THE INSANITY OF BUILDING LINES
FOR RED BULL RAMPAGE 2023
Presented by Can-Am
Words by Robert Johnston
Photos by Max Rhulen & Trevor Lyden
After years of watching Red Bull Rampage from afar, our new-guy behind the lens, Max Rhulen and myself (Rob) were fortunate enough to pay a visit to Virgin, UT for the first week of the revered 2023 Red Bull Rampage freeride event. Thanks to Can-Am we were able to gain special access to the event site and witness the 18 athletes and their dig crews carve in their lines for this year’s contest. Since Can-Am ambassador and ten-time Rampage competitor Tyler McCaul was sitting this year’s event out due to a recent ankle fusion, we were able to wrangle him into being our co-host and historian as we ventured into the hallowed grounds for our first time. It was an amazing experience for a first timer from the UK to get this sort of a tour and time with the riders, their dig crews and to see the absolute massiveness of this event first-hand. Check out the interviews from several legendary riders and their diggers as they prepare for the craziest mountain bike event in the world!
As the 2023 venue had been previously used five times – including the most recent 2022 event – most riders did not have to start from a blank canvas, although some riders who were new to the venue opted to anyway. Due to heavy rains falling on the arid hillside over the summer, soils had shifted, and rain ruts had developed, so there was still plenty of work to do to get the lines dialed in, even for riders committed to riding the same line down the hill as the year prior.
After a year of reflection, returning to the same site for the 2023 event was a huge positive for some riders, and a further challenge for others. Repeat riders had conjured up ideas about how to change or improve their lines from last year, with twelve months worth of dreams and hypotheses to action upon their return. These ideas relied on a perfect memory of the topography at the Red Bull Rampage site though, which is nigh on impossible due to its rugged complexity, so there was still some analysis required for these return riders during the initial scouting and digging days to help decide exactly how best to approach their line for this year. Of course, these riders don’t want to just repeat the year before, but are looking to add further impressive features and make their existing setups more trick-friendly, so there’s not a single dig crew at the event without a ton of work to do.
For the riders who had not been to the venue for many years, if at all, it was to be a mostly clean slate aside from the lines already established on the hill and any preconceptions formed from watching the broadcast. With UK-riders Gee Atherton and Brendan Fairclough in attendance following absences in 2022, it was impressive to see their own interpretations of the venue – and what’s possible to ride. The result in two seriously gnarly features being created from scratch. Gee’s Rock Drop is as monstrous vertically as Brendan’s Canyon Gap is long, with both having insane consequences. But these two know a thing or two about going big, and I really can’t wait to see two of the scariest looking features I’ve ever laid witness to being ridden in the event finals.
Editor’s Note: Sadly after we wrapped our interview with Gee, he set out to test some of his line and it looks like Gee won’t be riding finals after a huge crash on this drop in practice, we wish him a speedy recovery!
With close access to the athletes for this year’s event – as well as Tyler McCaul who will sadly miss what would have been his eleventh Rampage due to an ankle injury – it was clear that UTVs are an extremely valuable tool for the athletes and their crews. Not only do they allow closer access to the riders’ lines and help to transport tools and cold drinks to and from the site, but it was clear that the riders appreciated driving the machines on the gnarly terrain on the approach to the venue. For these guys, the small adrenaline rush of ripping the UTVs through the desert would help to set the tone for a productive day ahead, and the psychology behind this sort of aid is not to be underestimated. As my first time in a Side-By-Side, getting to ride along with Tyler in his Can-Am Commander Max XT-P had my mind blown by how insanely capable and fun they are to drive over gnarly terrain. As a UK dweller, my envy of getting to use this kind of vehicle on the daily is hard to put into words.
All in all, it’s been a truly special experience getting to pay a visit to the grounds of Red Bull Rampage and to speak with the athletes and see their hard work in the flesh. I don’t think any video can quite do the size and exposure of this event justice, but it’s safe to say that the main broadcast is very exciting to watch, and I can’t wait to see what goes down this year.