Red Bull Imagination: dirt, danger and big, big air

The most vertiginous ramps give way to the sharpest curves, a giant billboard overlooks a huge berm, while a sea container offers a take-off ramp for the most incredible jumps.

A team of seven men worked for three weeks using tractors and earthmoving equipment to create the first Imagination course in 2020. Under Bereman’s direction, builders had the freedom to build whatever they wanted, “by drawing characteristics from other action sports,” he explains.

The Californian has been riding motorcycles since he was little more than a toddler, and this variation of the sport is one he has helped define.

“I grew up racing motorcycles, supercross and motocross inside stadiums, and then I ended up getting too injured and had to take a step back from that,” he explains. he. “Obviously in motocross there’s freestyle, where they do flips and tricks and stuff, and I kind of fell between those two genres there. I would call freeride. “

Like snowboarding in the backcountry

There are parallels with snowboarding and skating where Bereman has focused his career. “The most important thing that I can relate to, the outside audience, would be that there is competition snowboarding and then like backcountry snowboarding, so riding powder and hills, and the same with street skating, there’s competitive skating and then there’s street skating where people are just out on the street and filming. “

For Bereman, freeriding is all about pure freedom to ride. “It’s having our own form of expression through our off-road bikes and just being able to go out and have fun and find jumps and ultimately be free on your off-road bike.”

Red Bull Imagination events take this to the extreme. Following the success of the 2020 debut, nine riders gathered in Fort Scott, Kansas for its successor in 2021 – where Bereman’s spirit took the trail to even wilder frontiers.

“We ran out of time to build everything we wanted [in 2020], so after the first year the course stayed there and was untouched for a year in a row. The goal for year two was to come back and keep adding options and options and options to all the jumps, to create more or less a dirt skatepark. “

“Much bigger than I thought”

Ryan Sipes, a flat track and supercross legend, and 2019 International Six Days Enduro world champion.

“I thought I knew what to expect, when we got there in 2020 it was like, ‘Wow, it’s so big, it’s so much bigger than anything I’ve ever got. vu, ‘”Sipes, 37, said. CNN Sport. “So coming in this year it’s kind of like, ‘We already know how big that was, how far can they go?’ Well, they went a lot further than I thought they would. “

Ryan Sipes says he was drawn to Imagination by the allure of its novelty.

Sipes says he was drawn to the Imagination event by the prospect of trying something new. “I’ve been riding my whole life, since I was three years old, and being able to learn something new and at the same time be able to compete with the best in the world, it’s just a cool challenge for me to keep going and going. , ‘Let me understand, let me go watch these guys, hang out with these guys.’ “

But with his skills honed closer to the ground, he admits he was worried about holding up with riders accustomed to outrageous tricks and jumps.

“I can’t do the tricks they can do, I can’t backflip, I can’t even throw the whips like they can,” the veteran smirked. “I just tried to make the line as cool as possible.

“Last year’s track was a track, it was ‘Hey you’re going in that direction a little bit’ and you could vary it a bit, but it was kind of like, that’s the way you are. supposed to go, “he continues. “This year there was none of that, it was kind of like ‘There’s a bunch of jumps and a few turns, and you just have to find out and do your own thing.'”

Big jumps bring high stakes

As ramps and track characteristics increased, the stakes for runners also increased, and Bereman admits safety was a priority for him.

“The sky is the limit when it comes to creativity, but at the end of the day, with that creativity, safety is paramount,” he says. “At the end of the day what we do is by no means safe, so that was the most important thing, trying to make it as safe as possible, but obviously just creating new features and things that you’ve never really seen before. “

Sipes gave his fellow riders the greatest moment of joy when his bike mysteriously stalled in the air, forcing him to jump halfway and run to the ground, with his machine dangerously close behind him.

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“It’s kind of the nightmare scenario, the jumps are so big, and it’s not just the distance, the height you get from those jumps,” says Sipes. “I think I would guess pretty low when I say I was probably 35 feet off the ground on that jump, so it’s a long way to fall… it’s really really high, even to jump into the water from this height is a little scary.

“At that point you probably have half a second to figure out whether you’re going to ride it or jump – and it’s not always better to jump, it’s often better to hang on – but in this case, I I was like, ‘This bike is just going to hit me if I don’t get away from it.’ “

Miraculously, he left largely unharmed. “I was very sore and honestly pretty scared of it, but we still had competition day so I had to get over it and go.”

“It’s a billboard, it’s 15 feet from the ground”

Among the wilder parts of the track was a notice board that runners used as a vertical contact point in the air. “The wall ride was one of the craziest things. It’s a billboard, it’s 15 feet off the ground, it’s 15 feet high, then 25 feet long,” Bereman recalls. “It was pretty scary because it’s not something we do every day.”

Sipes was full of admiration for Bereman’s skill. “He’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever seen on a motorcycle, and part of that has to do with his ability to judge how fast to hit something when he’s never hit it before.” , he smiles, his eyes wide.

“A lot of these jumps, there’s no halfway there, it’s either going all the way or not even rolling over it, and its ability to go, ‘I think I’m going to go into second gear. and three-quarters of the throttle ‘, and he does that, and it’s amazing to see that. “

The Red Bull Imagination event was a competition, with riders judged for their style by a watch jury. Axell Hodges was ultimately crowned the winner, followed by fellow X-Games star Colby Raha and Bereman himself in third. But while the competition was important, the consensus seemed to indicate a different kind of atmosphere.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” smiles Bereman. “When it comes to racing or freestyle you are almost brought up to beat your competitor; with freeride we are kind of all in the same boat and we feed off each other.”

“It was the most fun week I have had on an off-road bike,” confirms Sipes. “I’ve been riding my whole life and doing some really cool stuff, but in terms of fun it’s the cake.”

For his part, Bereman is already thinking about next year’s event. “It’s a new path in our sport,” he said. “It’s a work in progress, we learn as we go, and every year that we do it we take things that we have learned that we could do better, and then try to implement them the following year. .

“Hopefully if all goes well we can come back with 3.0 and keep building.”

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