I still can't quite believe I'm saying this, but we're going to Redbull Hardline.
In case you've been living under a rock for the last few years, Redbull Hardline is an annual DH race held in Dyfi Valley, Wales. In Redbull's words, it's "the world's toughest and most progressive downhill MTB race". If anything, that's an understatement. The course, designed and built by Dan Atherton, sits right at the edge of what's possible on a mountain bike. 30 of the world's top riders are invited to compete each year, and as few as 8 or 10 typically go on to put a full race run together at the end of the weekend.
Redbull Hardline 2023 is on the weekend of 15th & 16th July, 2023.
This year, Craig Evans will be riding for Airdrop, and we'll be there to support him.
Image courtesy of Nathan Hughes / Redbull Content Pool
Craig described Hardline as "a week of fear" and he was only half joking. If you ask me, Craig is one of the very best riders in the world - I've seen him do things on a bike that you wouldn't believe were possible - so if it's pushing him outside his comfort zone, it must be hard. But we like a challenge. If any of us were shy of a bit of type-2 fun then Airdrop probably wouldn't exist at all.
Course Map courtesy of Sam Needham / Redbull Content Pool
OK so this is a bit of an 'artist's impression' of the course but you get the idea. Start at the top of the mountain which is open and exposed to the elements. Progress over a series of steep, rocky turns through a set of whoops into the woods. It's dark, steep and greasy in there but there's also a massive drop called The Cannon. Coming out of the woods at 40mph, riders hit a 60ft step-up to step-down. Then there's a rocky gully, a wall-drop and a set of 45ft booters to negotiate. A series of fast berms lead into a tight cliff-side section to right-hander into the infamous road gap which sets riders up at warp speed for the bottom whoops and the finish-line jump.
Craig and James will be there from Wednesday to scope out the course and size everything up. We're expecting riders to session each feature individually to try to get a handle on the speed and timing required before starting to piece sections together. Full runs won't probably be happening until Friday and some riders will probably choose not to do a full run at all. It's one thing just to be able to hit these features individually, but a full run is a serious physical and mental challenge.
Image courtesy of Samantha Saskia Dugon / Red Bull Content Pool
Craig will be riding his Airdrop Slacker for Redbull Hardline. We'll try to do a proper bike check next week from the event, but we already did a bit of a teaser a few weeks ago when we built it - see Slack In Black.
Considering what the Slacker was originally designed for, we haven't made any particular modifications for Hardline. Unlike some of the other riders who are coming from a World Cup Race background who you might expect to change a few things, Craig will be able to run his Slacker how he rides it day-in, day-out. He's been putting in a bunch of time at Dyfi Bike Park to get everything dialled in but we haven't made any changes to the bike.
If you've been following Redbull Hardline for a while, you might remember that Craig won it back in 2017. I can still remember it like it was yesterday. At that time Airdrop was just me and James, and even James was new to it, having just come back from Queenstown that Summer. I'd met Craig a few times before, but he and James have been mates since they were kids. Craig was riding for Santa Cruz. I'd have sponsored him at the drop of a hat, but there was no way I could support a rider at his level back then. James couldn't go for some reason, which probably involved digging or riding. But when I got the message to say Craig had won, it was incredible. I think James got in his car and booted it all the way down to Wales just to be there for the party :-)
You can watch Craig's winning run from 2017 here. The weather was so bad they had to cut the course and start from the woods. It was just too bad up on the mountain top to even think about riding.
Personally, I don't have any expectations for this. There's no way I want to put Craig under any more pressure than he puts himself, and for me it's not a question of where he's going to place. I just want to be around to experience it. For us to have somehow got Airdrop to the point where we could support Craig was an incredible achievement on it's own. To be able to see Craig race a bike that we produced racing it at Hardline will just be the icing on the cake. A Sheffield lad on a Sheffield bike from a Sheffield brand, all Homegrown. It doesn't get any better than that.
I'll be posting up as much content as I can on Instagram from the race itself, and will try to follow this up with another blog next weekend. You never know, we might even hear a bit from Craig too.
If you want to give it a watch, Redbull Hardline will be broadcast live on Redbull TV on the weekend of 15th / 16th July 2023: