MOUNTAIN BIKE HALL OF FAME ANNOUNCES ITS 2023 INDUCTEES
Four people are being inducted this year
The Mountain Bike Hall of Fame has announced its newest group of inductees. The four riders are downhill legend Shaun Palmer, who changed the downhill scene over 20 years ago; Rob Warner, the first British downhill World Cup winner who became the star race announcer of the World Cup series in recent years; Diddie Schneider, the pioneer trail builder; and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå, the 10-time world champion and Olympic gold medalist, who set the record as the longest top XC race competitor in the sport’s history, winning World Cup XC races over a span of 22 years.
Here’s what the Marin Hall of Fame said about them in their announcement:
“One of the forefathers of extreme sports,” (ref. Wikipedia) Shaun Palmer, burst into mountain biking in the mid-1990’s, at a burgeoning time for the sport. In previous years, it was commonplace for “mountain bikers” to ride the same, single bicycle to participate in all facets of the sport—cross-country, downhill, dual slalom, hillclimb, etc.
But by the mid-90’s, a technology boom began to optimize new, highly specialized bicycles, creating a “Y” in the trail for the sport: Lightweight bikes got lighter and more efficient to pedal “cross-country”; and heavy-duty bikes became more robust and more capable to be utilized for going strictly “downhill.” And, effectively, the sport’s factions of “cross-country” and “downhill,” as we know them today, began to take form. “Cross-country” already had established heroes— such as Ned Overend, nicknamed “The Lung” for his exceptional aerobic endurance— that seemed to personify the genre, but downhill had yet to identify its embodying superstar.
Enter Shaun Palmer in 1995.
Palmer, a world-renowned Hall of Fame snowboarder, scored a breakout performance just one year after getting into the sport. Aboard one of the most-prolific downhill bicycle frames of all time, the Intense M-1, he scored the silver medal at the 1996 UCI Downhill World Championships, missing gold by just 0.15 seconds. His immediate world-topping results captured the immediate attention, and intrigue, of the entire mountain bike community.
Without a traditional cycling background, Palmer’s approach to the sport was inherently different—he dressed different, he acted different. Unlike his competitors—who utilized a mix-matching of XC and road race equipment that didn’t quite seem to match the quickly evolving technology of the bicycles they were riding— Palmer wore baggy motocross-style gear, skate-style shoes and flat BMX-style pedals. Palmer’s tattoo-clad appearance alone seemed to perfectly match the persona of “downhill”—loose, fast and unapologetically different. In parallel with the bike’s innovation, Palmer was equally innovative in terms of the style gravity riding necessitated. In a world where form follows function, Palmer provided a vision for the sport that none before him could see. While physical fitness was the core value of “cross-country,” Palmer offered a new perspective for “downhillers”—where attitude ruled all. In only a few short, prolific years in the sport scoring top results—including multiple National Championship wins in downhill and dual slalom, a World Cup victory (Big Bear, 1999)—Palmer’s success elevated the entire genre of downhill mountain biking.
“Palmer’s larger-than-life presence thrust the sport of downhill into the spotlight,” says Rob Warner, current UCI World Cup commentator and modern-day voice of downhill mountain biking. “He changed the sport forever.” Exuding a new energy, Palmer attracted new audiences to the sport—an impetus [sic], made-for-TV personality, that motivated X Games promoters to add MTB to their winter event program, where he delivered a Snow MTB 4X gold medal (1997)—attracted outside-the-bike-industry brands to the sport and garnering big-money contracts from Specialized, Mountain Dew, Swatch and more. Palmer was able to recalibrate a generation of riders that continue to follow his lead today.
“Palmer brought in baggy gear and an attitude that no one could match,” says Warner. “When he came in, it was just a bunch of people in Lycra racing downhill. He changed it for the better … he made the sport cool. He didn’t win on fitness —he won on desire, want, fury … there’ll never be another mountain biker with his attitude and influence again.”
Diddie Schneider is a true mountain biking pioneer and visionary, especially when it come to purpose-built trails and bike parks. Born and raised in Stuttgart, Germany in 1966. In the late 70s Diddie was one of the BMX pioneers in Germany, when the sport and bikes first came to the continent. He was a successful BMX racer in Germany and also did a lot of BMX and early MTB stunt shows. In 1982/83 he built his first BMX track in Aichwald/Stuttgart. In the late ’80s he started using his BMX skills on Mountain Bikes, his mentor was Wolfgang Renner. In 1990 he was chosen as a mountain bike stunt rider along with Hans Rey, Ot Pi and others in Willy Bogners ‘Fire, Ice and Dynamite’ motion picture starring Roger Moore.
In 1992 – 2014 he was the builder and designer of the famous Eurobike outdoor track in Friedrichshafen, this was a new concept at the time, to build purpose-built tracks/parcours for mountain biking, stadium style events and races.
In 1992 he started building and planning MTB purpose built downhill tracks – which was at the time a very new concept.
In 1998 /99 he built and opened the first Bikepark in Germany and Europe – this was also a new concept. The Geisskopf Bike Park in Bischofsmais, which he still runs today. Please note the Whistler Bike Park opened officially in 1999.
Diddie owns a Trail Building/Planning company, Diddie Schneider Designs / Concepts at diddieschneider.net
He has built hundreds of trails, pump tracks, race courses and jump lines worldwide, including in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Luxemburg. He built entire bike parks in places like Willingen, Winterberg, (Germany), Tzuba (Israel), Putrajaya/ Chah Alam (Malaysia). Many of these places and trails were ahead of their time and inspired hundreds of other destinations and trail building companies to follow these trends that he often spearheaded years before they became trends. He was also one of the first who started building sustainable as well machine-built (at a time when most other trails builders would only work by hand). He also developed the ‘Flow Country’ trails concept with Hans Rey, for beginner-friendly purpose built trails with berms, rollers and small jumps. Never steep, extreme or dangerous. This kind of trail helped to bring ‘flow’ to the masses, it opened the door for beginners, especially kids, families and female riders in 2008. At the time flow trails were generally reserved for expert riders and [were] often extreme and not predictable. This kind of trail had been overseen by the industry and needed a platform and a name to describe it and introduce it to the masses. Some of his other highlights and firsts include:
First permanent and purpose built Dual Track in a bike park with berms, jumps, etc….
First version of Slopestyle parcours for events and contests (Eurobike Friedrichshafen 1997)
First Flow Country trail in Livigno Italy 2008/9
First Northshore style trail in Germany and in a bike park 1999
First eBike Uphill trail, a new concept for e-bike specific trails in bike parks and resorts. Geisskopf Bike Park 2017
IMBA Gold Award for one of the best trails, Flow Country Trail in Petzen, Austria, 11.4KM long 1,000m vertical.
World Cup track in Willingen, Germany. At the time it was a new style of World Cup track with lots of big jumps, berms. He built it on a hill with only 200m vertical.
First Bike Park Concept before the bike park boom took off, at a time when the only other example, besides his own parks, was in Whistler. The concept included
1. Phase: turnkey destinations with all the needed infrastructure, from trail network, skills areas, rentals, lessons, shop, camping/accommodations, etc…
2. Phase: Trail Network including beginner friendly trails and skills areas to address a bigger target audience (family, kids, female riders). Many ski resorts adopted this concept and were able to start a summer business for their lifts and gondolas.
Invention of his ‘Balancemeter’ a devise that helped riders find the right (neutral) position on the bike for training and improve skills.
Partners: Brought many big companies to the sport of mountain biking such as German Postal Service, BMW, Suzuki (Automotive), Shimano, Bosch, and many more.
Diddie’s philosophy is that Trail Building is an art, integrating nature in a playful, sustainable and spectacular way. Every good trail builder leaves his signature in the terrain, just like a painting.
Diddie organized many mountain biking events and / or built the tracks and jump lines for them. From UCI World Cup DH.
Trail builders from all over the world have been inspired and motivated by his work, he had a huge ripple effect that has changed our sport and the way of where and how we ride. Trail building, bike park, and destination potential was long not recognized by the majority of our industry and riders at the time when Diddie was one of few who recognized and pioneered this trend first. Diddie has also amassed a huge amount of media attention, from bike magazines, TV and media – and through his many published articles. He has been a keynote speaker at numerous trail building and tourism conferences worldwide and his trails and parks are recognized by insiders as the industry standard of the highest quality.
In 1996, Rob Warner was the first British mountain biker to win a downhill world cup. Still, you may know him by his other talent, namely as ‘the voice of mountain bike commentary’ – an accolade that he truly deserves, much to the surprise of those who knew him as the caveman of downhill racing.
Rob will be the first to acknowledge that, had he put as much effort into his racing career as his commenting job, he might have had a much longer time as a pro. Racing’s loss, though, is our gain, as his commentary and hosting of the World Cup Downhill and Cross Country series on Red Bull TV over the past ten years have been peerless, attracting many viewers to become fans of what are considered to be the blue ribbon events of mountain biking.
Rob was the first British mountain biker to win a downhill World Cup event (at Kaprun in 1996). He has forged a path from a world-class downhill racer to the most influential commentator and presenter in all categories of mountain bike events.
His successes at riding a bike and commentating owe a lot to vast amounts of natural talent in both spheres. His skills are such that his work ethic on the commentary and hosting side is often overlooked, but it is second to none.
He’d ridden his first mountain bike across the 87-mile length of Ridgeway path in the south of England at age 15, then started entering competitions. He won the Wendover Bash downhill in 1988 and started gaining serious attention when he won the ice race and the dual slalom at a bike show in London ahead of established stars, Jason McRoy and Hans Rey.
MBUK magazine first featured him after that as an up-and-coming rider, and he excelled as both a character and a racer, making his mark at the World Championships in 1993 by finishing ahead of John Tomac (albeit in 19th place) and gaining sponsorship on the MBUK team for the 1994 season. He competed at World Cups that year, gaining 10th and 3rd place, and the following year was on the Saracen Team with Steve Peat. In 1996 he signed for Giant, where he remained until the end of his racing career.
That year he became the first British mountain biker to win a downhill World Cup race, standing on the top step of the podium at Kaprun in Austria. “That was the moment that changed everything. I’ll always be the first British Downhill World Cup winner – and it’s been a big help in everything I’ve done since in mountain biking” he admits.
He stopped racing in 2006, but not before he’d been UK National Downhill Champion three times; in 1997, 1998, and 2001.
As well as commentating, Rob is the host, so he’s the face of it and the voice, which utilizes two different skill sets, and not many people can do both to a consistently high level. In addition, he is doing it for Downhill, Cross country, and the Short Track events, for both Men and Women’s categories, so he has six sets of data to familiarize himself with for each event. He does the pre-race chats, the live event, and commentary, followed by the post-show for the five different broadcasts (the men’s and women’s Short Track XC is done as one broadcast). His familiarity with all the racers of the disparate disciplines is impressive and something he puts in the homework for.
Probably the biggest thing that sets him apart is that he appreciates the effort the athletes are putting in and regards it as an obligation on his part to equal that with his commentary and hosting. “These athletes are the best in the world at that thing they’re doing, and you’ve got to equal that with a world-class commentary as well; you have to do them justice,” he notes. “If you don’t have the facts, you’re not doing them justice or paying them the respect they deserve.” It’s to his advantage that he’s also been there as an athlete and knows what it’s like to make a mistake in a turn or come over the line fastest, and he brings that experience to the job.
You only need to re-watch Danny Hart’s World Championship-winning run to understand how Rob Warner puts in as much effort as the racers on track. That one clip is probably one of the most-watched mountain bike commentaries online at nearly five million views.
GUNN-RITA DAHLE FLESJÅ
Passion for the sport and hard work; the key factors in the fantastic journey and career of Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå. Her achievements include 10 x World Champion, 9 x European Champion and Olympic Gold in Athens 2004, but it is the 30 UCI World Cup wins that range from 1996 to 2018 that demonstrate the determination that has allowed her to reach the highest levels.
Gunn-Rita started her MTB experience in the spring of 1995. From that ride onwards she was hooked, with all her interests and passions coming together in one activity; speed, adrenaline, using her entire body and digging deep to perform at her best.
Racing success came early, with her first UCI World Cup podium in her first year of racing surprising those who had never heard of the Flying Viking from Norway. Soon after she became a professional, with her first two WC wins in 1996. Her career blossomed in the years after that, but with the help of her coach and husband Kenneth Flesjå, she restructured her training and racing after an ‘off’ season in 2000, where she contemplated retirement.
A return to form followed in 2001 and Gunn-Rita joined the MERIDA BIKING TEAM, dominating the racing scene once more. Her most successful year was 2004, when she became both European and World XCO Champion, won the Olympic Gold and all UCI World Cups.
Gunn-Rita became a mother in March 2009 but just half a year after that, she won the European Marathon Champions. Her family traveled with her worldwide until she retired at the end of the 2018 season, after becoming the European Marathon Champion again, winning her record-breaking 30th UCI WC and taking Marathon World Championships bronze.
From her early days of success, she used her platform to advocate for cycling as a sport, particularly amongst women, and as a sustainable way of transport in general. Gunn-Rita has been cited as a significant influence by her former competitors and the wider riding world, helping to make the sport what it is today.
Over the last few years, she has had a key role in youth rider development in Norway, running multiple kids riding camps. Once she left the world of WC racing, Gunn-Rita also managed to turn her interest and passion for cycling as a sustainable way of transport into a job. For the last few years, she has worked for the local government in her native county of Rogaland. She is involved in promoting safe travel, championing the bicycle as a day-to-day form of transport plus extending and developing the regional cycling network for both work and play. Using the experience gained over two decades of riding and racing and her eagerness to share her passion, Gunn-Rita is also involved in a variety of races, including the Arctic Race in Norway, where she encourages more novices to get involved as well as promoting cycling’s health benefits.
Mountain biking is still the most fun sport she can imagine and a central part of her life. That will continue.