Make no mistake; the Red Bull Rampage is one of the sickest sporting events in the history of all things sporting. It’s nothing short of incredible. Wild. Nuts. Inspiring. Did I say wild? Add another nuts in there too. And of course, quite obviously, there’s a lot that goes into it: organization, promotion, safety, production, documentation—the list of variables is endless, complicated and logistically impossible. Considering the remoteness of the location, the savage nature of the terrain and the exposure of the athletic endeavors, it’s a wonder no one dies, spectators included. Its longevity and contribution to the sport is a true testament to the riders and Red Bull to be sure.
But there’s something missing here, something fairly big.
It hit me hard that beautiful sunny Sunday back in October. I was hanging out at my house, playing ping pong outside in the garage with my kids, safe as safe could be, just two miles away from Kurt Sorge’s place here in the Kootenays, watching it all go down. It all seemed a little surreal. The fact that there were tens if not hundreds of thousands of viewers like me, all over the world, watching Rampage 2012 in real time seemed extra surreal. And I, of course, being a life-long mountain biker, having been to the Rampage once before, was savoring every radical minute of it.
But after a while I began to develop an irk. An undeniable scratch. I was beginning to see an obvious omission from the event I was so enthralled by. Over time this irk increasingly started to piss me off. After a couple hours or so of coverage, I hadn’t seen or heard one critical reference to a huge player in this, the pinnacle of mountain biking. No one, not the announcers, the producers, even the athletes, were making any noticeable effort to talk, showcase, or display one of the most important players in this whole Rampage spectacle. The bikes.
Let’s back up a few years. In the late 90s, an event like the Rampage would have been impossible. Quite simply, the talent, evolution and verve of the world’s top riders wouldn’t allow for such airborne frivolity. And people definitely would have died. Why? Bike technology. It is, without argument the number one reason why we’re at where we’re at.
Frame design and composite material development, suspension performance, strength to weight ratios, everything that goes into a bike in 2012 is light years away from where it was 10 years ago. Why has the level of riding grown so exponentially year to year at the Rampage? It simply has to be attributed to bike technology and performance. This is to not discredit rider ability in any way shape or form. But let’s be straight: no 35-pound, super nimble, mega plush, impossibly strong, 200mm travel mountain bike, no Rampage 2012. It’s that simple.
So why not throw a few bones to the bicycle companies and component manufacturers? Watch motor sports' coverage and the vehicle plays a big role in the announcers dialogue. Athletes are constantly referencing their rides when interviewed. Watch Rampage, however, and I couldn’t recall a single mention of a single bike or component manufacturer. Not one. No bike profiles, no “Trek rider Brandon Semenuk…”, no, "my Specialized Demo was the bomb!" Nada. You’d think there would be at least one or two asides, which Red Bull and NBC do such a good job of. You know, the filler stuff that makes events like this more palatable to the masses, like in the World Series where they show you how the Louisville bats are made, or where the baseballs come from. Vignettes they call them. And, well, to be honest, if we’re all in this together, if we want to see our sport grow and prosper, then we have to support all facets. More vignettes please.
Throw on top of the anonymity pile the fact that most bike companies lack any real opportunities for exposure on athletes themselves—it’s very hard to make huge logos on relatively small bits of equipment like tube sets and forks. Not to mention, most top athletes' invaluable helmet real estate is pre-sold to energy drink sponsors (most of which don’t spend nearly as much on athletes as bike sponsors do but won’t allow other sponsor logos on the helmet). Even head tube badges are obscured by Rampage number plates. True pros like Kurt Sorge do a good job of branding their jerseys, but when the dust washes off, of all the companies involved with pulling off an event like the Rampage, it’s the bike companies and component manufacturers who get the least amount of exposure.
Which, in the context of what we’re all trying to do here is pretty lame. You would think companies like Red Bull and NBC would want us to prosper from exposure like this. You would think athletes would be more motivated to get their bike and component sponsors as much exposure as possible. And of course, Rampage brings the sport huge exposure, I'm not refuting that. But if I’m a kid watching all of this action go down, and I’ve never ridden before, and I have no clue what companies are involved in this spectacle (aside from the title sponsor), what happens then? If I’m watching surfing (and I don't surf) I know that Kelly Slater rides for Quicksilver. If I don't mountain bike do I know Kurt Sorge rides for Giant? Probably not.
After watching the Rampage coverage on NBC this past weekend, it was the same story. Great angles, epic shots, and lots of vignettes. But even the one bike piece, which featured Bearclaw going through his Specialized, he didn't mention one bike brand name. He didn't even say the word "Specialized."
Which begs the question, why? Why not profile these incredible inventions? The amount of collective research and development has easily crept into the tens of millions of dollars since the dawn of our sport. It’s been going on for decades. From hydraulic brakes to complex valving systems, carbon frame development to space age alloys, virtual pivot point linkage systems and multi-durometer tire compounds, the list of innovation is huge. All put together they are the vehicles of great opportunity. How many motor free vehicles allow riders to comfortably shred otherwise impassable mountain slopes? Backflips included.
I’ll tell you how many. None.
So why do high profile events like this seemingly ignore them? Why aren't they celebrated instead? These are revelations of thought and invention. The world needs to know about them. Put yourself in the mind of the casual mountain biker, or the young kid who’s never even ridden a mountain bike before. Ask yourself if this broadcast is doing a good job of explaining to them what our sport is all about.