Words – Robin Pearson
Photos – Robin Pearson & Rutger Pauw
A couple of months ago, I was told in secret about something big that Bas Keep and Red Bull were planning. Obviously with Bas’ status and influence in BMX, especially through this magazine over the years, I already knew it was going to be an exciting project. Add to that the reputation Red Bull have built up as the major brand to support interesting and ambitious projects, put them together and promote them incredibly well, and you’ve got a very special event on your hands.
Bas Keep has appeared on our front cover no less than four times before. Just so you know, having four Ride UK covers under your belt makes you part of a very, very elite club – the only people in this club are Kye Forte, Martyn Tambling and Bas Keep himself. And of course, in true Bas style means that each of his cover shots have been of some kind of jaw-dropping, mind-bending or simply straight up massive trick. Bas really has had such a lasting impact on BMX, honoured at our 2012 Reader Awards when he walked away with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
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This new project in an old quarry in Wales now adds to Bas Keep’s legacy.Here we are. It’s incredible. How did this idea come about?
The funny thing is, I’ve been on Red Bull for years, and ever since they first asked all the riders for ideas for events, I’ve always said I wanted something like this, like a big dirt half pipe in a hill. Building it out of dirt was the basic idea, I always wanted to to build massive ramps out of dirt because I knew it was possible to shape anything you want. Kye Forte had the same thinking so he did a few drawings around that idea and that’s how Empire Of Dirt was born. Kye knew what he wanted. The original idea was to have vert, dirt, street, park, all the disciplines in one course. I was always very interested in the ramp side of it. Kye did Empire Of Dirt and all that stuff but still, for years, in fact for the past ten years, I’ve wanted to build one really big quarter pipe out of dirt. I just thought it would be fun. You know, at some point most riders get into dirt jumping because it’s simply good fun to build something yourself and then ride it. So I just kept thinking how much I wanted to build a big ramp out of dirt.Tell us about the original sketch you did for this project.
Well, to help come up with a concept and make ideas come to life at Red Bull, it really helps if you can do drawings to illustrate what you’re on about. So I drew my idea of a big dirt quarter pipe ramp with little stick men at the bottom, a really basic drawing, it actually only took me a few minutes. I drew this giant ramp with stick men then added a double decker bus just to try and show the scale I was dreaming about. Rich King, my athlete manager, took a photo of the drawing, used it in his presentation to Red Bull in Austria, and then that drawing was printed out and shown to Dietrich Mateschitz, the owner of Red Bull. When he saw the drawing he gave my idea the highest score, as all event ideas are rated. It’s really funny because if I knew it was going to be a drawing that would be seen by the big wigs at Red Bull I might have put a bit more effort into it!It all worked out in the end. How long has this project been in the making?
We found the location about six months ago. It was really hard. The main thing for a project like this is to find the right location for it, because obviously you can’t just put a massive quarter pipe anywhere. It needs to be a bit out there, away from people. I originally wanted to do it in Hastings, on West Hill, overlooking the whole town. But you really need privacy to be able to build it and test it out, so we came up to the Atherton’s place. As soon as we got here we knew it was right, just because they’re really cool people, it’s in the lovely Welsh countryside, plus it was like a good escape from everyone so we could come out here for a good couple of weeks. The build went on for a few months, just to get the run-up sorted and the quarter shaped while working on it around everybody’s busy schedules. These things can take time. We could have maybe got it ready a bit quicker but we didn’t want to rush it.Tell us about today, the first test ride. Although you can predict to an extent how the quarter might ride, you hadn’t been down the roll-in before. What was it like trying it out for the first time? I guess it’s all about ironing out the bumps, both literally and metaphorically.
Yeah. Basically, with anything that’s this big you need speed. I didn’t really want a crazy massive roll-in or for it to look like some kind of stuntman thing, I wanted it to just be a fun-looking spot that anyone could ride. I didn’t want to have a run-up that looked death-defying but it’s just naturally gone that way, simply because you just need that amount of speed for it. I think if I had a choice now, I would much rather it be at the bottom of a long, long mellow hill, where you could just carve around to get ready for it. I don’t want any of the project to look like a big show or anything like that. I mean, it’s not scary jumping out of a quarter pipe into a bank, anybody can do it. It should look like a place for people that enjoy going fast and enjoy going high.This is your original dream project. Does it feel like you’re realising that dream? Has it been more difficult than you imagined to figure out the details or has it come together like the project you’ve always dreamed about?
It has definitely been harder than how I imagined it would be, but it’s exactly how I’ve always pictured it. It’s weird seeing your dream come to life. But also it’s a bit scary seeing it finally a reality because I step back and think, OK, I really did want it this big, I asked for it this big and everyone’s helped make it this big… and now I’m thinking, wow, it really is that big!Who else has been involved?
Well I’m friends with Rachel, Dan and Gee Atherton – they’re mountain bike world cup champions. We went on a site visit and hung out with those guys, out here in the middle of nowhere in Wales where they live. That’s my scene, I love being out in the countryside. Immediately they were really enthusiastic about the quarry and wanted to be involved with trying to make it happen. Revolution Bike Park, where we’re doing it, is run by some really cool guys who make the place a really good place to be, just everybody’s been cool and put a lot of energy into it.
I’ve got Ruben Alcantara coming to ride, partly as a mark of respect for everything he’s done plus I know he’s going to enjoy it. I just wanted people here that I get along with and will definitely appreciate it. I’m inviting a few riders who I know will really enjoy it. As I said before, I don’t want it coming across as some kind of Evel Knievel type thing. Like, when I showed up in the village, all the locals were coming up to me asking, “Are you the guy doing it, are you going to do the jump?” as if it was like this one-hit thing. My idea has always been to really ride it, I mean to actually session it!How do you imagine people will react when they see the footage from this project?
I hope they would feel the same way as I do when I watch a video section – I like to see people riding interesting places, parks and ramps and spots that I’d love to go to. When I watched videos as I started getting into BMX, the first thing that would get me psyched was seeing the different spots that the big pros were riding. I’d look at the skateparks as much as the riding, so for me it’s a big part of my enjoyment of all videos. If someone’s riding a fun-looking concrete park or some crazy transition on street, I’ll get excited to see what they can do at that spot.
When this project goes out I know some of my friends in Austin like Joe Rich and Chase Hawk will be like, “Fuck, that’s so sick! I wanna ride it!” And I’ve got loads of other friends all over the world who dig trails and appreciate this kind of thing who will be psyched on it too, they’ll think it looks like loads of fun and that’s all I really want to achieve. Obviously I want it to be fun for me but I want my friends to be psyched on it too. So I know I’m going to be pleasing a lot of people by finally achieving this project. Or maybe just for building something that looks like the fucking Hoover Dam!
It’s big, it’s fun, it’s in a quarry, it’s got a nice backdrop, it’s just raw, I love it.