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Where Men Leap Canyons: Red Bull Rampage Is The Sharp Edge Of Sport

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Kelly McGarry blows our collective minds in 2013; photo by Hoshi K. Yoshida

Coming soon to the Utah desert: The world’s ballsiest mountain bikers will rip down a steep dirt mountain face, hucking backflips and generally disregarding the laws of physics and the human sentiment of self preservation.

Red Bull Rampage is one of those events that is not aspirational for anyone except a tiny fragment of elite, skilled and insane mountain bikers.

But this is the cutting edge, the place where a perfect marriage of technology and skill produces something beyond the scope of human ability. Nobody should be able to do these things, yet there it is.

Cam Zink hucks an insane backflip

In the last few years of competition, Red Bull Rampage has produced nearly as much YouTube/GoPro/POV fodder as Grumpy Cat — and that’s saying something.

I spoke with Kelly McGarry, a top rider, 2013 Viewers Choice winner and second place finisher, and four time veteran of the Rampage (although he’s only competed three times because he broke his leg in practice one year — go figure) to find out how… the… hell?

“Prepping for Red Bull Rampage, it’s a lot of time on the bike,” McGarry said. “You’ve got to be really comfortable on the bike.”

Understatement. Of. The. Century.

Kelly McGarry, that’s a long ways down

To watch McGarry and his ilk ride, you’d think they are part bike. Rider and cycle merge into a crazy Centaur with wheels, a union that makes both much greater than the sum of their parts.

And we all get to watch.

I spoke with McGarry, a proud Kiwi far from home, as he drove across the desert toward the town of Virgin, Utah, where he will spend the next week preparing for the competition.

And preparation for Red Bull Rampage is almost as nuts as the event. Competitors are given an entire mountain face upon which to compete. And not only can they choose their own line, but also are allowed to construct jumps, drops and other features that enhance the already-insane lines they choose down the dirt and rock mountain.

“Look ma, no hands,” says Kyle Straight

So McGarry and his crew, along with many other competitors, will spend the next week digging in the dirt with a crew to construct a perfect line down the mountain upon which to ply their craft.

“It’s a roller coster, slamming out there in the hot sun on the end of a shovel or pick,” McGarry said. “Then you’ve gotta ride all the crazy stuff you built. Jumping it for the first time is pretty scary.”

No kidding. Tell us more.

“Red Bull Rampage, there’s no other comp like it,” McGarry continued. “Dropping in, it’s a full on experience. At the top, you get full 360 degree views. Dropping in is nerve racking. It’s pretty exposed up there. You’ve got a whole run to remember, a lot of blind takeoffs…it’s really full on.”

And yeah, they definitely do crash! Check out this worst crashes of 2013 video! Ouch!


Fortunately for those of us unable to make the pilgrimage to watch these divine cyclists in person, the event will be televised on NBC. And if you miss it there, no doubt YouTube and the rest of the Internet will be flooded with backflips, canyon jumping action for weeks to come.

The Red Bull Rampage finals kick off on Sept. 28. and fans around the world can join in on the experience with a live webcast www.redbull.com/rampage with an enhanced second screen experience and live voting for the fan favorite.

Kelly McGarry makes it look easy

Thanksgiving leftovers will be served on NBC on Sunday, November 30th at 12:30pm EST when the Signature Series broadcast of Red Bull Rampage is aired.

In the meantime, good luck to the competitors. Stay safe out there and remember to have fun because, as McGarry told me: “You get stoked. That’s what it’s about.”

McGarry, being stoked in 2013

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