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Engaging the Red Bull Generation

A discussion about engaging with freeriders, high-profile athletes and their sponsors to advance mountain biking. Included a discussion of Red Bull's new film release "Where the Trail Ends," which premiered at the IMBA World Summit in Santa Fe.

Part 1: Red Bull in Latin America and Around the Globe

  • Presented by Felipe Augusto Cunha de Almeida, Commissaires Counsel at Paraná State Provincial Cycling Federation (Paraná, Brazil) and Mark Eller, IMBA (Colorado, USA).
  • Felipe is an international commissaire for BMX and MTB at the International Cycling Union (UCI), and a partner of Red Bull Latin America helping to build the concepts behind the events and running them.

What captures the interest and imagination of the “Red Bull Generation”? Felipe's observations included:

  • Dreaming of participating in extreme events like Crankworks at Winter Park, Colorado, for which Red Bull is a major sponsor
  • Watching/doing huge tricks
  • Watching/doing races on pumptracks, jump lines, urban/skate style features
  • Speed
  • Viewing thrilling wipe-outs

Impact of Red Bull (extreme MTB) events:

  • Bring MTB to the mainstream, by creating an exciting spectator sport
  • Push limits of the rider’s skill
  • Push innovation equipment/cinematography; i.e. new types shocks were developed to handle the huge drops found in the Red Bull events, new tools for helicopter filming that could deal with dust.
  • Open new areas for development of the sport such as Latin America, Utah, and Australia, where you can find the craziest, most technical MTB event ever
  • Brings awareness of the sport all over world through the press it receives
  • Redefines the sport
  • Red Bull has spent $4.7 billion dollars on media (equal their investment in the drink product itself)
  • Every time Red Bull signs with a rider, they invest in that rider to help them have the perfect environment with which to excel, such as funding the build of a training park in their own backyard.

Red Bull’s Advocacy Initiatives:

  • Under My Wing program: 25 kids are provided with coaches that help develop the athlete in every way – sleep, eat, training program. Must apply to the program and demonstrate commitment and potential.
  • Red Bull and trailbuilding: Red Bull funds build projects for  trails and pump tracks that are designed to provide opportunities for riders to work their way up to more and more extreme riding skills. One trail, called Full Nelson, is great for 6 year old kids all the way to pro dirt jumpers.
  • Backyard Digger: program that started 2003 in Austria and is focused mostly in Europe, in which clubs and/or riders can write a proposal to Red Bull to have their backyard transformed into a bike park. A pro rider/idol will sign off and endorse the trail project , ride it, and give feedback when the first phase has been completed.
  • Red Bull Trail Crew: Red Bull sponsors a contest among trail builders to compete on to build the best trail by themselves in sections of a ski area or bike park. The winner gets prize money and the contract for more build projects at that resort or park.
  • Rideable project: Race riders learn about what goes into building their race courses before they ride it.

In order to attract this generation you need:

  • Good website
  • Strong social media
  • Good photos/video of local events, document the history/evolution of certain areas, types of riding etc.
  • Good music at events, web, video
  • Magazine subscriptions available during events
  • Bring the idols close to young riders, like the Backyard diggers program, exciting and help them realize that they are human and show that those kids could do it too. Use camps, jump jams, film premiers, trail days, trail grand openings to bring idols.
  • Build trails for the progression of their skill, challenging yet safe environment. Same trail where 6 yr old can do it, 12 yr old can double it, 16 can triple it, and 18 can flip it.
  • Risk management very important – terrible crash and don’t get too hurt will make them more stoked wheras light crash that results in broken bone, will push them away from the sport.

How to get brand sponsorship (such as Red Bull) for an MTB event:

  • Provide naming rights for various features
  • Bring project to the communities of interest to that company
  • Align project with the goals of the company – i.e. supercross bmx world cup included unusual features named for and sponsored by Oakley (tunnel looks like Oakley logo), Swatch (s turn), and Red Bull (box jump to remind attendees that Red Bull gives you wings)

Part 2: What Can IMBA Learn From Red Bull? Presented by Mark Eller, IMBA Communications Director.

It is plainly apparent that a media savvy company like Red Bull has a lot to offer to IMBA and clubs with their expertise in reaching out to youth. Will Red Bull support IMBA's efforts around the globe? It's a discussion that's only just beginning, but it could have big implications.

When Eller started at IMBA 8 years ago, there were heated discussions about the organization's stance on free riding. IMBA's board and staff decided that it was important to keep up with the evolution of our sport. On positive development was the emergence of legal, sustainable freeride options, like the Free Lunch trail in Fruita, CO. The result is that free ride trails are becoming a managed, environmentally sustainable option for mountain bikers.

Discussion and Statements from Audience Members

  • Does Red Bull have any intention of focusing on any more endurance activities, rather that just jumping, super fast? Felipe: Yes, we want to work with any sport that is extreme, so will be doing crazy long distance races, like Leadville 100 and other endurance races that are considered extreme or radical. Red Bull invites clubs/events to approach Red Bull regional offices with your ideas. They are looking for new opportunities.
  • Will Roush, Wilderness Workshop: Thanksto  IMBA for staying engaged with this issue. Freeride makes a lot of people nervous about the environmental impacts and they are so happy we are trying to make it environmentally sustainable.
    Mark: we are becoming better and better at creating environmentally responsible ways to engage in all aspects of MTB and we feel that that is an important role for us. Some areas will never be appropriate for freeride features, but in general it's a question of well-considered trail design and proper construction techniques.
    Felipe: IMBA’s engagement is also having effect on other trailbuilders.
  • Ashley Korenblat, IMBA Public Lands Initiative: The red bull style of media sometimes makes it harder for her to do her job to convince land managers to open more places to riders, because their media that is features use of the backcountry sometimes scares the land managers and doesn’t portray sustainable use of the trail. The parts in the controlled environments are only good for everyone. Can we ask Red Bull to use your influence in the youth generation to start pushing the environmental message to that generation through your media?
  • Nic Bowman, IMBA Australia – how do we engage the racers and shredders to become trail stewards?
    Felipe: Bring Red Bull athletes to the trail day, then the kids will follow. But need to create a relationship with really young kids like 6years old, get them riding and keep them into it.
  • Brock, Deciples of Dirt Board, Eugene, Oregon: I find it disheartening that IMBA even considered not embracing free ride at one point. There is a legitimacy with IMBA that he is trying to leverage with local rippers to get them to help him design some of the trail using local idols and then get the kids on board so they can keep stewardship going. What part of freeride is not environmentally sustainable? Tony Boone, IMBA Trail Solutions, replies that fall line loose stuff, if you were putting many folks on there, would lead to bad rutting quickly – that’s what causes the backlash.
  • Bob Allen, authoring IMBA's Bike Park Book: Red Bull is a world power. The message they put out makes him squirm, the implied sanctioning of activities and idolizing characters that don’t show accountability or any sense of stewardship. Advocacy is not sexy, so how can Red Bull take your power and use for the greater good? Red Bull movies need to include a message of stewardship.
  • The discussion continued ... which was exactly the point of this World Summit session!


The IMBA World Summit received generous title sponsorship from the Federal Highway Administration & the Bikes Belong Coalition.

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