PEF is one of the undisputed good guys of freeride mountain biking. We sat down in Massa Marittima, Italy to catch up with the 6-time Rampage veteran.
So how does a BMX kid from Lyon become a pro freerider?
As a child I always dreamed about Paris-Dakar, off road stuff, outdoor things. Adventure and being out in the elements. In France at the time there wasn't really a culture of "recreation"—it was all about sport, competition, winning. I never had that impulse. My whole life, from very young, has been about riding for fun and riding for myself.
I was a nightmare as a kid I think. There was a BMX track where I lived, and I always bugged my mum to go ride it. I had a shitty old BMX, and finally when I was about 8 my mum brought me to those big mountains of dirt, and that was it. It's funny, being so young at the track was rare then, but now we see 5 year olds with TLD helmets and carbon bikes doing crazy things.
I did good at BMX racing, and my parents supported that and took me to races. Performance was never the goal in my family. Not like other kids' parents who said "if you do 1st place on Sunday you get new Profile cranks." My mum was like "if you break your cranks, MAYBE you'll get new ones for your birthday." So from age 8 to age 20 I was racing almost every weekend. I was a top-5 French racer, but I had fun regardless of if qualified for the race or if I won. I think I was strong mentally, and didn't chase low level sponsorships, free bike parts or whatever.
I switched to MTB pretty late, at 25. I was in school and focused on finishing my degree with the thought I was just going to get a regular job after. Once I graduated I wanted to improve my English, so I decided to go to Canada. That was 2005, and I was there for 9 months. I took English classes downtown, and lived in West Van—near Gully's old place actually. In Canada I got so stoked on MTB, got hooked up with OnTop Bike Shop, and was hanging out with Digger. A proper North Shore experience, riding skinnies and doing shows with the Flo Show and Dangerous Dan, Tyler Super T Klassen, etc. After English school was done I moved to Whistler and started riding the bike park every day. I met all my heroes, I was so stoked to ride with Richie Schley.
Slopestyle was just starting then in the mid-2000s, and one day Richie came to me and asked if I want to ride Slopestyle for Crankworx. I was like "I'm not sure I'm good enough" but he thought I could do well and that it'd be good to have a French guy in the competition.
I headed down and was washing my bike, and I thought "f*ck, I just got an invite, what am I doing? f*ck yeah I'm going to do it, just to see what all the features in the Boneyard are like and hang with the boys." I told him I'm in, game on.
I was the last to qualify, sneaking in 10th place. Then the next day it was 25 riders for semis, with 12 people going on into the Superfinals. Guess what, I got 12th place and moved on! I remember Brad Ewen, he didn't know me at all, just called me "Lucky Pierre". I ended up in 9th place, and was stoked to get top 10. I didn't really think about it as significant, just for fun.
I went back to France and of course nobody knew what Crankworx really was. But by then I was a "real" mountain biker. I knew I wanted to ride so much in my life, but still focus on fun and didn't think of it as a career. I worked all winter to save up for another trip to Canada, and then in March I got an email to go to the Adidas Slopestyle in Saalbach. I was stoked, went to Austria, drank some beers, and rode some bikes. Back in those days it was less of a sport, and more of an experiment. Everything was pretty loose, I remember I rode my DH bike in Crankworx.
From that Adidas Slopestyle that's where things really started for me. The guys at adidas were already looking to make a team, and Vincent Saccomani was like "oh the boss wants to talk to you."
I was worried I was in trouble, but he offered me a spot on their team! I was stoked, but said I needed to work in the winter so I wasn't sure I'd be available for when he wanted me to travel. And he was like "no no, we're going to pay you to ride bikes!"
Pretty easy decision from there. Ok, lets do it aha. That was 2006.
How did you transition from slopestyle to freeride?
By 2011 I was over it. Over travelling and shows and shitty comps. I was 30 years old by then, and had mentally moved on from tricks and slopestyle. I had industry offers to transition to the development side of the business, and I was going to stop my career, but I was still good, still winning things like Suzuki 9 Knights, getting photos and stuff.
Vincent [Saccomani] knew I had a goal to ride Rampage, so we made a video to try to qualify. I didn't really believe in it, there was no way they would invite me. And then I got the invite for 2012, and I went with the same state of mind as my 1st Crankworx: to watch from the inside, ride with my friends, have fun, hang out, build, and ride in the best place on earth—lets go for it. I remember my goal was to not get hurt, because I wanted to enjoy my off season and get lots of riding in!
I arrived Sunday, and started building Monday without really having tried riding in the desert. Honestly that made me aim too low with my build. I took kind of an easy line, smaller stuff, and luckily I qualified for finals. I don't remember how I placed, but what I remember for that trip is it was the first time I hung out with Tommy G. A really good friendship started, we told ourselves we need to come back the next year.
We both got the invite again in 2013. In terms of freeride I was more experienced than Tommy, and we went there for 2 weeks on the old site ahead of time. I made Tommy camp in the desert with no wifi... people who know him wont believe it, but it's true. He got SO much better every day, stepping it up. This is why I ride bikes, so stoked to share the experience, riding with friends. I didn't mind if he's kicking my ass at Rampage, but I still go steeper than him though. (laughs)
The rest is history, it's been 6 Rampages now. I'd love to go again if I get the call this year. Barber, hit me up!
We've seen a contingent of younger freeride guys come up in France recently. Who are you excited about seeing develop?
When I started there weren't many freeriders in France. Christopher Hatton was really the only other guy in here doing this stuff. No infrastructure, no foam pits, nowhere to practice. At some point I transformed my backyard DJs into more of a slopestyle training grounds. All those kids started coming to my house—Yannick Granieri, Louis Reboul, all the guys from around Lyon.
Louis Reboul is like my little brother. He calls me Uncle PEF. He was my neighbour as a kid, he was so shy. Now he's not, especially after a few beers. But yeah, now Louis is teaching me tricks. I'm stoked on seeing Louis come up... It's great to have someone drop in first. f*cking Americans sending me down Rampage first.
You've got a mechanical engineering degree, how does that fit into your career?
It definitely takes time for companies to understand what I can offer beyond riding. With some of my sponsors it's working really well quickly, while with some others its more complicated. For example with Michelin my riding is only 20% of my contract, and 80% of my contract is for development. When I signed with Fox they understood clearly where I wanted to go and do, which is so cool.
I see myself doing some more of that in the future. But honestly I’m almost getting to the point like 13 years ago—maybe eventually I'll get a job in the winter and ride in the summer. It’s so easy to get trapped in this industry, brands think they’re doing you a favour if you get a job in the business and get no time to ride. If it goes well I’ll be stoked to keep going for a long time, but if not, that’s cool too. I’ll work in the winter, and ride a TON in the summer. Life is short! I’m 36, and not going to be able to jump off cliffs forever, but I’ll always want to enjoy my bike.
I think people need to understand that about this career. It’s not about free bikes and travel. Lots of kids come to me and say they want to follow my path
and be a pro MTBer. I ask if they love bikes. Like, REALLY love bikes? Because if you really do love bikes, you're going to ride 10 hours a day, and at some point you’ll be better than everyone else. From there, the rest will come. The most successful guys here are SO passionate. People don’t see it but guys like Tommy G, Semenuk, they wake up and think about riding 100%. Pushing themselves because they are passionate. They wake up like “today I want to do a decade” not just for contests, but because they want to progress.
Where do you think bikes have the biggest opportunity to improve from today? Where would you push the industry if you could?
This is hard! I think I would want to make the entry level bikes as reliable and good as possible. Bikes are SO good now when you pay $6K. Some people don't have as much money, but have the same passion. So often it's the guy who can only afford a $2K bike that rides way more and better and loves it.
So I’d like to see brands think outside the box to get to cheaper, more reliable bikes. I know it costs a lot to develop, but I think it’s possible to keep moving things forward. If you want to build a spaceship you’re not going to need airplane wings.
We chatted a bit yesterday about Rampage judging and internet comments—what's your take?
Yeah I see it differently than some others for sure. It's part of my attitude from day one I think. For sure it sucks to get under scored and we all train so hard to do 2 runs and not crash. But at the end of the day the people who are the judges that day make the call and you have to accept it. I do judging for the FMB, and people don’t realize it’s so hard. It's even harder for Rampage since you judge both a line as well as a run.
Sure it’s not perfect, I’m sometimes also mad on the inside at the overall scoring, but it’s a judgement call. If people don’t accept this, they should do racing, or play golf. No judging there. Or come and try to help the people judging for the future—give feedback, re-watch the contest, try to add something constructive. On the other side, judges do need to listen.
The consequences are so high. I know wanted to drop into our Rampage chute first, because if Zink or Strait went first and got sketchy it would have been so much worse for me to drop in after. With all that at stake, it would be awesome if we could have more interaction between organizer, rider, judge, tv production, etc... For example, I think it’s nearly impossible to give accurate scores immediately on the 1st run. I would love to see all 1st runs, have the judges discuss, and post results. Then on the 2nd run you can do scores right away and it would be a lot more predictable, I think.
Honestly Rampage was awesome this year. Everyone rode so good, everyone killed it. I’m just glad about that. I ended up 15th, and I'm more happy about this year than last year where I was top 10. Scoring is only a small part of the whole event.
You're here in Massa at Bike Connection Winter to help the Fox crew launch a new helmet. Were you involved in their development process?
I got a FLUX prototype in my hands about 6 months ago, and got to give some feedback. I was more involved with the Attack Pro clothing line. Jersey, jacket, and pants (I like riding with pants). It’s funny, my parents had a store making clothing, and now I find myself working with designers on clothing. Pretty cool!
We've recently seen a lot of your generation of freeriders branch out into more webisode-based lifestyle content, seek eMTB sponsorships, and grow their brands on social media. Any plans in that direction for you?
I’m stoked that people are having success with stuff, and happy if things work for them if they really like do to it. I just don’t think people should just do it for the views and the paycheck. I don't want to say I don’t like this new marketing stuff, and then be doing it in two years. I’m sure there’s stuff I’ll be doing with sponsors and with media—I’m not old fashioned. I just want to do things my own way.
I think everyone is different. All this internet-computer-social-media-cell-phone stuff isn’t really me. I'd rather go work in an office and ride on the weekends than forcing myself to do a social media personal brand or webisodes or whatever if it isn't true to myself. If I do it, I want to do it right, do it from my passion.
For example, 10 years ago I did “stunt of the month” for a magazine. That’s almost similar to what people now do on YouTube. I thought it was really something cool that we did it, people were interested, and I loved doing it. But now I dunno. I haven’t really thought about it!
It's clear that a positive attitude is important to how you approach life. How does that help?
It’s cool to win, but it’s cooler to ride. I think I've always had a positive attitude. A guy like Loic Bruni is a competitor, he’s working his ass off to WIN, while I always like pushing myself rather than forcing myself. I think that’s really helped me.
I spent a lot of time with R-Dog last summer. I f*cking love that guy. He was stoked to get invited to Rampage, but it was last minute so he wasn’t that prepared mentally about his line. The first day we were working on the mountain he was a bit lost about where he should go. It was super spontaneous, but I told him he should ride my line from last year. I think some people were surprised, and he was stoked, but for me doing that is normal. You don’t own things, I worked hard last year on that, did my thing, and now I’m on something new. If you help, do your thing, of course you can ride it.
Same with the Zink and Strait line off the top, it wasn’t like “oh I wanna do that line you want, I've been thinking about it longer”
and claiming it. We just went to the top and discussed it. Sometimes you think about how you want to ride things and end up with different approaches. It was super serious, we were serious about it. We pictured it a certain way, and shared a vision on how it could be possible, and from there we shared the build to accomplish it together.
So at the end of the competition, they asked me to go into the finals corral and I didn't really know why since I finished like 16th or something. It meant so much to me when I realized it was for the Kelly McGarry award. Kelly was like a brother, and that honestly meant more than winning to me. When you have all your mates from riding appreciating your attitude, it’s the sweetest feeling. That meant the world to me.
Thanks for chatting. Anything you'd like to add?
Just get out and have fun on your bike, it's all that matters in the end!