Freeride pioneer, event organizer, and world traveler; Richie Schley has done it all. Ahead of leaving for Rampage, we caught up with him to talk summer travel, Rampage memories and whether he’ll be the next face of E-mtb.
Richie, how’s it going? You just got done with a shoot down in San Clemente?
The shoot was cool. I’d never worked with Brian before, but it turned out great. We had this super cool location with the beach, the ocean and a burnt-out landscape.
How about that cliff shot, you get it first try?
It was so much like Kamloops. A little bit more hectic, of course, because there are people everywhere on the runout. The top was a little sketchy because there was a knife-edge ridge to get to the steep part so the actual drop wasn’t even the scariest part, it was more just getting there. It was fun.
How was your summer, lots of travel I imagine?
I had a really busy summer; I was in Europe a lot, went to the Crankworx events and helped Rotwild with a few of their demo days. The best trip was going to Namibia with Outside TV; not too much riding but we got some good shots near some elephants. It was really one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Later in the summer I headed to Whistler and that was awesome; I got to do a lot of riding with Cedric [Gracia] and did some new heli-drop trails that I’d never done before.
Speaking of Whistler; what’s the story of you moving from BC down to Laguna Beach?
Well I was dating this cross-country racer at the time named Willow Kerber, and she was from North Carolina and I was in Whistler. My ski career was beginning to tail off so I decided to focus more on mountain bike riding, so coming to Laguna made sense and she needed somewhere to train. I knew Hans [Rey] a little bit and [Brian] Lopes a little bit, so we asked them if we could crash at their places and they said yes. The first winter we came down on a road trip and then the following winter a few more times. After that we rented a place for a few months and it just progressed. The year the Olympics came to Whistler I rented out my house and saved a bunch of money so I could stay in Laguna all winter. Eventually it made sense for me to be here full time, so I got a visa and then a green card. I’ve been here full time for about 6 years now.
Laguna Beach has an incredible trail network; are you a fan of the steep technical trails out here?
I do like the riding here, but there aren’t enough jumps. I’m not a fast guy, I hate the high-speed trails; there’s nothing exciting in them apart from the fact you might die! I love the steep and technical stuff here, where there are moments that are just so exciting.
You’re headed out to Rampage; what are you going to be doing out there?
The main thing is just to be there and ride with my buddies who are organizing it. It's one of the only times where we all get to ride together. This year, there’s a gas station, Maverick, and it’s the best outlet for Red Bull in the area, so they really get behind Rampage. They have a mascot called Nitro and I’m going to introduce him to what the Rampage is. They’ll have videos in their store about it. They always find something for me to do there.
How has Rampage changed over the years since you first began competing?
The preparation back in those days was so minimal; I’d say 80% of the crashes that happened were because a guy had a 3ft landing when he should have had a 20ft landing. Now there’s so much preparation. In some ways, it’s safer, but the tricks they are trying make it really scary.
Did you have dig crews in the early days?
We did but it wasn’t as official because it wasn’t taken as seriously. I remember the first or second venue there was this line called “Canadian Bacon” and the guys put in a bunch of work on that, but on the whole, you’d just scratch in a landing and tear out a couple of bushes. There were no sandbags; no one was bringing in water and things like that. It was much rawer. Now there is much more preparation, so it looks so much more spectacular.
How many years have you done Rampage? Any stand out memories from the very first one?
I did it for the first five years. The first year was funny because I think everyone expected me and Wade Simmonds to do well. But I’d just broken my pelvis filming for NWD, and I had just got back to riding. No one ever talked about that; they just thought I sucked! The first one was sick for the sport though. There were all these worlds coming together, like guys from Utah that we didn’t know and then the Canadian guys, and some World Cup guys. Everyone was coming together not knowing what to expect from each other. It was a real proving ground. There was a guy who tried to ride a hardtail...that didn’t go well.
It seems like every year there is a conversation about how the event is judged. This guy got robbed, this guy got scored too high and so on. What do you think of all that?
I don’t know if there’s a solution. They’ve tried to make things transparent and say that 'this is worth this' and 'that is worth that' but it’s not working. How do you compare this line to that line, plus the tricks added in? You can’t make it scientific. So one thing they’re doing, which I like, is to make it more vague.
There should be some common talk about why one line is harder than the other. The last venue there was all this talk about that ridge that Andreu won on and all those guys rode, and it was super exposed and that was why it scored so high. So then after the contest when everyone thought Zink got robbed I brought it up to one of the judges, and I said okay, consider everyone that rode that ridge, when ever they crashed, they didn’t lose their bike, they never fell off the ridge and they just stopped and that was the end of their run. Riders are figuring out where all the hype is and they go to that spot and crush it. I don’t think the most popular guy should go and choose his line, I think they should draw from a hat and see how creative they are. They could do a couple of things like that so all the hype and the popularity doesn’t define the results.
You think it’s going to keep growing?
I think it's one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting mountain biking event of the year. The direction it goes? I’m not sure. I never thought it would be so much more about tricks. In my opinion I think your run should be over as soon as you hit the flats so there’s no possibility to build a big kicker and do a double backflip. I know people love the big jump tricks but it kind of blinds you from the real event.
You’ve been riding an E-bike a lot recently. Let’s talk about that.
(Laughs) I’ve been riding one a bit. The problem I’m having: there is no one to ride with! There’s people hating on E-bikes right now but for every technological evolution that I’ve been around there has been strong negativity to begin with. Like when I got front suspension it was considered cheating, getting rear suspension was cheating, getting disc brakes was dumb and dropper posts and bigger wheels were stupid. There’s not one technology that I can think of that everyone was like, that’s awesome! So whatever people think about E-bikes now, I can’t even make a decision on whether they’ll be cool or not because everyone thinks everything is lame. I’d really like to be involved with the progression and see it go down the route I want it to go down.
Are there any projects you’re looking to do in the future?
I love doing these adventures and there are still mountains I’d like to ride and pieces of land I’d like to cross. I’d love to ride across, somewhere in South America, see if there’s a way to cross the lower tip of the continent. I’ve always wanted to do something in Siberia but I’m not sure how remote it is. I’d like to roll my tires through as many places on the planet as I can. There’s still a checklist for sure.
Photos by: Brian Plunkett