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Feb 1, 2019

Finding the Flow… No Way, Hans Rey!

Globally-renowned adventure mountain biker, showman and stuntman, Hans Rey, talks to Angela Sara West about his incredible exploits, what’s hot in the world of mountain biking, his forthcoming UK tour and challenging former US President George W Bush to a bike race

From cool glaciers to hot lava fields, having risked life and limb during his celebrated cycling adventures in extreme climes and on diverse terrains, such as vanquishing five volcanos in five days and performing on famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Hans Rey is considered the world leader in extreme mountain biking.

Known for his rad rides, he’s scaled the slopes of monumental mountains, steered through the deadliest of deserts, pedalled victoriously over volcanoes and wheeled his way through waterfalls, all on his beloved GT bikes. Former Trials Riding World Champion, pioneer of Freeride and Mountain Bike Hall of Famer, Hans Rey, has travelled the globe extensively, riding over and through areas previously considered ‘unrideable’.

Making a name for himself with a number of ‘out there’ publicity stunts, Hans and his trusty bikes have graced the covers of around 400 magazines worldwide. The more extreme the stunts the better for this fearless biker. There have been bunny hops across cars on a freeway, impressive bike flips into swimming pools, biking bungy jumps and wild bike rides on ropes down a 14-story skyscraper in New Zealand, not forgetting his legendary bike dance on a Hawaiian volcano, surrounded by hot lava! Exciting escapades have seen him conquer extreme conditions and elements in over 70 countries, achieving a number of ‘firsts’, such as making the first bike descent of Mount Kenya, along the way.

Intrepid inspiration

An adventurous child, Germanborn Hans grew up practising sports from the minute he could walk. “My whole family was very active. We used to hike, ski, go on bike tours etc.,” he tells me. The stunts started early, too, causing him to catch the mountain biking bug, albeit a little reluctantly, at a very young age. “When I was very little, my sisters pursued me, maybe with a little push, to ride my tricycle down a set of five stairs… That didn’t end well!”

Undeterred, he went on to rule the mountain bike world… Many pro riders inspired Hans when he was growing up. “I was mostly inspired by moto cycle riders and racers, like some of the great legends of Trials riding, such as Bernie Schreiber and Martin Lampkin, as well as BMX racers from America, like Andy Paterson or Bob Haro.” He was also influenced by athletes from various other sports. “I would try to learn from their actions, success and failures and apply the lessons learned to my own sport.”

 

World champ & Olympic performances

Hans became famous for his pioneering moves and techniques. “I’ve always liked that mountain biking is an individual sport, with numerous ways to enjoy it and experience it. With my Trials riding background, I’ve always liked and embraced technical terrain and sections that others wouldn’t ride.”

In 1996, he performed at the Olympics’ closing ceremony. “It was a great feeling to perform on such a prestigious stage in front of the whole world, ringing in a new area of sports. I was part of an Extreme Sports act/show, choreographed by well-known producer, Kenny Ortega, and many legends of actions sports, like Tony Hawk, Mat Hoffman and Dave Mirra, to name just a few. Our show was to symbolise the changing of the guards from traditional sports.”

Among his abundant awards and accolades were many Trials medals, clinched when the X Games were known as the ESPN Extreme Games. “Trials riding was only in the very first Extreme Games (now X Games). Leading up to the Games, ESPN had chosen me as one of the few athletes who would get pushed and featured leading up to the competition. That helped to get my name on the map, especially since they had a major strike in baseball and hockey and the network didn’t know what to put on TV other than repeating our stuff!”

How did it feel to take the crown as a world champion and to have been inducted in the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame? “A lot of things would just happen back in the day the anticipation or hype wasn’t as big, and there was less pressure and expectation from sponsors, the media and the audience. Winning some of these titles were big milestones, but I was always looking for new challenges and eventually found them outside of competing, not just pushing the limits of extreme riding or adventures, but also by reaching new levels off the bike and pushing my sport or my career into areas where nobody had gone before - and not just geographically. However, the appreciation of some of my achievements sometimes didn’t come until years later.”

Having won numerous bike Trials riding championships, including taking the title of German, Swiss and USA National Champion, NORBA World Champion, Winner of the UCI World Champion and Bike Trial Union Vice World Champion, Rey retired from competitive sports in 1997 to explore the world on his amazing mountain bike adventures, adding endless impressive escapades to his repertoire.

 

Retirement adventures - mission ‘possible’

As the only permanent member of the ‘Hans Rey Adventure Team’, a quest to explore the world using his mountain biking talents in search of something historical or mysterious, Hans’ thrilling trips are frequently filmed for TV, capturing the cultural, scenic and spiritual aspects of the exotic locations he encounters along the way.

From following in the footsteps of Moses across the Sinai Desert, to discovering the ‘alien’ dwarf Dropa tribe in China, he has also traversed Peru’s Inca Trail, ridden the Roop Kund trek in the Indian Himalayas and even uncovered Pyramid mysteries in Cairo.

Significant triumphs include being the first (alongside Canadian freeriding legend and pioneer, Richie Schley) to traverse, summit and also make the first bike descent of Mount Kenya - Africa’s secondhighest mountain at 16,300ft/5,000 metres. A world-class trekking destination boasting numerous challenges, it comprises jagged peaks and clima-zones with diverse flora and fauna, from the open savanna to rainforests and equatorial glaciers. “We’d never ridden above 15,000ft, but both handled the terrain and altitude well. We encountered rain, snow and a thunderstorm.”

Countless other hazards required really upping their technical riding game. “We were warned of elephants, buffalos, lions, contaminated water and malaria-ridden mosquitos. Within hours of my arrival, I was charged at by an elephant with her newborn baby!” Having escaped the elephants, culture vulture Hans was happy to make some tribal friends en route. “I got to meet and hang out with some of the Samburu Warriors, who still live in the bush in their traditional ways.” Their exhilarating adventure also took them along the site of a recent airplane crash. “There were parts and pieces scattered all over the mountain side – it was quite eerie.”

Not one, but two missions were actually accomplished during this feat. “Our real mission was the first descent, but I also accomplished my secondary mission to find the remains of ‘Icy Mike’, the elephant bones and skull discovered years ago in a remote valley on Mount Kenya at an astounding altitude of over 15,000 ft. I took a DNA sample of this mysterious find. We crossed the equator from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere right before the Sirimon Park Gate. This was an unforgettable adventure and, to end it, jubilant and ripe, we were on the guest list to race in the annual ‘10 to 4’ (50km) race the next day. It was the last thing we wanted to do, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity, nor let down the people of the Mount Kenya Trust, who organised this event to raise funds for Mount Kenya National Park.”

Out of all of his amazing biking adventures and achievements, which have been the most momentous and memorable. “At this stage, I have to say it was two years ago, climbing and riding down both Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro back-to-back with Danny MacAskill. That was a hard trip.”
Which other places have been particular highlights and which discoveries have also seen him ‘stoked’? “I’ve always liked to ride to ancient sites… places like Machu Picchu or the Pyramids. Anything new excites me; new trails, destinations, cultures, food, people. On many of my adventure trips, I’ve been search of something mystical or historical. Some missions were pretty far out, but there was often more to it; even if we often didn’t hit the jackpot, we would still shed some light on some interesting stuff, often long before those things became known in the mainstream. It could be as simple as following the footsteps of Moses or ‘Che’ Guevara across some mountain range, or in search of that ancient elephant skeleton on Mount Kenya.”

 

Risky rides & ‘dope’ discoveries – handling the pressure

Truly testing the limits during an inspiring lifetime of discovery and adventures, it’s his desire to accomplish the “impossible” that motivates him to attempt such epic and highly-precarious challenges and to push both his mental and physical boundaries. “I like to conquer things that used to be considered ‘unrideable’ or have never been done before, like riding on glaciers, volcanos, waterfalls etc.”

No wonder his nickname is ‘No Way Rey’! When was it coined? “When I first came to America, people called me ‘Rey’ because they couldn’t pronounce my first name ‘Hansjörg’. They’d never seen a rider with such Trials biking skills (Trials was a European sport, unlike BMX or MTB), and would often say ‘No way… that’s impossible!’ They soon started calling me ‘No Way Rey’… and it stuck!”

Does he have a mantra? “Be good to others and chances are your faith won’t come short, and that one can only make a first impression once.”

Which have been among the most hair-raising experiences for hardy Hans? “When going headto- head with Mother Nature, she is unpredictable and always stronger… like riding in a hot lava field, across glaciers or in places with extreme weather conditions. Riding along Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher, along a tiny edge as narrow as five inches on top of a 600ft cliff, raised a few hairs!”

 

Urban Adventures

Rey recently kicked off his ‘Urban Adventure’ series with a five-day ride across Los Angeles. “In the past decade, I’ve been more in search of the ultimate flow… the best trails… and some of them are actually purpose built. Lately, it’s been ‘Urban Adventures’ that make my heartrate go up. I have singled out a dozen big and interesting cities which are surrounded by beautiful nature. TransAngeles was my first one - a five-day traverse of the city of Los Angeles and its surroundings with all its contrasts, culture and history. Next up was TransNapoli, in Naples, Italy, just a few months ago. And now, I’m eyeing other places like Hong Kong.”

Oh the ultimate flow… that much sought-after trail nirvana… that feeling all mountain bikers seek and know it when they’ve found it. When one obstacle melds perfectly into another, you’re suddenly in cycling heaven. But where can we can find it? “The way we ride, where we ride and what we ride has improved so much since the beginning. Biking is at a great point and some destinations have really embraced this trend, like Livigno in the Italian Alps with its Carosello 3000 Mountain Park. “

 

Rad rides on the first ever Flow Country trail… Putting Livigno on the biking map

Hans has been working as a consultant and spokesperson for the Italian commune of Livigno, helping to put this part of Lombardy in the spotlight of the international mountain bike scene. In fact, he loves Livigno so much, he proposed to his wife there!

“I’ve been riding at, and working with, Livigno and Carosello 3000 for around 14 years. It has an incredible infrastructure for all sorts of biking.” Hans has raised the resort’s profile exponentially after implementing the ‘Flow Country Trail’ concept there. “Ten years ago, I coined the phrase ‘Flow Country’ for flowy trails that are never steep, never extreme and never dangerous. A concept of fun, family-friendly trails.”

He reckons this style of trail is set to become a new micro trend in the world of mountain biking, appealing to a large number of riders, regardless of skill level and mountain bike type. “Over the years, we have built a huge network of trails, which are not just for experienced riders; we now see more and more female bikers, families and kids. I visit Livigno several times a year. The first time I went was on a family hiking vacation, when I was just eight years-old!”

 

Riding recommendations

Where does he recommend for biking here in Britain? “I really like some of the Welsh bike parks and trail centres and I sometimes ride in the Peak District and Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. The concept of riding and trail centres was actually pioneered in the UK, especially in Wales!”

How about biking in his hometown, Laguna Beach in California? “Laguna is a beautiful town with some great riding… not exactly the most beginner-friendly riding, with steep hills, up or down.” Still on his bucket list? “There are numerous big cities that I want to explore on my Urban Adventures… Other than that, I still need to ride in places like Alaska and Madagascar.“

 

Wheels 4 Life - changing the world, one bike at a time

Hans has also been busy putting the wheels in motion in the Third World. Founded by Hans and his wife, Carmen, in 2005, the non-profit charity ‘Wheels 4 Life’ donates bikes to Third World countries. “We give bicycles to people in need of transportation in developing countries. We all work voluntarily and the charity has very few overheads. To date, we have donated over 12,000 bikes in 32 different countries.”

Hans holds an annual fundraiser for his Wheels 4 Life foundation in his adopted hometown of Laguna Beach. Guests at the glitzy event include mountain bike industry stalwarts and supporters such as Hans’ fellow riders Richie Schley and Darren Berrecloth, plus representatives from longtime sponsors GT Bicycles (a partnership which began back in 1987, making it one of the longest-standing sponsorship relationships in the entire cycling, action sports and outdoor industry) and Crankbrothers. Alongside sipping on cocktails, there’s bidding on silent auction items ranging from brand-new mountain bikes to tickets to the premières of Hollywood movies!

 

Monkeying around - small & silver screen appearances

Talking of movies, Hans has starred in big-screen productions including Tread: The Movie, and made guest appearances and carried out stunt work on the TV series Pacific Blue. He’s also worked as a stunt coordinator and rider on Willy Bogner’s White Magic films, and Fire, Ice and Dynamite, the huge action/sports comedy starring Roger Moore. The legendary trials and adventure rider was also one of the first to produce action videos of his Trials biking and extreme biking skills, too, including his own VHS series from 1992-96.

Hans has been biking with many luminaries of the mountain biking fraternity, making edits showcasing his and their talents along the way. “I always enjoyed riding and filming with Greg Herbold, one of the early biking legends. I’ve always admired John Tomac, too. Nowadays, it’s great to ride with riders from the new generations and to witness first-hand their skills and see where they have taken the sport, be it Nino Schurter, Martin Maes or Darren Berrecloth, to mention just a few”. Hans says noone has stood out more, though, than Mr Jiggs. “The chimp that starred in my video Monkey See, Monkey Do!”

 

Pedalling with pop stars & pioneering Presidents

Hans has pedalled alongside countless celebrities… “I’ve met a few and have ridden with others, including Tim Commerford (Rage Against the Machine) and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), along with some basketball legends. I once challenged mountain bike fan, President George W Bush, to a bike race and chased him through a conference room, both of us on bikes! He was one of the early pioneers of the e-bike movement, 22 years ago, long before the bike industry realised their potential.”

Along with footage of the cycling President rising to that challenge, Hans posts all sorts of inspiring edits on his YouTube channel. “I’ve been posting lots of content lately, old and new. I have a huge library of VHS tapes that I’m currently converting. There’s a lot of cool, and almost forgotten, footage.”

He loves showing off his special cycling mementoes and memorabilia, too. “I also show things about my personal life on there. People are very keen to see the bike treasures I’ve hoarded in my garages!” This cycling YouTube sensation’s favourite ever bike? “The bike that’s most associated with me must be the GT Zaskar. It was one of the most legendary bike models of all time, and I used it during my films, competitions, Trials shows and adventures. On that bike, I used to turn heads when doing front wheelies on the Statue of Liberty, where I used to stand on my back wheel, hopping the bike with one arm raised to the sky!”

 

Evolving hot wheels

With so much new equipment, such as technical developments with GPS tracking apps, Strava, advanced clothing etc. entering the market lately, what’s currently hot in the world of mountain biking? “E-bikes. Personally, I like pedalassist e-bikes and have been riding them for a year, but they will not replace my regular push bikes. E-bikes will be part of the next steps in evolution. Like them or not, they are fun and open many new doors.“

How else has the world of mountain biking changed over the years and what does the future hold for the sport? “The evolution of mountain biking has been incredible on every level in the last three decades. From the bike technology and materials, to the places we ride and how we ride. The past was more dictated by technology, while the immediate future will be more dictated by where we ride and how we ride. The quality of the trails and riding experience will become most important.”

 

Discovering the great outdoors in our droves

Hans is hopping happy to see the sharp increase in the number of riders embracing the great outdoors and enjoying mountain biking. “Finally! I was wondering what took everybody that long to discover the outdoors.”

He warns, however, that there is a downside to the sport’s recent rise in popularity. “It’s definitely a twoedged sword… As somebody who makes a living from this industry, I’m pleased that so many people are being active and riding bikes. But, from a more personal point of view, I miss the days when we had the hills to ourselves. Luckily, those more remote places can still be found, although they might take a bit more travelling to get to. We have to all be responsible and not love them to death.”

Apart from the obvious fitness benefits, the sport can also aid general wellbeing. What are the advantages of the social side of mountain biking etc.? “It’s great on so many levels, I have learned so much from riding bikes, pushing my limits, travelling and meeting people, along with staying fit and enjoying nature.”

 

Riding Life – carrying on the UK tour

Rey gives talks and motivational keynote speeches at events and, following his hugely-successful November 2017 UK theatre tour, the first by a professional mountain biker, will be back on the saddle in Blighty this January and February 2019, on an extension of the same tour - a must for all cycling aficionados. “I had real fun doing the first part of the tour. It’s cool to meet people from so many different generations. Most seem to get inspiration from the talk and I love hearing their stories, too.”

Ready to ride some rad new trails? Taking in 14 new venues, Rey’s Riding Life tour will continue to take audiences on an inspiring journey through his fascinating 30- year career and will also highlight some of the best trails and cycling destinations worldwide. From his early riding days in Germany and the mountain bike boom in America, to his extreme biking feats and adventures, the rapturing two-hour talk will also offer Hans’ vision on the future of the sport, along with what keeps him motivated. “It takes you through my entire riding career with lots of insights, info and stories, as well as the ‘why, how, and what it’s all about’ for me.”

 

Pushing the bloodpumping limits & time out

What does he miss most about his competing days? “I have mainly great memories… there are hardly any photos or film of any of that.” And what sets him apart from his competitors? “I think I realised early on what I wanted and that it would be down to me to reach those goals. I also realised that I needed to be more than a skilled rider and great athlete if I wanted to make a living and stay around for more than a few seasons. It was up to me to keep the fire burning… I will talk about this on my forthcoming tour.”

Cycling aside, how does Hans keep fit and healthy and on top of his game? “It’s all about the right balance between working out, living a healthy and happy lifestyle and embracing new trends,” he explains.

As an adrenaline junkie, does he enjoy any other extreme sports? “Only to a degree. I like off-road motos, like Trials and Enduro, and I like the crossover into many other sports, but not as much as I enjoy pushing the extreme limits.”

When it’s time to put on the brakes, where does Hans head for some revitalising R&R? “I just relax at home and in our garden.” It’s not long, however, before he’s hungry for the next adrenalinefuelled adventure. “I’m always eyeing other places… and at the moment, my eyes are set on Hong Kong!”

Hans Rey’s second leg of his acclaimed UK tour, Riding Life, kicks off in Derby in January 2019.

For further details, see: www.speakersfromtheedge.com/theatre-tours/hans-rey-riding-life

Hans rides for GT Bicycles and is also sponsored by Adidas Terrex, iXS Sports, CLIF Bar, Stan’s NoTubes, Fox, Vittoria, Deuter, Crank Brothers and Shimano. He is also an honorary board member and long-time supporter of the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA).

Wheels for Life: www.wheels4life.org
Carosello 3000: www.carosello3000.com
For more information, visit: https://hansrey.com

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