The Death of Freeride

Lamenting the Dorp to Falt

Words by Morgan Taylor. Photos by Billy Jackson. Video by . Posted by
February 19th, 2013

Freeride is dead. As soon as I utter the simple statement I see hundreds of internet hands shoot up with a defense of the dying art, and hundreds more nodding in agreement with the pronouncement. Some rightly note that Peacock and Hopkins sealed this one up last year. Right then, let’s go.

Let me first plant a seed to help us along the way: speciation is “the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise.” Long story short, things change, and eventually they’re no longer compatible with each other.

A cold, early summer afternoon with periods of torrential rain had Billy Jackson hiking his camera gear up the mountain to join me in seeking some cheap thrills. My primary Fromme bike was about to see some gravity-oriented changes and we wanted to document its successful pedalable freeride status.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

Sideways on the build’s final days. The Scott Voltage FR 20 test bike, already modified heavily, a week before another makeover. Knowing some major parts were going to be changed, we set out for a session on Fromme, where the Voltage FR had found its niche under me.

Freeride used to be a pursuit of the people; now, it’s the pursuit of professionals and niche enthusiasts. What’s the biggest indicator of that? The one necessary element other than a person and a location – the freeride bike – is dead. Or, at the very least, it’s been put out to pasture. I have spent the past few years in love with a dying breed.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

I’d had fit and setup done with Arthur at Suspension Therapy and shock tuning from James at SuspensionWerx – the bike felt great. The number of times I hit this stump bonk climbed into the twenties as we played with angles, timing, and actually bonking the stump.

Some readers may point out that the type of bike being used is not really a factor in what constitutes freeride. Well, this much is true.

Somewhere along the line in the past decade, the pro rider’s freeride bike gave way to two offspring: the modern, low-slung, hardly-pedalable DH bike; and the lightweight 4″ dirt jumper or short travel slopestyle bike that might not even have two brakes.

Meanwhile, the everyman’s freeride bike evolved into something else: a platform that is still popular on our chunky slopes, the pedalable 6″ bike that has come to be known as an AM bike. While you can look at certain examples along the trajectory of huck and proclaim the freeride bike is still alive, in reality it’s grasping for breath.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

Feeling comfortable on the front wheel on a Shore classic. The Voltage replaced a Banshee Wildcard, and was just a touch better in a number of areas.

Assuming it is actually dead, what was a freeride bike? We can point out various traits that we might expect to see on such a machine: descending-optimized, though still pedalable, with either a full length seat tube or a telescoping post; 7″ of travel at both ends; steeper head angles, higher bottom brackets, and shorter wheelbases than a modern DH sled; and a variety of other traits that we could banter about for hours. Before the speciation of a handful of new sub-categories, things looked like this.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

In its best Fromme freeride form, the Voltage FR sported the following climb and pop-friendly bits: a Fox Van 160 RC2 with external headset cup; an 8.5″ air shock; 415mm chainstays; a 34 tooth cassette; and a 420mm dropper post. 60mm stem, 760mm bar, 65.5 head angle, relatively stiff 140mm rear. This is “big slopestyle” mode, and one of my all time favourite bikes to smash down Fromme.

Many bikes have been introduced in the general category in recent years, but very few have truly succeeded: the sub-40 pound pedalable 7″ bikes, really the only home for modern single crown 180mm forks; the “big slopestyle” bikes with five to six inches of travel but tiny seat tubes and often short top tubes to accompany; and the modern short travel slopestyle bikes that seem to be produced in such limited numbers that the companies know they’re simply an FMB niche bike. Some of these bikes weigh half much as their progenitors.

What persists in the market are cheap, flickable short travel dirt jumpers and huck-worthy sub-40 downhill rigs. Freeride may look like the marriage of these two, but it was really the progeny. A common thread of the new generation is a general reluctance to pedal them anywhere but downhill. Are freeride bikes destined to an eternity where they decorate our man caves, good only for an occasional chuckle and a fond memory?

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

This frame will see new life. It truly is a good time on two wheels.

The attempt to turn the little white Fromme smasher into a shuttle-bound DH sled had failed; the 23″ top tube proved to be too short when the bike got up to speed under my 6 foot frame. The Voltage FR’s tight rear end and short top tube indicates a relationship to dirt jump bikes, and while it could host 7 inches of travel front and rear, I liked it better with less junk in the trunk.

By the time Billy and I lined up a shoot again, the Voltage had been stripped to all but its guts. However, the bike didn’t matter. We had unfinished business with a big mossy green thing.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

Catching up on some unfinished business with Big Rock.

Coming out of that cold shoot with the Voltage we had scoped an old line, just off the beaten path. The forest was absolutely perfect for it – better atmosphere than we’d had all day: wet, mildly foggy, and silent – but I just couldn’t conquer the relic that day. Billy and I resolved to call it off on the agreement that we’d come back and hit it when our schedules lined up again.

The Death of Freeride North Shore mountain bike Morgan Taylor Billy Jackson Scott Voltage FR Norco Aurum

The modern freeride bike likes a push.

Our paths don’t cross as often as they used to, but the day came and the shoot was a success – but you’ll have to wait to see the finished product. On the plus side, I can assure you that freeride isn’t dead – but the bikes have certainly changed.

Is freeride dead, or is Morgan just dreaming? Chime in below…

  • jetta_mike

    Freeride is not “dead”, but the era in which it flourished is. No longer is 42lbs considered light, no longer do you session a jump for an afternoon, no longer do we push our bikes to the top of the mountain. MTBer’s today seem to be more focused with grams and seconds, than they do with having fun in the forest.

    • walleater

      “no longer do we push our bikes to the top of the mountain” – speak for yourself! 😀

    • morgman

      I’ll take two of the three. Ideally I don’t push, but I do session jumps for photos and for fun. That’s my BMX background and just enjoying hanging out in the woods.

  • jpi

    Ridonkulous. People will always do what they want on a bike – to me that’s the very definition of freeride.

  • Jerry-Rig

    Big Rock looks like a flat landing… NSX 3? with Ken Maude.

  • Rivs

    “Freeride” died the second the term was TM’d. Having fun and wearing a shit eating grin on a bike in the forest, that will live forever

  • Oldfart

    Of course freeride is alive an well. The term does not describe riding certain trail features or hiking and retrying the same jump many times. If it isn’t training or racing it’s freeriding. I think the pendulum swung too far to the heavy unclimbable bike side of things for many riders and has come back to more all round type of machines. Bike parks I think caused trails to evolve into smoother trails that flow. At the same time the steep lines became very worn down and people adapted to that by buying more travel. But now that trails are being rebuilt closer to the way they had been when first put in (less a lot of so called stunt furniture) fewer people need the heavy long travel bikes.

    Heavy bikes that typically are pushed up are being relegated to shuttles and lifts where it makes more sense. But for Fromme, why walk when you could ride?

  • swinefeaster

    who cares whats alive or whats dead, what the trend is or not? just shred some shit and have fun. this is not a gap commercial.

  • blackbird

    When I arrived here the first time in 96, “freeride” was a hard tail spec’d with the group below lx, and a solid fork. The suspension fork was only just out. The freeride I remember was typified by the hard tail, in particular the Cove Hummer with Marz b1…..and guys who climbed the mountain then descended it. I still see those 40 year olds doing it Saturday mornings.

    I was taken on an epic ride through the big eye in 98. A six hour epic shore tour by two of the old school guys. To me, that was freeride….a bunch of suspended hard tails on ladders and rocks deep in the forest.

    Pushing your rig up the mountain because it weighs as much as John Candy, is not freeride……

  • stephenmatthews

    All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, an’ I’m fine.

  • bogey

    Shore hucking is out but freeride is alive and well. I certainly has morphed since the early days though.

  • Dirkieuys

    Freeriding is the only form of riding that really matters to me. The feeling of riding (drops and jumps, if you feel like it), somewhere deep in the quiet forest with a few mates, man that,s what i love and will do until i punch my ticket,

  • bmtbx

    Free riding is … like… whatever man.

  • dawnchairy

    A great read, but the title writes a cheque that the content doesn’t seem to cash. It should read “The Death of the Freeride Bike”.

    • morgman

      Nah, judging by the comments, the title was right on. That’s all anyone reads anyway, right?

      • dawnchairy

        That might be all they read… I find it interesting how people define ‘freeride’ and so I wanted to see how you were looking at it.

        And nice work on the big rock.

      • morgman

        The split in bikes – to short travel DJ bikes and DH bikes on the pro side, and 6″ AM bikes on the everyday side – somewhat indicates where my own definition lies. The average trail rider isn’t really practicing freeride any more, in my opinion.

  • AlanB

    Sigh. I can’t remember the last time I wore my safety jacket.

  • wiglebot

    I have a knolly Podium (same bike in vid) under 38 ponds and has a 32front 11-36rear. I end up riding that on Fromme more than anything. But it is not the bike or inches of travel — this article misses the point. Freeride was some kind of Gen-X movement and Baby Boomers and their kids are taking over the scene with family rides, safer stunts, organized events, or at least being in a club.

  • chasecardwell

    I totally see where you’re coming from that “freeride is dead” from a bike perspective. Ive got a norco truax 2, the definition of a freeride bike. I can bomb bike parks on it, shred local jumps, I’ve even raced dh on it and its totally a pedal-able bike. For 2014 Norco decided to discontinue the truax after only 3 years of production. They bumped out the truax for more 27.5 AM or Enduro bikes. HOWEVER…..from a trail perspective, at least in the seattle area, “Freeride” bike parks are popping up everywhere, Duthie hill, colonnade, Summit Ridge freeride park, and as we speak, swan creek mtb park is building up a freeride section. People might ride these “freeride” lines on an AM bike or a DH bike, but its still freeride….its not XC, not DH, not a racecourse, not even big mountain stuff. Simply Freeride. LONG LIVE FREERIDE….

    • Markhpnc

      Interesting that freeride is dead, in a way, and yet events like Rampage and Crankworx are more popular than ever and pretty much every video/DVD shows what I would consider freeride.

      Absolutely cannot wait until the Banshee Darkside is released!
      You can still see the trend of “mini” DH with the dual crown fork but I am thinking 180 Fox Van front and coil rear…

      Was really wanting the Norco Truax like Chase mentions above but they axed it. There is also the Transition TR-250…

    • morgman

      It’s kinda funny: much of the classic riding here on the North Shore could still be considered freeride – and a lot of the time you still have to pedal for it. But, I still maintain that the bikes I outlined in this piece are still spot on. The Mini-DH bike is not pedalable, so it doesn’t fit the original definition. Freeride evolved, and the type of bike that used to go along with it got left behind in favour of the gravity bikes chosen by professionals and the AM bikes chosen by the masses.

  • stevens

    Freeride isn’t dead. It just goes by the name “enduro” now

  • Kiran Kumar

    Free ride can never die its not a sport its a a state of mind im not some spiritual nut juice seller of sorts but trust me hundreds of us are there shredding on the cliffs of Himalayas we never give up i have been with this group that starts off from manali to leh with breathtaking rides we have thousands of untouched trails along the way only if you’re a free rider you’ll see the pattern if you’re a phoney trying to make video for money stay off you’ll never feel it, its a placebo effect if you think its there its there if you think its not its not.Like i said i am a fan of Bruce Lee and his one quote has me get in to sport and get good at it that is be like water my friend.So the conclusion is simple never give up hope when all things peak it reaches its limit you’ll see them coming back to the roots so have a little faith and don’t lose hope hell some day we get to see Jesus doing a super man on one of them hills in Jerusalem Amen.