Viral footage from the new Red Bull Hardline canyon gap: has the new course substituted skill and technicality for unnecessary risk?


If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of mountain bike fans that watched footage of Bernard Kerr, Matt Jones, and Jim Monro testing the new sections for the upcoming Red Bull Hardline race over the weekend, you probably looked on with a mix of amazement and horror.

Amazement as first BK, then Matt Jones hit the ludicrous 70ft canyon gap, sailing 100ft+ above the maelstrom of rocks and white water below. Shortly followed by alarm and dread as the clips transitioned to Jim Monro leaving the lip, ditching his bike, and swimming through the air for what seemed like an eternity before slamming into the deck on the other side of the valley. Somehow he escaped with ‘just a concussion’ – the very fact that something as serious as a brain injury is being downplayed speaking volumes about what might have happened in any number of alternative scenarios.

As should always the case in the wake of an incident like this, questions are being asked about whether the sport has gone too far. Are we putting our riders at unnecessary risk? Are we comfortable with the chance that a rider might suffer life changing injuries, or even death, for our entertainment and a viral video? Of course, it’s not as simple as that, but I for one think the fact we’re having this debate is a vital safety check for any sport progressing as rapidly as ours.

Thirty years ago, there were just two or three daredevils in the world that would have attempted a jump such as this, and all of them would have been on a motorbike, not a bicycle. Now this type of stunt has become so normalised that anyone from the invited riders list at Hardline must hit this gap to even put a time on the board. And it says a lot when even a top moto rider plays it relatively safe riding the old course, not the new one.


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Of course, all of them have the skills to hit this jump. Many have jumped much bigger gaps before. And once the radius of the lip has been mellowed so it doesn’t kick as hard, the risk of something unexpected happening in that crucial split second as they leave the ramp is neutralised. Everyone will probably jump it cleanly.

But I’m also sure there will be riders who, deep down, don’t feel comfortable putting their lives and careers on the line for a bike race. And it will take a more courageous rider to walk away and say no, than actually roll down that ramp and send it.

In Matt Jones’ video he admits he has no motivation to ‘be a hero’. Bernard is quite obviously extremely nervous about being the first rider over a completely untested jump where the consequences don’t bear thinking about should something happen – a miscalculation, a slip on the wet wooden deck, a tubeless valve blowing out like it did to Matt Jones when he jumped over his house recently. Sh*t happens when mountain biking, and usually when you least want or expect it.

We’ve all experienced that internal pressure, sitting on our bikes on the roll-in to a feature we’ve never ridden before. But for BK, with dozens of media, course builders, and fellow riders standing around, waiting to see whether there will actually be an event this year – without that gap, the course wouldn’t work – the mind games must have been off the charts. And he barely made it – clearing the gap by miles, but only just squeezing onto the edge of the landing ramp.

But Hardline is meant to be ‘hard’, right? The clue’s in the name. Yet the question is, where are the lines between something that challenges a rider’s skill, and a feature that mostly demands huge cojones? Has Hardline tipped more to the latter than the former? As spectators, what do we prioritise? Is it the racing or the risk? If World Cup downhill can be as edge-your-seat exciting as it is without death-defying gaps, then surely an entertaining event doesn’t need to shuffle riders health and safety down the priority list. From the comments on Matt’s video and other social media posts, there are plenty of people who feel the same. Many give props to Matt, Bernard, and Jim for stepping up to the plate, but at the same time lots question the lack of a safety net, and whether this really represents downhill racing at all.

I’m of a similar mindset when it comes to the risks involved, but also the optics. While I appreciate the work that has gone into building this course, and the vision of those who created it, there’s something about sticking a massive Kerplunk structure in the middle of a beautiful Welsh valley that jars a bit. It’s reminds me of when wooden structures started appearing on the Red Bull Rampage course, and riders eventually agreed it wasn’t in the spirit of the event. Yes, Hardline has man-made features, but none are as unsympathetic to their surroundings as this one.

For me, Hardline will now have to be viewed in the same way I watch Rampage; not as a live event, but as a replay, to be enjoyed only when I know that all the riders are safe. And I’m not sure that’s the way it should be. But it’s not up to me. The riders competing are a sensible, professional group of athletes, and I’m sure they will be thinking long and hard about whether this is right for them, right for their careers, and right for their sponsors. After all, they are the ones that will be hitting that gap for real mid-race run, with their hearts pounding out of their chests, their lungs screaming, and that clock ticking in their heads.