the red SRAM banners in anticipation of seeing their sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers succeed; the hecklers came to see a bloodbath. My Dad has video of 90% of the people yardsaling. It's hilarious. Tomahawking and literally flying over the banners and the crowd behind its heads. I came through not knowing what the hell lay before me. For some reason, that race I chose to ride my Dad's custom Conejo AP5 with Kooka components that was two sizes too big for me. Apparently, I ripped that gateway of gnar pretty good (must have been that RockShox Judy on there) because the crowd went absolutely nuts! This was my first experience of hearing a real crowd roar for me. Forget Soccer Goals and Little League Baseball; this was on a whole different level. I pretty much forgot about ball sports after that, for I had found my sport. I also realized which discipline I would excel at. Still to this day, the fans at any contest beat the money, standing on the podium, magazine covers and all the other amazing things this sport has brought me, hands down. Every time I land in the Crankworx finals finish corral, off the last drop, it feels like a Super Bowl touchdown. And that will never ever get old....
When mountain bike films first started to be made my Dad came home from the bike shop and gave my brother and I ''Fatraxx'' the movie. Our minds were blown. Phil Tinsman, Tomac, and even Kathy Sessler were the heroes that showed me what was possible on a mountain bike. People were being filmed riding their bikes with personality, showcasing what they enjoyed, in and outside of racing. Skidder lines and full suspension jumping was now an option. My brother was always better than me and I had to put in ten times the effort to try to keep up. He could keep up with his full factory competitors and jump as well as anyone on a mountain bike and with such little effort. If it weren't for chicks and cars he would be one of the best.
Shortly after ''Fatraxx'' we found a movie that seemed to live by this thesis. Everyone in ''Hammertime
'' had no limits. This video was the beginning of freeriding. It is the predecessor to today's riding with a 14 year gap to figure ourselves out. When life gave them lemons they did a hell of a lot more than make lemonade. Eric Carter, Todd Lyons, Alan Foster, Chad Harrington, Brian Lopes and others were riding trails, steeps and jumping mountain bikes in ways that had never been done before. Some of the jumps and trails are still around and ridden every day! There was no classification. It was just a mountain biking video.
I quickly figured out that this bike I was riding could do anything; suspension or not. At that time, bikes and riders were progressing at such an alarming rate and the sport was growing so fast while sprouting off in so many directions. Freeride competitions still weren't even thought of. People were doing it, but it was still something done for fun and practice outside of racing.
But “Chainsmoke” rolled in. A life changing experience and still my favorite video of all time. This video changed more lives than just my own. Palm's opening segment pumping Downset's ”Empower” still gives me the chills. These guys were heroes, idols and rockstars! Why? Because of a well-produced video where the sponsors behind it showcased their riders as the bad ass S.O.B's that they are! Voreis, Randy Lawrence, Mike Metzger, and even Joe Parkin riding XC, looked so bad ass! 1-3 times a day my brother and I watched it. I didn't know the half of their race records, but it didn't matter. This was the power of a VHS. Lucky for us, Freeride Entertainment and Red Bull Media House still believe in creating heroes long after VHS and DVD sales have fallen.
When I was 11 years old, I was in the gate for a National Slalom Race in Big Bear. Lined up next to me was a very factory looking, 10-year-old named Kyle Strait.. My faulty Mr. Dirt chain guide and I lost that race. Kyle and I were friends shortly thereafter. We both had a similar view on riding. We idolized Voreis, thought his part in ''Evolution'' shat on every freerider movie at the time, and we both loved the riding outside of racing, while still keeping slalom and DH our top priority. He was promoted heavily by his Dad, picked up a paying sponsor at 13 and was in Rampage at 14. This was the first ever Rampage and when racing was just starting to show some signs of failure, Rampage showed her gigantic potential at the perfect time to explode at a steady pace. It wasn't too big for its own good and it didn't 'jump the shark.' Year after year, it surpassed everyone's expectations and kept people wanting more. This desire to watch it was the birth of slopestyle and even mountain bike dirt jump contests. It all started in big mountain. My first Rampage was #3 in 2003. After that I was slightly established and fully hooked. I couldn't believe what was possible on a bike, but what blew my mind even more was what I was capable of!
Even though this incredible new movement was going on, Kyle and I kept racing because we loved it; racing was king and we figured we could do both at the highest level. And I gave him a whoop in the 2002 series to be Junior Slalom National Champ. As the sport of freeride kept growing, US Racing kept dying. I remember my first National in 1997 at Mammoth. It was some movie star type shit. GT had a supercross sized semi truck and the pit area was three times the size of any pit in 2012. Wrenches like Craig 'Stikman' Glaspell and Chris 'Monkey' Vasquez were even borderline celebrities. It was an amazing time to be a mountain biker. My brother and I would fill up gigantic bags of stickers by strolling through the pits like trick-or-treaters and hopefully catch a glimpse of Missy Giove or Eric Carter rolling back from practice to their incredible hospitality.
When things get good we are constantly pigeonholing ourselves by classifications, criticism, and crap. If mountain biking had a house there would be a sign on the lawn that reads, “New ideas and innovation welcome! Old ideas and legacies will shoot you in the face if threatened.” Brad Ewen will then yell the proverbial phrase.
From one thing we lead to another by human nature. We want to progress; we need to progress! In turn we struggle with identification and purpose. It is the nature of growing. It is inevitable. Money will ruin brilliant ideas and greed will tarnish legacies. Shaun Palmer changed the sport for the better by being himself, then NORBA shat on corporate sponsors with greed and wiped American racing off the face of the earth for nearly a decade. Mountain cross (not 4x) replaced slalom because NORBA watched a couple well done races at Woodward and Glen Helen, they got fat and lazy with the courses and inevitably NORBA and the newly coined “4X” ate itself leaving one of the most successful racing circuits and slalom racing in it's colon. Chevy: out, Jeep: Bailed. Corporate sponsors are a necessity in a sport that requires big money to make proper courses and give riders the ability to push the sport. Especially when they are paying to get it on National TV. USAC (USA Cycling) is still trying to kill what momentum people have built
Thanks to Crankworx, racing now has a prize purse (actually a few of them) that will buy more than dinner, and slopestyle comps have crowds that could fill a basketball arena. We are, once again, living in exponential times. The internet and technology make sure everyone will get their chance to make it and no longer will people be silenced. Great ideas will flourish! If we choose apathy we have no right to complain so create something remarkable or help someone who is. The governing body of a competitive sport will no longer have a monopoly. Festivals and one-off events are becoming the biggest and best places to ride and watch our heroes. We all started riding bicycles for freedom and freedom will keep our beautiful sport growing... that and capitalism.
History lessons are necessary to keep it from repeating itself.
Mountain biking is a beautiful thing...
Long live slalom!
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