Following footprints of Buffalo Soldiers
The Swiss mountain biker is exploring the roots of his sport in the United States. It is something that world class marathon downhill biker René Wildhaber has often wondered about: "Where are the roots of mountain biking?". He wasn't thinking about the seventies, the time when the sport started becoming more and more popular. It was rather related to times when the bike itself was still comparatively new.
A crucial hint came from a famous figure in the bike scene: Hans Rey. Rey told Wildhaber about the efforts the US Army had made in order to use the bike for military purposes way back in the 1890ties. Wildhaber, who used to be an army bike rider himself until the unit was abolished in 2003, immediately got curious and started to research further into the matter.
The result of the research is the new project Buffalo Soldiers: Wildhaber is headed for the States these very days, together with a film crew. The name of the project refers to the American soldiers who first tried riding bicylces on unsecured roads. Back then, the army troups were separated by races, and the afro americans were called Buffalo Soldiers by the civilian US population because their thick and curly hair reminded them of buffalos.
"Their lieutenant was an avid biker", Wildberger has found out. "He asked the Army for permission to test the bike for military purposed. His soldiers didn't have a choice, he simply made them do it." For Wildhaber himself though, the trip is not something he's forced to do. It's his aim to retrace the achievements of those soldiers in the late 19th century. For this purpose, he will be using an original bike to try out tours that Buffalo Soldiers rode 120 years ago.
Wildhaber also tackled the classic "Whole Enchilada" trail in Colorado, this time on his own 21st century bike. This trail has a vertical hight of over 2000 meters plus maximal technical difficulty.
The last part of Buffalo Soldiers trip were the Red Bull Rampage in Utah, an invitational competition for the best and most daring freeride mountain bikers of the present. There, Wildhaber wants to find out where his sport is headed in the future, because that is what the Buffalo Soldiers trip is all about: "It is in the nature of mankind to keep on trying out new things, to always push it one step further. That is what the Buffalo Soldiers used to do, and it's what bikers do at Red Bull Rampage today. I want to contrast these two extremes with one another."
Buffalo Soldiers - Trailer
Buffalo Soldiers - Episode 1 - A Dream comes true
René Wildhaber takes us to his home town Flums in the canton of St. Gallen where he finds inspiration for his Buffalo Soldiers trip in the old house of his uncle. Bike legend Hans Rey had once told Wildhaber about this unit of the US army, the first soldiers to go offraod on their bikes way back in 1896. The more he read about this legendary unit, the more „Wildi" wanted to find out what it feels like to ride these old bikes. And he is in for a surprise: Even on a bike that's a hundred years old, the downhill biker has lots of fun. Wildhaber then travels to the United States where he teams up with bike pro Ross Schnell in order to follow the tracks of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Buffalo Soldiers - EPISODE 2 - In the footprints of Buffalo Soldiers
After arriving in Colorado, René Wildhaber hits the trails between Silvertone and Grand Junction together with the local bike pro Ross Schnell. They check out the various terrains of the region. Although they are riding modern day bikes, they are reminiscing the old bufalo soldiers days by camping out in the wild – including sitting by the fire at night and eating dinner out of tin cans. The night out in the open is the beginning of their transition: The next morning, the two head out wearing stylish old attire and riding the ancient bikes of the old days. It's a shaky ride – they get an impression of what it must have been like back when those mountain bike pioneers rode on their journeys full of deprivation.
Buffalo Soldiers - EPISODE 3 - Wildi Goes West
René Wildhaber makes his own dream come true by riding the 60 kilometer super trail "The Whole Enchilada" in one go. It's a tough test: On top of the trail, there is still snow on the ground, and at the bottom, it's hot just like a desert. A short time later, „Wildis" second dream comes true as well: The son of a farmer gets to visit the ranch of Dee Taylor whose ancestors settled here around the time of the buffalo soldiers. The cowboys won't have the Swiss guy keep them company just for the heck of it, though: He joins them rounding up the cattle. Wildhaber states: „Riding or biking – out in the Wild West, both is lots of fun."
Buffalo Soldiers - EPISODE 4 - The Evolution
Towards the end of his Buffalo Soldiers adventure, René Wildhaber attends the Redbull Rampage. Here, the downhill biker who usually isn't phased that easily turns into an amazed spectator. The free ride pros try to top one another in the Utah desert with wide jumps and backflips while Wildhaber lends a hand building the jumps. He begins to see similarities between the history of biking and its immediate future and gains new insight at the Rampage: „The feelings such as fear and pain remain the same", he summarizes his experiences.
Buffalo Soldiers - Bildergalerie