Bike (USA) - - Contents - PHOTO: BRUNO LONG

EV­ERY TIME I GET ON MY BIKE, I’m thank­ful. Not for the time and abil­ity to ride—those don’t go un­ap­pre­ci­ated, but hon­estly, I could use more of both. What I’m gen­er­ally think­ing about is how re­lieved I am that I’m on a bike that rides so well.

I didn’t dis­cover moun­tain biking un­til my early 20s—a burned-out jour­nal­ist seek­ing respite in the woods—so I never truly had to suf­fer through our sport’s grow­ing pains. Although I’ve cer­tainly ex­pe­ri­enced awk­ward ge­om­e­try, too-short bars and too­long stems, nar­row rims and wimpy tires, I’m bliss­fully ig­no­rant of most of moun­tain biking’s worst his­toric ail­ments. I al­most don’t de­serve to be ped­al­ing bikes that

are nearly slack enough for the World Cup down­hill cir­cuit but also climb like a scared cat scal­ing a tree, be­cause I haven’t lived through enough of the un­com­fort­able stuff.

In­stead, I reap the re­wards from so much of the trial and er­ror and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion that came be­fore my moun­tain bike awak­en­ing. That’s the beauty of pro­gres­sion—we’re all pay­ing the price now for some­one else’s fu­ture per­fec­tion.

One of the great­est ex­am­ples of this dy­namic in our in­dus­try is Josh Ben­der and his ef­fect on the world of freeride. When pho­tog­ra­pher Reuben Krabbe and writer Matt Coté pitched us a fea­ture on cur­rent-day Ben­der, we could hardly sign off fast enough. While Ben­der was a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in the height of his pop­u­lar­ity—many ques­tioned whether he had any ac­tual tal­ent, la­bel­ing him as merely a crazed stunt man with a death wish—it’s un­de­ni­able that he pushed the lim­its of what was pos­si­ble on a bike far be­yond any other rider be­fore him. And in the process, he helped es­tab­lish freeride as a le­git­i­mate dis­ci­pline. He holed up in his desert hovel and hucked off cliffs in Vir­gin, Utah, well be­fore Ram­page trans­formed those same cliffs into a venue for the world’s gnarli­est freeride com­pe­ti­tion. In fact, he’s the rea­son Ram­page ex­ists at all—he led or­ga­niz­ers to the lo­ca­tion and built some of the sketchi­est early lines, hav­ing en­vi­sioned Ram­page years be­fore it be­came re­al­ity.

Ben­der is a hus­band and a fa­ther now, far re­moved from his dare­devil past, liv­ing in an iso­lated pocket of north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where he and his fam­ily prac­tice a mel­low, min­i­mal­is­tic life­style, but he still grap­ples with his legacy. And he’s still fas­ci­nat­ing, as Coté and Krabbe doc­u­ment in “The Last of My Kind” on page 40.

Ben­der’s ex­ploits, no mat­ter how reck­less, un­doubt­edly opened the door for freeride to progress to a point where today, a crew can travel to the far­thest reaches of earth to scout and ride un­tracked lines down big moun­tains with a pow­er­house like Red Bull Me­dia House fund­ing the en­tire three­week trip. This was the case for the upcoming film, “North of Night­fall,” and Blake Jor­gen­son’s photo es­say, “Freeze Dried” (page 54), of­fers a glimpse into the sur­real Arc­tic land­scape the crew en­coun­tered on this once-in-a-life­time trip.

As they pre­pared to drop into the steep­est and most con­se­quen­tial lines of their lives last sum­mer, the group of some of today’s big­gest freeride stars may have been worlds away from Ben­der’s fi­nal cliff drop, but per­haps they too gave a silent nod to those who came be­fore.

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