Hannah Bergemann only started riding seriously six years ago when her dad gave her one of his old hand-me-down bikes. In a short time, she's become one of the world's top freeriders and got signed by Red Bull in 2020
after an incredible debut at Formation in 2019.
I caught up with Bergemann at the Transition Bicycles office in Bellingham where she works on the marketing team as she prepared to head to Belgium for her first Fest Series event. We talked about this year's Formation event compared to last year's, how her background skiing influences her riding, how she gets ready to send big features, and what the future of women's freeride looks like. She also talks about the women's jump jam she'll be hosting the first weekend of September, Hang Time
, and what it was like to sign with Red Bull.
Did you grow up mountain biking?Hannah Bergemann:
I grew up skiing in Oregon and then got stuck on mountain biking in the summer with my dad. He was kind of getting into it and he gave me one of his old hand-me-down bikes. Then we went and did an enduro together in 2015. That was also the year that I graduated from high school, so I was looking for places to go to university. I ended up in Bellingham because I saw that there was potential for good mountain biking up here. Then I just got super into it.
I didn't realize you'd only been mountain biking since 2015.Hannah Bergemann:
That's when I got my first bike and really got into it.
So you initially came to Bellingham for school. What did you study?Hannah Bergemann:
I studied kinesiology and Spanish because I thought I wanted to go into healthcare. I might still do that in the future, but I'm doing the bike thing in the meantime.
How do you use the kinesiology degree in your day-to-day life right now as an athlete?Hannah Bergemann:
It's super useful as an athlete to have learned about physiology and muscle structure, and just having a greater knowledge of the body for recovery and making a training plan. I can write my own training structure and I feel like I'm pretty in tune with what I need.
What does your training look like this time of the year?Hannah Bergemann:
This time of the year, mostly just riding. Since it's on-season, I'm just riding and recovering mostly. Then in the winter, I spend some time in the gym.
You used to do some enduro racing. How does what you're doing now for freeride now compare to what you did for enduro racing? As far as the training and your enjoyment of riding?Hannah Bergemann:
Well, it's kind of a funny question actually, because when I was enduro racing, I almost did the same thing as I do now. Because enduro racing, that was kind of just like my outlet for being sort of competitive in mountain biking. But whenever I was riding at home, I just wanted to freeride trails and build stuff in the woods. I would go to races, but I never actually trained for racing. I would just go and ride steep stuff and hit jumps.
When I was racing, I really enjoyed just doing it for the opportunity to go ride these new places and hang out with cool people, and spend a bunch time on my bike. And with enduro, you have these super long days on the bike, and then you get to ride a bunch of rad trails. But I have found that in freeride, I am more passionate about progressing in it just because that's what I want to spend all my free time doing, like hitting jumps and learning new stuff. I guess I feel a bit more passionate about freeride progressions, but I do love racing for the aspect of just getting to go ride a bunch of really cool spots.
What has your progress looked like in the past couple of years?Hannah Bergemann:
The past couple years have been definitely pretty big progression. And I feel like a lot of it is due to just where I live, and having all the right resources to progress, and the right people around me. I feel really privileged to live in a place that has access to really good riding with all the things that you need to progress quickly as a rider. But yeah, I feel it's definitely been a lot more than I would've anticipated.
What are some of the things that you're working on with your riding right now?Hannah Bergemann:
Right now, specifically since I'm doing the Fest Series next weekend, I've just been riding big jumps as much as possible. I try and get a lot air time.
But then adding tricks to that, and just more freeride-specific stuff. Gnarlier features, getting comfy and more stylish in the air.
From some of your videos, it seems that you spend quite a bit of time building trails. How important do you think building trails is like in order to be a good freerider?Hannah Bergemann:
Trail building, to me, is something I got into because I am really passionate about it. I just really like it. I think it's super fun.
But I feel like it also has played a really big part in my progression as a freerider, just because I think building stuff helps you progress as a rider. Lets you get more in tune with your riding if you're building features and then having to guinea pig them to tweak them, make adjustments, and you learn a lot about trails, and building techniques, and just... Yeah, I think it's also just really fun. I just really enjoy doing it.
What do you think it is about trail building that you enjoy? Is it a solitary pursuit or do you go out with friends?Hannah Bergemann:
Mostly with friends. It's super fun to go build stuff with all your buddies. Spending time in the woods collaborating on a project is super fun, and really rewarding. Especially when the project is done and you all get to shred it together, and you get to see other people in the community enjoying it.
I know Transition worked with Nico on the Blue Steel jumps. How important do you think it is for the riding community of Bellingham to have jumps like that nearby?Hannah Bergemann:
It's so huge. It's incredible to see like how many people have been enjoying those jumps. Every time I go out there, people are riding them and they're stoked. It's super rewarding. It's one of the coolest projects I got to be part of last year for sure. It's huge for seeing folks progressing in their riding. There's been like 14 year old kids who've been sessioning the line, just shredding and they're super stoked. It's a really cool thing for our community to have.
Do you also do some coaching with riders in Bellingham?Hannah Bergemann:
Yeah, I also do some coaching. My co-worker and friend Angi Weston owns a coaching business called Radical Roots MTB and she runs a girls mountain bike program, and I got to be a head coach for some of the girls. I just to get to go ride with them, and they're progressing like crazy. It's been super fun.
That's awesome. I wanted to delve into your relationship with Transition a little bit more. Do you actually work out of the office doing regular marketing tasks, or are you just doing media projects, or a little bit of everything?Hannah Bergemann:
I do a little bit of everything. I'm actually sitting in the office right now. We just got a new office that's pretty cool.
But yeah, I'm on the marketing team. I work in the marketing office with the crew, and I do like a little bit everything, from media projects to general marketing stuff, like doing Transition branding on T-shirts to organizing events, and whatever random marketing tasks we have.
Do you think like that is a better fit for you than just being a sponsored athlete for Transition or any other brand?Hannah Bergemann:
Yeah. It's a really cool position, because I get bigger support from the company and then I'm learning a lot more as well. Having this position as a full-time employee here, you get to learn what it's like to work for a company and have that experience while also getting to have the freedom to pursue athlete goals and ambitions.
A lot of the time, I think some of the most successful athletes are also really good at marketing themselves. Is that something that you think about much in your career? How you market yourself to sponsors and the public?Hannah Bergemann:
Yeah, for sure. I would say I definitely did not know what I was doing, but just working here has given me a lot of the tools to improve in that aspect. The team that I work with is super dialed in and really talented and we all work really well together, so I feel like that's been a huge advantage and help for me in progressing in marketing myself as an athlete.
I want to talk a little bit about Red Bull Formation. First of all, how do you describe the event to people?Hannah Bergemann:
It's a women's freeride mountain bike progression session, essentially. It's a week where we are really focusing on progressing ourselves as individual riders and also progressing the sport as a whole.
And it's not competitive. Why do you think that's so important right now?Hannah Bergemann:
I think that's really important because of where we're at and where the sport's at currently. We're just kind of launching off. We're actually at really great starting point, where we can all collaborate together without necessarily being competitive and judged in a freeride event right away. It's giving us this really cool platform to launch from where we're all working together to collaborate in this progression, and we can really position the direction of where the sport's going and showcase our skills without the pressure of competition from the bat.
How did this year compare to when it happened in 2019?Hannah Bergemann:
In 2019, we didn't really know what we were doing. I got a call from Katie Holden and she was just saying like, "I have this event that I'm working on. Just make sure that you are free on these dates, and we're going to be in Utah," and that was pretty much it. So I was like, "Okay, cool. That sounds awesome." I love going there. I've been there a few times. And so I had pretty much no expectation for what we were doing.
Then we learned the formatting of the event, that we were going to have the opportunity to dig on the old Rampage lines, and how much time we had. I had never really done a full line before. I hadn't really even built an individual feature out there before, let alone put a whole line together. We also had pretty limited experience riding there, so it was definitely a crash course in learning how to ride out there in the desert, choosing a line and tackling the build with the limited time that we had.
I think the first year and not really knowing those parameters, I was more conservative in choosing things I knew that I could be successful at. 2021 had much more clear expectations, where I had more clear goals in mind for what I wanted to accomplish. I was able to accomplish those goals, and then also provide support to folks that hadn't been there before. It was their first time being there, so I could help guinea pig features and describe the features to other girls so that they could have some success in hitting them, and help the whole event progress. This year, everything that everyone was doing was on a higher level compared to just a year and a half prior.
How did you feel when you left the event at the end of the first year?Hannah Bergemann:
At the end of the first event, I felt super satisfied with how everything went, not having done any of that before. I felt super satisfied and felt like it was a success and that we were able to showcase our riding quite well. I was also super fired up to come back and improve upon what we had already done. I felt like it gave me confidence in my riding, and then also my building skills, and that was kind of the first time I had really done a big event with a lot of viewership. A lot of people saw what was happening there through all the media that was being pushed out by Red Bull so it gave me some confidence in my riding skills that I hadn't had before.
When you showed up this year, what were your goals?Hannah Bergemann:
My goals going into this year were to ride something that I felt like would challenge me as a rider, to build something that would challenge me, but that I knew I could ride. It's kind of hard to find that balance. Something that is still intimidating and scary, but you can still find the confidence to know that you have the ability to ride it. I wanted to find that balance and build a line that I was really stoked to ride, but wouldn't be too easy or so challenging that it would be unsafe for me.
Which part of your line was the most difficult for you to drop into?Hannah Bergemann:
The final feature that I rode was a feature that was actually in the middle of the line, and it was a feature that we spent the most time working on. It was a double drop to a step up into a gully and it was the only feature that my team exclusively was working on. It was full faith in my vision and to direct my team to help me build the line. I'd spent a lot of time thinking about it. Even the night before I was about to ride it, I was thinking about it all night. I was definitely nervous, but I felt like I could visualize it. That one was the hardest one for me to guinea pig, just mentally. But once I rode it, it was no problem, and I felt super confident on it.
And then after that, a gnarly feature was definitely dropping the very top of the line, just because it was the most exposed and right at the beginning.
What's it like going through your head when you're going to drop into those features for the very first time?Hannah Bergemann:
Well, the first time, I'm relying a lot on the visualization process - seeing myself riding it, visualizing success, even thinking about what my body position is going to be doing, where my braking points are going to be, all the little specific details. And then once I accumulate all of those visions, I can generate the confidence to drop in.
You mentioned that you did some skiing. What are the parallels that you can draw between what you were doing skiing versus biking?Hannah Bergemann:
They're both sports where you're learning how to learn things. If you're hitting a rail, you have to learn how to teach yourself to learn the new trick or skill. It's the same with biking, you're like dialing in your process for visualizing this thing you haven't done before, but you still need to feel confident that you can do it even though you haven't yet. So it's a mental thing of learning how to teach yourself things and trust that you can do it, and know when you're ready and when you're not.
How do you know when you're actually ready to drop in?Hannah Bergemann:
For me, it's been a refined process I've learned over the years of doing both sports, it's a feeling. You kind of just have a green light. It's a different feeling if it's a green light and I know I can do it but I'm nervous versus like a yellow or red where I'm nervous and I'm not fully confident. You kind of have to learn to distinguish the two feelings and trust when you're feeling them, and make a decision based on those feelings. But it's definitely a process that takes a lot of work, and it's not something that you could see. It's just a mental thing that you're refining.
I imagine that if you do crash, it would kind of make you doubt your process. How do you come back from a crash to trust yourself again?Hannah Bergemann:
That's a good question. I think you have to learn to understand that crashing's inevitable, it's going to happen, so you can't take a crash personally or let it reflect your skillset as a rider. You can learn from each mistake that you make in each crash, and you can use that as a learning experience. Like "Okay, I misjudged this because of this," and then you can put that into your calculation and calibration for the next time. Just try not to let it like actually affect your confidence in your riding abilities. Which is hard to do. It's definitely easy just to get rattled and lose your confidence when you crash, but that's also a thing you have to want to refine - your ability to move on from a crash and just shake it off.
What was the highlight for you this year at the event?Hannah Bergemann:
It was just when everyone had completed their lines at the end of the event - the accumulation of all of the work we've been doing all week, the build up to the riding, seeing everyone's success, coming off the hill and everyone came out safely. That was the best moment for sure.
You also won the Arc'teryx Evolution of Sport award, which was voted on by your fellow riders. What was that like for them to recognize you with that award?Hannah Bergemann:
That was super meaningful to me just because it was voted on by all the other athletes, like a rider's choice award, essentially. One of my goals going through Formation was to ride in a way that was helping the other crews, as well. Riding and helping inspire confidence to progress not only my individual riding, but also everyone's riding. So I felt like in receiving that award, it was validation in accomplishing that goal, being someone that was benefiting everyone's riding.
What were some of the things you did to make sure that everyone was having the best success possible this year? Were you kind of coaching them a little bit? What did that look like on the ground there?Hannah Bergemann:
I did a lot of guinea pigging. I feel like through my digging experience here in Bellingham, I've learned how to guinea pig features. It's really challenging, hitting something for the first time, especially when no one's ever hit it before. So I was able to do that for a lot of the features, and then in that, provide advice from my experience to help the other girls go through their visualization and then ride the features also. So yeah, it's a little bit of coaching maybe, but more just talking them through it so that they were able to do it themselves. It was more just helping give them the confidence to drop in and find success.
If you're thinking about 10 years from now, when people look back at Red Bull Formation, what do you want them to say about it?Hannah Bergemann:
Just that it was the beginning of a really cool time in the sport, that it was kind of the starting off point for a huge boom and progression in women's freeride. Just a really cool event that showcased the sport to the world and got everyone excited.
I also saw you're headed to Proving Grounds and that's a competitive event, right?Hannah Bergemann:
Yeah, that one's competitive. That'll be my first time doing a competitive freeride event. I'm excited, a little nervous for that, but I think it'll be cool.
Do you think you'll still work together with the other women that are at the event? How will it be different going into that event?Hannah Bergemann:
I think all the gals there will be stoked to work together and help everyone get through the features and encourage each other. I think it will be, although competitive, still a really rad experience and collaborative environment.
What about some of the riders that you look up to, that you kind of want to emulate? Who are some of your role models?Hannah Bergemann:
There are a lot. I feel like in mountain biking, there are so many rad people that are just crushing it right now. Like all the gals that rode at Formation were super exciting to me. Specifically, I always looked up to Veronique Sandler, because she just has an awesome style and really does the things she wants to do because she loves them, and I fully respect that mentality and way of going about things. Same with Casey, she's obviously a huge inspiration for me and for a lot of people, and I feel like she's just kind of spearheaded doing what she loves.
And there's also some guys that are super inspiring too. Like I love watching edits from Brage Vestavik and I loved watching Jordie Lunn's edits, his Rough AF edits. I like all of that style.
You just got your Red Bull helmet last year. What's that been like having that support from them?Hannah Bergemann:
I think it's been super validating, like as an athlete. Obviously, you don't need external validation to do what you're doing, but it's definitely super nice. And they've been an awesome company to work with. They definitely put their athletes first and are keen to support any ideas that I've come up with, so it's been really awesome working with them. Like they're helping support this jump jam that I'm hosting in September.
It definitely was a surprise to me. I didn't necessarily consider myself to have the skills to have a Red Bull helmet. It's been a bit of a weird year to get it as well, just being like in 2020 during the pandemic. Not a whole lot of things going on in the world, so I felt a little unsure if I was doing a good job for a while, or how I was doing as an athlete, just without having that feedback. But I think I feel like I've definitely gotten more into a groove as time went on, and I feel like things are going super well, and I've been really enjoying working with them.400 [Failed to load instagram embed]https://instagr.am/p/CSnJhqrhRKA&maxwidth=1000
What are some of the future projects that you'd be most excited about working on going forward?Hannah Bergemann:
One of the projects I did with Red Bull recently was a mountain bike freeride immersion week, which is just where I got to provide an experience for about 10 participants about what it was like to train and ride like a freeride mountain biker.
I'm also stoked on this jump jam that I'm working on at the moment. I would be keen to do more projects, kind of like I got to do for the immersion week, just that are helping get more folks involved in freeride mountain biking and getting them to progress their riding skills. Everything from making events designed for pros, and then also just helping more folks get stoked on the sport. It's like in the jump jam that I'm planning, I have a session designed to incorporate some groms and younger riders to help them interact with the pro riders.
When you're dreaming big, where do you see the future of women's freeride mountain biking going?Hannah Bergemann:
I think I'd like to see it just grow a lot more, like more participation, more gals with their own style, and with more support from the industry, and more events, more inclusion in current events.
There's going to be some gals, I think, that are going to just crush it. Like the groms right now that are going to far outperform anything that I can do in a short time.
How do you see your role within women's freeride in the next couple of years?Hannah Bergemann:
I think with my position, this opportunity I have to ride as an athlete, at this moment, I just want to help pave a more clear path for the next gen that's going to pursue freeride. And hopefully provide a lot more opportunity and more inspiration to progress even further than where my riding's at and keep pushing the sport. I think I'm in a really cool position to do that.