Rider Perspective: Mike Hopkins on Rampage

Mar 9, 2014
by Mike Hopkins  
Rampage 2013 seems to have people asking a few more questions than years past. Once again the event blew minds and solidified itself as our sport's true amphitheater of “Ah”. But this year, amidst the hype and athletic achievements there was an undeniable notion of consequence. Keep in mind this is an opinion, just my opinion. Before we get rolling, the aim here is constructive. You can take these points however you like, but from my seat, I’m just putting a few thoughts on a page.

Mike Hopkins 2013 RedBull Rampage in Virgin Utah

Rampage has a long standing history as the pinnacle of our sport, and it has served that position admirably. Over the years the event has played host to moments that define mountain biking, and this year was no different. It’s also our gateway to the mass market. On occasion throughout the year we are given the key that unlocks television screens across the globe. But even in this realm of production Rampage stands alone. For two hours viewers take a raw, unfiltered step into the framework of freeride mountain biking.

I thought about throwing in some wordy paragraph defending our livelihoods as professionals, not the handful of lunatics… but threw that in the bin so we can get to the point. Rampage needs to see some changes.

From my perspective, this past event had a different feel to it. It lacked fun. This year I actually looked around and questioned why we were all there. Risk was outweighing reward ten-fold. The seed of the issue was a shortened event window. In previous years you could show up to the venue and start building a week in advance. Timelines weren’t an issue. But in 2013 build time and practice were packed into a four day period. Four days to transform an exposed face into a line, and with limited time and energy, try to piece together a practice session before putting a run together for the judges and public. Athletes are putting themselves in uncomfortable and compromising situations because they haven’t had enough time to work through what they’ve built. In the start gate for finals guys were dropping into sections they hadn’t even had a chance to ride. Given that careers, livelihoods, and in all honesty, lives are on the line, this is unacceptable. The word “unacceptable” probably sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s fitting.

Medics helicopters firemen quads. Must be a Red Bull event.

bigquotesAthletes are putting themselves in uncomfortable and compromising situations because they haven't had enough time to work through what they've built. In the start gate for finals guys were dropping into sections they hadn't even had a chance to ride. Given that careers, livelihoods, and in all honesty, lives are on the line, this is unacceptable.

We all want to see the best show. Event organizers and viewers tune in to see the best, and athletes want to give their best. But without ample prep time our “Best” is shadowed by the “I’ll see how it goes” factor. There needs to be more time allocated to build and practice. Not just the addition of a day, but days. Allow athletes the opportunity to get comfortable and confident with their lines. Will we be pushing it? Of course. But with much fewer question marks. A confident and (somewhat) comfortable field will result in a higher quality and safer event. Rampage has reached the point of motocross in terms of physical exposure. The size of the features and aggressive nature of the lines carry heavy repercussions. Any way we can make the event safer I’ll support it. Without a doubt there needs to be a change to the pre-showtime schedule. In an ideal world I would even say the event should adopt a 3 day weather window for finals like a surf competition, to ensure the best window for a complete contest. Bottom-line… fewer question marks, more fun.

While we’re on the topic of having a good-time. Every athlete approaches Rampage in their own way. Some are out there with only the top step of the podium in mind, others are looking to risk everything to solidify their place in two wheeled history, regardless we’re all there on our own agendas looking to break personal barriers for no one other than ourselves. My attitude towards Rampage is simple. I want to show people my perspective of mountain biking. Big, Fast, and Flowing… Fluidity. If it makes a viewer think, “That looks fun,” than I’m a happy guy. Am I going out there to push myself? Absolutely. But I am also out there for personal entertainment. I love mountain biking and I love Rampage. It is my outlet to show people what riding is, fun. If my run scores well than great, if not, I’m not too worried about it, as long as I do justice to riding the line as I see it in my head. Is this the wrong competitive approach? Maybe. Do I care? Not really. Riding looks its best when an athlete is excited about what their riding and that’s my aim at each Rampage.

Hopkins started work early on his redemption line.

A few blunt and to-the-point thoughts: We’re not in it for the money, but there needs to be more of it. While everyone is profiting off the exploits of the contest, the athletes are taking home the smallest piece of the monetary pie. If this was a small contest there would be no question of rewards, but Rampage is not a small event. It is one of a few contests that actually has the ability to generate proper compensation for the athletes. For a little perspective, if an athlete were to attend Rampage without the support of personal sponsors, everyone placing out of the top 5 would be out of pocket. The number of riders falling into the red climbs even higher up the podium once you factor in the expenses of your much needed build crew. Personally I think the event organizers and sponsors should team up to book out the entire Zion River Resort which lies a few hundred yards from the venue's entrance, have all the athletes, diggers, media staying at the same location. Bring a tent, bring an RV, whatever, but have everyone at the same spot, have BBQ’s, take care of the athletes and their teams.

Hopkins. Redemtion.

I am not a competition athlete, in fact Rampage is the only contest I do all year, but when it comes to prize money something is off. The payouts should be higher and extend down the results sheet. Bump up the incentive. The fact that there was a $17,500 difference between first and second place doesn’t exactly sit well. The average cameraman takes home more than the athlete coming in 5th. I understand that there are huge amounts of energy and budget involved to make Rampage happen and distribute it to households worldwide, and I respect and appreciate those behind the scenes. But I also understand that in the grand Rampage picture the athletes are at the bottom of the barrel. Granted, this won’t change until us athletes actually make an effort to shift things.

Rampage is essential. It’s the truest definition of our sport. I love the concept of the competition, but in my mind it could use a few tweaks… and no wood.

www.mike-hopkins.com


80 Comments

  • + 75
 This is a great article. I agree fully that more time needs to be given, it allows riders to push themselves without such risk of getting seriously injured due to exhaustion from cramming everything into a four day period. If they're more comfortable on their line then chances are they'll ride with more style. This is the event that's on national TV, we want our sport to be represented well and keep our top riders alive. Awesome write up Mike, I'm glad this is being brought to attention.
  • + 15
 It kind'a bite itself in the but. It's been known for a while that Redbull really doesn't take good care of the riders, diggers etc.. so in a way they are digging there own hole by not taking good care of everybody. Buy a F1 wing less this year and spend it on these hardcore guys that put on a show for us!!.. great article Mike
  • + 20
 Another important thing is Red Bull should definitely cover ALL the expenses if a rider does get hurt. It really surprised me when I read that Logan Bingelli interview and he said that KHS helped him to pay them after his injury, but Red Bull didn't pay anything. Come on red bull step it up!
  • + 20
 I hate to say it, but a boycott would be the only way. The show can't happen without the athletes. Make a union, or accept low pay forever.
  • + 18
 I agree with you about a boycott -- if there are no riders, there is no Rampage. These men are putting their lives on the line for the entertainment of a nation and the economic benefit of a few corporations, but have no medical assistance for injuries? They're barely breaking even without sponsor dollars? And then expected to dig, build, practice, and then compete in desert heat and extreme conditions within four days? Are you KIDDING ME??

The athletes already step up, but they need to start stepping up in a different way: they need to stand together and demand better conditions and consideration. Without that, nothing will happen.
  • + 3
 No more wood
  • + 5
 @nehuen93

Redbull is the event sponsor, I can't think of any sport in the world where the event sponsor covers any medical cost of the athletes involved. that would be like akin to Petronas covering Medical expenses for F1 drivers that get hurt at the Grand Prix of Malaysia or UNICEF paying medical bills for one of Barcelona FC football players.

I'm going to get neg propped for this but...
  • + 0
 @pinkbikewhisperer
I think RB is more than just a sponsor, I understand it's the organizer of the event. Anyway if it is just the sponsor I agree with you.
  • + 1
 That's exactly what I was thinking. If a nfl player hurts himself on the field they don't send the bill to the stadium or event planners. If your dealing in a danger filled arena you should have some health insurance. When I planned on being a pro rider as a kid and found out how little pros made I figured the cost of everything including medical into plans. After breaking some bones and paying the price for not having insurance I when't and got some I also don't make a lot of money so it was a hard choice. Just food for thought
  • + 22
 Completely agree. I think this stuff is good to hear from an athlete that took part in the event.
  • + 32
 I'd def like to see the athletes getting the better part of the investment. Step it up Redbull.
  • + 13
 The thing Redbull should understand is that the changes that are good for the riders are good for the audience, too and therefore good for Redfbull. If the best riders aren't enticed to come, if the riders aren't stoked, if they can't ride their best, or they can't even finish the comp, then the audience isn't stoked either. I don't know. Maybe they're catering to the general public who will tune in for a minute to just watch a guy risk his life for a moment. But as a serious mountain biker, while we saw historical moves, the last rampage was super frustrating to watch and left a lot of us with a bittersweet taste in our mouths. Sweet for Cam and Kyle, but bitter for everyone who didn't get to ride to their fullest, count their second run, or even make a second run. We hear over and over that Rampage is the pinnacle of our sport. Okay. So treat the riders like they're the pinnacle and run the event like it's the pinnacle.
  • + 7
 One issue I have with the air date of this event is that it's almost 3 months past the actual day when it's rebroadcast by NBC. I think if Redbull wants to increase their audience, they need to get this event LIVE, to EVERYONE, RIGHT AWAY! and make a big deal out of it or just get it over to ESPN and screw NBC all together. I'm all for the internet broadcast, I'm sure my internet provider was rubbing their hands together as I sat down and link 6 hrs of streaming video. But if they can do it for hockey, baseball, basketball, autoracing, the XGAMES!!, heck, they can get this event in live. Especially if they're not going to provide the athletes with a window. If they're going to force them to ride a specific day, hell ya this can be a live event and not rebroadcast half into December when everyone has anything BUT mountain biking on their minds. I tuned in though as you say it's the pinnacle of our sport, who plays golf and doesn't watch the Masters....any biker be you a roadie, DJ, moutain, trials, a friggen unicyclist etc. can appreciate the talent here that's for sure, come on RedBull, help these guys out!!!

I'm still wondering when one of the ladies are gonna get into this event? Any bets on who's first? With Dan and Gee as brothers, I'm surprised Rachael hasn't given this a go yet....
  • + 5
 Also the 3 month wait means the surf-esque weather window would be totally workable. It's not as if it has to happen now or never, if it's not aired for 3 months.
  • + 2
 I used to love watching the practice vids and quallies in 2008. I say definitely more practice time and a bigger wind window. Start practice and quallies on Wednesday and choose between Saturday and Sunday for finals weather dependent. There does need to be another big mountain event without wood but, this is the evolution version of rampage and as Bourdo said in the promo's for Rampage's return they brought slopestyle and freeride together for the sickest comp ever. A one year boycott would be painful but, not as painful as watching one of my heroes die for chump change. It does have to be now or never when there are 3d camera carrying helicopters in the air. It's hard to tell with the weather and it is always good if there is some rain then a clear period like in 08 and before quallies this year. P.S. I want a freeride DVD of Rampage again they were awesome.
  • + 13
 "and no wood" lmao
  • + 8
 Agreed. One commercial during the broadcasting of rampage costs more than what all of the riders make combined!
  • + 5
 Well written Mr. Hopkins!!! The man can Ride, write and is killer behind the lens as well. Love the idea of coming to Utah and taking care of all the food for the Athletes and teams. Hope your having a great time in NZ!! MTN Chef
  • + 2
 not to mention skiing.. raw raw athlete there fer sure!
  • + 3
 100% right on. Now, capitalist system. Then ownership decisions regarding value of labor( riders, cameramen..everyone else) is purely predicated on the value of said labor to the create the product.

The camera man gets paid. Its the principal reason for his being there to work. He is alos probably union. COntractually, the odds are good that the commercial entity producing the show MUST hire union cameras to film... So he gets union scale. Which is solid.

Riders are there for love, ambition, whatever... but are motivated by things other than $ to show up and play. So they show up. But can't demand anything cuz they are not organized to leverage their value(riding skills.) They are individuals. If they no show...16 other dudes are showing one way or another... No show 1, no problem.
No Show the best 200 Freeriders and DH in the sport... ownership has a problem.

It'll never happen but this is why major professional sports are union... they athletes are taking risks, have short careers and potentially high exit costs (injury) . So they try to unionize to provide some minimal guarantees for the efforts of all, even the lower journeymen.

Redbull/producers might have a heart... its pretty likely. Mostly though they are just doing what makes sense in a capitalist system. Pay the minimum for maximum return... Riders are pretty cheap...
  • + 4
 Very true. I think if the top talent got together and demanded a decent compensation , that would be awesome. Riders would still step up to try to fill the gap but it would be like watching NFL with replacement players , just brutal and more of a comedy than serious. I wouldn't wanna watch a bunch of average riders falling down a mountain ..... Hang on , yeah I would. Lol.
  • + 1
 yup,,, RedBull Fear and Loathing ! 2nd stringers w/ egos and balls beyond ability....
  • + 3
 I also much agree with the "window". There are many other RedBull sponsored events like you say that run via an open window to achieve the best possible conditions for not only their benefit, but for the athletes as well. Surfing, the Travis Rice Supernatural event, all were run within windows for such reasons. I do agree it's very unfair of you all to be given such a short period to do what you do. Which then end only garners that much more respect from me, the fact you guys pull this shit off sometimes is just out of this world crazy good. Through the TV, when we can see the tension in the riders because of the windy day, line choice, the guy that just broke his leg before you, the guy that fell 40ft down a cliff 4 riders before that. It's gotta be mentally tough to continue down that path you dug out only 2 days before and verified only about 2hrs before the race day meeting.
  • + 3
 Good Read Mike. Thanks for being one of the guys out there. I'm a big fan of the event and always have nothing but respect for the riders, and that's where I think we all agree, you guys have nothing but the up most respect from the riders that's for sure. It's funny how much profit is gained from this event even well beyond the site itself. Being 3500km away in Southern Ontario, we just wait and wait for the event. We buy food, beer, extra treats, gather in front of big screen TV's, it's a big event so I can only fathom the amount of secondary revenue generated from the event that probably isn't even taken into consideration. Our local bike shop in 2012 for example organized quite the party for the event renting out a bar and giving out prizes and such, it was a great turnout too considering. It really is a shame that the riders do not benefit more from profits gained, especially when you think of how many people tune into this event worldwide. If you look at many of the posts on here you see many countries represented, not much unlike the event itself.
  • + 2
 So what I'm getting is, mountain bikers don't make money of mountain biking, everyone else does? I need to put down the bike and pick up a camera. Wink Seriously though, that's ridiculous.

Really awesome article, I like that it is considered and constructive. Going big isn't the only thing I watch Rampage for, I much prefer to watch riders having a good time because that's why I ride my bike and it inspires me to go and do the same. I didn't realize prep was so short. It's the battle of commercializing an event like this, it looses the grass roots and as we've just learned, doesn't always improve the financial opportunity for the participants. Great read, thanks for the insight.
  • + 2
 The money thing, that's really just ignorance and greed on behalf of those around you. It's great that sponsors are making a difference to keep the event going, but more money is DEFINITELY REQUIRED!. I think "extreme" sports in general still take back seat to pretty much anything considered mainstream in NA. Our day will come. But by then some baseball player will just have had the first billion dollar deal...."yeah, I sit on the bench, swing a stick, and scratch my balls...yeah I just made 100k to scratch my left nut...."
  • + 4
 Its always hard to compare the compensation of 'mainstream' athletes to extreme sports, or any other sports for that matter, and thats because the way in which the athletes make money is completely different. The mainstream sports, like baseball, football, basketball, soccer etc are spectator sports, meaning the compensation for the athletes is for the most part derived from spectators paying to watch the athletes play. Whether it be directly through tickets sales or indirectly by way of the money the sports teams make from TV contracts. All other sport, like mountain biking and other extreme sports are sponsor driven sports, in that people aren't really going to go buy tickets or pay directly to watch the athletes perform. Athletes salaries are primarily in the form of sponsorships, where the athlete gets paid to be a walking billboard for the companies they represent. With that said, for an event as big as Rampage, where the sponsors of the event are clearly pouring in a massive amount of money, you would think the prize purse could be bigger, considering the risks the riders are taking.
  • + 4
 WELL DONE! an article that is the point, relevant, doesn't come off as an advertisement or whiny rant. I hope that the organizers will listen.
  • + 5
 Hopkins = Awesome. Such a good article. I hope that Redbull can take comments like this to heart.
  • + 1
 I mean... going in to the even you know what you can get paid, how much time you'll have, what amenities there are and you aren't forced to go. Negotiate the terms you want or don't go, that's America. If you guys keep showing up and putting on a show and accepting the terms the even organizers give you then that's on you.
  • + 1
 I know it was said further up, but please make the movies again that have the qualies and finals and some other rider interviews. They were fantastic and another way to get more income to distribute to future events and riders.

Mike is one of my favorite riders to watch because of the lines and style of riding he does. Even though I cannot ride like that, he is one of the few riders that make me believe that maybe one day I could.

I for one would not be sorry if the wood went. It's not that I don't enjoy the ridiculous moves being done from them, but I don't think this event needs it and has been a contentious issue since it started.

The worst part of 2013 Rampage was no second runs for a lot of people and they even had a spare day for just that - for some reason they decided not to use it??? And the poor dudes that did and it meant very little (Lacondeguy... robbed).

Mike, it looks to me like the mountain bike community stands fully behind you on this.
  • + 1
 Great article, I feel it is so wrong that these athlete's are not compensated fairly. In most any other sport the best athletes make very comfortable livings. When an event gets this much exposure the professionals that are creating the entertainment should be taken care of!!
  • + 1
 Eye opener! Hopefully your peers jump on board so change can be brought forth... Although the comp was entertaining in 2013, it was a little unfortunate to see some of my favorite riders never get comfortable/familiar with their lines.
  • + 1
 Great article and some great points in the comments...

The finances of this event are definitely tricky, and its difficult for us to weigh in when we don't know the complete picture. I would love to see the riders get paid more (they absolutely deserve it), but we just don't know how much money there is to go around. We assume because it's Redbull that there are piles of cash laying around from this event, but we just don't know.

One thing that Mike brings up that I think is crucial in any "sponsor driven" sport, is cost reduction for the athletes and their teams. As he mentions, a lot can be done when everyone teams up for housing/food/tools/and other resources so that more athletes are in the black at the end of the day. If Redbull really cares about the quality of the event, I think this along with giving riders more time to practice and prepare will help move this event and the sport in the right direction for athletes.
  • + 1
 Echos of that superb article last year in november by Mr Mitchell.....Catch 22 or something. 55 k total prizemoney for an event which was nearly unwatchable given the catastrophic nature of injuries if the top 3 rides for instance didn't come off. Then the fact that Zink and Strait rode the wooden obstacle in the last hours sunlight before comp day and not all that convincingly-it would seem Kyle's consummate skills stopped him eating dirt on the biggest case ever. And to come out the next day and stomp it. Sickening- my heart was in my mouth for his whole run let alone Zink and McGarry's. And then those who rode the second round for nought and all that risk. It seems to me the riders really do need to get together-for f*cks sake in the close knit world of elite free riders (surely......you cant be out to whip each other at every turn) surely you can exert some improvement in your pay and conditions. If only it would make us mere mortals think well at least he got paid something to risk his life. Like many maybe if riders can't be better treated I know for one I won't watch next year. Its just too hard to justify watching these guys throw down for penuts. You all deserve so much more for making one of the most spectacular events what it is. Are you reading and listening Redbull......maybe all pinkbike readers could help by boycotting your products til you do!
  • + 1
 PS great article too Mike-as you said it has to be fun rather than gladiatorial.....
  • + 1
 Mike has always been one if my fave riders! And what he says is true. I think that the rampage and gravity MTB events have gotten to the point where they sit some where between athelete driven and money. With large companies making things happen and taking the rewards without batting an eyelid because without them the event wouldnt have existed.
Gravity mtb has been made a victim due to its own principles, guys and girls who are in it for the love of it.
Much like my profession, CGI for movies the artist (just like the athletes) get screwed all over despite being the ones which in many cases do the bit people turn on the TV for. Is it right, No. Is it how it is, yes!
If the riders strike all that will happen is the events will be non existent. They all know that. Thats why they turn up despite the travel fees costing more than the 1stvplace prize.
None of the companies are gonna drop another couple millions because 5 riders said they deserved more (unfortunately which they do).
Reality is people are ways gonna try and sap more than they should out of you IF you are doing something you wanted to do paid or unpaid.
No one does this sport for the money and it doesn't always pay the bills but we must remember... no one deccides turns the cranks because someone one day someone is gonna pay them.
I hate the state of afairs its unfair across the board with altheles and artists but that how it is.
If you want money get a boring job. I applauded you mike for fighting for what's right. Its gonna be a tough battle
  • + 1
 Is Redbull the only sponsor?? I don't remember seeing anyone else. If so, the pay is redbull's fault and greed. Get some more corporate names into the biggest event in mountain biking so the boys can get paid! If the pay for riders doesn't increase substantially, no one would blame the riders for holding out and not riding until there is a much bigger payout.
  • + 1
 I hope someone high up in the mountain bike industry reads this and supports this, so that there can be steps made to make things better for the riders who make this contest everything that it is. Thank you Mike for speaking out for all the athletes. ..No more wood
  • + 5
 Well done, great write up
  • + 1
 Mike I have to agree, I attended rampage 2013 and it was pretty boring as a spectator in comparison to Rampage 2012. Man you went so huge in 2012 that was scary to watch. RedBull can afford to make this event better for the athletes and spectators. Hopefully for 2014 they give more time to athletes, more consistent payout, and less time worrying about the helicopter. As a spectator hearing the announcer bitch about the gas its consuming or billing a rider for gas is ridiculous. RedBull can afford to not act so stingy. Too bad its sideways(only on upload to PB) but here's your crash ! www.pinkbike.com/video/280711
  • + 1
 Yep, great article, and I fully agree. Last years Rampage was different, seemed a bit more commercial, probably was. Given the TV coverage, and the involvement of Red Bull, I'd expect better money for the guys risking their lives for our entertainment.

I'd hate for MTB to become like other professional sports where there's a players, or in this case, riders association negotiating fees and salaries, so maybe the fat cats should just be GC's and give the riders an appearance fee plus winnings or something...?
  • + 2
 Why does everyone hate the idea of a Players Union for MTB? If you are a professional at something, then a union can help protect you and ensure you get fair compensation for what you bring to the table. That is exactly why unions were organized in the beginning. I would hate to see a "player lockout" like last year in the NBA, but that isn't really possible with MTB because... it isn't. They can't prevent you from going for a ride if you want.
  • + 0
 My point is Mike, you are sooo right on.... But screwed as a income earning professional long term without some sort of real organization. And mtb will likely never have the cash to make that level of organization happen. Ride Love. i know you do. make your call on life and liberty... Maybe Utah just isnt worth it...
  • + 2
 Until things change I'm not going to watch. Every point raised in this article is right on.
  • + 3
 No wood, respectful way to close.
  • + 2
 Kind of off topic, but that is a sweet aurum!!
  • + 1
 Excellent article. Rampage is a huge deal, but has the potential to be much bigger. Hook up your riders!!
  • + 1
 NO WOOD!!! Tyler McCaul and Mike Hopkins natural drops were two of the sickest, gnarliest things i have ever seen!
  • + 1
 This article needed to be written. Hopefully next year will be better.
  • + 1
 He is my favorite rider! GO Mike!!
  • + 1
 This article speaks the truth.
  • + 2
 Great write up Mike!
  • + 2
 Great read !!!!!!
  • + 1
 Redbull please listen to the riders, excellent article.
  • + 1
 At first my thought is which rampage?the past or the coming one?
  • + 1
 I'm glad someone spoke out for all of us...
  • + 1
 Nice
  • + 1
 Great article !!
  • + 1
 Kelly Mcgarry !
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