Vail’s Mountain Games: Brian Lopes outlasts risk factor at 46 years old
Special to the Vail Daily
EAGLE — Take a look at Brian Lopes’ Instagram account and see him flying over a 50-foot ravine, launching over a truck or doing a back flip on his mountain bike. Your first thought might very well be, “that dude is 46 years old?”
The six-time World Cup mountain bike champion and BMX Hall of Famer certainly does not appear to be showing any signs of age. By all appearances, he seems to be laughing in the face of peril more now than ever.
“I wouldn’t say I’m taking more risk now than ever before,” said the California resident, who will once again be competing in this year’s GoPro Mountain Games Enduro bike race next week in Eagle, as well as the Games’ inaugural BMX event … both on the same day, no less.
“I think the risk for me personally is always pretty calculated. I don’t really feel I do stuff unless I know I can do it.”
Admittedly, when he’s pointing his front wheel straight down a cliff or throwing his frame sideways 30 feet over a dirt roller, there are a few butterflies.
“On those kinds of jumps, you get a little nervous,” he says. “The first time you hit it, you have an idea of how it’s all going to happen. But until it actually happens, you’re not 100 percent sure. All you can do is say, ‘this is the trajectory.’ I try to piece it all together so it comes out clean. I spend a lot of time scouting.”
Lopes believes that these careful calculations account for his lengthy competitive career, which essentially began more than 40 years ago, when he was barely 5 years old.
“I never thought I’d still be doing this at this age,” he says. “I don’t take it nearly as seriously as I used to. I still try to do my best. I try not to go do races where I’ll get 50th place. If I get seventh place and all the guys in front of me are younger, faster bros who are racing every weekend, that’s fine for me.”
Lopes is also more selective about the competitions he does sign up for.
“Honestly, every year I race a little less,” he says. “I get more joy out of doing those jumps than I do a race. It feels more like it brings me back to my childhood … catching air, hitting a new feature that’s never been hit before. It’s that whole unknown factor, having it come together perfectly.”
It is the unknown factor that holds appeal for Lopes in enduro racing, as does the allure of an entire morning or afternoon of pedaling.
“What I like about enduro is that you get to be out on the trail for a long time, it’s adventure riding vs. downhilling. Downhilling is fun, but I do not like to spend three, four hours shuttling. You might get 20 minutes of downhill runs, but the rest of the time you’re in a car or on a chairlift. I personally just enjoy riding up the trail. You might not get as many downs as ups, but you are out there for the exercise … the whole experience.”
Tasting the dirt
While Lopes now has a 5-year-old of his own to occupy his time, he still spends at least five days a week pedaling.
“I’m always riding some sort of bike, whether it’s going to ride dirt jumps or trail riding,” he says. “I’ve been taking on some clients and doing some training. I have this 13-year-old kid that I’ve been working with. He’s super fast and has a ton of potential. I’ve also got a guy in his mid 50s who is a novice rider, racing for fun on the weekends and trying to improve. It’s really rewarding.”
While Lopes still speeds and launches with the best of them — as evidenced by his unremitting ability to finish on the podium, including in the last two GoPro Mountain Games Enduro races — he still crashes every now and then. Page down through the stylish, dare devil shots on Instagram to a seemingly innocuous video of him charging down one of his favorite neighborhood trails. One second his pole-mounted GoPro camera is capturing the peaceful desert scenery flying by at mach speed and the next, it stops dead in a sudden explosion of dirt.
“I’ve been on that trail a hundred times and I usually jump off this small jump,” he says. “It’s only like a foot and a half tall and I usually go 20 feet. It was a super windy day. I wasn’t going too fast, maybe 20, 25 miles per hour. I was like, ‘I’m not going to jump it.’ Then, my hand blew off the bar and I just ate it.”
Luckily, he walked away with only minor bumps and bruises … also a fresh appreciation for the risk involved in his sport and the benefit of calculating it.
He summed it up best in his post under the video:
“Got to taste the dirt every once in a while, I guess.”
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Mark Satkiewicz, an avid cyclist, co-founder of the SBT GRVL mountain bike race and former president of Smartwool, died on Saturday, according to the Routt County Coroner’s Office.