The evolution of Freeride MTB
From founding to freeride
From the early days of the famed Repack Downhill to Cam Zink and the modern freeride mountain bike movement, XGames.com traces the lineage and progression of the sport over the past 35 years through a selection of its most colorful and influential characters.
The rise of the Repack Downhill
Originating in the Marin foothills of Fairfax, California, in 1976, the legendary Repack Downhill gave rise to the first experimental mountain bikes. Joe Breeze (left) would create a series of roughly a dozen custom "Breezer" designs for members of the group. In 1979, Gary Fisher (right) and friend Charles Kelly would start Fisher-Kelly MountainBikes, somewhat accidentally lending a name to a burgeoning sport that would continue to grow and evolve for the next 35 years. Many of their early mountain bike designs, built by frame builder Tom Ritchey, were based on early Repack designs. Much of the original group remains active in the industry today.
Paul Turner and Keith Bontrager joined forces in 1987, and borrowed existing motocross suspension technologies to develop the first prototype full suspension mountain bike. While the original design never caught on, two years later Turner, along with partner Steve Simons, both former motocross riders and mechanics, relied on their motocross roots to create the first dedicated MTB suspension fork, founding RockShox.
Greg "Hair-ball" Herbold
Perhaps the first iconic male MTB downhiller, Herbold's flamboyant personality, with disco '90s neon colors to match, made him an early fan favorite. His natural talents and enthusiasm for new technologies helped drive development and testing of early downhill-specific equipment and suspension designs that would later evolve into the modern freeride movement. He was the first UCI Downhill champion, pictured here racing to victory at the 1990 World Mountain Bike Championships in Durango, Colorado.
Hans "No Way" Rey
Originating as a competitive MTB Trials rider in the late '80s through the '90s, with an impressive resume of national and world titles, the native German's talents crossed boundaries as not only one of the first MTB film stars, but also gave the sport exposure through regular Hollywood stunt work and guest appearances on network television. He was also a pioneer of the early "Extreme Mountain Biking." Outside of competition and in more recent years, Rey's adventure and travel exploits have taken him across the world, filming in more than 60 countries on bike-fueled expeditions, pictured here in the Wadi Rum Desert of Jordan.
Palmer, the brash crossover snowboard athlete, exploded on the world MTB downhilling scene in the mid-'90s, just a year after picking up the sport. With years of competitive snowboarding already under his belt, Palmer's brief influence on the Downhill and Dual Slalom MTB scene brought notable changes in the form of motocross-style equipment and then-unheard-of big-money sponsor contracts, along with a personality that garnered headlines, in addition to an early 1997 X Games DH Mountain Bike gold.
Missy "The Missile" Giove
Another crossover athlete, Giove first entered the competitive realm as a nationally ranked downhill skier before transitioning full-time to downhill MTB, becoming the sport's first mainstream female superstar. Her dominance throughout the '90s was paired with a colorful and fast-talking personality that drove endorsement deals outside of traditional endemic sponsors and positioned her in front of a generation of upcoming female MTB talents. With her trademark desiccated body of deceased pet piranha Gonzo dangling from her neck, Giove battled the snows of Big Bear mountain to 1997 Winter X Downhill MTB gold.
One of the longest-running figures in downhill MTB history, Peaty has single-handedly borne witness to the entire progression of MTB history. Now in the 25th year of his competitive career and counting, the 40-year-old Brit remains competitive at the highest level of UCI Mountain Bike downhill competition, and his determined focus and friendly nature have inspired a generation of countrymen to the top of the sport. From early battles with the legendary Nicolas Vouilloz to the influence on more recent pros Gee Atherton and Aaron Gwin, Peat was the subject of the recent documentary "Won't Back Down" and continues to inspire and entertain with his ongoing web series "This is Peaty."
In the woods of British Columbia, Simmons, along with countrymen Brett Tippie and Richie Schley -- all considered amongst the godfathers ofmodern Freeride MTB -- began a movement in the late '90s that eschewed the speed and competition of modern downhilling in favor of the fun, airs and style that would become a signature of the Freeride genre, diverging from traditional downhill. Simmons would go on to win the inaugural Red Bull Rampage in 2001, still widely considered the discipline's Olympics. The so-called Fro-Riders (having donned wig disguises in early advertisements to avoid some murky trademark waters surrounding the name "freeride"), continue to influence the genre as it enters a third decade.
A "veteran" free rider at just 33, and successful early convert from BMX Park and Dirt disciplines, Berrecloth brought a generation of established tricks over to the burgeoning Freeride movement. His early 360s off of sizable drops, considered massive at the time, are stuff of legend. Though battling injury in recent years, his contributions to the sport show no signs of slowing down, including major recent film segments, top-tier course designs across the globe and even playing host to his signature event, the Bearclaw Invitational, a gold-level annual event on the FMB World Tour.
Back-to-back FMB World Tour champion in 2011-2012, as well as current No. 1 ranked rider this season, Semenuk is fresh off a win at Red Bull Joyride (the event's only three-time winner), after taking a step back from major events to film his feature-length "Rad Company" film (pictured) and ongoing "Life Behind Bars" web series (though he still locked up a 2013 X Games Munich MTB Slopestyle silver medal). Revered for his consistency, landing tricks as if running on automatic, as well as pushing new frontiers, off the bike Semenuk is always polite and in control, an exceptional ambassador for the sport.
Single-handedly progressing the sport year after year, Zink is already a legend in his own right. Constantly fighting back from injury, his 2010 360 off the Oakley sender for the Rampage win, followed up with 2013's monstrous 78-foot step-down backflip of the same hit (pictured here) are but two insights into his dedication to pushing the possibilities of freeride. On the eve of his world record 100-foot Monster Backflip attempt, the sport's eyes again look to Zink to once more raise the bar on what can be done on two wheels.