Remember the Kamikaze Bike Games? What ever happened to those?

We sat down with last year's Kami winner Brian Lopes

As with the original Kamikaze course, the start is atop the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain. Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain.
As with the original Kamikaze course, the start last year was atop the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain. Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain.

Written by Heidi Volpe

Well, Mammoth’s own Senior VP Bill Cockroft–the same person who first came up with the original Kamikaze 30 years ago–resurrected the event last year with some sparkle.

This year’s venue features a Sierra Nevada solar powered beer truck, Cold Cock herbal infused whiskey and the hi-def Sony Action Cam for participants to use, featuring handlebar and helmet mounts. And no one is too young to ride; newly founded Tykes Bikes has rides for toddlers.

Every discipline on two wheels and dirt will be represented. Racers can participate in a kids race, on a XC course (new course design), DH, Enduro, Dual Slalom, Slope Speed and Style, cyclocross and finally, Best Trick, where riders are throwing down ridiculous feats of acrobatics under the lights.

The actual Kamikaze race last year was a two-run format and honored some mountain biking legends–in a class of their own. The line up included Brian Lopes, Rob Naughton and Joe Lawill to name a few. Lopes had a screaming fast time of 8:55 and he’s ready to defend his title on a new ride. Lopes also won the Enduro.

This year’s games are slated for September 18 to the 21.

I caught up with the 4-time Mountain Biking World Champion, relentless medal-hound for a few questions:

You’ve done it all in gravity mountain biking, just had a baby and turned 43. What’s next for you, can we look forward to more Brian Lopes domination?
I don’t really have anything changing drastically in my program, I’m keeping things status quo. I’m still choosing events that attract good PR, have strong media exposure and suit my strengths. At the end of the day, I try to do whatever it is that my sponsors want from me.

Are you compensated for your wins?
(Laughs) No. I mean there is some prize money to be won, but usually it’s not that much. You definitely couldn’t even cover your expenses alone from most of the prize purse payouts.

In the past when I was concentrating on a specific discipline and chasing overall titles, I had individual race bonuses, as well as overall title bonuses, but nowadays, I don’t really negotiate that stuff into my contracts. Racing for the bonuses was never a huge motivator for me. I wanted to win regardless of that extra incentive, but it was nice to get those added checks in the mail.

Lopes on last year's enduro course. Photo by Stikman.
Lopes on last year’s enduro course. Photo by Stikman.

You seem particularly well suited to Enduro racing, where do you see this style of racing going?
Well, it’s growing which is both good and bad for the sport. This style of racing has garnered more media hype and is becoming more mainstream, offering payouts and attendance is up, but that doesn’t always bring out the best in competitors. The vibe went from more relaxed to more of a World Cup style of racing and the fun factor seems to be disappearing. People are looking for ways to get an edge, find loopholes and more bluntly, ways to cheat.

The sport of enduro is not new, it’s been around for over 10 years. Organizers had their own take on how the events should be run, and there wasn’t much of a commonality with regards to official rules. Now that rules are being created, people are breaking them … it goes back to having the edge.

What are some of the ways people are “cheating?”
Some of these courses are three to six stages long with a 15-20 minute run, you can’t always ribbon it off top to bottom. If someone takes a short cut (even though the trail clearly flows in a particular direction), and if it wasn’t ribboned off, technically that part of the course is “open.” Then it becomes a question: If it’s not roped off, is it cheating?

Is outside assistance allowed? Is someone doing a feed for you? Is your helmet buckled the entire time? Are you even wearing the same helmet for all stages (you can choose between full-face or open on the transfer stages, but it’s mandatory that you wear a full-face helmet in your timed runs). Are you getting shuttled between runs? It all adds up.

Basically if the rules and not clearly stated and understood by everyone, it becomes a gray area.

Give me some quick tips on how the average mountain bike racer can improve their enduro skills.
1. Find a trail that is at least 10 minutes that has some technical and physical aspects to it and do practice runs. It’s a lot more difficult to rail technical downhill sections after you have just sprinted up a hill for 20 seconds and are anaerobic.

2. Work on every aspect of riding, don’t just focus on being fit or being able to shred technical sections. You need to be really good at all aspects of riding, not the best at any single aspect. The more diverse you can be the better. Having the ability to adapt to anything, having the overall package is what will make you a better enduro rider.

3. Try to ride trails that you are not familiar with or new ones out of your area. Being able to read terrain quickly versus going fast down a trail because you have memorized every inch of the course is important. Having the chance to do multiple runs down many different courses in a short amount of time is not always possible with enduro, so having that ability to read and adapt to terrain on the fly is important. Another trick I like to do is to film my runs with my GoPro, so at night I can try and memorize the courses over and over.

4. Manage Your equipment.

Do some homework on the course, find out where are food/water stops are–if any–and how much real pedaling is involved.

Are you wearing full-face helmet on the climbs? How much gear do you need to carry? What’s your nutrition like?
Depends on the rules of the event on whether I wear an open or full-face and it also depends on the course. In the World Enduro Series, it is mandatory that you wear a full face for your timed runs, but you can wear an open face for the transfer stages. In other events, sometimes they don’t make a full-face mandatory, so then I make my decision based on how dangerous the course is or how much pedaling is involved, as a full face does restrict your breathing a bit.

The amount of gear I carry depends on the courses we are racing, how long the day will be, what the weather will be, etc. This varies from event to event, but usually I like to carry as little as possible.

Nutrition again is something that depends on the event. How long will I be out there, how hard will the efforts be, etc. Staying hydrated and having the ability to maintain the energy levels for the entire event is important. I’ll usually carry one or two Raw Revolution bars with me, some EFS to drink and a Liquid Shot by 1st Endurance.

Congrats on the winning the Kamikaze DH on your birthday. Did it bring back memories from the first time you raced this 15 years ago. Did you wear a skin suit back then? How has the mountain changed?
Thanks! It was cool to be racing the Kami again and especially cool to be doing it on my birthday with a bunch of other old-school racers. It brought back a lot of great memories for sure. I never thought I would be back here at 42 years of age winning. So definitely a fun, exciting day.
Back in the day everyone wore skin suits. This was the norm. Some racers back then would go to further extremes with fairings off their legs and helmets to be even more aerodynamic. I had my clothing sponsor Pearl Izumi make me up a cool skin suit because these days we don’t wear them. It’s considered UNCOOL to wear them in this day and age, but I think the Kami’s heritage makes them relative and cool for this event.

The course was definitely more defined, hard packed (and) quicker back in the day. You can see by the times alone from back in the day–when the equipment wasn’t as good–our times are far off, and much of that has to do with course conditions and weather. Wind can make a huge difference in how fast we go and how much more effort it takes when pedaling.

What events are you planning on entering this year?
The Enduro, the Legends Kamikaze DH and the Dual Slalom

Will you change your race strategy?
Based on what? My strategy is usually to go as fast as I can.

I know you’ve recently changed bike sponsors. What brought about the change and which bikes do you plan to race?
Yes, around March this year I switched to Intense Cycles. The change actually was initiated at this race last year when I got a call from my old sponsor about what they wanted me to do for 2014. It was during this call that I had felt for the first time–what I had thought was going to be where I’d be for a very long time, was maybe not the case. I didn’t like what I heard and didn’t really want take my career down that direction, so I began talking to other companies from that point on. Intense was a great fit for me for many reasons, but the fact that they really wanted me as part of their company for more reasons than just racing, that they are pretty close to my home, that I’ve been friends with the owners and rode Intense for a couple years back in the mid 90’s, and that Intense is making big moves to become the company that we all think they have the potential of becoming, were key reasons.

As for which bikes I will be racing, I’m not 100 percent sure, but that is the great thing about Intense. They have so many different frames for me to choose from based on the type of race and the courses. I’m thinking I will probably ride the Tracer 275 carbon for the Enduro, the Carbine 29 for Kamikaze and the hardtail Tazer for dual slalom.

With your previous course/race knowledge, what, if any, adjustments on your equipment would you make for another stellar performance?
Well, like I said, I have more bikes to choose from to use at this event than I did with my previous frame sponsor, so it’s up to me to put good runs together. Intense frames, X-Fusion suspension, Magura brakes, Novatec wheels … I have great sponsors who continue to put out great equipment, so it’s up to me to put it up front.