Redbull Rampage is insanity. It’s riders hucking themselves off some of nature’s most jagged and unforgiving terrain. They travel to Virgin, Utah to design and sculpt their lines a week before competition starts, where they’re judged on every aspect of their descent. It’s a poetic fusion of rider and topography. The visuals are stunning and the feats of daring are so unbelievable that even those foreign to the life of mountain biking can’t look away.
Until last year I had never heard of Redbull Rampage, but I’ve always been an avid viewer of any extreme sports event. I watch the X Games, Winter X Games, Dew Tours, surf comps, halfpipes, slope-styles, etc., but never have I had the pleasure of watching an event like Rampage. It’s difficult to compare the events of other sports to the insanity that is Rampage, especially for lovers of the bike. Rampage is on another level of athlete participation and freedom. Never have I seen an event featuring such incredible feats as something that was simply understood amongst viewers and participants alike.
For me, what separates Rampage from all the other extreme sports events that I watch (even those within the sport of mountain biking) is the freedom of line choice, and how that affects the judging. In November, Pinkbike came out with a really interesting article containing some clarification on the judging of the event, which stated the 4 categories of Rampage judging:
1) Fluidity and Style
2) Air and Amplitude
4) Line Choice
Line choice is worth 25% of the overall score, meaning creativity and risk when riding down the mountain is extremely important. For any extreme sports athlete to execute dangerous maneuvers is one thing, but to display the creativity and insight that a course designer has is a whole different beast.
Riders arrive to Virgin, Utah a week before the competition even begins to choose their lines and prep the trails. The riders are out there every day testing features, watching others test features, and continually making adjustments. While this year’s competitions featured some man-made structures, the competition relies heavily on Utah’s natural terrain.
What truly struck me is the work riders put into their line. Yeah, they have a crew of friends and builders to help them—but the intimacy with the terrain in Rampage is unparalleled in any other sport. Not only do the riders choose the lines, they put in the labor and test the features until they’re satisfied. The time spent designing the trails also gives the riders a bit of familiarity and comfort on the mountain. No one can simply throw themselves into those ridge-lines and hope to make it down without a little preparation. To me, the week leading up to the competition establishes a poetic fusion of rider and topography. They ride lines they sculpt with their own hands and choose with their own creative vision.
However, juggling practice time with build time is sure to tax the riders, and the fact that they go as big as they do after chilling (or not chilling) in the Utah sun all day is all the more impressive. A week of practice on the trails is no real consolation when the mountains look like this.
It’s impossible to watch the competition without letting out a couple of expletives. I watched it re-air on NBC a few weeks ago and after shedding a few tears of joy on the intro (I’m not kidding, nor ashamed), one of my housemates couldn’t help but wander downstairs after hearing me whoop and shout at the TV. I watched him cringe on every drop the riders took and sigh with relief when they didn’t eat it. It’s impossible not to enjoy the event; the action is incredible even for those who know nothing about a bike. The next day, my housemate remarked to me that he just can’t believe they take bikes out there. He couldn’t believe people ride these mountains.
Redbull Rampage has the shock value able to create new fans of the sport, while still having the elements that true bikers can appreciate. The progression of the sport is undeniable, while the way the riders design and ride their course creates an deep connection between athlete and terrain.