Saving Freeride

WORDS: ​Ryan Cleek
PHOTOGRAPHY: Ian Collins, Ryan Cleek & Justin Olsen
 

These elite mountain bike riders are foregoing sanctioned competitions and focusing their efforts on a new “underground” series.

Although people have been riding bicycles since the early 1800s, mountain biking as a sport rose to prominence about 40 years ago when riders began modifying heavy 1930s and ‘40s Schwinn bicycles with better brakes and thicker tires. During mountain biking’s infancy, the disciplines mirrored skiing and mostly consisted of cross-country, dual slalom and downhill racing. As bike technology and rider skill evolved, the sport progressed into freestyle (tricks) and freeride (terrain) categories. Today’s freeride stars aren’t concerned with going the fastest, wearing lycra, or beating the clock. They’re focused on pushing the known boundaries of mountain biking by flying higher, farther, and simply “going bigger.” The “crown jewel” events of freeride are the Red Bull Rampage and Red Bull Joyride Slopestyle, both of which are sanctioned by the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour. 

However, over the last couple of years freeride’s most elite riders—Rampage, Slopestyle, and World Tour champions—are foregoing the sanctioned competitions and focusing their efforts on a new “underground” series which is organized, built, and run by the riders themselves. The Fest Series, as it’s known, was created by freeride icons Andreu Lacondeguy, Nico Vink, Makken Haugen, Nick Pescetto, Kurt Sorge, and Graham Agassiz. Unlike the made-for-TV competitions, Fest events aren’t promoted or even open to the public. They’re a week of riders on downhill bikes pushing the boundaries in a way no one else is—no judges, no daily schedule, where dirt bikes and mountain bikes share jump sessions, and it all goes down on rider-built-and-approved courses. What does the success of the Fest Series mean for mountain biking? Will Fest events and Freeworld World Tour contests ever live in harmony? The only American Fest stop, CruzFest, recently happened at the “Swanpound” in Santa Cruz, California. We caught up with some riders for an inside look into why the Fest Series is saving freeride mountain biking.

Mountain Bike Freeride

© Ian Collins

KYLE JAMESON — 2X RED BULL RAMPAGE COMPETITOR

“A lot of us wanted to ride big bikes on big jumps year round, but there wasn’t a platform for that, so we created it ourselves.”

Mountain Bike Slopestyle

© Ian Collins

SAM REYNOLDS — 2015 RED BULL RAMPAGE “BEST TRICK” WINNER

“Fest is not like the usual contest setups built in a carpark or town center by builders who will never test the course. Everything here is ridden by the riders who built it. There is no prize money, it’s people who just want to come and ride because they are passionate about doing cool stuff.”

© Ian Collins

ANDREU LACONDEGUY — FEST SERIES CO-FOUNDER, 2014 RED BULL RAMPAGE CHAMP

“The freeride scene was going nowhere. Freeride needed something new, and we created it. The courses at the FMB are just way too small. I guess the FMB is good for the new kids — and when they’re ready, they can come ride Fest!”

© Ryan Cleek

TYLER McCAUL — 2012 CRANKWORX WHIP-OFF WORLD CHAMP

“There’s a lot of stress involved in a slopestyle event. At a Fest event, if you’re not feeling it one day, then you can come back the next day and do what you want to do. It’s more up to the rider to perform when they feel their best on the course, which takes a lot of stress out of the whole situation and let’s you ride to your full potential.”

© Ian Collins

NICO VINK — FEST SERIES CO-FOUNDER, 3X RED BULL RAMPAGE COMPETITOR

“The Fest Series happened sort of spontaneously. Mads ‘Makken’ Haugen had his ‘Hillbilly Huckfest’ event in Norway a couple of years ago and everyone liked the vibe. Then, I organized an event and Aggy [Graham Agassiz] hosted one, as well.

I’m over people telling me where to ride and what events to do. I’ve been willing to build and ride stuff like this for five or six years. When I first talked with people about doing an event like this, they looked at me like I was crazy. Now, we have proven we can do it and have created our own platform for it — people take us and the Fest Series seriously. We’re still a loose bunch!”

© Ian Collins

KYLE JAMESON — 2X RED BULL RAMPAGE COMPETITOR

“As the host, I’ve been building these jumps for over two months. Being the event builder, sponsorship guy, contact person for the Cruzfest, and also a rider, is really a lot of work! But, I know that the more effort I put into the more everyone will get out, and that’s really what matters.”

© Ryan Cleek

RYAN HOWARD — 2X CRANKWORX WHIP-OFF WORLD CHAMP

“We’re all huge fans of downhill bikes and we look forward to Rampage at the end of every year, so this is like a little kickstart to getting us into the big bike mindset.”

© Ryan Cleek

BRENDAN HOWEY — 2X RED BULL RAMPAGE COMPETITOR

“It’s not a contest vibe at all. We come here and ride the sickest set of jumps. And, when dirt bikes are riding them, too, it shows how big the Fest jumps are getting.”

© Ian Collins

RYAN HOWARD — 2X CRANKWORX WHIP-OFF WORLD CHAMP

“Not all of us are into the contest thing, where you do a trick and add a barspin for the judges. We have tons of respect for those riders, but this is different. We just want to ride bikes with our friends with no one telling us to drop in or when to ride.”

© Ryan Cleek

JORDIE LUNN — 2012 RED BULL JOYRIDE “BEST TRICK” WINNER

“The huge difference is the fact we’re riding with each other, rather than against one another. We’re all staying together at a house on the beach here in Santa Cruz, so it couldn’t be further from a “regular” judged contest or event. Everyone is hanging out all week, rather than after a contest practice session people kind of go their own way until it’s time to ride again.”

© Justin Olsen

BRANDON SEMENUK — 3X RED BULL JOYRIDE CHAMP, 2008 RED BULL RAMPAGE CHAMP

“There are three things I’d like to see portrayed properly by the media: The entertainment, how fun riding is and the creativity of the athletes and builders.”

© Ian Collins

KURT SORGE — FEST SERIES CO-FOUNDER, 2X RED BULL RAMPAGE CHAMP

“If you want to be ready for Rampage, you need to hit big jumps all summer — Fest Series is the only place you can do it.”

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06 2016 REDBULLETIN.COM

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