I first met Richie Rude when he was 13 years old and from the start, I knew he was special. He loomed larger than normal for a kid of his age.
Rude's hands were massive; they looked like hands that could wrestle a bear or break rocks in half. He was quiet, quick with a smile, humble and, above all, brutal on a bike. He allowed his riding to do the talking for him.
Rude took two junior national titles and USAC made an exception to move him up to pro at the tender age of 15.
"To say [Rude] was shy was a huge understatement," says former teammate and former EWS world champ Jared Graves. "In 2011, when he first signed with Yeti Cycles — I don’t think he spoke to anyone for the first week at team camp! He's always been more of the 'I'll let my riding do the talking' type. I saw his potential and the quiet way he went about getting things done — so, I guess I took a bit of a shine to Richie."
As a junior on the technically demanding, rock-strewn East Coast tracks, there was no disputing that Rude was a young downhill ripper and that big things would come. It wasn’t uncommon for him to win races by over 10 seconds on the second place rider. Rude took two junior national titles and USAC made an exception to move him up to pro at the tender age of 15.
"Richie’s whole style is pretty unique," continues Graves. "He doesn’t have your typical mountain biker build. He’s about 20 pounds bigger than any other rider, and about 20 percent more aggressive as well, so you can imagine that he breaks a few things on his bike."
When I was younger I wanted to ride as hard as I could and not think about the bike itself — I didn’t really care if it could hold up or not.
I remember a few photo shoots that were cut short because of bike parts that couldn’t stand up to the abuse Richie dished out: Blown shocks, exploded wheels and cracked frames. While the work may have ended sooner than I had hoped on those days, I couldn’t help but laugh. I always thought of Richie as the ultimate test rider because if he felt a weakness in the system, he would exploit it to failure — I’m sure you could fill a dumpster with parts that just gave up when Richie was riding.
Watching Rude ride has always been exciting, something that made me chuckle and often stare slack-jawed in awe. From massive bunny hops into flat rock gardens to brutally exploded corners or sheer flat-out speed, Rude has always impressed. Since signing with Yeti in 2011, Richie has won three World Champion titles: Junior Downhill and two in Enduro.
Through it all, he has remained true to himself; essentially that same kid I met so many years ago. Humble, though maybe a little less quiet, still quick with a smile and his riding does most of the talking. Now, he starts a new chapter as he sees another dream realized. I sat down with Rude and chatted about his career so far, and what is still to come.
RedBull.com: When did you start racing? How did you get started?
Richie Rude: I was little, I’m not exactly sure how old, and I went with my dad to races. He got me into bikes and took me racing and we rode and raced together pretty much up to when I signed with Yeti. I had somewhere around 10 to 12 years of racing with my dad.
Growing up, did you have any particular rider you looked up to? One that was more of an influence than others?
I think, oddly enough, it was Jared [Graves]. I always watched the Yeti videos as a kid and obviously riding with him as a teammate hugely influenced me. When we rode together, I always liked the way he rode.
What has been the biggest moment of your career?
I think it was making the transition to Enduro, liking the format and getting into that discipline of riding. Making the transition from year one to year two, and getting those first wins, to finally getting the overall.
I’d like to get a clean sweep on an EWS weekend, win every stage. Certainly, I want another title.
So it was the process of successfully transitioning to a new discipline?
Yeah, it was like starting from a low point that first year and then it came together the second year with the wins, and then the titles came after.
That first year was rough for you. Coming from your DH background with your style of "smash the track on one run" didn’t work too well in a multi-run, multi-day format. How did you figure out the balance between riding brutally fast while still looking out for your bike?
Yeah, you’re right. I was coming from having to do one run a weekend on a bigger, burlier bike to up to seven runs a weekend on a trail bike. I had a hard time at first keeping the bike together. It clicked in 2014 at Winter Park when I got my second place. I realized I needed to have a little bit more conservative run to win instead of going full-out all the time.
Speaking of smashing the track, do you think your aggressive style is a product of being from the rocky East Coast?
I think it’s always been a result of me just wanting to have fun, honestly. Sure, the terrain we have around here has been an influence. You need to skip through the rocks or smash through them. Like at Mt. Snow where it’s all about speed, and that’s how you achieve it. But ultimately, it’s purely down to the fact that I enjoy having fun.
Let's talk about your abuse of bikes when you were younger. You weren't particularly gentle with them, and sometimes it seemed like if you found a weak spot you would push it to failure?
I guess when I was younger I wanted to ride as hard as I could and not think about the bike itself — I didn’t really care if it could hold up or not. I just wanted to ride like I wanted to. It didn’t matter if the wheels were dented or something else was about to break. I just wanted to ride and have fun.
How has your riding matured since those days?
I’ve definitely learned to be more efficient. I’d call it a little bit smoother, but not really. I feel like I use the ground as much as I can to carry speed. I feel like I still just go for it. I’m not afraid to push it.
You took your second EWS title this year, but you had a hiccup in Aspen when you crashed and injured your shoulder. You continued to race despite the injury, and came back to win in Whistler. Was that down to mental toughness, or the fact that you're just big, that you have the strength to hold your body together?
Coming back from that was more mental I think. It was tough to ride with a bit of a hurt shoulder, but I really wanted to let that go. The first day my shoulder really hurt, the second day I just forgot about it. I was more annoyed with the fact that I would finish around the top 30 and wanted to get back to the way I was riding before. Part of it was because of my strength, I could push it to the back of my head and just ride through it. Certainly part of it is because of the training we do.
Let's talk about some high points this year. Wicklow, Ireland, comes to mind first. You flatted early on and fought your way back to the podium. It was one of the most exciting Enduro races we've seen. What happened there?
Yeah, I went from about 80th to third or something. I’ve always liked Wicklow. I did well on stage one, and I had stage two down. I got a flat right in the beginning and thought it was all over on the second stage. But, me being me, I just kept riding the flat and I rode it out and then fixed it. It kind of angered me a bit because I knew the day wasn’t going to go as I had planned. With losing all that time, I sort of thought I had ruined all my chances. At that point I just thought screw it, I’ll just go for it. I guess because I like that place so much it just helped me go for it and I could not care at all. I just had fun at that point. Shawn and Damion, my mechanic and manager, didn’t tell me where I was the whole day. Shawn just told me to ride my bike, that I knew what to do. So I just rode, and started pulling back time every stage.
What about La Thuile? That was another great one. There's footage of you powering past Oton. You nearly caught up to Clementz at the line of that same stage. That race seemed to be a real testament to how powerful you are.
I think in La Thuile I was riding the best I had all season. I didn’t think so at the time, but after winning by a minute I can say that was my best form of the season. I think seeing Oton there in front of me I just forgot about how tired my legs were because I wanted to catch somebody so bad. Like chasing a rabbit or whatever, you see them and just have to go for it. It’s funny because in the video it looks like I’m passing him so easily, but I was hurting so bad. My lungs were on fire, my legs were on fire, but I just had to do it. You see somebody and just have to dig a bit deeper and keep going.
That's two EWS Champion titles, what's the goal for the future?
I’d like to get a clean sweep on an EWS weekend, win every stage. Certainly, I want another title. I really want to promote the sport and help it grow.
Where do you think the stiffest competition will come from next year?
Certainly Martin Maes. He was in super good form last year until he got injured, and he came back strong toward the end of the season. He’ll be a pretty strong contender next year. I think Sam Hill will be in the mix, too. He is hungry and did well this year, I think he will be up there more and more.
What's your favorite part of racing EWS?
I think it’s having so much variety in all of the courses, and being able to ride with everyone throughout the weekend. It gives you the chance to show your speed and a variety of terrain. There’s stages you love, and stages you hate, but it’s always interesting.
You are clearly at the forefront of the upcoming crop of Enduro racers, at this point in the evolution of the sport, what would you say to the notion that the EWS is sometimes called the "DH racers's graveyard"?
I think originally Enduro World Series was a bit more of a casual series in the first year. After these last couple years Enduro has really caught momentum and the interest of younger riders. I’ve noticed that most of us top racers have come from DH backgrounds, but Enduro is a lot harder than people think. It’s also a discipline that is perfect for everyone to participate in. I like how it’s a bit safer, not as all out as DH. Enduro caters to a wider range of racers, but I don’t think it’s a DH racers' graveyard. If you want to be quick, you have to put in a lot of work. It feels good to start the wave of young riders along with Martin Maes.