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How Did the Freeriding Phenomenon Begin? Explore the Magic That Just Doesn’t Happen on the Road

By We Love Cycling

Well positioned as a force in the beginning of the “freeride” phenomenon – Joe Schwartz was one of the first riders to be picked up by the companies and the film makers wanting to document the movement. Creating a magic that just doesn’t happen on the road, mountain biking is about being in an immersive environment and getting away from it all. One guy who knows this magic better than just about anyone is Joe, who competed in Red Bull Rampage three times, works as a certified backcountry Ski Guide and regularly writes about his cycling trips online.

Not a sport for the faint of heart, mountain biking is an extremely versatile and dynamic activity. Practicing new skills or trying to see how far you can go without touching the breaks, there’s always something new to discover when you hit the trails.


Having been around the mountain biking industry and back again, he has had the opportunity to develop a unique perspective through his multi-faceted background. A professional athlete for over a decade, Joe has participated in the community on all levels: he’s competed, won races, helped develop products and worked as a brand ambassador. His exceptional ability has given him the opportunity to travel the world with his bike, riding in far out locales for photo shoots, editorial developments and competitions. He has raced with the best at events like Red Bull Rampage and has been featured in the likes of New World Disorder, a series of popular freeride mountain-biking movies.

Reflecting on the perks that this lifestyle provided him, Joe acknowledges that the free bikes and trips are pretty wicked, but that it’s about a lot more than that. Mountain biking has given him the chance to explore amazing countries and new cultures, all the while riding with his friends. Of course, injuries and pressure to produce film segments can sometimes be hard to deal with, but all in all, Joe remembers his professional years as generally carefree, among the best of his life.


That being said, we all know that the career span for a professional athlete doesn’t tend to be very long. Hugely demanding on a variety of levels, it simply isn’t sustainable forever. And when this time comes, it can be a hard transition to make. There’s no shortage of stories lamenting how those in the post-pro phase of their lives developed depression or harmful coping mechanisms.

This would not be the case for Mr. Schwartz, though. Although it must have been hard to turn away from all those film trips and the quasi rock star lifestyle, he made a smooth return to life as a regular guy, or “regular-joe,” so to speak. In fact, as a laidback, mellow person, he reveals that life these days actually suits him better. He says he found that as the contracts winded down, then stopped, he became way more motivated to make things happen and create a niche for himself in the market. When you’re a factory rider, someone else determines the schedule, but as a free agent, Joe found he became much more productive.


As active as ever, these days he approaches riding from a different perspective. Filming can push riders to extreme levels, and although Joe admits that there’s nothing quite like the rush of stomping a really large and scary run, now he says he has come to appreciate more about the experience. Without the pressure, he’s able to take time to savor and enjoy everything associated with the ride, the people you are spending time with, the views, and all the other things that may get overlooked when getting rad footage is the main objective.

Joe reflects that it’s about hearing the birds chirp, feeling the sun on your face, and appreciating the beauty, just as much as it’s about mastering a rock garden without clipping out or jumping a log that always seemed too big. His wisdom reminds us that the great thing about mountain biking is that it can be exactly what you want it to be, whether that is the ultimate adrenaline rush, the chance to push your boundaries, or just to get out and enjoy nature. Joe knows that it can be all of those things, because it’s about embracing the experience and what you want to get out of it. How has mountain biking helped build your confidence and kept those big wheels rolling?