Freeride is a discipline of mountain biking closely related to downhill biking and dirt jumping focused on tricks, style, and technical trail features. It is now recognized as one of the most popular disciplines within mountain biking.
The term freeriding was originally coined by snowboarders, meaning riding without a set course, goals or rules on natural terrain. In mountain biking, it is riding trail with the most creative line possible that includes style, amplitude, control, and speed.
The original freeride bikes were modified downhill bikes which utilized gearing that enabled the rider to go up hills as well as down them. Modern freeride bikes are similar to downhill bikes, but feature slightly less suspension travel and are lighter - which enables them to be ridden not just downhill but through more technical sections, such as North Shore obstacles. Additionally, most freeride bikes feature slightly steeper headangles and shorter wheelbases than pure downhill bikes to facilitate maneuverability on slower, technical sections of trail.
Ski areas have started to embrace the sport of freeriding, adding bike racks to chairlifts to create "lift accessed mountain biking". This helps ski areas operate year-round and gives the bikers the ability to ride more runs in less time.
A few specialist riders have embraced the sport including:
- Hans Rey
- Wade Simmons
- Richey Schley
- Brett Tippie
- Dave Watson
- Andrew Shandro
- Thomas Vanderham
- Josh Bender
- Darren Berrecloth
- Cam Zink
- Robbie Bourdon
- Jeff Lenosky
- James Doerfling
- Kurt Sorge
- Brandon Semenuk
- Cam McCaul
- Tyler McCaul
- Kyle Strait
- Sam Pilgrim
- Martin Söderstrom
- Aaron Chase
Differences between downhilling and freeriding
Due to similarities with the bicycles used and often the riding locations, the divisions between downhill riding and freeriding are often overlooked. For example freeride bikes have steeper head tube angles and shorter wheelbases for low-speed stability on technical stunts, while downhill bikes have slacker headtube angles and longer wheelbases for absolute high-speed stability at the cost of low-speed maneuverability. Downhill riding is primarily concerned with descending a slope on a given course as quickly as possible. There are often many obstacles in downhill riding, including jumps, drops, and rocky sections.
Freeride is, by definition, a much broader realm of riding. For example, a freerider may often ride a very narrow wooden plank raised as many as twenty five feet above the ground, drop off of cliffs, raised platforms, or other man-made or natural objects onto a landing, or "transition" up to forty feet below. This may involve jumping over a structure below, such as a road or highway. Many aspects of freeriding are similar to downhill riding, with wide open speed and technical and very steep sections, or dirt jumping, with a series of man-made jumps and landings. Another key difference is the emphasis on performing tricks or stylish riding stances while airborne. A freeride course can be compared to a skatepark, where the purpose of the trail is to provide ample opportunities for the rider to become airborne, throw tricks, and create new and imaginative lines on and over the terrain.
Main features of freeride bikes
The frame is made usually of aluminium alloys and/or steel, and usually smaller build compared to a downhill bike. It is almost always equipped with rear suspension systems, and many manufacturers still rely on simpler systems (i.e. single-pivot) in order to preserve strength and un-interrupted suspension travel. Freeride frames can also be lighter (where weight is an important consideration) than downhill frames, with these bikes being designated freeride lite and may come equipped with the new, oversized "onepointfive"(inch) head tube standard, in order to cater for increasing demand for stronger, long-travel(150–200 mm), single crown forks. There also exists a burlier breed of freeride bicycles. These bikes are designed for weight-no-object strength and reliability rather than lighter weight.
Single crown Forks are now more popular. Companies such as Fox, Answer Products(Manitou), Marzocchi and RockShox, introduced them with very similar strength to their dual crown counterparts, with the immense advantage of being single crown. This enables a significantly narrower steering diameter, and, more recently, airborne tricks such as 'barspin' or 'tailwhip', at the expense of torsional rigidity. This enables the bike to be used in a variety of ways.
The North Shore
The sport has spread across the planet, but the widely recognized starting point for the addition of man-made obstacles for downhill trails is Vancouver, British Columbia's "North Shore". This refers to three mountains across the Burrard Inlet from downtown Vancouver, Mount Seymour, Mt. Fromme, and Cypress Mountain.
The mountains weren't the first places to have downhill trails with natural obstacles, but they were one of the first places to have man-made obstacles such as skinny bridges and teeter totters. The trail builders often integrate many natural features, using fallen logs to ride on and rocks faces to jump or ride down.
Trails on the North Shore are mostly described as "technical". This means that the trails corners are tight and the tread strewn of natural obstacles such as rocks and roots.
The "shore" has seen some controversy. Most of the trails are built on private property or parkland. BC Parks has responded to growing popularity of freeriding with increased enforcement against illegal trail building and usage. A major voice in the conflict in North Vancouver District was councillor Ernie Crist, who had been lobbying for the closing of all the trails on Mt. Fromme. Housing developments at the base of the mountains complain of bikers going across their lawns etc. The expansion of the residential areas called for the destruction of some trails on Cypress Mountain. There were also cases of sabotage (such as the removal of bridge supports). Most recently, Howell at the Moon Productions partnered with IMBA to create "Pedal-Driven: a bikeumentary", a documentary film highlighting the conflicts and confrontations between freeriders and public land managers over the right to build trails and ride on public lands.
North Shore Mountain Biking Association
To help promote biking and keep the trails open there is an advocacy group, the North Shore Mountain Biking Association (NSMBA). They negotiate with landowners, organize volunteers to maintain the trails and hold races.
Freeriding in film
Freeride mountain-biking movies are films about freeride mountain-biking and downhill mountain biking. Scenes from freeride competitions are normally included. Given the high spectacularity of the freeride and downhill action, an increasing number of films are released every year, covering the annual major competitions and promoting particular trails and champions. The Film "Where the Trail Ends" and the YouTube series "Life Behind Bars" are very good examples of freeriding.
- BRMBA Black Rock Mountain Biking Association (Oregon trail advocacy group and builders/stewards of the Black Rock freeride trails in Falls City, Oregon)
- Pinkbike.com Website featuring news, pictures, forums, videos etc. of all mountain biking disciplines, particularly the extreme ones