Red Bull Rampage is usually the home of the longest travel, burliest bikes on the market. However, from Aggy's Evil Wreckoning from 2019
to Paul Basagoitia's Kona Entourage from 2013
, there's definitely evidence you don't have to run a full downhill rig to tackle Utah's iconic cliffs. In the event's 20 year history, there's only one rider that has ever ridden mountain biking's most fearsome event with no rear suspension though - Russ Morrell.
Morrell was an American freerider who had always drawn attention for his wild video parts filmed on a Balfa Minuteman. In particular, Morrell worked with Thor Wixom, a filmer who chronicled the early-00s freeride scene through the seminal Double Down trilogy (Down, Double Down and Third Down) and also arguably brought the word 'jib' over from the snowboard world to the mountain bike world as he documented the wild but short-lived urban freeride scene in his 'Jib' film
. Jib was notable for being a mountain biking film with no mountains but also for containing one of the greatest crash sections of any mountain bike film
to this day.
Russ' section in Third Down
Morrell's time working with Wixom culminated in the film 'Statement', which was released in spring 2003 and featured the following clip that was claimed to be the biggest ever drop done on a hardtail at the time. The team measured it at 44 feet diagonally with a vertical drop in excess of 30 feet.
It was probably this drop that secured Russ his place as a wildcard at Rampage in October of that year. As expected, he turned up on his trusty Balfa among a field of 29 freeride legends including Gracia, Watson, Kinrade, Spangler, Schley, Simmons, Vanderham and Minnaar. It was the first year that dig crews were allowed on-site and Josh Bender apparently brought 7 members along to work on a huge drop that would become part of freeriding folklore.
As for Morrell, unfortunately, he took a big crash in his second run and didn't make it through to the finals. Russ Day, our man on the ground at the event in 2003, said, "Going at least as big as the boys on big travel rides, he looked pretty worked after his first line, and unfortunately crashed hard on his second run while pulling a big moto-whip near the top of the course. It was well after the medivac helicopter landed at his side before he regained consciousness. Like Gee, Russ was also seen enjoying the action on Sunday, but looked as though he had been run over by a large truckload of Red Bull."
Cedric Gracia took the win at the main event with a run that included a backflip that he only learned to do in training with help from Kyle Strait and freeskiier Seth Morrison.
Gracia took home a grand total prize of $3,500 (vs $200,000 in 2019), and finished ahead of Andrew Shandro and Glyn O'Brien on the podium
Morrell seems to have moved on from mountain biking after that crash and we're reaching out to a few contacts to see if we can work out what happened to him next. But one thing that can never be taken away from him is that he was the first rider to ever tackle Utah's wildest event on a hardtail and will probably be the only one to ever do so.