“The 2 best things of an adventure are planning it and bragging about it afterwards. While you’re there, it’s often not that much fun. A lot of suffering, inconvenience and uncertainties”
I had the pleasure of jumping on a call with Hans Rey, a pioneer in mountain biking and adventurer of the world. Hans is in the UK this week to talk all about his career, the early days and his adventures.His first appearance is tomorrow in Malvern.Check out his full schedule here: speakersfromtheedge.com/theatre-tours/hans-rey-riding-life
It’s obvious why they call you “No-way-Rey”, but can you remember the moment when that name came out or stuck?
It actually started quite early on when I first came to the States some 30 years ago. You know I was a trials guy with America more known for BMX and mountain biking. Trials was only really seen in Europe. They had not seen a guy with my skills, so straight away people would keep challenging me to “ride up this” or “trick that”. The funny thing was that no one could pronounce my name (Hansjörg – pronounced Haans Yurg), and they would say Hans Jerg, Hans Borg etc etc, so I just told them to call be Ray. Well pretty much on that first day they were saying “no way” to my sticks/stunts and next thing you know they started calling me “no-way Ray”
You’ve been riding for 40+ years, right? Is there anything about riding in the 80/90 that you think todays culture is lacking?
Yeah, I’ve been riding professionally for about 35 years but started back in the 70s so yeah something like that. I don’t think anything is lacking, it was just different. I was part of something new and exciting, you’re bonding with people doing the same thing. I’m watching Rampage and I think these riders have a similar bond, they’re in the same boat. They’ve been building Rampage up for the last 10 years and I’m sure they have some of those same feelings. It was just a different era and we spearheaded a different part of the sport.
What I’ve always liked which was lost a little bit in the mid 90’s, and actually the freeride movement brought it back, was that original mountain biking spirit. When the boom started it was just about racing and training. I’ve been a member of one of the oldest bike clubs here in Laguna beach called, The Laguna Rads. Those guys not only pioneered freeride but they also kept that original spirit of mountain biking alive. Basically, to go out, ride, have fun, hang out with your buds and drink some beers. I think I see more of that now.
But you know, every era has it peaks and lows and those memorable moments. It’s just great being part of a movement early on before everyone has expectations and eventually becomes somewhat numb to it.
The reverse of that. What do you think todays culture offers that you didn’t have in the 80 and 90s?
The modern bikes certainly make some things easier or better. I still ride some of the trails from 30 years ago and wonder how we rode those with the bikes we had at the time. In terms of progression, we took smaller steps. If we knew 30 years ago what is possible today, we would have also taken bigger steps and advanced faster. Back then even a small step was a big step. It wasn’t too long ago that a backflip on a mountain bike was a big deal and now people are flipping off cliffs with downhill bikes. It’s about visualization. Once one person does it others can visualize how to do it too and improve it. It is part of the evolution.
We certainly shouldn’t push ourselves beyond what our equipment is capable of but certainly having that early vision would have progressed things faster for us.
Do you think riding in the 80s and 90s was more exciting than today considering you did not have as much technology in bikes to suck up the impact from the trails?
I don’t think so. Yes, the bikes are safer and all that but generally the lines folks are riding are a lot gnarlier these days. There is no need to put your health and safety on the line unnecessarily. Look at car racing in the 60s. People died left and right because they had no helmets or any form of safety. If a car crashed it would just go up in flames. It’s not necessary for us to learn the hard way.
There is still plenty of that feeling that you can relive by pushing your limits and all that.
To understand your riding career anyone can google your name and a list of impressive achievements comes up. But when did the adventure riding come into play and how did that become a career for you?
Coming from a trials background, we were always considered a bit like the ugly step child in the mountain biking world. Even though we got a lot of attention because it was such a spectator event. But, I always thought – How cool would it be to take my biking skills into real situations and get to a remote place where you couldn’t typically get to by foot, where a bike may actually be an advantage.
I also realized that if I wanted to keep this career as a professional bike rider going, I also needed to be a creative businessman. So, I found other ways to generate exposure for my sponsors and to get more people enrolled in our sport. There were millions of bikes sold but only 30,000 racing licenses, and I went “Wait a minute!” it’s not all about racing as the industry wants you to believe. There are so many people who just ride for fun.
When I told my team manager back then that I didn’t want to leave GT but wanted to leave the racing team to do this adventure stuff, he thought I was crazy and so did many of the others riders. It was very difficult but they eventually realized that I was getting more coverage from a cool adventure than someone winning a world cup. I would get 8 pages in a magazine where the downhill world cup champ would just get a full-page photo.
I was just trying to live my dream, keep my career going and inspire people to ride.
Tell us about the Hans Rey Adventure Team and what next for it?
Like I said, I started the adventure riding like 20 years ago and at the beginning it wasn’t an easy sell. But these days, every guy and his brother is trying to start a career in mountain biking. There are a lot of guys out there trying to make a living outside of racing. There was a time where I was pretty much the only guy who was even thinking it was possible and now you have all these guys out there who do cool tricks or travel to cool places. There is hardly a place anyone has been anymore.
Every photo shoot is then called an “adventure” but the word is so over used now. I’m still doing trips and my biggest trip to date was last year where I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya back-to-back and honestly, I don’t think it can get much gnarlier.
For me, Kilimajaro is the Everest for bike riders because it the only one that’s actually rideable.
I’m going to continue doing this stuff but we’ll continue to evolve with the industry. You just look at Instagram and can see people producing stuff with their iPhone’s which are actually good quality. Its made people a bit numb to it all.
I’m going to continue to contribute. Doing more of these talks. Telling stories and try to motivate others.
You’ve ridden all over the world – Is there 1 particular location and / or trail that stands out for you?
It’s very hard to say. I’ve experienced so many things on different levels and many different trails. Yes, a few stick out. Mt. Kenya when I did it for the second time was great. I was the first to do it back in 2012 but it was such a great ride on such a beautiful mountain.
There was a really cool ride I did in Argentina in Tilcara on an old Inca trail and I remember on one of those days thinking that this was one of my top 3 rides on my bike.
Those places stick out but often it more just about those little memories of meeting people or something you saw. It’s just a whole lot of these little things and stories over the years.
What advice would you give to a fellow mountain biker considering their first mtb adventure?
Well. It’s fun to go out and experience something and not knowing what you are up for. But you don’t need to go to the end of the earth to do that. Depending on where you go you need to be really prepared mentally, physically and nutrition wise. You shouldn’t go just because you can but need to be prepared for pretty much anything.
Do your homework. One of my favourite sayings a guy told me once was that, the 2 best things of an adventure are planning it and bragging about it afterwards. While you’re there, it’s often not that much fun. A lot of suffering, inconvenience and uncertainties. Just keep that in mind.
Our lives all end eventually. When you leave this world, what mark do you hope to leave?
I don’t know, I don’t really think about it that way but I hope that I can inspire people to live their dreams. Often that translates into hard work. I hope that it helps people realize that to make your dreams possible you have to keep throwing wood on the fire to keep the fire burning. I could have retired 10 years ago and the mountain biking industry wouldn’t have lost anything. Maybe there would just have been a news release. Yet here I am, still going. I’m not pushing my limits as much as I used to but I do things on a different level which keeps my dream going and hopefully inspires people.
What’s left on your bucket list to cross off?
There are a few countries that I would like to go to but don’t know what exactly I would do there. I’m not as hungry in that way. I’m looking at Madagascar right now so maybe that will happen next year. I’ve also wanted to go to Patagonia in South America but that’s all national parks so it may or may not happen. Alaska, Russia and places like that are interesting as well but overall I think I’ve kind of knocked all the big challenges off the list.
Finally, mountain bikes and the riding culture has evolved so much over last 20 years. How do you think mountain bikes and culture will evolve over the next 5 years?
Well what I have been saying already for at least 5 years is that the last 2 decades have been dominated with new technologies and evolving bikes with new materials, full suspension, hydraulics and electronics now as well. I think bikes will continue to evolve this way but its more where and how we ride that will change.
I think we’ll see more trail centres. These purpose-built places with quality trails that can be accessed and ridden by anybody. And it doesn’t have to be boring. I can put you on a beginner trail which someone like Tyler McCaul or Steve Peat would have a blast on because they would ride it differently.