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The Athlete Edits

Nico Vink: From Racing Roots To The Freedom of Freeride

Story by Max Ritter

Belgium isn’t exactly known for its prominent mountains, so it might come as a surprise that one of the world’s prominent freeride mountain bikers grew up in one of the flattest countries on Earth. But that was no matter for Nico Vink, whose career has taken him from racing World Cups, to masterminding the biggest jump lines in the world at FEST series events. Sculpting jumps and massive freeride lines has become a bit of a passion for Vink, but he kept it raw and rowdy in BC while filming with his crew of best friends for Accomplice.

Photos by Bruno Long

Nico Vink’s career has been one of constant growth and development. Like many influential freeriders, he can trace his roots back to racing motocross and BMX bikes at a young age, something he credits with getting him comfortable in the air. Vink’s father owned a bike shop in Belgium, so life was very much focused on two-wheeled pursuits from a young age, and the young gun had all the support he needed. In 1998, Vink entered a national championship DH race on a whim, and ended up winning, kickstarting his professional racing career. That led to 13 fun years of pro-level racing on national and World Cup circuits, but Vink soon realized that he missed the freedom a mountain bike had offered him in the past.

A realization that racing wasn’t necessarily making him a better rider led him to ultimately quit riding against the clock. Vink says that he didn’t feel the fulfillment he craved from spending time in the gym to get faster, but rather wanted to spend time on the bike learning about new ways and new places to ride. Leaving racing on a high note left him motivated to try harder than ever, and that’s exactly where his freeride career was born. Now at 37, Vink has brought his riding to Rampage, the FEST series, and on personal freeride trips across the globe.

In Accomplice, Vink’s freeride prowess truly shines through. Joining his good friends Andreu Lacondeguy, Kurt Sorge, Garett Buehler and Graham Agassiz on a camping trip to interior BC was a true showcase of his skills and fun-loving personality. We caught up with Vink to hear about the trip and what’s going on in his life in the new world (dis)order.

TGR: How’s life treating you during COVID-19?

Nico Vink: Life has been pretty mellow to be honest, I couldn’t really ride for a while, but now that things are slowly opening back up in Europe, it’s been great to get out again. It was a good opportunity to appreciate the riding around home in Belgium and put some digging time in. It was a nice short break, but I’m looking forward to getting back with some cool projects in mind.

TGR: Walk us through your career up until this point.

NV: I basically grew up in a bike shop going to motocross races. As a kid, I raced in a few BMX race, rode a little moto, and grew up biking and riding. Then mountain bikes came around, and I started to race cross-country when I was 12. Then there was some time riding skatepark stuff and dirt jumps before diving into DH racing. That was when I was 15, when I won national champs that year. That led to a career on the World Cup and other circuits. But racing became more about going to the gym and getting fit and stronger, and I didn’t really want to go that direction. I wanted to improve my riding instead, so I went freeriding, and that’s it. That’s where I am now. I definitely ended racing on a high note, I still enjoyed it at the time and had a good feeling but was ready for something new.

TGR: There’s no real playbook for freeriding, who showed you how to make a career out of it?

NV: That’s really part of the fun! For me, getting into freeriding was a whole new scene for me. I met a lot of new people, especially as the FEST series started kicking off. Those dudes totally inspire me, and it’s all about pushing ourselves and having a good time doing it. Someone else who has really taught me a lot is Ben Walker, my old team manager at Scott. When I first met him, I was only racing, but he lived this super adventurous life in the Alps, building trails and testing bikes. That was so sick, and I didn’t even know that was a lifestyle I could be living. I think I credit him for getting me to think beyond racing for myself.

TGR: Let’s talk about building. What have you learned from that process over the years?

NV: What I like in general about building, is that it’s really just a part of riding. For me, it’s just as important. For freeriding, there’s honestly not that much building going on. Like in BC, it was pretty raw, so we only cut in a few small things and the rest was all-natural. You kind of look at the mountain and figure out what’s possible through experience and a little trial and error. Building new things always makes riding a lot more interesting for me.

TGR: You recently made a switch to a new sponsor, how has that gone?

NV: I think it’s one of the best decision I’ve made for my career! Joining with the crew at Transition has been awesome, as that team really understands mountain biking. The company, the crew, the bikes, it’s all super cool. Plus every time I get to visit, I get to ride in Bellingham which is so much fun. Last time, I got to go ride with Hannah Bergemann, and I’m stoked to get out more with her!

TGR: What have been your favorite places in the world to ride?

NV: I haven’t traveled too much for freeriding, but some of my favorites have been going to Nicaragua with Kurt Sorge and Kyle Jameson. That was really fun, we rode down these huge volcanos. The BC shoot for Accomplice was definitely one of my favorite zones ever since it’s so unique. And then there’s always Utah, like Virgin and Green River which is so classic.

TGR: Is it hard to find that kind of riding in Europe?

NV: It’s definitely a lot rockier here in the mountains. There are a few places, but everything here is a little smaller. So the freeride lines we have are pretty short. I do want to go explore the Alps more, because there’s definitely stuff hiding and it’s on the to-do list. We’re good on other riding though, that’s for sure!

TGR: Tell us about riding in BC for the film.

NV: It was my first time in that particular zone, and it was amazing. I had been to areas nearby with Kurt and Aggy before, but that was new to me. I haven’t done too much camping, and I really enjoyed it. We had a super good crew, and I’ll admit us Euros did not come prepared compared to the Canadians. We didn’t have anything really! Flying with bikes is already a nightmare enough, so I kind of figured that we’d deal with it once we got there. We went to the camping shop and everything was so expensive! Thanks to Aggy for letting Andreu and I borrow his spare tent. It was so cold at night, and Andreu and I were just freezing looking at each other not being able to sleep and we just started laughing. It was that painful we could do nothing but just laugh!

TGR: Do you ride with those guys a lot?

NV: We all get to ride together at all the FEST stops a lot. I’ve been to Andreu’s house a few times in Spain, and was actually just there a short while ago. Same with Aggy and Kurt, we try to make time to get together and ride. It’s always so fun.

TGR: Tell us a little more about the FEST series, and how it’s helped shape freeride as we know it today.

NV: We started it around 2013, and it grew out of the desire to grow the sport beyond racing to include big jumps and cool film projects. That’s always been a part of it, but it never felt really legit. So that’s where FEST came in. It actually was born in Norway with Makken (Mads Haugen) who invited a few friends up there to Huck Fest, which became the first FEST stop. We had such a blast with the crew, including Aggy, Sorge, Pescado, Andreu, Reynolds, and few others, that we decided we needed to do more of them. That turned into our tour, where we all kind of design our own course and everyone comes to ride it. Stoked to keep it going for the future!

TGR: I think the whole rider-owned and operated mentality of it makes it truly stand out.

NV: I agree, and that’s the whole point. It’s unique from Rampage, racing, slopestyle comps, and all that. We are trying to do it the way we really like. It’s about the riding and hanging out with cool people. It’s not a competition, but really just a festival where we all ride together. We only ride when conditions are good, and that’s very important if you want to do these kinds of things. I’m very fortunate to be a part of that crew.