Story by: Scott Secco
10 years ago, Ryan Gibb made the best mountain bike movie of all-time, and then he vanished.
His film ‘’Life Cycles,’’ with co-director Derek Frankowski, was an instant classic. Gibb wanted to capitalize and was ready to make a sequel, but nothing ever materialized. Instead, Gibb got married, had three kids with wife Kaylee, and became a commercial director, doing spots for Acura, Honda, New Balance, and Budweiser, among others. In 2016, Gibb made a brief comeback, directing the first DreamRide
film, but then he returned to commercials.
Ryan Gibb, our fearless leader
Nico Vink, rider, builder, gentleman
In September 2018, I got the call. ‘’It’s going to happen!’’ Ryan Gibb, would be directing a feature-length bike movie.
It’s November 11th 2018 and Liam Mullany, Austin Hopkins, and I are standing in the Denver airport, asking about our connecting flight. ‘’It’s been cancelled,’’ we’re told ‘’there’s snow in Santa Fe.’’ We stayed the night in a cheap hotel and when we landed in Santa Fe, Gibb was there to greet us. It was still snowing half-heartedly as we loaded his truck with all the camera equipment we’d brought with us. ‘’Well shit boys, this won’t be so bad, it’ll be melted tomorrow I’m sure,’’ said Gibb.
Liam Mullany (left) and Scott Secco (right)
Austin Hopkins, master of all trades
We stopped at Whole Foods and REI and loaded up on snacks and supplies. We were driving to Cimarron, New Mexico: elevation 6,430 ft (1960m), population 899. It’s a small village in Colfax County on the eastern edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Cimarron is most famous for being a major base for the Scouts Of America. The Philmont Scout Ranch is located there: 140,000 acres of rugged wilderness, home to 35 camps, and the site of over one million scout visits since its founding in 1939. It was also the perfect location for our shoot. A vast swath of the scout ranch had been decimated by the Ute Park Fire in May.
Gibb’s concept for the film centered around his own experience as a parent. The movie would focus on Cam McCaul and his family. Cam would use highly stylized riding segments as visual metaphors for lessons he wanted to impart on his two daughters. Our New Mexico shoot starred Nico Vink, and it was meant to symbolize perseverance. Gibb planned to use fire in the segment to illustrate this, which is why we were in Philmont.
Winter hit us hard
The Ute Park Fire burnt about 36,740 acres (149 km2) and a large swath of it was on the Philmont Scout Ranch. Brittany Gibeau, a producer on the segment, had scoured Google Earth and Philmont seemed to have the right cocktail of terrain, burn, and its being private property. We contacted the Ranch and they agreed to let us stay for three weeks of shooting. As we drove from Sante Fe to Cimarron we could see patches of snow on either side of the highway. It was a few inches, a light skiff at best. We arrived at the ranch and the rest of the crew met us from a day of building: Nico Vink, our athlete, photographer Bruno Long, and Philmont staffer Ben Harper, our point man.
The next morning we woke up, and drove up to the zone. It had snowed more than we thought. Nico had picked out two different spots to build stunts for the video and both hillsides were covered in over a foot of snow. ‘’No problem!’’ we thought, that New Mexico sun would melt it in no time. The next day was even colder, and when we returned the snow sat where we’d left it, implacable, and completely stonewalling our shoot. We remained optimistic; we could just build more stunts while we waited for the melt.
The first week passed in a blur of shovels, pickaxes, rakes, and chainsaws. The entire crew hit the tools hard and built a series of film-worthy lines under Nico’s expert guidance. But as jumps and berms rose out of the ground, we noticed the snow wasn’t going anywhere. At this point we started realizing this snow might be sticking around for a while, so we switched to plan b. We spent the next week shovelling a foot of snow off of the equivalent of three footballs fields.
With our trails cleared out to ride, we faced our next problem. We realized we could only shoot certain directions without seeing entire mountainsides covered in snow in the background of shots. This was severely limiting, as we wanted it to look as if we were shooting in a real forest fire.
Between building stunts and clearing snow, we didn't even turn our cameras on for the first 10 days. We had a Hollywood studio's worth of high end camera gear for the shoot, and it was collecting dust. Thankfully, our snow removal efforts had begun to pay off. With cameras finally rolling, we discovered our next problem: the smoke and fire didn't look good when shot in full daylight. Thus, we were limited to shooting in the 60 minute window between the sun dipping behind the mountain, and it getting too dark for our cameras. This gave us a ton of time to get creative in the middle of the day. Liam Mullany shot incredible 1,000 FPS macro shots of fire swirling, which you can see throughout the video. Mullany and Austin Hopkins also worked their magic on the cable cam. It takes a heart surgeon's precision to pull off high speed cable shots with an 85mm and keep the rider sharp in frame.
When Gibb had explained his concept for the shoot, we were enthusiastic. It never occurred to us just how complicated the logistics would be. Our tiny crew had to run smoke machines, sprint back to our cameras, and then get Nico to hit the line within a 30 second window before wind blew the smoke away. And we were still limited by a 60 minute window of light to film with, and by the snow covered mountains on two sides (which we had to keep out of frame). Maintaining consistent smoke also proved to be elusive. We used handheld foggers and a trick from the commercial world: the so-called ‘’Fog Tube Of Death.’’ The fog tube didn’t turn out to be nearly as exciting as we’d hoped. It’s basically a smoke machine puffing into a 100-foot long plastic bag, which has been perforated to allow smoke to escape throughout its length. It’s used on Hollywood sets to smoke huge swaths of land for things like Game Of Thrones, but unfortunately it didn’t work very well for us. The wind seemed to blow the smoke the wrong way every time and eventually we just gave up on it.
We ended up getting to film Vink riding for just four days. A truly abysmal failure thanks to Mother Nature’s snowy wrath. We left Cimarron knowing we’d have to return later; there weren’t even tire tracks on most of our builds.
Gibb with the Fog Tube Of Death
We spent the Christmas holidays reviewing what we’d shot. We could all see the potential in the footage we’d captured, but there just wasn’t enough of it to make a full segment. There were too many builds left un-filmed; too many shots that got away. We continued to chat more about the movie, but as we rolled into 2019 we got word that the movie was going in a different direction. Still, Gibb was determined to finish this segment and bring his vision to life.
Liam Mullany harvesting with the Phantom
Months rolled by, and Gibb and Vink are back in Cimarron. This time, Gibb had two weeks and a new crew: Keith Nelson, Tony Olmsted, Jessie Jones, Brecken Dalley, and Arnie Rodriguez (Mullany, Hopkins, Long, and myself were unavailable). They spent the first few days fixing up old builds and managed to get five days of shooting in. Then a storm hit and turned the road into an impassable quagmire. After giving things time to dry out, they finally made it back into the zone and surveyed the damage. They buffed the lines out again, and limped along for a few more days, before another storm hit and ended the second shoot for good.
Over the course of two trips, Gibb and Vink spent seven weeks in Cimarron and were able to shoot for approximately sixteen hours total. Through it all, Vink was a trooper. Hard working, positive, and an artist on the bike. I don’t think there are many riders who would put up with hours of smoke inhalation or multiple hot embers burning holes in their riding kit.
The production ended up self-financing the second trip, and much of the music, sound design, colour correction, and post work. At times, it must have felt like a Sisyphean task for Gibb to try and realize the vision he’d had with this segment, and the movie as a whole. Thankfully, Reverse Components and Öhlins stepped up to support this project and get it across the finish line. Maybe one day the world will get to enjoy another Ryan Gibb mountain bike film. Until then, we hope you enjoy this video.
Teton Gravity Research Sponsors:
Öhlins & Reverse Components
Liam Mullany, Scott Secco, Ryan Gibb, & Austin HopkinsStill Photography
: Bruno LongScore
: Blitz//Berlin (Link to song)Post Production Sound:
Sam GillingPost Work:
Dan GaudTrail Building:
Nico Vink & Tony Olmsted Special Thanks:
Kaylee Gibb, Tony Olmsted, Jessie Jones, Sean Larsen, Keith Nelson, Steve Nelson, Ben Harper, Brecken Dalley, Sam Eastman, Danner Hampton, Dylan Friedt, Brittany Gibeau, & Brett HillsStory: