Every fall, some of the most skilled free riders in the world challenge themselves and each other to conquer incredible lines at the Red Bull Rampage in Utah. We chatted with Cameron Zink and Kyle Strait, two former winners who finished second and eighth respectively this year, for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to compete in the Rampage.
Stan’s NoTubes: You guys combined forces with Pierre Edouard Ferry to create the line you rode straight down the heart of Rampage. When did the three of you decide to do that, and who pitched that idea?
Cam: I had a plan to ride that line before I got there and didn’t want to leak it out until we essentially staked our claim on our line during the first dig day allowed at the venue. I went straight to the top to claim the line even though I had been in bed for three days with some horrible stomach problems prior and probably should still have been in bed. Pierre and Kyle were there thinking the exact same thing! It was perfect because building it turned out to be a lot more time consuming than we had originally thought, and we needed the combined effort of all three teams of one rider plus two diggers.
Kyle: It would have been on the site check day. We all had the idea to try and go from the top since seeing it the previous year. All of us decided that we would work on it together to make it ride-able and as “safe as possible”. Haha!Stan’s: What’s the morning of Rampage look like? Coffee? Breakfast?
Cam: I’ll have my whole kit, bag and bike ready to go. I’ll get up, make breakfast and hang out with the kids for a little bit before venturing out. The best thing you can do is keep it as autonomous as possible and think as little as possible, but stay happy and busy so that your mind doesn’t wander.
Kyle: Yep, get up before the sun, get some breakfast going, and set up all your gear, kits, goggles, gloves, extras... I usually roll my back out on a foam roller to make sure I’m all in line then load up, get out to the site. Once unloaded, I try my best to warm up on the bottom features and try to stay as calm as possible.
Stan’s: What are you guys doing while the other riders are on their runs? Do you watch every one?
Cam: I try to stay relatively informed and watch some of them, but I don’t want to let it ruin my focusing on what I need to do. There is a small chance that you will change up minor things in your run based on how the judges are operating that day or the wind or even based on what other riders are doing, but usually there is nothing you can do but ride your own event and not compete against anyone but yourself.
Kyle: Some riders I enjoy watching, and others make me nervous to watch. I pretty much just focus on my line unless I’m sharing a line like Zink I and did. Then you are pretty much riding together and watching how the others ride the line, too.Stan’s: How much time goes into bike setup? Are your Rampage bikes set up much differently from your regular bike setups?
Cam: I am constantly setting up my bike and evolving it. When I was younger, I wasn’t as adamant about set up, but now that I have been on so many film trips and competed so many times, I like to take the guesswork out of it. By just checking tire pressure and suspension settings before you ride - even on a normal, small day - it becomes so much easier to distinguish why the bike is doing what it does and how to set it up for any situation or line that you plan to ride.
Kyle: Most of the set up goes into suspension tuning. We have a good idea of what we want from doing the event over so many years. The hardest part is getting the high speed rebound correct since I run such a high spring rate for the event. Big drops equal big springs. Tire pressure is pretty standard for me at the Rampage which would be 35 psi in the front and 40 psi in the rear. [Editor’s note: Kyle ran tubeless front and rear this year.]
Stan’s: It’s a competition, but all the riders seem to support each other. How much communication goes on during the dig and during the event?
Cam: We are brothers in arms. I’ve been fortunate to have never been in battle or war, but we all say the same thing; it feels like going off to war. Kissing your wife or girlfriend goodbye, knowing how gnarly everything is about to get and realizing the inherent risk of death and injury. We are competing, but we all love progressing the sport and watching our friends succeed. In a perfect world, everyone will land a run, nobody gets hurt, and you walk away proud. That happened for the first time ever this year.
Kyle: There are lines that cross everywhere, and everyone is trying to make the sickest line they can so it can get a little crazy out there. But for the most part, we like each other and try to work with other riders to make sure lines are safe for each other, and we work it out.Stan’s: Kyle talked with us about how the crowd and announcers sometimes think that riders are building suspense or checking the wind, when what you’re actually doing up in the start gate is math: calculating risk and reward. What don’t people know about Rampage and riding at this level?
Cam: It looks absolutely nothing like it does on TV. I am always amazed watching the event while hearing people talk about how gnarly it is. When I watch it on TV, it looks boring and small. You can’t give it perspective or express the level of risk and scale unless you are there. It is unreal. So when the wind is ripping on TV, people don’t really understand what is going on. There are jumps and wind scenarios that are literally impossible, so we have to wait it out. And then if you land your run and the judges don’t like what you did, there isn’t much point in doing another one. Landing your run is a huge win in itself; it’s just a bonus if the judges like it.
Kyle: For me, it’s all about risk vs reward. I lay it all out on the line, and if it doesn’t came back the way we were planning, it makes it then not worth the risk. This year at the top, I watched 99 percent of the riders not score more than 0.55 of a point even if they had a much better run that was cleaner, smoother and/or included better tricks. So, I looked at that, and for me, it turned out not to be worth risking the extra tricks to score just half a point. It was a tough decision, but I am happy with what I decided. I’d say that my first run this year was one of my best in my Rampage career, and I walked away from the event healthy, so I’ll take that. You Could Own Kyle Strait's One of a Kind Custom Camo Flow MK3 Wheelset
Stan's NoTubes, Onyx Racing, and Kyle Strait have teamed up to auction off a one of a kind custom camouflage Flow MK3 Wheelset! All proceeds from the auction will go to NICA, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association. Helping develop the sport of mountain biking and getting more kids on bikes is something that's very important to all of us, and the money that this wheelset raises will be donated to NICA to help their mission to get #morekidsonbikes. You're looking at an exact replica of the wheels created for Kyle's 2017 Rampage bike. Stan's and Onyx got together to build these limited edition camo and orange wheels just for Kyle. How limited edition? Because riding off cliffs tends to be hard on equipment, we built two wheelsets for Kyle, but his first set handled the whole event (and are still going strong), so these backup wheels never even needed to come out of the box. Now they can be yours. Only two riders in the world will have this special camo and orange Stan's/Onyx wheelset: Kyle Strait, and maybe you! Check them out here!