The human cost of extreme MTB riding

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Tom Van Steenbergen scouts his line during the Red Bull Rampage (Red Bull Content Pool)
Tom Van Steenbergen scouts his line during the Red Bull Rampage (Red Bull Content Pool)
  • Canada’s best mountain biker won the world’s most dangerous event.
  • But his victory was tinged with reality, as a fellow Canadian rider suffered terrible injuries.
  • The 20th Red Bull Rampage, proved again, to be an unforgiving extreme mountain biking experience.

Canada’s immensely talented and inarguably brave Brandon Semenuk, won his fourth Red Bull Rampage on Friday, in Utah. 

Considered by many to be the most talented extreme mountain biker of his generation, Semenuk was the event’s defending champion and a favourite to win.

His victory was notable for many reasons. The first was that Semenuk was riding a mountain bike with a smaller mixed wheelset.

Where 29er wheels dominate in cross-country and downhill racing, smaller wheels are preferred at extreme terrain mountain bike events, such as Rampage.

Mountain bike
Brandon Semenuk dropping into freefall, with amazing control (Photo: Red Bull Content Pool)

Proving the smaller wheel concept

Semenuk’s Trek Session has a 27.5” front wheel and 26” rear.

Why the preference for these smaller wheels, if 29er wheels are championed as offering all the rollover and terrain absorption benefits? Simple: control.

Riders at Rampage spend so much time airborne when launching the various terrain features that the danger of aerodynamic instability, make bigger wheels too risky. A smaller wheel has less surface area, to be unbalanced by crosswinds.

Red Bull Rampage
Far too steep, to walk up or down. But the Rampage riders, revel in this terrain (iPhoto: Red Bull Content Pool)

Fork technology has evolved, a lot

The other interesting feature on Semenuk’s bike, was his choice of fork.

Rampage demands more from mountain bike suspension than even the wildest downhill racing course. Despite this, Semenuk won on a single-crown fork instead of the larger triple-clamp designs used for downhill racing.

A defining rider of his generation, Semenuk effortlessly tamed the terrifying Rampage terrain. But not all of his fellow riders were as lucky.

Rampage is dangerous. Although there has never been a fatality at any of the 20 events, crashes are dramatic, and injuries, severe. This year’s Rampage was no different.

When it goes wrong - very wrong...

Although he would win the 'best trick' award, Semenuk’s countryman, Tom van Steenbergen, suffered an appalling crash. Attempting a frontflip followed by a backflip, it looked like Van Steenbergen had everything under control. And then, he didn’t.

The crash put Van Steenbergen in hospital with his hip sockets broken into multiple pieces, a broken femur, lower vertebrae and shoulder. An eight hour surgery was required, to start Van Steenbergen's recovery. 

Despite the genuine risk associated with Red Bull’s Rampage mountain bike event, the riders keep attending when invited. And building more bolder lines to progress their vision of extreme gravity mountain biking.

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