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

Jun 16, 2021 at 13:29
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich


If you’re new-ish to the sport, you might only know RC’s name from seeing it here on Pinkbike where he was a tech editor for many years, but that’s really just the tip of his contributions to mountain biking. Episode 67 is the first of a multi-part series of talking to RC about his love of flying, building his own planes and teaching himself how to fly (yes, you read that correctly), his father's secret work for NASA, and even a massive (and very secret) explosion of a Saturn V rocket engine. Yes, this is a cycling podcast, so we do eventually get around to mountain bikes and RC's own company, Mantis Bicycles.

It's a wild ride, so strap in for part one in the life and times of Richard Cunningham. Got some questions for RC? Post 'em below and I'll ask him in part two where we'll also cover his time at Mountain Bike Action, the Wrecking Crew, crazy bikes from the 90s, magazines versus the internet, him joining Pinkbike, and probably a whole bunch on non-bike stories.




THE PINKBIKE PODCAST // EPISODE 67 - THE LIFE AND TIMES OF RICHARD CUNNINGHAM
June 17th, 2021

Who else do you know that's built a plane in their living room?


Dean Bradley produced the first issue of Mountain Bike Action magazine. This was one of his images published in the pages. Ranchita Verde was the Mantis delivery vehicle - A stately Chevrolet Impala wagon that got 10 MPG on a good day.


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


112 Comments

  • 53 1
 66 episodes in and they continue to avoid the tandem mountain biking racing circuit. That's big single seat lobby if I've ever seen it.
  • 14 0
 They don't even respond to my requests for dad and tot enduro Chariot trailer races.
  • 9 0
 recumbent freestyle has also been sorely missing from the discussions... Voreis is getting robbed!
  • 4 0
 @woofer2609: sidecar chariots absolutely should be an event in one way or another. Joust?
  • 4 0
 @SterlingArcher: Back in the late '70's & early 80's we had them as a regular BMX Class.
The Sidehack races where always a great time for everyone.
  • 1 0
 @p0rtal00: That's pretty sweet!
  • 30 0
 I am absolutely at the edge of my seat listening to RC talk. Fascinating man and a pleasure to listen to. Levy does such a nice job conducting this as well; best one yet.
  • 20 0
 Honestly, I had a question for RC about every 10 seconds of every story he had, but I had to muzzle myself and let the man talk or it would have been a 10 hour episode.
  • 5 0
 @mikelevy: you’re seriously good at this. I wouldn’t have that level of discipline.
  • 3 0
 I agree! This is probably my favorite episode yet. RC is a legend and an amazing storyteller. And Levy is the Terry Gross of mountain bike journalism.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: but 10 hours would be ok Mike! I’m still mesmerized by his stories - I am almost through this episode and can’t wait for Part 10!
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy: this was an amazing podcast. RC is a story teller and you let him just tell the stories. I cannot wait for the next one.
  • 4 0
 @silverstanktions: Best username around.
  • 26 0
 Not a question. I just want to thank Richard Cunningham for his unvaluable service to the sport all this years. Thank you sir.
  • 15 1
 I'm thinking you meant "invaluable" not "unvaluable".
  • 9 0
 @woofer2609: You're right. I was in doubt and made the wrong choice.
Sorry.
  • 18 1
 @nozes: I'm sure your Portuguese is FAR better than mineWink
  • 11 0
 @woofer2609: is it bad that I was surprised how friendly this interaction between you two was haha
  • 11 0
 I used to read his articles in the 90's working night shift driving taxi's in Banff, learned a great deal about bikes and spent all my free time riding and fixing my used Fila fully rigid, much of what I learned I got from Richard.
  • 4 2
 Perhaps your customers would have appreciated you paying attention to the road instead.
  • 4 0
 @dubod22: you could be right, that may have been what the screaming was all about back there, tourists eh?
  • 9 0
 I would read RC's articles religiously in MBA in the 90s when I was a teenager. Dude was a mtb celebrity to me. Fast forward 20 years and he PM's me on here because he liked a comment I made or something, can't quite remember. Anyway here I was having a conversation with someone I looked at as mtb royalty all those years ago, teenage me would have crapped himself haha
  • 3 0
 @tmackstab

My experience with RC is similar. I grew up in the 90’s reading MBA and his editorials. When I got my first carbon bike( 2012-ish) and was having a lot trouble setting it up correctly, I emailed him and he responded with some great advice on how to get adjusted correctly.

Fast forward to the present, I can now set up my bikes and help out my friends when their bikes aren’t set up correctly.
  • 3 0
 Didn’t you feel like a godam celebrity when he PMd u? Or at least sort of connected in the scene. Great customer service from RC and PB
  • 9 0
 I've got a question for the podcast (but not for RC directly)

why do we tend to match fork travel to rear travel? fork travel is at an angle, so you lose around 10% of vertical travel for with a modern head angle (a 150mm fork has ~135mm vertical travel, the rest is rearwards). We don't measure rear travel by wheel path, we measure vertical - so shouldn't we measure both ends the same way (and thus put forks that are 10% longer than rear, if we want a 'balanced' bike)? I'm aware some bikes are like this, but a lot are still 150/150, 130/130 and so on
  • 1 0
 i want to piggyback on this question:

should travel not be bias by weight? i know in an ideal world your weight distribution between the wheels would be 50:50, but in practice that is rarely the case. for the most part, your rear wheel takes more of a beating than your front so should your rear not have more travel than the front so that the wheel can have an easier time?
  • 1 0
 The trend is certainly more front travel these days. Take a look at the Yeti bikes. They all follow this principle.
  • 1 0
 @GumptionZA: IIRC MX bikes have more rear travel than front (I'm probably wrong tho)
  • 2 0
 @fartymarty: RMZ450 has 12" front and 12.3" rear - I'd call that close enough to be equal. MX bikes are also "Mullet" in case that matters.
  • 1 0
 @GumptionZA:

Ooof no, cars on flat tarmac certainly benefit from 50/50 but I think that would cause huge problems with steering flop on an mtb, not to mention the difficulty to wheelie, manual and generally attack obstacles.

More travel in front is more natural— plenty ride hardtails with a suspension fork- I wouldn’t want to try the reverse.
  • 2 0
 @ryan77777: fair enough. Balanced seems the way to go then.
  • 3 1
 If that travel is rearward on the fork, then the terrain you're riding isn't steep enough. That's not meant to be a troll, I mean that mountain bikes literally tend to need their suspension the most when they are headed down a hill, and the steeper it is, the more critical that suspension requirement is. If you're heading down a gnarly DH, that 64 degree head angle probably translates into near vertical front wheel travel relative to the direction of gravity.

On most bikes, that same hill will result in FORWARD rear wheel motion relative to gravity. Whether or not this is relevant to the choice of high vs low pivots is a decision I'll leave to those that pick a pivot location and are a dick about it Wink
  • 1 0
 @enki: The vertical/horizontal travel observation still stands. This is relative to the rear suspension not the axis of the earth. Also if all of your trails have the same pitch the entire way through this might make sense but your idea that your fork should be vertical at all times had no basis in design or engineering of bikes.
  • 1 0
 I think its because the fork has a 1:1 leverage ratio vs linkage (non 1:1) in the rear. It makes sense if you look at each suspension system in isolation.

The unbalanced travel makes a lot of sense once the bikes are on a downhill slope.
  • 1 0
 @hughlunnon similar travel makes it much easier to match spring frequencies. Mismatched spring frequencies can feel kinda weird.. Bouncy up front and wallowy at the back.
  • 1 0
 @enki: I don't think that's true. Very few tracks are 30% decent. The head angle does help rearward movements as you hit rocks going forwards, but i recon my fork is rarely over vert
  • 1 0
 I'm not a fan of the big over-forking that some brands or consumers seem to like. It depends on the type of bike and terrain, of course, but they can feel unbalanced to me. There are definitely benefits in some settings, though.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: do you mean forking above the stock travel? Or just what yeti and transition do?
  • 2 0
 @lefthandohvhater: Especially way above stock travel.
  • 5 0
 I have admired RC for more than a decade, every time they bring him into the podcast I am like… wow what an interesting life, but now that I’ve heard about his father’s life...in contrast… I kind of wanna think of him as a disappointment, hahahah

Jk, RC should stay in the podcast as a regular IMO
  • 7 0
 We'll have in on more in the future, and part two of this podcast will air in a few weeks. Gotta stretch this out Grim Donut style, right?
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: cool!
  • 9 0
 This episode is one of the best yet!
  • 5 0
 RC is one of the smartest, humble, most creative guys out there. We're just lucky that our sport was one direction in which he chose to point his talents.
  • 3 0
 Does anyone else find the bike on top of the car a little odd? I've stared at it for several minutes and can't figure out how the front tire works. It overlaps the downtube, but wouldn't that render steering it completely useless? Perhaps there is some wizardry at play...
  • 1 0
 I think if you look really close you can see the down tube and top tube where they join the steerer are quite bent. Of course I might be wrong.
  • 4 0
 I think there might have been an 'incident' that adjusted the bike's geometry...
  • 2 0
 Bent fork and kinked down tube…. Obviously you’ve never lived next door to a Subaru roof rack owner otherwise your recognize this from a mile away!
  • 3 0
 I'm chuckling because I live in Norco. I know exactly where the old Rocketdyne plant is as there are some DH trails that drop into it, and I've ridden my horse around it. I'll have to ask my grandma about the explosion, but that was probably before she moved into town from Pasadena.
  • 3 0
 That was one of the wildest RC stories!
  • 3 0
 I always look forward to hearing RC on the podcast!

It was great hearing his thoughts on how the ex-roadies were stifling mountain bike innovation. I’d love to hear his thoughts on how “enduro bros” are making mountain biking better and/or worse.
  • 2 0
 Saw the title and thought "It's impossible to state who is the most important man in MTB, impossible!"
Then saw RC's name and went, "Yeah, that makes sense."
Now as for most important woman, that's a harder question; Missy Giove? Alison Sydor?
  • 3 0
 Damn. By far the best podcast I've heard in a long time. PB giving Rogan a run for his Spofity money thanks to RC. Also, kinda rad that I live a couple miles from that hill RC grew up trying to fly down...
  • 2 0
 So good! Well interviewed @mikelevy The man is up there on the list of most interesting. One thing I love about RC is his apparent fearlessness of failure... or perhaps fear but ability to take chances on something going catastrophically wrong anyways. I think a lot of young people are missing that- in the era of clout, super cool instagram bangers, entrance interviews for pre-school etc.- doing things for the sake of doing them regardless of how they look or turn out seems to be a dying art and with it will go a lot of creativity and innovation. All hail RC the humble hero!
  • 2 0
 Great Podcast. I'd definitely listen to each part of the 10 part series if it comes out.

Questions for @RichardCunningham
Do you have an idea of how much money you were making at your peak - just when you decided to change paths and go with MBA? And how much did you make at MBA?

Did you ever get any royalties or other compensation for Giant having copied the design of the bike you built for Tomac?

I seem to remember the Mantis Pro Floater getting a rave review in MBA. Did you design that bike before working at MBA? or did its design come from things you learned while working at MBA?
  • 7 1
 Cunningham = Cleverpig
  • 1 0
 Heys guys I have a question for the podcast.

I'm currently on a santa cruz chamelon A with 120mm fork recon. I'm 125ish pounds and have 158 psi in the fork but still seem to clap the fork often. Is there a way to fix this besides putting in more pressure? I'm switching to a full suspension. Any suggestions preferably under 4000.

Thanks so much guys!
- Oliver
  • 1 0
 @Poem4877 - if you have 158psi in the fork, something is definitley wrong with it. That's probably 100psi too much.
  • 3 0
 Question for RC. If he were to design a bike of any kind (gravel, Mt bike, whatever) from scratch today, what would it look like?
  • 6 0
 @mikelevy, @Sscottt: I get that question often. When vehicles designed for a very narrow range of performance approach the pinnacle of their evolution, physics dictates their most efficient shape. That's why commercial airliners all look like Boeing 767s and F1 cars look like deep-ocean fish. In a funny way, that's where we are with mountain bike design. "Funny," because bike brands are not courageous enough to abandon the double diamond profile that has defined the bicycle since the invention of the safety bike in the 1800s. So, the true definition of the present mountain bike is: "The near perfection of an off road bicycle within the confines of a double diamond frame." Or, "looks like a Session." Carbon fiber has given us the wings to abandon that premise. Additive manufacturing could also play a role. That's where I would begin.
  • 1 0
 Question to RC: @RichardCunningham

Do you think we are at time where material used in mtb component are probably close to an optimum ( or at least used where it make sense)? And is the Carbon fiber everything era is ''gone''? New material to come? Heck, i've seen some company using magnesium alloy tubing!

Thanks for the Podcast! Always a pleasure to hear the crazy RC stories!
  • 1 0
 Question for RC - Why Mountain Bikes?

I love them but try explaining it to someone who doesn't get them - you ride around in the woods (usually after dark) down steep ass trails often falling off and often coming home covered in blood, then do it again later in the week... - it makes no sense but hell its fun (and this is coming from a middle aged family man).
  • 1 0
 I've heard him compare it to flying, like its the closest you can get without actually flying
  • 1 0
 @RichardCunningham - Brilliant answer. Thanks ( @mikelevy - and ditto for asking it).

Hopefully you guys will chat more in the future. Both parts were a great listen.
  • 1 0
 Thanks Pinkbike for this awesome episode, I can't wait for the next ones! I love all the mtb podcasts that are coming out these days, we're getting to know the behind-the-scenes of the mtb community and business, something that I appreciate a lot. Mr. Cunningham is a legend of the sport and such an amazing storyteller. Like many, I used to read his articles in Mountain Bike Action magazine and it got me hooked on mountain biking. I was dreaming of becoming an mtb reviewer and writer, which would still be a dream job 25 years later. Thanks for the inspiration!
  • 1 0
 I loved this so much! I have so much respect for RC, while I may not agree with everything he writes, I appreciate his point of view and his knowledge...such a rad human. I remember lusting over his bikes and was so surprised when he took over from Zap...it was a refreshing change for MBA.

Anyway...as for things from road bikes that we need to banish from mountain bikes, let's put presta on that list...I can't believe it's taken over! #prestasucks
  • 2 0
 Question to RC @richardcunningham
Do you regret not having faith in yourself to make mantis compete with specialised and trek?
Love listening to your life story and your story telling ability.
  • 2 0
 History of RC sub podcast would be amazing. What an unbelievably complex and interesting fellow. I want to know the answers to all the other questions @mikelevy would've asked
  • 1 0
 @RichardCunningham Mark Greyson is how I got into mountain into biking. Great guy. My dad owned an auto repair shop a few doors down from one of his work shops in San Luis Obispo. At two different times I ended up owning a full suspension bike he made, the Black Shadow, and an InFusion. I didn't know enough about mtb then to truly appreciate them and I wish i still had the bikes, but it was apparent they were made with real skill and creativity.
  • 1 0
 Levy! You rapscallion! You got me interested in rockets, patio umbrellas, ultralights, short wingspan biplanes, welding, and motor bikes! Ain't nobody got time for that! Seriously though, I was just about to buy a boat, now I have other things rattling around in my melon.
  • 6 2
 Was it an RC plane? Not that impressive.
  • 11 0
 It would still be an RC plane, technically
  • 4 0
 Ow wow, I need to curl up next to a fire with a fine beverage for this one
  • 3 0
 Back in the day, boy did I lust for a Mantis Pro Floater! RC was a pioneer.

#longliveRC
  • 1 0
 Back when FS bikes were rare, expensive, broke on a weekly basis and used for DH.
  • 3 0
 @mikelevy @brianpark Can the podcast have an RC story once or twice a month? That would be amazing.
  • 2 0
 Totally.
  • 1 0
 Would you please create a summary page of ALL the questions answered in the podcast? It'd be good to reference, as sometimes I miss a podcast. (hangs head in shame)
  • 1 0
 Question to RC: @RichardCunningham
What is your favourite stock mtb that you bought and that you didn't design or was involved with in any of the design process?
  • 1 0
 Richard is one of god's gifts to mankind. Every time I've spoken with him I've come away with bits of wisdom and renewed inspiration. Thank you, RC!
  • 3 0
 This is my favorite. Thank you.
  • 1 0
 Im not sure if RC has really good stories to tell, or he is just a good story teller. Maybe the two combined is what makes this guys something else.
  • 3 0
 This was a Father's Day treat.
  • 2 0
 lol i like this guy. same city and interests
  • 2 0
 this episode is going to kick ass
  • 2 0
 There's a double on a trail near Seattle named after Richard Cunningham.
  • 2 0
 RC should write a book…or someone do a biography @mikelevy
  • 1 0
 I wonder how long the podcast would be if RC went into it every time he says "but that's another story"?
  • 1 0
 I'd listen!
  • 2 0
 There's going to be at least one more episode, maybe two.
  • 1 0
 Just listened to this one. Sooo entertaining! Thank you for covering RCs full history and not just bike related stuff!
  • 1 0
 Plenty more to come from RC in part two. And maybe part three.
  • 1 1
 I feel this particular podcast is more suited for Andrew on Moving The Needle.
  • 1 0
 Great stuff, can't wait to hear more.
  • 4 0
 Part two in a few weeks Smile
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: Can't wait!
  • 1 0
 Awesome - keep these going as much as you can.
  • 1 0
 So what's up with Cunningham's being such innovators in MTB?
  • 1 0
 Thank you Loved it ! Being Old and Stupid is sooo enduro
  • 1 0
 Great podcast, can’t wait for the 2nd one
  • 2 0
 Loam Raper
  • 1 0
 RC needs to write an autobiography, I'd buy it in a heartbeat!
  • 1 0
 More RC podcasts please! What am interesting bloke.
  • 1 0
 On the way!
  • 1 0
 I thoroughly enjoyed this episode! RC is the man!
  • 6 6
 If you love RC so much why don't you just marry him?
  • 10 0
 Because his wife is a tiger trainer so I'm afraid of her. Also she's a lovely person.
  • 6 0
 @brianpark: RC Married Carol Baskins? Uh oh...
  • 1 0
 YES! RC is the MAN!

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