I caught up with Nico Vink at the end of a long day building on the Darkfest course in South Africa. At 9pm, he was just getting back to home base and taking off his dirty boots after a long day in the machine. The veteran freerider, who just signed with PNW-based Transition Bicycles, has a busy travel schedule ahead of him this year. We chatted about the change of sponsor, the future of freeride, what he still wants to accomplish, and more.
Why did you make the switch to Transition for 2020?
After 7 years with Scott, I just felt it was time for a change. I spoke with Lars [Sternberg] earlier this year and then all of the negotiations went really smoothly. It’s a brand that really resonates with me and matches with who I am as a rider. It’s great to be a part of a company where everyone is a mountain biker. I feel like we’re really on the same page that way. It’s great to be a part of a core brand and I’m excited about the opportunity. The bikes are great.
What spring do you run on your rear shock for massive jumps?
I run a 540 spring rate. I’m 80, or 82kg maybe this time of year, so it’s a firm set-up. I’m even riding a 540 on my "softer" set-up now.
Do you think it’s harder for a freerider than a racer to get sponsors?
Now there are more than just racers. There are racers, influencers, freeriders, slopestyle athletes… The bike industry has grown and it seems like there’s room for them all in the industry. It hasn't become more difficult for me.
I’ve had my up years and my down years, and at some point, I realized there’s a lot more that comes to being sponsored than just riding. You need to sell yourself and you need to give something in exchange for the sponsorship. It’s not only riding, there’s a lot more to it. There’s a lot more that comes with it. I figured that out later.
What are your plans for this year?
I’ll ride all the Fest events. At the moment I’m at DarkFest. We’re working on some other stuff, but at the moment it isn’t for sure so I’m not going to say anymore. I’ll do some personal video projects as well, stuff that I want to build and ride. I also want to do some big mountain riding. That’s more or less it.
Transition hinted that you’re working on something in their backyard in Bellingham. Can you say anything about that?
I’m not sure how much I can say… But how it happened was that I was in the States for a film project. The Transition guys hit me up and asked me if I was burned out from travelling or if I’d be down to build something. They said they wanted some big jumps, something to scare themselves. So I went to Bellingham and helped them build a line during their “office hours” I guess.
What are some of the goals you still want to accomplish?
I still have a couple things I really want to do. For now, I really want to build some super creative fun, flowy stuff. I want to ride more big mountain lines and chutes, progress in that direction and see how much I can push that.
Eventually, I would love to build a park from scratch. Hopefully I can figure that out in the next couple of years. That’s one of my dreams. I’ve been building lines all over the place. I kind of hope to find a place where I can build a bunch of lines and open it to the public. We’ll see, that’s future talk! Or maybe run a park, or be involved in park management eventually. I’m still riding now though, no time for that yet!
Something like the Coast Gravity Park?
Something like that. In that direction. I really like what they did and I feel like there’s room for more of that kind of stuff. Just because I love building so much it’s something that I personally want to do. I have a vision that I would love to build. And then hopefully people would like it.
How did you develop your building skills throughout the years?
For me, building has always been a part of riding. Where I grew up there was nothing. I lived in the Flemish part of Belgium and it’s flat. First of all, there are no hills. Second, if we wanted to ride something, we had to dig it ourselves. There wasn’t a whole lot around when I was a kid. Then you progress and you become a better rider and you need to build bigger stuff.
That’s what I’m still doing now, 30 years later. That’s why I wanted to build bigger jumps. I ride and then I get bored of what I’m riding and envision new things that I want to do. For me, building is a part of riding. You can’t have one without the other. I love one as much as the other.
You’re known to hit the biggest jumps in the world and you’re part of a small group of people who can ride those jumps. Why do you think you’ve taken your riding in the direction you have?
When I was racing, I kind of got bored of what we were doing. With the bikes we were riding, I just felt it was possible to go way bigger than we were. I rode a lot of BMX and then I had a day of hitting the motocross jumps, in 2004 or 2005, like a big 60 foot step-down. Then in 2009, I hit another moto jump, another 60 foot table. I love trails but that feeling was so good that I was just like, “I need to find a place where I can build a line for a bike, similar to dirt jumps but for downhill bikes.” At the time, we didn’t have a lot of budget, but we figured out how to make it happen
I think the reason that I’m a part of a small group of people is because not a lot of people want to go do that stuff. And then we just invested the time to create it. That’s why I’m known for that.
Do you have any big plans for Loosefest this year?
I’m doing Loosefest again in Belgium. No super big plans, I just want to re-run it with similar jumps. I might add on a little bit, but I want to focus more on improving the park and the experience for the people that come and watch and for my friends that come and ride. I want there to be good sessions in between the main sessions so there’s fun stuff to ride and spectators also have a good time.
The other thing that I’m working on is a second event this year. It’s still in the planning phase though so I don’t want to say too much and overpromise. If all goes well, and it’s looking very good, it will be a North American stop. But I’ve already said too much…
How are the Fest Series funded and what’s the long-term feasibility of them?
The way we’ve been running it is that you have an event host - me for Loosefest, Makken for Huckfest, Sam Reynolds for Darkest, KJ and Carson are Black Sage. Each individual event has their own sponsors so it’s up to the host to find the budget and make it happen. As for longevity, as long as we put the work in I think we’ll be able to do things.
At the moment, we set up the website and we’ve started selling merch. Ideally, I would love for the merch to sell well enough that we can fund our own video projects and potentially a movie.
It’s pretty loose but we’re still going forward and we’ve been doing it for six years now. We’ll see how long we last. We want to do more than just events but we’ll see. Fest can be whatever you want it to be kind of. I think it will evolve to whatever it needs to be.
Will we see you back at Rampage this year as a judge?
That depends mostly on Todd Barber. It’s very stressful. I have a busy schedule and sometimes I feel like I lack riding because I’m always travelling. Sometimes I think I should skip judging, but it needs to be done and so far it’s been good. I’ll probably judge again. But it definitely comes to mind when I’m busy and tired that I should just skip that and spend the week riding with friends at home.
I’m proud to be a part of it, but I find it very difficult to judge. You want to do a good job but it sucks when you upset people. I don’t like that part. As an athlete, you build up a certain reputation and I feel like you expose yourself to criticism by being a judge at that event. And I don’t know if I like that part as much.
I think it’s one of the most difficult events to judge as well. Just the fact that everyone has different lines, different style, different tricks, speed, etc. But this year was good so I left on a high note and I’ll probably go back if Todd asks me again.
What do you think the future of Rampage and Fest Series and freeride looks like?
I think it is progressing still. I feel like the new generation is getting better and better at what they do. Every year at Rampage the level gets higher. And I feel like as long as they find zones to organize events, and I’m sure they will, it’s going to keep on going. Rampage is super successful and a lot of people watch it. I think mountain biking is in a good spot right now.
As far as Fest Series, I hope we can just keep doing more stuff. Hopefully, we can do a movie at some point. The other guys think that would be cool to do as well so hopefully we can make that happen with our busy schedules.
As for freeride, there are a bunch of young kids coming up. It’s getting better every year. The level of riding is going to keep rising because there are so many upcoming kids that are shredders. The competition will be serious for events like Rampage.
In case you missed it, you can check out Nico Vink's best video clips from 2019 here
. We look forward to seeing another year of high-speed manuals, huge jumps and epic freeriding from the Belgian in 2020.