Every year when Crankworx descends I get nostalgic. So let me tell you a little story.
In 2010, the induction of Rocky Mountain bikes' original "Froriders" — Richie Schley, Wade Simmons and Brett Tippie — into the Mountain Biking Hall of Fame was a watershed. The Kamloops-born trio were boundary-pushing architects of mountain bike freeriding, a movement responsible for everything from the wild success of bike parks and events like Crankworx and the Red Bull Rampage, to the movies we watch, the photos we venerate, the bikes we ride, and the way we ride them.
Though not alone in their influence, the Froriders put the "mountain" back in mountain biking at a time when a young sport seemed to have parked its potential with the debut of cross-country racing at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Mountain biking already had its fringe elements — trials-riding, downhill, dual slalom, 24-hour racing — but the industry naturally followed up the Olympic publicity by pushing the obvious athleticism of cross-country. In step, trail associations focused on creating user-friendly, erosion-resistant singletrack in cooperation with land managers and governments, looking to forge a reputation for mountain biking based on safety, respect and responsibility. Movies and magazines followed suit, creating an inertia that looked to control the sport's direction. But that wouldn't happen: bombs going off in the B.C. backcountry would demolish that vision.
In Kamloops, a group of renegade riders influenced by snowboarding and skiing were challenging themselves with steep descents on natural mountain terrain, clay badland features, and open gravel pits. There were high speeds, big air, BMX-style tricks, hellacious bails, and desperate edge-of-control riding. Often there was no trail. When there was, it appeared unrideable to any sane human. But these guys were figuring it out.
Simultaneously, on Vancouver's dank North Shore, a secretive group influenced by trials-riding were engineering and building wooden riding structures high above the rainforest floor. These technical webs of "skinny" trestles, beams and launch pads were incredibly difficult to ride — not to mention dangerous. They were also mostly illegal. But as images filtered out, the rogue builders — with nicknames like "Digger," "Dangerous Dan" and "Johnny Smoke" — were referenced in hushed tones.
At first, these two separate subcultures were connected only by the spirit of freedom each fostered. But they were also both pariahs no one in the industry wanted anything to do with. That would eventually drive the scenes together, a passion-fuelled moment in 1996 to 1998 that could only happen once. The more visible Kamloops crew led the way, their balls-out credo and stylish skills on natural terrain opening the doors to legitimize other local B.C. freeride movements and spark a worldwide revolution in riding. It's a story filled with both gravity and gravitas, and finally, someone is making a movie about it.
Award-winning filmmaker and former mountain bike pro Darcy Turenne is leading the charge on The Moment, a Christian Begin joint that chronicles this lead-up to an explosion so massive its reverberations continue — a bike-centric Big Bang. The Moment aims to drop in November to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the first freeride film, Kranked.
Coincidentally, 20 years ago phone calls from both Begin and photographer Eric Berger lured me to Kamloops from my SoCal desk as Senior Editor of BIKE into a world as stunningly fresh as it was terrifying. What I witnessed was so crazed that "Sick" became the logical title of a subsequent cover story. Unbeknownst to any of us, the vision it portrayed changed the view of mountain biking's potential: images of bikers dropping six-metre ledges and railing off-trail talus were unheralded, improbable, death defying in an age where bunny-hopping was considered rad. But praise and respect wouldn't come easy: this devil-may-care, landscape-ripping ethos was as upsetting to the mountain bike community as it was eye-opening. Bike companies and trail associations freaked, and lawsuits flew over everything from the controversial Greg Stump film, Pulp Traction, to who owned the word "freerider." To sidestep the minefield, Rocky Mountain had busted out comical afro wigs and dubbed their new team Froriders, putting fun and faces to the huge descents, massive air, and maximum style of freeriding.
It was an auspicious start but it got attention. Kranked proved a mega-hit, forever changing the way mountain biking was marketed. Following Rocky's lead and borrowing from snowsports, companies sponsored freeriders with film and photo incentives. BIKE found its identity in the exploding scene and top winter-sports photographers began shooting mountain biking in the off-season. An industry that initially rejected it was suddenly on a mission to bring freeriding to the masses. The game-changing 1999 opening of the Whistler Bike Park channelled amorphous groundswell into commercial enterprise. Critical mass tipped it all into the mainstream with festivals like Joyride and the rest is history unfolding, as seen in the sport's continuing evolution, Crankworx World Tour, and freeride edits on every corner of the Interweb.
What B.C. riders were doing on bikes in the mid-90s was sick in the colloquial sense, but it also turned out to be the cure for re-democratizing a sport.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.