If there's one guy you don't want to miss when the inaugural X Games Mountain Bike Slopestyle competition kicks off this week in Munich, it's Sam Pilgrim. You'll know the world's number one slopestyle rider by the way he backflips off the drops, and for the way he makes having a missing front tooth look good. The 23-year-old bloke from Colchester, England, is nearly as famous on the Freeride Mountain Bike World Tour for his funky personal style and quirky, straight-shooting observations as he is for his technical prowess on a mountain bike. In other words, he's must-see TV. Here's what Pilgrim told the X Games about going big, getting a shot at X Games gold and what BMX riding and slopestyle have in common (and don't).
How would you describe your style of riding?
Technical and fun. I just try and do a bit of BMX really. BMX style with a mountain bike.
How are the dynamics of doing tricks on a bigger bike different than on a BMX bike?
Not too much. My bike's actually not even heavier than a BMX bike, it's the same weight. The only thing that's different is that your wheels are bigger, so they act like more of a sail. If you do a tailwhip or something, the wheel size makes the bike move slower. I've swapped bikes with BMXers for a laugh -- and the BMX riders can basically do everything on my bike, and I can basically do everything on theirs.
How is MTB slopestyle different than BMX dirt jumping and big mountain riding?
The most different thing is that we have one drop to another and BMX doesn't really do tricks down drops like that. So that's impressive, and the size of the jumps is way bigger. It's closer to freestyle motocross, really. But we've got some funny, smaller technical stuff, so it's a nice mix between BMX and moto. The size of the jumps is more similar to FMX and the tricks most of the time are like FMX. I like to do more technical BMX tricks, whereas other guys maybe like to do bigger, more mountain-bike-y stuff. It's the same as BMX dirt jumping, in that you can do the same tricks. But we'd have to land off a big drop, trick that and then hit a dirt jump, which is the harder part about it. Some people with a mountain bike would say that being on a mountain is real mountain biking -- going down a mountain, like Red Bull Rampage or whatever. I think [slopestyle] is more like real mountain biking, but it's kind of close to BMX with the tricks. I don't like Rampage, but other mountain bikers would say that Rampage is real mountain biking.
In terms of slopestyle what would be the next evolutionary step for the sport?
Maybe some more crazy obstacles. Stuff that's so different that if an everyday person looked at it, they'd be like, Oh my God, what's that? And they'd be so interested. Everyone always tells me they want to make everything way bigger, but there's already freestyle motocross, which is different than BMX already, so we should just have different features.
What are your signature tricks?
Backwards Superman Flip is one of my favorite ones. I do that in most contests, because it's kind of scary looking, I guess, and cool to the crowd. That one does quite well.
What have you been doing to prep for Munich? Have you got any new tricks on tap?
I don't really like to call it training, because I just like to play around on my bike, but I suppose I've trained, or ridden my bike most every day. I'm not doing anything different. I just get up, decide where I'm going to ride and then go there. I haven't really thought of any new tricks yet, especially as I've heard the course is supposed to be pretty big. So I think I'll just stick to the tricks I already know, actually.
What are you expecting out of the course build?
I've heard some that some of the stuff is stupidly big and not really that fun, but we'll have to wait until we get there to see that. I've heard people say there are all sorts of different sizes and they've had to have meetings to make it smaller. So I don't know. I'm just taking my little small bike so hopefully I can ride it on a hardtail. I think loads of guys are going to take full suspension bikes. Hopefully my wrists will be strong enough for that last drop. Slopestyle riders usually use two suspensions on their bikes, but I don't like suspension and I've only got one. It's more taxing on my wrists, but I ride that bike every day. I live in England and there are no mountains here so I don't have a need for a full suspension bike.
What can people expect from the European fans at X Games Munich?
Everyone knows X Games but most people have not been able to witness it in Europe. So I think the fans are going to be crazy, they're going to travel from all over, they're going to be even more excited to watch than they ever would be.
Does it help bring out your best when there are lots of fans?
The fans are so enthused that you can't wimp out. You have to do good for the screaming people, so it's kind of like peer pressure. If there are loads of people screaming at you to do something, you're like, 'Oh my God, they would be so happy if I do it.' So you just do it.
Carmen R. Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN Magazine and a regular contributor to XGames.com.