Hucknroll Athletes Rebecca Rusch and Mike Hopkins talk dirt
Hucknroll recently added two athletes to its team roster: Rebecca Rusch representing the roll, and Mike Hopkins huck’n proper. Both Rusch and Hopkins push the boundaries of two distant, yet distinct sects of mountain biking: cross-country endurance racing and gravity-comp insanity. We caught up with them to find out what spins the gears.
We found Rebecca lounging in the shade and reveling in her win after the Galena Grinder, an endurance race just outside of Ketchum, Idaho—right in her backyard. Is there a better time to interview than after charging 46 miles on a hot summer day? We thought not and fired some hard-hitting Qs at her—shockingly, there was no sign of delusion, fatigue, or lack of energy.
So how did your race go? Was it a walk in the park, or did you have to dig deep?
It was pretty hard, the descents are just as difficult as the uphills—usually you’re psyched for the down after a long climb, but pretty big consequences on the descent kept you on your toes, ya know? Other than the challenging part, it’s super fun with lots of locals, and the race is great training for the Leadville 100.
Oooh the Leadville, huh? How many of those have you done?
Yeah, this will be my second one. Last year I ended up winning it, sight unseen—never ridden the course.
That’s a great way to race!
It was awesome. But now, coming back to defend, there are more expectations and the pressure’s on.
Presstime update: Preparation, course knowledge, and training enable Rebecca to knock 30 minutes off her previous time and shatter the course record by 11 minutes. Nice work, Rebecca!
Did you set out to be an endurance athlete, or did endurance racing find you? And how long have you been competing?
I never set out to be a professional athlete. I ran cross-country in high school and a little bit in college, so I’ve always done long competitions. I climbed for awhile, paddled awhile, and did lots of active stuff. I didn’t become a ‘bike racer’ per se until about five years ago. My most recent metamorphosis, I guess.
How would you describe your diet? Very structured or eat what comes across your plate?
Probably a mix between those two things! I don’t measure food and get into all that stuff, but I learned quickly “garbage in garbage out.” I used to eat a bunch of Cheetos and gummy bears while racing, but I’ve learned to be smarter about nutrition. I’ll still have a cake or beer—I’m not saintly about it.
Any favorites/go-to pre-race meals?
Turkey bagel sandwich, although this morning I had some granola, fruit, and protein powder, which sounds really gross, but got the job done.
Can you tell us your most memorable trail-side/racing Good Samaritan experience? Whether you performed the act, or someone had the right tool/spare part/medical assistance?
You know, that’s what I love about mountain biking. That kind of stuff happens all the time. Even in a race, and across categories. I don’t know of many sports that have that kind of camaraderie. I can’t really think of one standout incident, as it happens all the time. When you’re in the middle of nowhere you gotta help somebody out.
You spend long days on the bike, how do you prevent discomfort?
Which area are you talking about? The brain or ass?
Um ... how about ass comfort?
The saddle-to-ass interface, ha! Well I’ve tried a lot of saddles and shorts until I found the ones that work. The Specialized Ruby does the trick for me. Comfort’s a big deal, it can ruin a race.
How long should it take before you know for sure a saddle and bum union isn’t working out?
I usually know within a ride but give it a little longer test to make sure. If it’s not a comfortable union after three rides or so, sell it and try something new.
Any chamois cream?
I use a chamois cream and mix Noxzema with it.
No udder cream?
Yeah, I do use Beljum Budder right now. That’s been a go-to cream. Also wash your clothes, and take ’em off as soon as you’re done riding. Don’t be a dirt bag, haha!
What about in the course of a 24-hour race? Do you change your shorts?
No, unless it’s raining. But normally I don’t change ’em, I might pull on a second pair and double up if I’m in a bad way. However, if it’s a team race, I’ll change in between laps.
Off-season antics? You said you’re a climber, but what about winter?
I do a lot of Nordic skiing and telemark skiing, there’s killer access here. I also have a motorcycle.
Oh really, a throttle twister. What kind? Outlaw chopper chick, dirt biker, or moto touring?
I’ve got a BMW 650 GS, dual sport. So it can go on dirt roads around here, it’s good for scoping riding spots and new trail systems.
You know, probably the last two 24-hour Worlds. They were both held in Canmore, AB, by the Banff National Park. It’s pretty unbelievable, really beautiful with super-technical singletrack, the best 24-hour course I’ve ever done. But, I really like home too.
The economy’s total shit, and your sponsor can only provide one bike—no quiver. What style mountain bike would you choose?
It would be the 2011 Specialized Epic 29er.
So a two-niner, eh? Is it a full suspension or hardtail?
Full suspension 29er, with just under 4 inches of travel. I rode lift access with it the first time, and it rides like a dream. I’m completely sold on the twenty-niner.
What’s in store for the future?
Well the Leadville’s a big one, I’ll try to defend my title there if all goes well. I plan on riding as much as possible, both moto and pedaling. I’m looking forward to more fun media-type things. I did an ultra-fun super-D with SRAM, Specialized, and a bunch of media folks in Ashland. In fact I’ve mixed up my schedule a bit and entered some more super-D races this year. I’m enjoying them and the different riding style.
You see plenty of single-speeders out on XC race courses. Are they actually tough, or is it just an image?
Well, my boyfriend’s a single-speeder, and a two-time 24-hour solo champ. He usually beats me, so I guess they’re tough, but a bit stupid ...
We caught up with uber-busy Mike Hopkins by phone. Here’s what he had to say:
Where did you grow up, and where do you call home when you’re not on the road?
Rossland, BC. Grew up here, and I live here now.
You live in a mountain biking and skiing mecca, but outside of there, where would you say is the most epic location you’ve ridden?
I would say for mountain biking definitely the Sunshine Coast, BC. Unbelievable DH trails with machine-excavated big-bike lines. It’s my go-to place.
Did you set out to be an extreme athlete, or did it find you?
I think it found me, but probably a bit of both. I skied and mountain biked most of my life. Where I live there’s not much else to do. My older brother’s a really good DH racer, so I kinda followed him around. I took a winter semester off one year to ski competitively, and it all took off there. I took a gamble, and it went my way, so a little of both. I never really set out thinking this would be a viable way to make a living, but it worked out.
What piece of equipment would you consider your mechanical dope, a.k.a. performance enhancer?
I would have to say my Monster helmet. It was custom painted with my name on it. Put on a custom painted helmet, and you feel like you’ve gotta throw down, it’s kinda empowering. You can be wearing your birthday suit with just the Monster helmet and still throw down.
You use a Leatt device right? How is it to ride with? Bulky, or put it on, and forget about it?
Yeh, I do use a Leatt. My girlfriend gave the ultimatum. If I break my neck and can’t walk, she’d have to leave me. So that day I went out and bought one. The first two days it took a little getting used to, but now I have to be reminded that it’s there. It’s also a confidence booster knowing that it’s there. I ride DH with one all the time now.
How would you describe your diet? Very structured or eat what comes across your plate?
Well, I try to eat healthy. My bro’s very diet conscious and that rubs off. I’ve never really been one for eating junk food—I’ll take some fruit over chips. When you’re on the road so much—especially when you’re in Europe, with bread and cheese on your plate and nothing else—it can be tough sometimes to eat healthy. Sushi always hits the spot. The dynamite roll in particular.
Can you tell us your most memorable trail-side Good Samaritan experience, whether you performed the act, or someone had the right tool/spare part/medical assistance?
Well I’m constantly getting bailed out, I’m always that guy missing a tool in the backpack, but um … I have a worst experience, that’s for sure.
Yeah, what’s that one?
A few years ago we were shooting a big double hit on top of a spine. We built a jump wide enough for two riders to go off. We were all hittin’ it, and it was working out super well. I remember Matt Hunter and Super T (Tyler Klassen) going off it and, I don’t know, Super T got tossed off the lip or something and ended up in a compression with his leg fully locked—breaking his femur. When the dust settled his foot was by his head. It was the most graphic thing I’ve ever seen. That was, uh, pretty horrible.
Oooh, ouch. Not cool. Speaking of the inherent dangers of this sport, what do you think of the new open format for the upcoming Red Bull Rampage? Is this a chance for un-established senders to make it big, or are we going to see riders taking drastic measures and putting themselves into a potentially harmful situation for a little glory?
I kinda got mixed feelings. I’m always open to the idea of people getting chances, but at the same time—with the whole freeride tour—guys are going in just to get points. And I don’t think that’s the way the rampage should be looked at. The consequences are really high. You’re not just going to break a leg, they could be catastrophic. I like the open format. But, at the same time it should be regulated to some point—somebody needs to sift through the names of those … 25 riders that will get a chance—which is awesome—but they should be handpicked.
What’s the most progressive trick/riding style to look for at the Rampage?
With the new 180mm single crown forks coming out, people are starting to get more adventurous and trying new things. I think you’ll see a lot of everything. Tailwhips and tailwhip drops, especially. And obviously the 360 drop has been done, but it’s still one to look for. There will be more slopestyle riding going on, for sure. But, at the same time you gotta be twice as dialed as on a slopestyle course because the terrain’s pretty rough. It’s not as forgiving as a manufactured course. What’s great about the Rampage is it’s a mesh of different riding styles. It’s definitely going to come down to who can link up the big-hit lines with the big tricks. We’ll see.
Do you find it hard to risk injury at these competitions for what little compensation they provide, compared to other sports, such as skiing?
For sure. However, resorts are finding they can stay afloat better by becoming a four-season destination—instead of relying on just one seasonal activity. With the development of bike parks, events, and the fact that more people are riding due to lifestyle and economic choices, they’re taking notice of the sport aspect. Mountain biking is on the up and up, unlike skiing, which has kinda plateaued out.
Manufacturers and sponsors are seeing this, and I think as far as industry goes, mountain biking’s really stepping up and taking care of their athletes. And athletes are becoming more cautious as well. It used to be, you know, I drink beer all day and ride hard. But levels of competition are at a point where you can’t swing it anymore—it’s less weekend warrior but more professional and committed now.