As the sun begins to clear the top of the mesa canyons, Josh
Bender throws back a swig of Red Bull and slaps Ben-Gay on his
arms. Sitting on his Karpiel Apocalypse, which is suped up with
full front and rear suspension, he studies the dusty red abyss
below and, without fanfare, yanks on the handles and from a near
stationary position throws himself over a 40-foot cliff.
Asked why anyone would do such a thing, Bender, 27, replies, "I
do it because it's there." That cliche has worked for the
thousands who have climbed Mount Everest, but few have dared to
hurl themselves over a precipice on a mountain bike for the sake
of big air.
A brazen 5'6" version of Fred Durst, Bender admits that in the
less-than-sane sport of freeride mountain biking, he's as crazy
as they come. "My brain got rewired somehow," he says. "I'm on a
totally different level. Other guys won't try anything beyond 20
feet. No one gets what I'm doing. For me, the sky is wide open."
His cult success has prompted biking fans to call any gnarly,
mangling act "a Bender."
He started pushing the limits of extreme freeriding 2 1/2 years
ago, when he hucked himself off 15-foot drops, crushing a dozen
$199 bikes that he'd bought in bulk from Costco (Each was
smashed after one jump.) Bender holds the freeriding record with
a 60-foot jump off the Jah Drop in Kamloops, B.C., and says his
goal is to stick a 100-footer. (His bike is now modified with
special shocks and springs.) Just for the hell of it he also
plans next year to duplicate three of Evel Knievel's
stunts--clearing the fountains at Caesars Palace, 14 Greyhound
buses in Canton, Ohio, and 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in
London. The plan is for him to be towed by motorcycle and to
release the rope about 20 feet before the jumps.
Bender says he has "been on the extreme since birth," and that he
and his older brother, Dusty, have always loved bikes and
"pushing the limits." At age 18 Bender left his hometown in North
Pole, Alaska, to study at Fort Lewis College (Durango, Colo.),
which had awarded him an academic scholarship. (He's 24 credits
shy of a degree in criminal psychology.) An accomplished kayaker
and downhill skier, he finally settled in Virgin, Utah, 10 miles
south of Zion National Park, because of its big air zones and
creative energy. "If I die on a bike, it will be plain
stupidity," he says. "I plan on having a long, fulfilling life.
When I die, I'll do it on my own terms, in a nice, warm bed when
COLOR PHOTO: JAMES LOZEAU/MSP
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN GIBSON Tire pressure Many of his rivals won't jump farther than 20 feet, but the brazen Bender routinely attempts--and sticks--such eye-popping 60-footers as this one off Jah Drop in British Columbia.