The Story of Mountain Biking’s Most Interesting Man: Richard Cunningham - A Pinkbike Podcast Special, Part 2

Jul 9, 2021
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich


This is a long one! We're back for the second part of our chat with Richard Cunningham, better known as RC in these circles, and we even talk about mountain bikes this time around. If you missed our first conversation about RC's love of flying, building his own planes and teaching himself how to fly, and his father's secret work for NASA, stop what you're doing and listen to that first. In part two, RC tells about his time at Mountain Bike Action and testing some of the wildest - and most unreliable - bikes ever created, his opinion of the internet before and after joining Pinkbike, his most important lesson for writing bike reviews, thoughts on e-bikes, and he answers a handful of reader questions. Want to know more about RC? Click on these blue words.





THE PINKBIKE PODCAST // EPISODE 71 - THE STORY OF MOUNTAIN BIKING’S MOST INTERESTING MAN: RICHARD CUNNINGHAM - PART 2
July 9th, 2021

''So I just shoved the stick into the downtube to join the frame back together and finished the ride!"


Featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.




Previous Pinkbike Podcasts
Episode 1 - Why Are Bikes So Expensive?
Episode 2 - Where the Hell is the Grim Donut?
Episode 3 - Pond Beaver Tech
Episode 4 - Why is Every Bike a Trail Bike?
Episode 5 - Can You Trust Bike Reviews?
Episode 6 - Over Biked Or Under Biked?
Episode 7 - Wild Project Bikes
Episode 8 - Do We Need an Even Larger Wheel Size?
Episode 9 - Why Are We Doing a Cross-Country Field Test?
Episode 10 - Getting Nerdy About Bike Setup
Episode 11 - Are We Going Racing This Year?
Episode 12 - What's the Future of Bike Shops?
Episode 13 - Are Bikes Too Regular Now?
Episode 14 - What Bikes Would Pinkbike Editors Buy?
Episode 15 - What's Holding Mountain Biking Back?
Episode 16 - Who's Your Mountain Biking Hero?
Episode 17 - XC Field Test Insider
Episode 18 - Electronics on your Mountain Bike: Good or Bad?
Episode 19 - The Hardtail Episode
Episode 20 - MTB Conspiracy Theories
Episode 21 - Stuff We Were Wrong About
Episode 22 - Does Your Riding Style Match Your Personality?
Episode 23 - Grim Donut 2 is Live!
Episode 24 - Why Even Buy a DH Bike?
Episode 25 - Fall Field Test Preview
Episode 26 - The Three Most Important Mountain Bikes
Episode 27 - The World Champs Special
Episode 28 - All About Women's Bikes
Episode 29 - Freeride or Die
Episode 30 - Would You Rather?
Episode 31 - Wet Weather Riding Tips & Tricks
Episode 32 - What Needs to Change in the Bike Industry?
Episode 33 - Behind the Scenes at Pinkbike Academy
Episode 34 - Grilling Levy About Field Test Trail Bikes (and His Bonspiel)
Episode 35 - Story Time - Stranger Than Fiction
Episode 36 - Grilling Kazimer about Field Test Enduro Bikes
Episode 37 - The 2020 Privateer Season with Ben Cathro
Episode 38 - Editors Defend Their 2020 Best-Of Picks
Episode 39 - Predicting the Future of Mountain Biking
Episode 40 - The Pinkbike Awards!
Episode 41 - Racing Rumours and Team Changes
Episode 42 - Mountain Biking's Guilty Pleasures
Episode 43 - Dangerholm's Wildest Custom Mountain Bikes
Episode 44 - Mountain Bike Suspension Decoded
Episode 45 - What Makes a Good Riding Buddy
Episode 46 - The RockShox Zeb vs Fox 38 Deep Dive
Episode 47 - High Pivot Bikes: The Good, The Bad, and The Why?
Episode 48 - Rides That Went Horribly Wrong... & Why That Made Them So Good
Episode 49 - What's the Best DH Bike?
Episode 50 - Are Bikes Actually Getting Less Expensive? (Value Bike Field Test Preview)
Episode 51 - Should MTB Media Post Spy Shots?
Episode 52 - Our Most Embarrassing MTB Moments
Episode 53 - Should Climbers Still Have the Right of Way?
Episode 54 - Best and Worst MTB Product Marketing
Episode 55 - Big Dumb Rides & Staying Motivated
Episode 56 - What Were the Most Important Inventions in Mountain Biking?
Episode 57 - What Were the Best (and Worst) Trends in Mountain Biking?
Episode 58 - Debunking Mountain Biking's Biggest Myths
Episode 59 - Value Bike Field Trip Surprises & Spoilers
Episode 60 - What Kind of Mountain Biker Do You Want to Be?
Episode 61 - Athlete Pay, Lycra, Equality and More from the State of the Sport Survey
Episode 62 - Editor Preferences and Why They Matter
Episode 63 - Our Best (And Worst) Bike Buying Advice
Episode 64 - Who's On Your MTB Mount Rushmore?
Episode 65 - The Hardtail Episode
Episode 66 - The Best and Worst of Repairing Bikes
Episode 67 - The Story of Mountain Biking's Most Interesting Man: Richard Cunningham
Episode 68 - Who Are Mountain Biking's Unsung Heroes?
Episode 69 - The Good, Bad, and Strange Bikes We've Owned - Part 1
Episode 70 - The Good, Bad, and Strange Bikes We've Owned - Part 2


80 Comments

  • 17 0
 Great chat! Thanks for all the hard work and inspiration over the years @RichardCunningham. And what a lucky little padawan you are @mikelevy.

Been hooked on mtb and following RC since the mid 90s and happily still an addict. Cheers to another 25 years.
  • 8 26
flag DoubleCrownAddict (Jul 9, 2021 at 23:51) (Below Threshold)
 He did work hard and had some good articles. But MBA reviews were mostly horrible in retrospect, even though I trusted and respected them at the time. I honestly think they are one of the most status quo factors in preventing progressive geometry that kept geo in the dark ages for so long. In the early days for years they would complain if a bike didn't have a steep 71° head angle.."unreponsive".

I can't think of any one specific contribution to the sport he made that actually transformed or improved anything in a notable manner, and the anti-progressive MBA reviews held the sport back a decade. I give the early Marin guys way more credit since they were running slack angles and wide bars.. which RC helped kill. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I give my local trail builders more credit for things that improved mountain biking for my own riding experience compared to anything that anything he ever actually did.
  • 15 1
 These are amazing, RC is a legend.
  • 15 7
 Can you guys talk about Mountain Biking community insecurities? you know what I am talking about

Going uphill = "Bad" … Going Downhill = "the best!"
Road biking = "Lame" …. Mountain bike = "Amazing".
Lycra = "for sissies" … baggy shorts = "good"

Cheers
  • 7 6
 you left out the biggest insecurity the mtb community has: e-bikes.


seems like the ones you've mentioned aren't insecurities at all... they're the opinions of the majority of riders because
1. going downhill is the carrot at the end of the stick
2. road biking isn't as fun to most people who like mtb- that's why they choose to mountain bike
and 3. lycra is form fitting- hence "gay" if you're a man- in a world that's only just starting to realize that being gay is no big deal.

ok- maybe that last one is an insecurity.
  • 7 0
 Love this, I have been a fan of RC since the Mantis days...was stoked when he took over for Zap at MBA...even though by that time I had started reading BIKE more. I respect RC's opinions even though I don't always agree....the dude is a legend. Thank you for this, you should do more Interview types...get some of the old guard in here, I love to hear about the early days of MTB. I had the privilege to interview Keith Bontrager for a website that I used to run and just loved it! These long form interviews let get all nerdy and deep dive with people, it's great! I would love to hear DW or other Keith Scott talk about suspension and industry talk...or Tinker/Tomac/Overend...ugh...I could go on and on! Ever need help putting these together I would love to be a part of it...lol.
  • 2 0
 @pedalhound - well said and agree with the interviews with more legends (please please please Tinker and Tomac!). @mikelevy has done very well with the interview - he knows so much but lets RC say his thing. It's like watching someone keeping a great fire going - add a poke (short note) here and there and a log or 2 (more detailed question) when needed. I've been enjoying these a lot!
  • 10 0
 Loved the stories. So much I don't know about you.
  • 12 0
 Pretty sure RC has twenty or more episodes worth of stories!
  • 6 1
 @mikelevy: there is zero reason this does not become its own spin-off podcast series. Presented by Tim Hortons.
  • 4 1
 @mikelevy: can be an every other month episodes.
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: Keep them coming!
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: I'm definitely one of those who would like to hear more story time with RC. I'm guessing at least another 5-10 episodes.
  • 9 0
 Nice work Levy and RC, that was a super good episode.
  • 5 0
 Loving these recent episodes. So much nostalgia! Used to read MTBAction cover to cover.

My first "real" mtb was a Yo Eddy! (Fat Chance)
My first full suspension was a Pro Flex (Girvin)
Realized I went to high school and used to ride with @mikekazimer

MTB is such a small world. Thanks for all the memories @RichardCunningham
  • 5 0
 @RichardCunningham I hope that you are wrong about emtb, though I long shared your concern. I grew up riding mountain bikes illegally on hiking trails in the '90's as there were no legal trails nearby. There was a little trail system near my house growing up (where bikes were banned) that I loved. Typical Midwest stuff, where you'd seek the steepest bit of something you could find and go up and down and left and right to try to maximize the use of the gradient. The cops would fell trees across our trails and chase us on mopeds to try to keep us kids out. Of course we'd pile up branches up to the logs to turn them all into jumps! Which the cops couldn't navigate on their mopeds. Having purpose-built trails and booming NICA leagues today feels like such a different world.

I do remember when the access argument for mountain bikes was that they were human powered, and emtb has only recently become allowed on our local trail systems. A lot of the early advocacy for emtb seemed to focus on adaptive accessibility for those with injuries or disabilities, which seemed persuasive to land managers around here. Of course as soon as they were allowed that argument disappeared. Our city government is currently very pro-outdoor anything, but that can always change.
  • 5 1
 Hypothetical question for you... If you HAD to choose between riding a top of the range frame (including forks and shock) with entry level components or an entry level frame with top of the range components, which would you choose? (assume the same geometry.)
  • 8 2
 Entry level frame with top components every time. Most riders won't notice the difference in linkage or frame materials except when looking at it. On the trail however, you'll notice the brakes, the drivetrain and all the other components.
  • 2 0
 Sort of a follow up would you rather type question: Frame with good geo but terrible kinematics or one with terrible geo but good kinematics?
  • 1 1
 Entry level frame with top shelf components, it's the little things that you notice that make the sum of the parts :-)
  • 1 0
 Another one: Entry level bike (~$1500) with your preferred high end tires, or top of the line bike but with very cheap tires (like barely a step above walmart tires)? That's a puzzler, I'm not even sure myself.
  • 8 1
 Top of the range frame and suspension every time. They're the big ticket items. Everything else is disposable.
  • 4 0
 My bike would not really be any worse with a Deore drivetrain and alloy cockpit. Shit wheels do suck, but always spend the money on the frame & suspension if you have to choose....
  • 4 0
 I have been riding MTB for over 30 years now...I would take a top end frame/fork/shock with entry level components. Deore is awesome...but entry level wheels/tires would suck...lol.
  • 3 0
 @fartymarty: I agree with FlatulentMartin. Especially about drivetrains. As long as it doesn't skip you should be good to go ...
  • 4 0
 @bigtim - Inexpensive aluminum frame with good geometry, whatever shock, and some sort of mid-range fork with a good damper.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: now that we're redefinition the question... I would take an aluminium frame with great geo, top end suspension and brakes any day.
  • 1 0
 @fartymarty: Yep, brakes, suspensions and decent geo makes a bike. ATM only privateer bikes is making a good value bike like this. I have no clue why no one else does.
  • 6 0
 I could listen to a 10 hour episode of this. Also I want to know more about the old telecaster, I’m definitely buying one as my next guitar. Great podcast guys.
  • 4 0
 The polarizing views on e-bikes seem to leave a sour taste in both sides. I agree with RC. I respect his opinion because it seems that industry people from either news sites or sponsored riders are e-bike supporters and it is difficult to accept opinions from people supported by the movement. Levy you might be a honest journalist but your paycheck is still supported by advertising dollars and most of the bike companies view e-bikes as their next greatest profit margins.
  • 13 0
 Sure, but I can still have my own opinion… Much like RC, I’m not bothered by anyone riding an e-bike; it doesn’t matter as long as you’re having fun outside, so everyone should do their thing and give way less f*cks Smile But mountain bikes don’t have motors. And most of the ones that do ride more like tractors than mountain bikes, with wires everywhere and rusty steel hardware and motors that feel surge-y and awkward. But that’s just my opinion and I also love a lot of terrible things that make no sense haha
  • 3 0
 I'm with @RichardCunningham on this one. I'm fine with them as long as they aren't causing trail access issues (and not stealing my KOMs I pedalled hard for).

It's going to be interesting to look back on the comments on ebikes in 5 or 10 years and see where we are at.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: were can I read that RC facebook post referring ebikes? Is it on his own personal page or so? I'm afraid that I'm with him in this matter...
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy i loved the discussion about online media recieving immediate positive or negative feedback. Speaking of which, can you talk about the recent survey on your next podcast? It seems like many people (including myself) were upset with the questions being asked. I’m curious as to why you chose those questions and who the survey is really for?
  • 4 0
 Oooh, for sure. I hadn't seen that TBH, but I'll put it on the list of things to talk about next time Smile
  • 4 0
 I’m not sure which company pressured RC into getting fired at MBAction over their lack of professionalism, but If I ever do find out, I would never buy their product again.
  • 3 0
 Thanks for these. It’s crazy how fast And how far our sport has come. So many things he mentions, it’s like “oh yeah, I remember that, it was the coolest damn thing ever when it came out “
  • 2 0
 Great interview. Loved the nostalgia it brings to me.
I started riding MTB's in 1984 because I didn't want to put a kid seat on my road bike!
Bought a Kuwahara Cascade for $880 and after a month of kid service I put the seat on my road bike and took to the hills.
Well mostly fire roads and cow paths. I rode that bike for 12 years before life got in the way. It took years for the gravel to come out of my elbows and legs.
Fast forward to 2014 when I wandered into a LBS to look at road bikes thinking I would start road riding again and saw these beautiful full suspension MTB's. Walked out with a Giant Trance and was addicted again.
Being older and a lot less nimble progression has been slow but steady.
I share RC's caution about injuries but still continue to push to get better ( even after a dislocated knee and a torn meniscus) and am now looking to start doing drops and jumps ( small)
To go from no suspension pounding your kidneys out and leaving your arms dead for days to the new bikes was an astounding thing to me.
The simplicity of getting on your bike and riding up the trails and clearing your mind of clutter before crashing down is
a drug they should bottle.
Thanks for the ramble, I'm practicing for senility!
Thanks RC and little pink Mike
  • 6 0
 Would really like to hear RC's take on PB getting eaten by Outside.
  • 1 0
 Given the recent news RC's thoughts on the mountain bike action and what happened to them seem quite prophetic. I guess its just cycles and in a year or two when the corpo rot has set in there will be a new punk website stepping up to take the mantle.
  • 1 0
 I was just coming here to ask that exact same question.
  • 6 0
 @caseytango @koldunuk @McMeta666 We'll definitely get him on and chat about the news. RC always has an interesting perspective Smile
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy Question for future podcast: Why are handlebars advertised with back and upsweep? Shouldn't they just measure the actual angle when 'flat' so that it's consistent? If it's a "12 degree bar", you could then roll it forward to have 10 degree backsweep and 1.9-something degree upsweep. Advertising both back + upsweep seems to be actually misleading unless it's one of those integrated bar/stem combos.
  • 2 0
 I started listening to part 1 at work and couldn't finish it because it was too interesting to let me do my work. I'm saving that and now this for a really boring mundane day!
  • 1 0
 Question - Maybe I've missed this somewhere along the way with the rise of e-bikes, but do e-bikes use more heavy duty bearings? I feel like I've been crushing bearings lately on my normal bike and wouldn't mind the weight penalty for bearings that I knew would last longer because they are more heavy duty.
  • 1 0
 RC is fascinating to listen to. Worked at a bike shop during high school around the time those first full suspension bikes were showing up. I remember getting busted by the GM riding one around the basement warehouse just to see what it felt like. Lifetime ago. Anyway, other sports intervened and I ended up taking a 25 year hiatus from mountain bikes. The covid work-from-home surf crowds finally got me back into MTB and holy shit… it’s a completely different sport. The bikes are heavy but they’re absolutely unbelievable. I’m about 2yrs and four bikes down my post-hiatus rabbit hole now. Pushing hard to make up for both lost time and to race the sun setting on my own worn out rig (too hard probably… currently nursing a broken collarbone and a concussion). Jumps sure are fun, but I sure hear RC now on gambling away a year of your life away when you don’t have that many left(!). I wonder about his last words (in the podcast) though - the idea that stealing something mechanical to you body giving you superpowers. It’s hard to argue that ebikes don’t do exactly that(?). While I wait for my broken parts to mend I’ve sold my analog bikes to fund an ebike - I went for one of the “half-powered” ones cause I still want to work (new KSL). It’s hard to say no to a few extra laps in my daily ride window, especially seeing so many competent riders going in that direction. I guess I struggle with the same land access issues and “purity” issues that RC mentions but I think ebikes are an absolute inevitability, so better to join the party now before someone calls the cops and gets it shut down. Nobody’s going to give out an award for the last stubborn hold out… can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. We’ll see… maybe the ebike will be a massive turn off and I’ll end up back under my own power in a week. Thanks for a great interview RC and Levy
  • 1 0
 *strapping (not stealing)
  • 2 0
 Maybe I should be happy my resume never got any response.. That final interview might have killed me... But, I might be able to convince Tippie to take a easy on me.
  • 1 0
 Thanks for bringing up the dollar downhills! Mark Jordan invited me along for one of the last races.. Such a good time... Even the thorns that took a week to get out of my knee...
  • 1 0
 I liked hearing about your glowing reviews of terrible bikes to further sales but, what caused my mid 90's dislike of RC was the ask RC answers. Luckily I was more into BMX back then
  • 6 0
 @allsk8sno
Glowing reviews, not so much. I had to tell the truth, but I absolutely did skew my enthusiasm to push dual-suspension into the mainstream.
  • 3 0
 Just when I didn’t think i could like RC any more, he shared his opinion on E-bikes. What a legend!
  • 5 0
 Agreed, and his opinion sure makes a lot of sense Smile
  • 1 0
 It's cool looking back on comments and seeing how things have changed or how right/ wrong your opinions were. 29er is a fun one for this.
  • 1 0
 Great interview. Most of all I was glad to hear that “black diamond” bike was not actually RC’s idea. I found the term and the effort by MBA back in the day to establish that term to be a real turnoff.
  • 5 1
 ...or Dos Equis?
  • 1 0
 Hey, RC! I met you mid-'90s on the Mt Lowe Railway one day. You gave my dumb-ass buddy all your water! You're a scientist-saint, if there ever was one!!! Cheers!
  • 1 0
 Honestly @mikelevy I hope you are writing this all down and are planning to help write RC’s autobiography. It is culturally important and I would totally buy a copy.
  • 1 0
 Hey Pinkbike, question for the podcast. What method do you prefer to clean your drivetrains? What kind of products are your favorite to use?
  • 3 0
 @ridingandwrenching Brake cleaner, a rag, and a little flat blade to scrape crap off the pulley wheels.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: Ahh, Brakleen. Is there anything it can't do.
  • 1 0
 Question: Let's hear RCs take on how the future of e bikes will play out. Dying to hear more from this legend. Thank you for all the lessons from your experience!
  • 1 0
 Brilliant stuff. Really a great listen. It sparks so many great memories as my early years match up so closely. Cheers and thanks for sharing the stories. -Kid
  • 1 0
 Tear my f*cking heart & brains out: no podcast this week. Is it because I dumped on the UFO thing? FINE give me UFO's. No podcast week is The Suck. Really hurts...
  • 2 0
 Love listening to these. A very interesting chap.
  • 1 0
 So great to hear this stuff! In 50 years this will be valuable content for some MTB historian. Keep it up!!
  • 2 0
 No Podcast this week??? 7/15/21 Frown Frown Frown
  • 6 0
 We're pretty pinned at Field Test right now with a bunch of enduro bikes so we'll be missing this week, but will likely be recording this coming Tuesday. I wonder if there's a topic we should talk about haha
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: thank you, the podcast makes me look forward to my commute on Thursday
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: There certainly is, you can't shy away from the elephant in the room forever. At some point you're going to have to talk about Judy Butter getting renamed to Sram Butter.
  • 2 0
 Well this podcast is not going to age well..
  • 2 0
 Where is episode 72?!?!? No more podcasts under the rein of outside?
  • 4 0
 We were all at Field Test for the last two weeks and didn’t get a chance to record one, but a PB podcast will be released this Thursday Smile
  • 2 0
 @mikelevy: here I am, Thursday night and hitting refresh but no episode 72 Frown
He's never early, he's always late
First thing you learn is you always gotta wait
I'm waiting for my PB Podcast

Oh, hang on, is the podcast pay per listen now, should I have twenty-six dollars in my hand Smile
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy: blue ballin' me bud
  • 4 0
 @traildad69: It's coming! Technical difficulties, but it's coming.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: THAT'S WHAT HE SAID!!!!
  • 3 1
 Does RC drink Corona?
  • 1 0
 I didn't realize how inspirational that would be. Thank you.
  • 1 0
 Levy and RC, thank you so much for this! This is great work guys!

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