Interview: What It Will Take To Win Rampage This Year According to Judges Randy Spangler & Josh Bender

Oct 24, 2019
by Sarah Moore  


Being a judge at Red Bull Rampage is an honour, but also a difficult job that is almost always criticized. For 2019, there are five judges for Red Bull Rampage, all of them former Rampage competitors. Scoring Judge Randy Spangler is joined by Josh Bender, Greg Watts, Nico Vink, and Kyle Jameson. We caught up with Randy Spangler and Josh Bender to find out more about their process on event day and what they're doing in the days leading up to the event.


How are the judges chosen?


Randy Spangler: The judges are all chosen from people that have ridden the event. They know what it's like to be up there. They've ridden the dirt, had the nerves and excitement. We've just gone with riders that we feel are even across the board. Judges that get along with other riders well, pretty level-headed, really think about all the factors and come from different areas of riding themselves as well as having ridden Rampage.


Kyle Jameson fllat spinning the YT booter.
Kyle Jameson flat spinning the YT booter in 2015.


In the days leading up to the event, what are you doing?


Josh Bender: As judges, with the days leading up to the event, we're watching what riders are riding, what lines. We're seeing how they attack the lines, how they're sussing everything out, how comfortable they're feeling. And that gives us a gauge. Plus, we're walking the entire venue and all the judges have been former competitors so we know what these guys are up against.

Randy Spangler: I start off on the build crew, the actual main build crew that does all the preparation with the water lines and so forth for the riders and gets the top started. Then I switch roles to judging. In between that time I'm able to go out and scout and see what's going on. I'm really in tune with where the riders are headed, what's going on, changes from last year.

Then once all the other judges arrive, we all walk together and get to those spots quicker since I've been able to preview a lot of things, do more chatting, make notes and so forth. Talk to the riders, see where they're going and hear from them where they're going. Not necessarily what they're going to do, just where they're going to go. That's pretty much our thing - mental notes, notes on paper, walking it over and over until we have the lines down. Once we're in that mode, it's a different focus. But since you have the pre-prep in your head from what you've seen, it all comes together.


Josh Bender helped create Red Bull Rampage back in 2001.


Are you watching the mountain or a screen during event day?


Randy Spangler: It's changed. The format, which we did last year as well, is that we are watching a screen. We have tons of views and what's unique now is that we can see reviews and previews of stuff. We can put riders next to each other and compare lines which we weren't able to do visually. So that's pretty amazing.

At first, we were kind of skeptical about how it was going to work out, but it actually turned out really good. There's a lot more focus in the room and it's quieter for all the judges in there. We're kind of in this little box with a massive screen and we can focus a lot better. It seemed to work out really well so we're going to stick with that.


Randy you re blue
Randy Spangler


How do you get the scores done so quickly?


Randy Spangler: That is just doing it for years and years and trying to have a system. You may have a guy that you may call 'The Hammer' who always hits hard on the scoring and have a judge that hits more as a rewarder, and that's fine as long as they stick with that throughout the whole judging. You take those five scores and add them together and that's where it comes out.

As far as doing it quickly, we do have a timeframe that we have to work with. We've got TV and so forth. We don't want riders to stand there looking around forever. And you know, they're excited from their run and so we try to be as quick as possible. In that timeframe, we're able to take our notes, look through them, and we can bring up the screen and look at stuff real quick if we need to and compare it. That way we can really be solid and also get our scores out as quick as we can.


Judge Bender amp Judge Spangler
Bender and Spangler with their scoring cards in 2013.


Are there any special considerations for the people who are building here for the first time?


Randy Spangler: No, it is what it is. Contest day is even for everyone across the board. The preparation they put in is part of it, but when it comes down to it, it's how it's ridden that day. The other part is getting there.


With Red Bull Rampage being less natural now, how does that compare to when you rode it?


Randy Spangler: It’s nowhere near as natural as when we rode it. There was no water, there were no buffed out lines, it was as raw as it could be.

Josh Bender: It's safer now. It's become way more of a production. The natural aspect of it has gone away in a sense. When you look at the mountain it's way more manicured and there's way more defined lines than the old days where we didn't even get tools.


Do you think it’s easier or harder now?


Randy Spangler: It’s a combination. Easier that they have the tools to make it better but harder since it’s bigger. Back when we were doing it it as harder because we didn’t have the watering capability and it was really like riding in sand and soft, loose dirt. A lot of times we’d land stuff or go to turn and flip over the bars where now having the watering capability lets them progress and move on past what we were able to accomplish.

Josh Bender: Easier.


Over the years many fans have felt that natural, raw creative lines haven’t been rewarded enough. What would you say to those people?


Randy Spangler: It’s a combination. That’s great it’s a natural line - that’s what we want to see at Rampage. But at the same time, tricks have come into play. To be able to progress to that level of tricks, it needs to be a little bit more manicured.

Josh Bender: Come out and ride.


With Brendan’s score last year, what were the elements holding that line back from a higher score?


Randy Spangler: It’s not necessarily the line that’s holds back the score, it’s everything combined into that.

Josh Bender: Tricks. Speed. It wasn't as Rampage, it was more a racer-built line.


What will it take to win this year?


Josh Bender: What it takes every year. What it takes to win Rampage is either you've got to be willing to stand on the podium or blow up trying. With the competitor field that we have this year, as always, it's anybody's game.

As judges, on game day we look for four categories. We judge on air and amplitude, tricks, line choice, style, speed and fluidity. Then we balance those over into a fifth score and that's the total overall, and then we drop the lowest score.

Randy Spangler: Nowaday's that's getting harder and harder. Really it's putting all the pieces of the puzzle together from top to bottom, and however that may be and where their puzzles lay. You want to look like you're in control, you want to look like you're confident, progressing and pushing the sport a bit since that's what this event is kind of about. So if you're putting all those together in your run and looking confident top to bottom and basically just throwing down, that's where you need to be.


94 Comments

  • 132 2
 Brendan's line a racer line... instead of a slopestyle line made by other guys. All amazing but his was the most fun to watch.
  • 68 1
 Thought that response was a bit flippant. Speed held him back, but his line was too racery? Not sure what hes getting at.
  • 29 13
 @aceface17: you don’t think these guys are aware of all the comments about Brendans score last year? You might be flippant too if you had thousands of people who have never even seen the venue (let alone ridden the contest) giving you shit about your judging.
  • 34 2
 @aceface17:

> Josh Bender: Tricks. Speed. It wasn't as Rampage, it was more a racer-built line.

I like how Josh just drops it. They want tricks, and maybe massive drops ~= Speed? To be fair Brendog didn't have a 60+ft drop last year IIRC, and his line was very technical. They're rewarding lines which look good (what makes the MTB world go 'round) advertisements. Tech riding is harder to immediately appreciate, so not so good for ads.

I love Brendog's line from last year. However, this isn't a community event for riders, it's an ad machine. So understandable what gets rewarded doesn't match what the online community is impressed by. They want riders going big for the footy.
  • 3 4
 @joshroppo: Whether anyone agrees with the judging or not I don't think there is any mystery too it. They lay it out pretty clear in the interview. They are looking for a combo of everything. Air, tricks, speed, style flow, etc. I love Brendan's line last year but if you watch it and hold it up to that criteria it really didn't stack up. It was gnarly as f*ck, but it didn't have alot of flow as there were 2 or 3 spots where he had to almost come to a full stop to approach a feature, and it didn't have much air or tricks with his only trick being a backflip on a pretty basic jump at the bottom.
  • 33 8
 Bender clearly doesn't know what he's talking about; he seems to be suggesting that riding rampage is harder than posting great, mega-propped, pinkbike comments...seriously?...these uninformed opinions don't write themselves you know
  • 36 4
 First thing I saw when looking at Brendog’s line was ‘racer’ ???? Lost a lot of respect for the judges reading this article.

Looks like the winner will be the person who gets down the fall line as quick as possible throwing in a massive drop, and big flip combos. It’s a great spectacle, but let’s be honest, it’s now just ‘extreme slope style’.
  • 15 0
 BRENDAN GOT ROBBED
  • 9 1
 @aceface17: The also states it "easier" and "safer" now. Sure, it's less raw but the size of the stunts is ridiculous. I'm not sure the stats back up his views either...
  • 20 3
 The judging at Rampage has always been off point. Listening to Benders interview, it's clear to see why.
  • 4 1
 @plyawn: I don't think its too off base to say its easier or safer now. They have alot more time and resources (like water) to build now. The features they are building are huge but they are also buffed out, drops have huge man made landings and run outs, jumps have perfect lips and landings, etc. These lines are completely dialed now. The consequences are still high because of the shear size but I would def say the overall risks of crashing are lower now. Watch the Tyler McCaul video posted a few days ago. He talks about going to his first Rampage in the earlier days to watch his brother and how he hated it and thought it was sketchy and the stupidest event because guys were just hucking and crashing all over the place. Obviously things have evolved for the better since then.
  • 10 1
 Judging at rampage is like judging figure skating. It's all their opinion. At least rampage is more enjoyable to watch then figure skating.
  • 5 4
 Rampage isn't a race - no one complained about Remy's scoring when he raced down the mountain. Was Fairclough's line underscored? Possibly. Was it a podium run? No. Fairclough got way more publicity than most riders inside the top 10 (definitely more than 5th to 9th place), and was still scored top 10 ensuring an invite this year. At the end of the day professional mountain biking is about generating exposure and hype, and for that Fairclough made out extremely well.

Looking forward to watching it all go down tomorrow!
  • 4 0
 @onemind123: check out video of Johnny Weir skating to Lady Gaga , now that’s enjoyable to watch
  • 11 1
 Yeah.. when read carefully, Bender contradicts himself, but between them they also laid it out there... saying repeatedly:
It's definitely easier now and nowhere near as natural, with manicured lines and tricks, whereas it was more Rampage/harder back in the natural gnar days. The mountain has been tamed.
Also,
What were the elements holding that line [Brendog's] back from a higher score?
Josh Bender: Tricks. Speed.
Judging:
We judge on air and amplitude, tricks, line choice, style, speed and fluidity.
Line choice is about the only thing a gnarly line could have going for it.
So they've pointed it out for us... people want to see big smooth confident tricked runs, not a "ohmigosh I can't believe he just survived riding that". Flashy stuff. Part of me is upset, and part of me feels bad for Bender. How does it feel to come from a freeride legend in the days of drops, gnar, and survival, help start Rampage, and see it morph into extreme slopestyle?
From his short answers, saying it's way easier now, and just the general feel, it almost appears Bender's a little ticked off... is he just mum cause RB pays the bills, or is he fine with this? Or is he annoyed by the interview or just grumpy? Telling everyone to go ride Rampage doesn't help the argument

Someone please tell Redbull there's already something called Fest.
  • 2 2
 @aceface17: COME OUT AND RIDE BRO!
  • 3 0
 A big part of rampage is and should be the Huck factor. simple.
  • 3 0
 @joshroppo: how many people complaining about the judging actually kept scorecards on the same timeline as the judges? Well nobody did. Just a bunch of emotion after the fact looking at things in an entirely different perspective than how the event actually occurred.

well he just laid it out on how to judge it. You might be surprised by your own results are once you go back and review your own score cards and watch various videos after the fact.
  • 85 2
 Winning it takes four things. Those seven things are air and amplitude, tricks, line choice, style, speed and fluidity. A fifth category is added for bullshit, and that's how the sausage gets made. Sounds messy.
  • 19 2
 as long as riders lose their feet mid air on the biggest drop and send the helmet 15 inches into the dirt- bender is scoring high. "life's too short not to go big- ya gotta go big" (queue the 80 foot drop to flat)
  • 9 0
 1. air and amplitude - 25 pts
2. Trick/style - 25 pts
3. Line Choice - 25 pts
4. Fluidity - 25 pts

5. Sum of all the above __/100
  • 2 0
 If you didn't read the whole article, just upvote this man and we'll look the other way.
  • 74 6
 Bender sounds too biased to be fairly judging IMO.
  • 4 29
flag samsq (Oct 24, 2019 at 11:31) (Below Threshold)
 Seriously? You know who you're talking about right?
  • 23 1
 @samsq: just because hes a legend, doesnt mean hes not biased
  • 1 1
 seriously
  • 3 1
 Well, he's a hucker.
  • 11 1
 They should rotate out the judges to at least keep things interesting. Had a lot more respect for bender before this article, he sounds like a hypocrite
  • 4 0
 @me2menow: Agree with your first sentence. I think these are good, thoughtful judges, but if balanced judging is important then switching out the judges more frequently would help. There is no doubt these particular judges favor a certain style of run even within the rules of Rampage; a different set may favor a slightly different style of run, again within the rules of Rampage. There are clearly loads of long-time bikers who loved Brendan's run, but after the last few years' results and after reading this article it appears that Bender and possibly others will never score his style of run highly. Which is fine, just not year after year when a racing line is held against him more than a slope line is against slopestyle riders. At a certain point you have to ask why does he continue to get invited with this slate of judges.
  • 5 6
 @laxguy: I don't know wether or not Bender is biased, but what I do know for certain is that he has more experience with freeride (especially big mountain, utah style freeride) than anyone on here. And what's more important is that he was actually there. He walked the track last year, he saw the lines with his own two eyes.

I'm pretty disappointed in you guys right now. This disrespect towards Bender is completely unwarranted.

Also it's pretty crazy to act like he is more biased towards guys who do big tricks considering how all Bender did was hit natural lines and huck big drops. You guys are treating him like he's a professional dirt jumper who only cares about flipping and spinning. Smh
  • 1 1
 @samsq: Sounds like you want to suck Bender off
  • 1 0
 @samsq: get your head out of your ass, snowflake.
  • 42 0
 Don’t go first
  • 4 0
 thats wildly true. Guys going early seem to get scored more conservatively. Guido Tschugg, qualifiers of 2008 is proof.
  • 2 9
flag nikifor88 (Oct 24, 2019 at 10:58) (Below Threshold)
 @SnowshoeRider4Life: brandon semenuk at 2016 joyride proved otherwise
  • 6 0
 @nikifor88: we'll were talking rampage soooo
  • 33 0
 They'd never do it but they should everyone ride first run...then give scores. then they all do the second run...and they do the scores again.
  • 4 0
 That surely would help!!!!
  • 2 2
 Best 2 combined scores wins!!!
  • 44 0
 A few years ago PEF suggested announcing scores after R1, and then doing it as normal for R2. I love that idea.
  • 34 0
 No wonder the judging is such a mess
  • 30 1
 I honestly don't care who wins or who gets high scores. The whole event is massively entertaining and inspiring. I just hope everyone is able to ride their line and not get hurt.
  • 1 0
 This!! I want to see nerve-wracking rides from every rider! Sending and landing and staying on their wheels. Of course it is different for the riders. Talking of market value...
  • 28 0
 Somebody's gettin' robbed.
  • 18 0
 Next Pinkbike poll. Who is most likely to get robbed this year?
  • 2 0
 @ssteve: this would be great
  • 25 2
 Judges can't admit they made a mistake with Brendog's score last year... (and i'm really surprised of some answers considering the riders that Bender and Spangler have been). All the builders should be judges, they are (excluded the riders) the ones who knows better the difficulty of a line. (obviously a builder can't judge his own rider). Have you seen Tippie's video? Nobody has named Lacondeguy or Rheeder or slopestyle guys...wonder why...Most named? Brendog, T-Mac... Now it's pretty clear: the rider that do more tricks win. There are no other judgement criteria... Not the speed, not the style, not the technical difficulty, not the originality... MORE TRICKS=WIN
  • 2 8
flag samsq (Oct 24, 2019 at 11:58) (Below Threshold)
 It's not a downhill race, it's a freeride competition. Tricks are part of freeride now for better or for worse.
  • 3 0
 @samsq: Part of, yes. But not overvalued.
  • 3 0
 @yoobee: It's about difficulty and risk. Straight airing a canyon gap looks cool and is pretty gnarly but (for example) doing a backflip off of a 40 ft flat drop is many orders of magnitude more dangerous and gnarly. The guys who go the hardest and do the craziest shit should get ranked the highest.
  • 25 4
 I don't know him, but Bender seems like a dick.
  • 20 2
 News flash: Bender is a D-bag and has ALWAYS been a D-bag. I met him once in the late 98 or 99 and he was a total d*ck. All he ever did is throw his tiny stupid body off a cliff. Wow! What a great rider! Said no one, ever.
  • 2 1
 Well he has a different perspective, which I think is good. We don't need Tony Hawk, mountain biker version, that's not what the sport's about in my opinion. He is a prominent founder of the sport, and his opinion is as valid as, "spin to win" or whatever you think he's begrudging.
  • 10 0
 I wonder how much a judges own personal strengths and weaknesses play into their scoring. Perfection isn't attainable. reducing bias is probably the hardest thing to eliminate from the process.
  • 5 0
 Like Randy said, bias towards a certain type of riding isn't much of a problem so long as it is consistent across all the riders as they're all scored the same.

Bias towards/against a certain rider on the other hand screws it all up.
  • 22 0
 You can definitely see in in Bender's answers. No real response about Brendan's score last year other than he didn't view him as a true Freerider. His answer about the difficulty these days was crap as well. "Back in my day we didn't have fancy tools and easy buttons like water..."
  • 18 1
 @salespunk: The most jackass thing was then he challenged people who thought it was getting easier to come ride it, right after he said it was way easier now. I don't really care how much shit they've gotten from Brendan's run last year (I thought others were also robbed), he comes off as an ass.
  • 11 1
 Has Randy Spangler ever done a porn film? He should. He has a name for porn.
  • 29 0
 As do you
  • 5 0
 @nyhc00: i dont think thats porn anyone would like to see
  • 8 0
 @nikifor88: Tell that to Richard Gere.
  • 5 0
 @toast2266: ill tell him next time we meet
  • 3 1
 Josh "Bender over" and randy spank-ler could do pornos together too.
  • 7 0
 Judges need to see the first run of all the riders, then judge the first run. Same for the second. That would help judges comparing runs.
  • 18 2
 Doesn’t matter, as the article shows, again, there is no real judging system in place anyway, it’s just a bunch of guys rating who they know and like.
  • 4 0
 Comments TL;DR... Dunno if it was said before, but I would like to see the initial judging take place AFTER the 1st runs have gone down. We have the tech to review them all side by side and really get a true comparison. I think most of us probably feel that Bren's score would have been higher had he come down the hill later in the day. Maybe I'm wrong, but that seems to be the most fair to me when these dudes are literally hucking themselves off cliffs risking everything.
  • 4 0
 Bender on Brendog: "Tricks. Speed. It wasn't as Rampage, it was more a racer-built line."
Bender on what it takes to win: "We judge on air and amplitude, tricks, line choice, style, speed and fluidity."
  • 6 0
 Not dying and doing tricks is probably high up on the list.
  • 7 1
 Must be cool having your porn star names as your real names
  • 4 0
 You can't land a 70 foot drop to a natural landing. Bender can attest to that.
  • 1 0
 Hmmm now we know why the judging can be controversial..... I thought Fairclough had the line that would be what Rampage is about. I wish the format was the riders taking different lines. All the grooming is necessary but makes it more parky not Rampage.
  • 3 2
 Benders contradictions:

Is Rampage easier or harder now? Bender: Easier
For people who complain it's to easy now? Bender: Ride it

Bender: It was way more natural in my day
Bender: Brendog's line wasn't "Rampage" enough, needs more tricks

Bender: We judge based on 4 categories
Lists 12 categories.

He should probably sit this one out.
  • 4 1
 Beeennnnddderrrrrrr!!!!.......(sorry we used to say that in junior high as fans of his.)
  • 4 1
 "Josh Bender: easier."
  • 15 0
 Bender never built landings...of course its easier now. lol
  • 4 0
 @MikeyMT: that's not true, he built a lander for the bender sender in 04 lolol
  • 4 0
 @MikeyMT: No point building a landing if you have no chance of actually riding out of it. Especially on those POS's he rode.
  • 2 0
 Is that YT photoshopped in on the "YT" booter?
  • 1 1
 #WhackAF
  • 1 0
 I find it funny that Bender thinks it's easier now. I'd like to see him try and stick any of the lines they ride now.
  • 6 9
 I don't particularlyike BDog as I felt ripped of spending £16 on Deathgrip when I came out and it was just 10 mins of footage in x8 and x10000 slomo. I thought his comments on making UCI DH an elitist F1 style league excluding amateurs and only having a top 20 was a bit shit too. However he was robbed last year and I hope he gets the score he deserves this time. Credit due were credit due BDog. I really hope Semenuk has a good day. When he does, everything else is just pale in comparison. Andrea is slick with the tricks but with some more free freeriding could deserve the win.
  • 9 1
 What lol
  • 7 3
 @nskerb: yeah, that OP is like the MTB equivalent of "Has Anyone Really Been Far Even as Decided to Use Even Go Want to do Look More Like?"
  • 3 0
 Deathgrip film is nearly an hour long. I think you watched the trailer on too many pints of lager.
  • 2 0
 @endlessblockades: yeah because it's in slomo.
  • 6 0
 @joshroppo: are you really confused? hes saying "i don't really like brendawg (and heres why) but i still think he got robbed" a perfectly reasonable opinion
  • 1 0
 Mind you so does Josh Bender...
  • 2 3
 Just make the riders the judges, they mark each other, obvs not themselves, highest score wins, announced end of the day, no one gets robbed, party on.
  • 4 1
 You don't think riders can be biased too? Why do you automatically assume it would be fair that way? These guys all know each other, some are good friends, some not.
  • 1 2
 @sino428: unfortunately you have automatically assumed I care about your opinion on anything and like a lot of folk on here I really don't...
  • 1 1
 @Uncled: What exactly are you expecting when you post in a comment section then?
  • 1 0
 Let the public judge one year..
  • 1 1
 This was such a great article! Cheers for that!
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