Mitchell Scott with one of the best mountain bike articles ever. I opened the link, and all I could do was just slow clap as I read it. He hit the nail on the head, and it was cool to hear his perspective knowing that he was there at the ‘PAGE!!! as a team manager. That’s a weird position to be in, because it’s basically your job to encourage your guys to risk their lives. By the way, insert mandatory Team Diamondback shout out to Kelly here.
I would not want to ride in RAMPAGE!!!, I would not want to be at RAMPAGE!!!, and I did not watch RAMPAGE!!! live because:
It didn’t happen this year, but if we keep doing stuff like this someone is going to die or get horribly maimed doing one of these events. And I’m not just talking about RAMPAGE!!! either. I mean the whole freeride contest thing. It gives me the creeps being at Crankworx slopestyle, too. The shit is so gnarly, someone is going to get really hurt, and you are surrounded by thousands of people who don’t give a shit; they just want to see more backflips, more tailwhips, and more bigger. It’s a straight up gladiator event, complete with the bloodthirsty, apathetic crowd. Unlike gladiator matches and NASCAR, I’m going to give spectators the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think people watch Crankworx or RAMPAGE!!! for the explicit purpose of seeing people get hurt, but that doesn’t mean that rider safety is a big concern for the audience, either.
Here’s the score for 2013 so far: two broken femurs at RAMPAGE!!!, and a tib-fib at Crankworx. With 36 athletes at RAMPAGE!!! and 18 at Crankworx, that brings the broken leg rate for both events to 1 in every 18 competitors, or a little over 5%. I’ve seen a broken femur in person, and it is without a doubt the worst thing I’ve ever seen in person. I would rather relive the worst wedding I’ve ever been to a hundred times than relive the two hour pain saga that was watching someone get carted off the hill with a broken femur. That’s just the broken leg rate, too. Lot’s of other people got hurt at both events, but I’m just going to talk about the crashes that require backboards or body bags for now.
The question Mitchell Scott asks in the Pinkbike article is exactly right: is this what we want mountain biking to be?
So many sports have had this discussion. F-1 killed people until they restricted engine displacement and gearing back in the 60’s or 70’s or something. Group B rally racing killed people until they banned the relatively unrestricted cars. Football (the real kind, not the kind where a bunch of foreigners run in circles and finish 0-0) has seen all sorts of evolutions to reduce deaths and now head injuries. Before all this UFC BRO shit took us back to the stone ages, boxing was the result of mankind’s attempt to make fighting sports less than deadly for the participants.
Big mountain snowboarding is a similar sport at this same junction right now, except that unlike RAMPAGE!!! people have already died. Lots of them. Riders die every year in avalanches and big falls, and it’s not a question of whether a high profile skier or snowboarder dies this year but rather who it will be. That sucks.
Can you have the same level of competition and creativity without the same mortal risk? I’d guess that you probably can. Even if you can’t, the obvious follow up question is “is it worth it?”
I know there’s more to sport and competition than downhill racing, but downhill racing is what I know, so that’s what I’m going to talk about. Downhill doesn’t kill people very often. It’s happened, but it’s extremely rare. And yet, I don’t think anyone would call downhill a particularly safe sport. I think everyone would agree it’s gnarly as shit, but in terms of statistics there’s no comparison. Think about how many downhill races you’ve been to. If one in eighteen people had to take a backboard off the hill at every single race, there would be no more downhill races. If one in eighteen participants got taken off the hill in a backboard, than the World Cup top 80 would be the World Cup top 52 by the end of the a seven race season.
I think the lesson that racing downhill has taught me is that there’s an important distinction between a sport that is inherently dangerous and one that’s thoughtlessly dangerous. This would be an example of the “thoughtlessly dangerous” genre:
In downhill we have one course to ride all week, and it’s available the day you show up. If you’re not a complete jabroni, you hike the course before you ever ride it. You have two to three days to practice before you have to go balls out. That means you can slowly get up to speed. You can watch other people hit the scary stuff, and you can choose to hit the scary stuff slow or not at all for the first couple days. There’s either a shuttle or chair lift to get you to the top, so 100% of your energy can be focused on your riding, and practice is only a few hours a day. You have way more waking hours off the bike than you do on, and in my experience most of your off-bike hours are spent eating, sleeping, watching cable in the hotel room, or hanging out in someone else’s pit trying to sound knowledgeable about how well Dungey’s doing in the outdoor season. The whole downhill format is designed to give you every chance to learn the track and choose your battles, and you are supplied with ample time to rest, to think about what you learned the day before, and prepare for tomorrow. In short, risks are managed.
At RAMPAGE!!! you are on the hill all day every day trying to get ready, and you’re responsible for getting your ass to the top of the hill for every run, for practice and competition. If you have friends that push your bike to the top that’s a bonus, but you still have to walk your ass up. You and your three best friends are responsible for scouting a line, raking it in from top to bottom, building lips and landings, dragging water up the side of a mountain to water your new lips and landings, guinea pigging everything, and learning your whole line top to bottom. And you have three days to do that. In the desert, probably in the heat.
You simply cannot do all that shit AND be rested AND be prepared to perform safely on Saturday. You need to build, practice, and rest, and realistically you don’t have time to do all three. Almost no one is going to skip out on dig days and ride a half-assed line if they want to make the big dance on Sunday, so your real choice is to:
A) practice a lot and be tired as shit when it comes time to do your canyon gap flip or your dumped 360 on Saturday and Sunday, or
B) don’t practice much, and hit stuff relatively blind.
Neither one of those options is safe, and that sucks. Before you even talk about the course, all of those organizational and logistal factors put RAMPAGE!!! squarely in the “thoughtlessly dangerous” column. And this isn’t run of the mill gnarly shit, either, this is the gnarliest shit that the gnarliest riders on the planet have ever hit. When was the last time you built and guinea pigged a big new jump? How scary was it? How long did it take you to do that? Now imagine doing that 10 times, back to back, in three days in the desert, and each of those jumps could kill or cripple you. And then when you’re done guinea pigging everything, backflip half of them on your next run. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?
Would it kill the spirit of competition to give riders more time to rest, a shuttle to the top, or if the course had predefined standards and certain stuff was off limits? Or, I don’t know, maybe some catch netting? Joyride is safer than it once was. Ditto for Formula Uno and the WRC.
But no one watches those sports anymore, right?