The Angry Singlespeeder: Red Bull Rampage must change or die

With risk — and injuries — on rise, freeriding Super Bowl going downhill fast

Opinion
No this is not a scene from a Hollywood action movie. It's Red Bull Rampage.

No this is not a scene from a Hollywood action movie. It’s Red Bull Rampage (click to enlarge).

I’ve wanted to write a column about the Red Bull Rampage for a couple of years now, but didn’t think the timing was right. Besides, I don’t consider myself a freeride guy, so the heat I would have received was something I didn’t want to deal with. But after last week’s 10th edition of Rampage I couldn’t hold back anymore.

It also appears I’m not alone. Trending on Instagram and other social media sites this morning was the hashtag #fuckrampage. We’ll stop with the four-letter bombs there, but read between the lines in this post from Cam Zink following this year’s Red Bull Rampage finals and it’s obvious people are not happy:

“Everyone send Paul Basagoitia positive vibes! This champion has started a long road to recovery after shattering his T12 vertebrae yesterday and undergoing 9 hours of surgery. He had a winning run going and may have set the record for biggest step down just before going down. Lots of tears have been shed. Keep Paul in your prayers to regain feeling in his legs. There were some horrible people spreading false news that he was OK, but he needs your support more than ever to walk again. Paul, you are the most tenacious human and competitor ever. Love you bud! You’ll be back! #fuckrampage”

Paul Basagoitia drops into a huge line moments before his heavy crash. Photo by Eddie Clark/EddieClarkMedia.com

Paul Basagoitia drops into a huge line moments before his heavy crash (click to enlarge). Photo by Eddie Clark / EddieClarkMedia.com

That final sentiment is one I’d had in the past, but while working at Yuba Expeditions in Downieville this past summer I met Todd Barber, the founder of the Red Bull Rampage. My first question to him was rather pointed: “Are you concerned that someone at the Rampage is eventually going to die?”

See the crash that had everyone talking. Hard to believe Nicholi Rogatkin walked away — and was allowed to keep riding.

Barber is a very cool, calm, collected, friendly and likeable guy, and responded as if he’d been asked that question a hundred times. “No,” he said.

Nicholi Rogatkin tumbled over a cliff resulting in this grim scene. Amazingly he was able to get back on his bike and finish his run.

Nicholi Rogatkin tumbled over a cliff resulting in this grim scene. Amazingly he was able to get back on his bike and finish his run (click to enlarge).

He went on to tell me that the riders are extremely calculated in their line selections and that their “dig teams” spend weeks preparing approaches and cleaning up lines to make them safer and more predictable. His response seemed acceptable to me, and after the tragic death of a participant at an Enduro World Series event in Crested Butte, Colorado this summer, I thought maybe Todd was right. Perhaps the premeditated nature of the Rampage makes it inherently safer than an event like the EWS, where a racer can easily clip a pedal on a completely benign trail, resulting in tragedy.

But then this year’s Red Bull Rampage happened. With all due respect to Barber, one of the nicest and most modest guys you’ll ever meet on or off the trail, I have two big issues with the Rampage. First is the public image it portrays about the sport of mountain biking; it’s a magnet for criticism. It’s bad enough that there are images and videos of riders sending it off unstable eroding cliffs and massive manmade ramps that blight the natural beauty of southwestern Utah, but worse is the blatant manipulation of the terrain. There’s no irony lost on the fact that this event riddled with fall lines, helicopters and massive manmade jumps happens in a town called Virgin.

Following a heavy crash, Paul Basagoitia was evacuated by helicopter. Photo by Eddie Clark / EddieClarkMedia.com

Following a heavy crash, Paul Basagoitia was evacuated by helicopter (click to enlarge). Photo by Eddie Clark / EddieClarkMedia.com

Having dozens of dig teams on the red rock cliffs hacking away with MacLeods in order to make the perfect transition is like shooting fish in a barrel for organizations like the Sierra Club, who are always looking for ways to portray mountain biking in a negative light. Most Americans who don’t mountain bike think of events like the Rampage when they think of our sport, a bro-brah culture of adrenaline-seeking hucksters who only care about going big and getting rad.

We all know this is furthest from the truth, but as in the corporate world, perception is reality.

On the topic of corporate chicanery, the other more significant issue I have with the Rampage is its never-ending quest to go bigger. Every year the stakes get higher, the gap jumps get wider and deeper, the risks that must be taken to win become ever more harrowing. The situation reminds me of my former life in the corporate world, where publicly traded companies are under constant pressure to grow profitability every single quarter. Being stagnant or even experiencing the occasional loss is absolutely taboo, quarterly profits must always improve, and anything less is unacceptable.

Paul Basagoitia gives a thumbs up from his hospital room. Let's all send healing vibes his way. Photo courtesy Cam Zink

Paul Basagoitia gives a thumbs up from his hospital room. Let’s all send healing vibes his way (click to enlarge). Photo courtesy Cam Zink

It’s the same way with the Rampage, every year the stakes must be higher, the jumps bigger and the risks more risky. Forget reality. This is business.

I don’t know about you, but to me, this philosophical approach is a losing game. You can only go so big before you hit a ceiling and the risk becomes too great. And in the instance of the Rampage, too much risk equals death. Watching Nicholi Rogatkin fall off what looked to be a 40-foot cliff is a perfect example. All he did was grab a tad too much front brake when setting up for the third of three big drops, and the next thing he knew he was rolling off a cliff. What if that cliff had been 200 feet high? And I won’t even go into the discussion about him being permitted to get back up and finish his run.

I honestly feel bad and even fear for the competitors in the Rampage. They are caught in a really shitty situation. Every one of these guys is an astonishing world-class athlete with enormous talent, and understandably, they want to make a name for themselves. And in today’s world of “go big or go home,” the way you do it is by being invited to the Rampage and pulling off some of the most death-defying feats ever accomplished on a bike.

Back flips over massive canyon gaps have become the norm. Photo by Eddie Clark/EddieClarkMedia.com

Back flips over massive canyon gaps have become the norm (click to enlarge). Photo by Eddie Clark / EddieClarkMedia.com

What do you do when you’re on top of a giant mountain and it’s too windy for a safe run, but you have a camera in your face and someone saying, “Go! You’re on!” with the whole world watching?

For years I thought to myself that these guys were getting paid handsomely by Red Bull for their tremendous risks and being taken care of in the event of a severe injury. But after Basagoitia’s accident during the event, riders and dig team members are speaking out (take a gander at the aforementioned hashtag to see for yourself). The truth is that these riders who are putting their lives on the line are getting paid spit and actually have to provide their own insurance for the event, which in Basagoitia’s case may have to cover the cost of this helicopter ride.

Help support Paul Basagoitia in his recovery at www.road2recovery.com/cause-view/irideforpaul.

To me, this is the deal breaker. In my eyes, unless the event completely changes its approach, there’s only one way the Rampage can go from here – down. And I truly hope that Red Bull will do the right thing and help provide Paul everything he needs to fully recover from his severe injuries.

I read a another quote from Zink contemplating his sixth place finish at this year’s Rampage, and really, his sentiments sum up my thoughts on the event completely:

“I didn’t do my second run because it wasn’t worth it. We are risking our lives out here. Paul got carted off and couldn’t feel his legs when they Care Flighted him out. My run was as it was. I mean I could have cleaned it up a hair. I could have done a little bit better but not a lot. It would have been a tiny bit better, maybe fifth, maybe fourth, but they weren’t liking what I was doing today, so it wasn’t worth risking my life. That heavy of a run – the scariest, gnarliest run I’ve ever done in my life – to do it again to maybe gain a place or two? It’s just not worth it. I’ve heard Paul is in surgery right now, but he has movement in his legs again, or feeling. I think Bizet is all right, yeah, it’s tough, it’s tough.” – Cam Zink via @deitycomponents

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at singlespeeder@consumerreview.com. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.


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  • Gerry says:

    I was amazed at the destruction that these guys get away with. I don’t know how they can get permits to cut lines in the hills like that. I assume that they do a bunch of repair after the event but, the ASS is right, Sierra Club must be jumping all over this to tarnish MTBing.

    • Cortney says:

      @Gerry – I’m not 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure it’s private land. I went to the event a few years back and it was all fenced and gated.

    • Honcho says:

      They pull the wood structures out but most of the lines and cuts are still there for years to come. A lot of times they go back after and re-hit stuff they didnt want to do during their run for video parts.

  • Zimmerman says:

    The event is held on private property. You know, the kind where you can do what you want with the land you own. Don’t worry, your 5% grade IMBA flow trails are still the norm on public lands.

    PS. Fuck the Sierra Club.

  • Fahzure Freeride says:

    You are just plain wrong about the lines and jumps being bigger, less safe. With the second year at the new site, all of the lines were better defined, safer. The canyon gap landing was substantially altered, eliminating a number of crashes (McGazza X2) experienced last year. The site is on UT State land, otherwise available for oil and gas leasing. The situation is far more nuanced, please talk to people who were there/doing it, instead of relying on what you can glean from the Interweb.

  • Johann Miller says:

    Some of your points are valid, but your screed mainly shows that you just don’t like rampage, and you obviously fear the Sierra Club.

    The lines build into tiny section of the Utah desert are hardly going to cause environmental catastrophe. If you really care, why don’t you take issue with the Air Force’s live munitions testing over wide swaths of the American southwest? Because you – and the Sierra Club – are impotent in the face of true power that causes significant blight.

    As for the “image of mountain biking”… I’m pretty sure if you asked a bunch of 15-25 year olds about the image of mountain biking, rampage makes them more stoked to get on a bike than a story about the latest 100 mile gravel grinder you did on your single-speed.

    You raise genuine issues concerning exploitation of riders – allowing a rider to continue after falling from a cliff, for example. Ultimately, riders have the power here. There are about 30 humans on the planet that can ride these lines. If they formed a union, they’d have immense bargaining power over their compensation and health care benefits.

    At some point, someone will die at rampage. But that could happen in a big wave surf contest.

  • El Dorado MTB says:

    Grist to the mill,…nothing more

  • scott says:

    I’m with you Kurt. I think these events are promoting a part of mountain biking that needs to be fixed. Not really sure where to begin with fixing it though. . .some thoughts are that the “freeriders” shouldn’t have to perform at a contest to get their money. I don’t really know if that would ever happen, but I know personally that no one is “on” every day, so expecting people to perform at their absolute limit (or beyond) on any particular date (that most contestants have to travel to) is just silly. At Rotorua and Whistler Brett Rheeder was coming off a flu or something similar, the fact that he won Rotorua speaks volumes about Rheeder’s incredible abilities, but should not be expected from everyone, especially their sponsors.

    I personally prefer watching video clips of these guys showing what they can do after they have perfectly executed what they want to, like Brandon’s Rad Company and Revel in the Chaos, UnReal and all of the other incredible “freeride” videos that came out this year. Too bad that alone isn’t enough to get the sponsors to pay up. . .

    The thing about Rampage that makes it hard to argue about is that these riders personally select what they are going to ride and how they are going to do so. . .it just seems like they should be allowed to spread out when they do their runs over a week so they can perform in conditions they are comfortable with.

    I love mountain biking, I love watching people push themselves both mentally and physically, and I love hitting jumps with my bikes, I don’t know exactly how big a jump/drop needs to be to consider yourself a “freerider” but I know that if I F*cked up some of the stuff I hit I could be lucky to walk away. . .but thankfully it’s not my job to make sure I do a rad trick every time I jump.

  • riderfree says:

    zink has a film coming out about his preparation for last year’s rampage. he went and set a world record 100ft backflip with full media coverage at mammoth. he even said who knows maybe 150ft… and now it’s f rampage. everybody take a knee

    respectfully disagree with this article’s author.

  • Greg Beardslee says:

    I think that Red Bull should step up and pay all the athletes adequately, and cover insurance as well. If not, then just shut it down and call it good. To continue this model would be disgusting.

    • Jon Yates says:

      You realize that if Red Bull were to cover insurance for the riders, corporate lawyers would be instantly and 100% involved. What lines could be took, what tricks could be performed, etc. No athlete is forced to compete, no guns are held to heads. Could the purses be larger, sure. Would that not lead to increased risk taking for the largest $? Who defines adequately? Why not have the riders individual sponsors cover insurance, and increased salary figures.

      A fatality occurred during a east cost 100-mile endurance race this year. A second occurred during EWS east coast event.

  • TB says:

    Funny how two Rampage articles precede this article. Sad…..I though this was a mountain bike site…Red Bull Rampage is NOT mountain biking!

  • Doug Johnson says:

    Event or no event, money or no money, extreme athletes are going to do what they do. Positive healing vibes to Paul and wishing you a speedy recovery.

  • Gogogordo@earthlink.net says:

    You sound like my wife before I go ride.

  • Gogogordo@earthlink.net says:

    The Ass has spoken once again.
    Go suck YE ASS some more.
    Short timer.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Johann –

    My screed says nothing about being afraid of Sierra Club or environmental catastrophe. I fully understand what the dig teams are doing out in the desert aren’t going to cause irreparable damage. It’s nothing compared to all the commercial exploitation of public land that happens. But its the perception that does the real damage. Have you ever tried to negotiate with anti-MTB folk when gaining trail access? Guess what, these bike-hating zealots use events like Rampage against us. We’re making ourselves easy targets is all I’m saying, nothing more.

    And as far as getting kids stoked on riding, unless you are involved with NICA or a youth development program, what you’re “pretty sure” of means nothing, so don’t come at me with that weak sauce. And you must have me mistaken for someone else – I’ve never done a 100-mile gravel grinder on a singlespeed. That’s stupid. I use gears.

    - ASS

    • fasterjason says:

      Agree 100% on trying to deal with anti-bike people when negotiating trail access. No matter how pragmatic your approach, nothing you say or do will change their mind.

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Gogogordo – I can’t argue with that. Your intelligence and well thought-out viewpoint leaves me with nothing. Congratulations. You’re a scholar.

    - ASS

  • Structure says:

    It’s easy to say “Let them take their own risks” but in reality it’s never that simple. Injury compounds. Politically, but more importantly personally with friends and family left to deal with the consequences. In the end, I can’t stop someone from taking extreme risks, but I can stop watching. I can say they don’t represent the sport or anything that I value.

    Fetishizing risk isn’t just a mountain bike thing. Rock climbing was early and “extreme.” Many sports now seem to idealize the title.

    We need more events that focus on the beauty of riding and trails and less on who is the most “extreme.”

  • phil burleson says:

    I know, first impression, vomiting at the mouth before the result can be processed by the brain, and before reality sets in…I bought a dirt bike to ride woods, race enduros and hare scrambles at the age of 39. Broke my neck at 41. Everyone assumed it was from motorcycles, been riding mountain bikes since 1990. Broke my neck in practice of a local dual slalom mountain bike race! Did’t know if I’d ever ride ANYTHING again. is my point! Been back riding mountain bikes and motorcycles for 18 months. I guarantee that Paul Basagotia will be back riding if his body allows. Also Guarantee he knew the risks and rode anyway. I DID! For free!!! Because I love it. Think Erik Roner didn’t know the consequences? He DID. So did hid his friends and family. Is it sad? of course! is that why we watch? Is that why we push ourselves to go beyond what we perceive our limits to be? Yeah, of course. my point is, I broke my neck doing something I’ve done 500 times, I sure Paul Bas has done it 5000 times…Im sure Roner did it 500 times.

    You think anyone asked Dale Earnhardt Jr to stop racing when his dad died? NO WAY! Difference is, unfortunately, money. I get it, there isn’t enough money to pay extreme athletes the same as ‘main stream” athletes in times of trouble…but attack redbull,or specific events? The bicycle world will take care of ‘it’s” own”…believe me. I feel horrible for Paul B, Roner’s family and friends, Earnhardt’s family and friends, all the FMX wives and families who’ve lost someone…But I feel just a little worse for people like Paul Basagotia, people like Rory Mead.

    I’ve been following many athlete’s for years. Nobody ever said, “shut down Motocross” when Eli Tomac crashed last year…Pretty sure John Tomac, his dad, (best BEST overall mountain biker of his time) ever had injuries as serious as his son’s. There weren’t too many people screaming for ending professional surfing when mick fannning, pro surfer, was attacked by a shark a month or so ago. I could go on and on…

    Let’s just give whatever we can to Paul B, since this sport we love, hasn’t figured out how to take care of him and his family yet. I’m sure we will, but until then…give him and his family break, open your wallet’s as much as you open your mouth’s! What did your last MRI cost you? my last was $1000.00 MY Total hospital bill…Over $300,000K!

  • The Angry Singlespeeder says:

    Nobody’s saying Rampage should be shut down, but it needs to change to make the event safer for everyone involved. Some people find this disagreeable, which I can’t understand. What’s wrong with looking out for the athletes, photographers, volunteers, medical staff and spectators? Do they deserve less? Or is looking out for the safety of people for pussies?

    Structure – you hit the nail on the head. The neverending dick-swinging competition of who can be more “extreme” is a losing game that ultimately ends in death. We shouldn’t celebrate this kind of athleticism. The whole base jumping/wingsuit thing is another example. One of my close friends has lost a few buddies over the past couple years to base jumping, and he’s sick of it. He refuses to be friends with base jumpers any more because he feels its like being friends with a junkie addict. He should know, he used to be one. They live for the fix, the adrenaline fix.

    - ASS

    • Matthew says:

      Its not a matter of swinging anything. What these guys have hanging is something they are not worrying about bragging about. What they have done with the progression of mtn biking is the foundation for its future. Besides obvious mechanical advantages, the growth of the sport comes from seeing what is possible. Redbull lets us see it. We want it and the media gives it to us. We learn from it and then we can teach others what is possible. Sure Cam Zink wants first place, but what he wants more is to be a model for the future. We could get a flat and go over a cliff on some mellow rides or we could pull a hundred foot backflip over a canyon with hundreds of spectators. How do you want to go out? With your adrenaline gland suppressed and bored criticizing others for what you obviously are afraid of, or as a pioneer that was willing to take chances in the name of progression?

  • fasterjason says:

    Rampage is not that dangerous, relatively speaking. Isle of Man TT averages more than two deaths per year. For some the taste of death is their disease. I think the younger riders will self-regulate some after seeing big crashes. I did not see anyone try to front flip the canyon gap this year.

    Redbull should be providing insurance for these guys.

  • AngryElf says:

    I’m old, and because I’m old I’ve never really considered Rampage mountain biking. Is it fun to watch? Yes! Are these guys incredibly talented and brave? Absolutely. But it just it just doesn’t have much in common with what me and my friends do at China Camp or Mt. Burdell. And, I agree that it is the perfect event for groups like the Sierra Club to point out how destructive mountain biking is. Anyway. great column Angry Single Speeder. You hit the nail on the head.

  • Farmer Ted says:

    ASS, for once I agree with you. The only other thing I’d add is that the image that these kinds of events portray (and related videos) causes a bunch of wannabes to go out locally and act like complete d-bags while showing no respect to anyone or anything. These are the guys who wear full face helmets and pads on XC trails, push their downhill bikes up every hill and show no regard for etiquette or anything else on the way down. The irony is that pretty much all of the ones I’ve run in to are horrible riders and they probably don’t stick with it too long but the damage they do (on all levels) is tremendous. I’d really like for mountain biking to lose this extreme bro-brah image that has been portrayed over the last 5+ years.

    Maybe I’m old but I’m jonesing for the old school mtb culture from the early to mid 1990s.

  • Josh says:

    You talk like the riders are forced to do this, when it is their choice-spoken like a true liberal.

  • Ben says:

    The Rampage is no different as a venue than the videos and films depicting extreme athletes. As long as there are people willing to watch and pay for the voyeuristic pleasures of safely watching someone else risk their life, the show will go on.

    The Sierra Club exists to protect things that cannot protect themselves, ie. plants, animals, the natural environment. If you are not able to see the good in environmental protection, you may want take a moment to reflect on why your ride in natural areas.

    Vibes to Paul …

  • Pete says:

    Race and event organizers often don’t take the necessary time to actually consider the real chances of serious injury or death in their events. You have to sit down and discuss what the chance of death is at your event. Then you have to be comfortable with those chances and prepared to handle it. Is it a 1% chance, a 5% chance? What are you comfortable with?

  • Swingset says:

    I like to watch things die- from a good, safe distance……

    Maynard James Keenan “Vicarious” Tool

    ….and yes, I am being sarcastic

  • Brian Mayeux says:

    well at least the taxpayers aren’t paying the hospital bills… It’s their body/life, let them risk it. I would only object if the taxpayers were paying the medical bills…

  • Tom says:

    It would be cool to see this sport follow the path of GP-level motorcycle road racing. A few decades ago, the tracks were death traps. Brick walls, steel guardrails, bad pavement and the like. In short, Kenny Roberts got riders of the time organized, and got the ball rolling on safety measures. The long-term result is that the tracks on which MotoGP and World Superbike are contested today are astounding from a safety standpoint.

    Not that these sports can ever be completely safe, but measures can be taken (see also the progression of FIS World Cup Skiing downhill course safety measures over the decades).

  • Shark says:

    Nobody is forcing the riders to do this stuff. Sheesh.

  • Jeff C says:

    Once again I disagree with the “ASS”. Would it have killed him to do some research on whether this was public or private land?

    Here’s the main issue. These riders are adults. They can make their own decisions. I’ve never heard of a title sponsor providing insurance for athletes. If you can ride a bike like these guys you can get insurance for yourself. If you can’t afford it, but you’ve been invited. Get on gofundme.com and I’m sure people would help if the rider really wants to ride in the Rampage.

    In the end there is a saying that fits this situation: “You can’t lose a fight you don’t show up for”. Good on Cam Zink for not taking a risk he felt was too high.

  • Randy Collette says:

    So I have personally known someone killed in a fall on a normal trail. On average, there is a road cycling / commuting death 40 times per year in my state.

    I have heard this argument after surfing big storms or riding fast at night on illegal trails. There will always be people that want some authority figure to say “no” to things that scare them. I’m glad I am not one of them.

    I wish Paul Basagoitia the best. Rampage is awesome. It’s one of the few things I watch on TV and can’t quite imagine actually doing. Rampage and Ski/base/squirrel suit flight. Just good crazy stuff.

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