Red Bull Rampage – How high is too high?

The 2015 Red Bull Rampage is here.

In our two-wheeled bid to slip the surly bonds of earth are we becoming blind, or even ignorant, to the dangers?

words by Ernest McPickle / images by Red Bull content pool

How high is too high? It’s a question mankind has always seemed happy to pitch a heady combination of science and flesh and bone against in order to answer. John Glenn cruised the edges of space in a bid to find it out and returned to earth a hero. The ones that return to earth usually do so as heroes.


In mountain biking, we have events like the Red Bull Rampage as our perennial yardsticks as to who can go the highest and the longest. But are we nearing the ceiling? That intangible line which denotes the ‘edge of space’ from ‘space’ which once crossed, multiplies the dangers and repercussions indefinitely.

As the world’s best mountain bikers assemble in the baked ochre surroundings of the Zion National Park for this year’s Rampage, there are whisperings from insiders of some of the big names torturous psychological battles. Riders who’ve blown us away in various ways over the years taking literally hours to psyche themselves up to hit things like the 70ft across, canyon gap and the Oakley Icon Sender.

Personally, I feared we’d reached the ceiling with Cam Zink’s crash over the aforementioned canyon in practice for the 2012 event. It had all the slow-motion, grimly fascinating dynamics of watching an explosion or a motor racing fireball. The fact that he hobbled out of it with a bruised heal and not a shattered spine probably nullified the fears in our collective perception.

Likewise, when a course steward began securing a small wooden kicker to the end of the highest launch off of the Oakley Icon Sender at this year’s contest for the same rider, I again felt the sickening creep of ‘I don’t want to watch this’. The camera then compounded matters by cutting to Zink’s heavily pregnant wife.

Of course, he landed it. The debate as to whether or not it should have won him the contest and if he could have pulled it clean again given a second crack (Zink was among the riders whose second runs were cancelled by the weather) promptly raged online.

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But what if he hadn’t have landed it safely? What if he or someone else had really hurt themselves, or worse still actually died at one of these events? That was horrible to type, never mind to contemplate.

If they do so at the flagship event of a big name sponsor, off an obstacle sponsored by a big name sponsor, whilst being plastered in logos from other big name sponsors, in front of millions of viewers – what then?!

Will ‘the biggest/most extreme/gnarly/super-shredding freeride comp’ turn into nothing more than a slightly sickening, financially and morally toxic freak show?

Mike Hopkins crash where the rider rag-dolled after getting bucked from a drop only to lie motionless face down some thirty feet from where he left the bike offered a morose peak behind the mortal curtain.


Talk to riders like Brendan Fairclough though about the long weekend in the desert and a smile flashes across their faces. To a select group of bike handlers, this is truly the ultimate test. It’s more about pushing their own limits than it is garnering points from the often criticised judges.
But not everyone who arrives in Utah is as gifted as these top few. Some are there on the behest of the people who pay their wages. Being a pro has it’s costs after all and everything, if not always equal, is relative.

Just as critics bemoaned the very need to go into space (something we’re no longer interested in, incidentally), so too have people always feared that we’re pushing the envelope too far with what could/should be expected to be done on a push bike.

The stark truth is however that even if something calamitous does occur, it likely won’t affect a thing. Mountain biking isn’t a sport played out within a set of parametres or rules, injuries are accepted and we collectively crave that raising of the bar. The impossible will continue to be made possible and we’ll all just keep watching.

Massive good luck to everyone riding at Rampage this weekend – go big and be safe!

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The 2015 Red Bull Red Bull Rampage Live Stream will roll here at 17:30 UK time on Thursday 16th October.