Biking on the edge between the past and the future

René Wildhaber gives us the lowdown on his recent trip to retrace the steps of the Buffalo Soldiers.

René Wildhaber poses with his 100-year old military bike
René Wildhaber Standing proud© Christophe Margot

The curiosity of Swiss MTB pro René Wildhaber to examine the roots of mountain biking saw him take on to an unfamiliar journey last year. René went to the United States' Mid-West to search for traces of the Buffalo Soldiers, probably the world’s first mountain bikers.

The search for the roots of his sport wasn’t his only quest as he visited Red Bull Rampage to get an idea of where the sport is going in the future. He reveals his thoughts on the trip in this interview with Red Bull Switzerland.

 

René, you’re sporting a military uniform and an ancient bike – what’s the story behind this attire?

On my last trip, I went looking for the traces of the Buffalo Soldiers. They were a squad of the US Army at the end of the 19th century – the first one to experiment with bikes where there were no roads. In a way, they were the first mountain bikers.

For the trails in Utah, you used a high tech mountain bike. But you also tried the military bike. How was that?

I knew the ordinance bike from my own time in the military service. But back then, we used to ride paved streets. On this old bike, I had to ride off-road. I got totally shaken up, it was incredible. Now I know why they had to come up with suspension for bikes eventually! I had a lot of fun on this bike that’s more than a hundred years old. At a certain speed, it really cruises along well. I also rode it on train tracks. I had to be very careful to keep up a certain speed so it didn’t shake me up all that badly.

René Wildhaber tests out his 100-year old US military bike on train tracks
Riding on the train tracks left René all shook up© Christophe Margot

What was the most impressive thing about the whole Buffalo Soldiers trip?

I was impressed with the quality of the trails that I encountered, and with the development of the sport in the US. In Switzerland, we often use hiking trails for biking. In the States, it’s the other way around. Trails are built especially for the bikers. What struck me as odd though was the fact that most people take their cars to go biking.

What was the biggest challenge you have faced on your trip?

Probably the quest of taking on the “Whole Enchilada“ trail with its altitude difference of 2000 meters all in one go – I only stopped twice to watch the scenery.

You also visited the Red Bull Rampage. What trends did you encounter, what new insight do you have in the future of biking?

I saw two main trends. One is that jumps are not getting much bigger – the current measures have been steady for the past four years. But the tricks are becoming more and more ambitious. I’m curious to know when we will get to see the first double back flip. The second trend is about the number of professional riders. There are more and more of them. As for the future, trails will be wider and there will be more trails built. Biking will require more space.

You met many interesting people on your trip. Was there an encounter that impressed you in a special way?

Yes, I met a cowboy on the Fisher Valley Ranch who made a big impression on me. He was all quiet, just went about doing his work, and he reminded me of my dad: He works every day, he doesn’t stop to think if this is fun or not – he just goes ahead and does his job.