By Gary J. Boulanger. Photos by Carmen Freeman-Rey.
German by birth, Austrian by nationality, Hans Rey has been an ambassador for adventure riding for nearly 25 years. Beginning as a trials competitor, he first shifted to extreme riding through exotic locales, then transitioned to a seasoned evangelist, all the while making films to bring the world along for the ride.
We recently caught up with the 46-year-old after the 2012 IMBA World Summit in Santa Fe, N.M. We chose not to ask him about performing bike stunts for the short-lived television show “Pacific Blue”.
How do you explain your ability to be associated with GT Bicycles for 25 years?
I don’t know; it’s hard to pin down one factor. I always assumed it would last one or two years longer. I worked with the right people, instincts, foresight, loyalty and a bit of luck. GT is family.
You began as a trials rider, and reached the top of that competitive world. What prompted your shift to extreme riding in the ’90s?
It was the natural evolution for me. The trials scene was going through the roof, and I wanted to demonstrate my skills in more real situations: on obstacles the general public could relate to, like the waterfalls in Jamaica, active volcanos or urban riding. I was inspired by the extreme skiers, who jumped off cliffs and pushed the limits in those days. Growing up with Alpine ski racing I thought the extreme skiers, like Franz Klammer, were rad. I called myself an ‘extreme mountain biker’ many years before the word ‘freeride’ was adopted in the bike world.
In your opinion, what have been the best technological innovations of the last 25 years?
Well, obviously suspension and disc brakes; however, the best aftermarket product in the history of mountain biking is, in my opinion, the adjustable seat post. Well worth the extra weight and money. I use my post on average 20-50 times per ride.
Tell me about your current bike, how it’s spec’ed and set up.
Hmm? Which one shall I talk about? I got a few bikes in my garage (understatement) and my preferences change constantly, of course it also does depend on where you ride and with whom. Right now I really love my GT Carbon Zaskar 100 full suspension bike; I put a 140mm fork on mine, which goes great with this modern geometry. It’s a great all-round bike, lightweight but super good handling even in rough terrain. I prefer slightly bigger tires than your average 100mm rider would use; I love wide bars and l like to run my suspension soft enough to make full use of all the travel.
How many bikes do you currently have in your garage?
I just counted about 15. That includes some old-timers which I will keep in my collection. Got a Zaskar Trials, Ruckus Dirt Jumper, Zaskar 100, Zaskar 100 9r, Carbon Force All Mountain, Sanction Freerider, and Fury Downhiller to name a few.
You’ve recently been named to IMBA’s Honorary Board of Directors. What is your role?
The Honorary Board consists of a group of committed mountain bike personalities, champion racers, industry leaders, and soon a few celebrities. We’re trying to help the cause from the sidelines and be a voice for IMBA. Most mountain bikers, including many members of the bike industry, have not realized the importance of the work IMBA is doing. Honestly, it’s hard to describe in words, but everybody benefits from it directly or indirectly.
Things could be a lot worse without IMBA’s involvement and the constant battle it fights on many fronts in the name of our sport. It opens doors to new opportunities, educates and allocates funds that benefit us. From building better, more fun and more flowy trails, preventing trail closures, pursuing National Parks to open the gates to bikes and many more things. Every person that thinks of themselves as a mountain biker should support IMBA by becoming a member or donating any amount, no matter how small. One can also volunteer with local chapters. Get involved!
I personally believe that mountain biking still can be much better and more fun than we know it today. Lots will happen in the next 10 years. One of the big things will be more great mountain bike-specific trails, like the flow country trails I’m pushing for.
You’ve called Southern California home for 25 years. What keeps you there, and who do you ride with?
It’s a beautiful place, great climate, good riding, good for business and great in the winter. I’ve been to many places around the world. Laguna Beach is unique and has a lot of top qualities. It’s my home that keeps me there, it’s also my friends and the Laguna Rads I’m riding with.
How good of a rider is Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins? Think you might see more of him now that his band is on hiatus?
It’s great to see guys like Taylor or Timmy C from Rage Against the Machine be such diehard mountain bikers. They both are very involved and ride 4-7 days a week. Timmy lives and breathes biking. He understands the sport, culture, technology and history—and as a matter of fact he has more passions than the majority of pro riders I’ve ever met! Taylor is a bit more in the endurance aspect of the sport. They’re both great spokespersons for the sport.
How many countries have you visited over the years, and how many air miles do you average?
I think it’s been around 70 countries. I still have a few on my wish list. As more as I have seen is more I realize how much I haven’t seen. One doesn’t have to jet set the world to engage in adventure; there’s plenty to do in everybody’s backyard.
Air miles? Not sure! Not enough to get the really great benefits from the airlines…
Who are the people you admire most in the bike world?
I admire different people for different things. My list is constantly evolving. One can learn something from most everybody. I admire people with a long-term vision for the sport and industry—visions that precede most everybody’s understanding by years.
There are many great organizations and individuals that I look up to, like trail building guru Diddie Schneider, industry pioneers like Richard Long (the late co-owner of GT Bicycles), advocates like Bikes Belong executive director Tim Blumenthal, guys like Danny MacAskill or Rampage riders inspire me to go a bit faster, and Joe Blow for kicking my butt up the hill. The list goes far beyond the bike world.
Many people from other sports have influenced me; look at the guys from the climbing scene: Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard, Doug Tompkins, or Rick Ridgeway. The list goes on all the way to the simple farmer somewhere in the Andean Mountains completely satisfied with his life.
Visit Hans Rey online at www.hansrey.com.