Richard "Gaspi" Gasperotti is a legendary Czech freeride biker. Among other things, he attended the toughest MTB freeride competition, RedBull Rampage in Utah, USA, 4 times and 5 times participated in the Crankworx event in Whistler. He rode down three active volcanoes and traveled the world with his bike as part of his Zam project. Twenty years ago he was one of the first members of the Horsefeathers bike team and we are extremely happy to welcome him back to the team after so many years.
Your full name is Richard Gasperotti. That doesn't sound like a standard Czech name. Where are your roots?
My grandfather came to the Czech Republic from Italy during the Second World War. He got married here to my grandmother, who shot black and white films for Burian. And since then the name has been grinding across Czech fields, meadows and groves. But I'm a pure-blood Czech, I'm a Czech native, but I carry a bit of that Italian blood in me.
Let's go straight to biking. How long have you been doing it? When did you start and what led you to it?
It started sometime in the 9th year of my life, when my father brought me to it. At that time, we still rode on such heavy bicross bikes. Then after the revolution came the mountain bikes, which nobody knew then. They came from America after the fall of communism. I liked it and since then I ride a mountain bike, be it cross-country or other MTB disciplines. It will be 36 years already.
And which bike discipline do you identify with the most?
Through freeriding I got to something that I call "adventure searcher of interesting places and interesting spots". It could also be called "adventure freerider in the wild". That's what I enjoy the most. Of course, I don't just ride down a hill without checking to see if there's anything dangerous. I'm not a total freak. But for me, this is the pure freeriding, the kind of adventure freeriding, when I'm somewhere in the wilderness and I climb some hill, which I then ride down.
When was there a moment in your bike career when you realized that this doesn't have to be just a hobby, but you can build a whole career around it?
In addition to biking, I always worked as a mechanic for measuring instruments and devices. Then I started working for Dakine distribution for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, so a completely different industry. However, I still biked, I traveled to Canada and there the guys talked me into trying to do some bike camps, since nothing like that was in our country at the time. And so in 2009 I started a wave of bike camps. We also got accreditation for teaching cycling instructors, so that we have it officially. The very first camp was with helicopters in Canada. Other camps were, for example, in Morocco, Romania, etc., but we mainly focused on the Czech Republic, on beginner bikers. The biking slowly picked up, so it was really cool. Today I concentrate more on individual coaching, improving riding technique etc. But you could say that the turning point came in 2009, when I quit my normal job and focused on the mentioned bike camps. In addition, I also tattooed at a friend's studio in the winter. But then things started to get busy with the bike activities and today I only tattoo on my own legs, because I just don't have a time for it anymore.
You belonged to the Horsefeathers bike team 20 years ago. You rode in HF jersey in one of your four starts at the RedBull Rampage in Utah. What was it like to be in the HF bike team 20 years ago?
It's maybe 22 years already. At the beginning there was one jersey and something like board shorts in the HF bike section. Then came some T-shirts with the inscription HF 89' and also nylon tank tops. So that's what we were biking in at the time. I knew Hanuš, Pavel and the other guys from HF and considered them friends, which is why I was very sorry when I had to end our cooperation because of other brands I was working for at the time. But I couldn't sit with one butt on two chairs. So I was happy when they approached me again this year for cooperation. For me, at 45, I don't take it as sponsorship, I always take it as collaboration, because it's not just about someone paying you or giving you things for being pretty. You have to breathe for that brand, you have to create content for it and collaborate on the development of new products. You just have to be the cog in the system and push the brand forward.
"You have to breathe for the brand you work with, you have to create content for it and collaborate on the development of new products. You simply have to be the cog in the system and move the brand forward."
You attended the famous MTB freeride competition RedBull Rampage four times and was actually the first European rider to be invited there in 2002. It must have been great that you were the only one from Europe to receive an invitation to an American competition of this caliber.
Yes, it was also thanks to the fact, that in 2001 I traveled to Canada for the first time in my life and rode with the best freeriders in the world, such as Wade Simmons, Dave Watson, Andrew Sandrow. Dave Watson, for example, is the person who jumped over the Tour de France for the first time on a mountain bike, and there this famous photo and video from that occasion. So I got a chance to ride with these guys at Northshore and they were the ones who vouched for me that I was able to make it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I watched the first year of RedBull Rampage on a VHS tape and then I broke into coal mines, where the quarry looked a bit like Utah, and I tried to train there. But of course it looked completely different in reality.
Our other biker, Tomáš Zejda, mentioned in an interview, that the competition looked a little different in the past. That in those first years it was more about basically riding it down and surviving. And when he got there, the level shifted in such a style that literally crazy tricks started to be riden there. What was it like when you were there?
I was there in 2002, 2003, 2004, then there was a 4-year break because RedBull decided not to do such events so often, so they took a four-year break. But there were hunger for that, so they returned. I was there in 2008 again and it looked completely different then. That gap caused that freeriding began to be more or less connected to the slopestyle and new riders who arrived started building more. The organizers freed everyone's hands and allowed more building to take place. The first four years, from 2001 to 2004, were until then purely about freeriding, sometimes someone shaped a little hit, and the stones from the impact were cleaned up. Just one gate up and the other down. Everyone found a route and cleared away the stones, but building has never been done as fiercely as it is now. Those boundaries are moving significantly further.
Speaking of pushing boundaries, you also pushed one - in 2009 you broke the world speed record on a bike, you were tied behind a motorcycle to speed you up and you reached a speed of up to 211.5 km/h. That's pretty crazy, haha.
It was crazy only after I found out that the tested tires, which were for a higher speed, were lying in the office in Náchod, and I made it on the serial ones. But otherwise it was another challenge for me. I think that this year some German has already surpassed it, but even so, the record has stood there for quite a long time since 2009. But it was quite dangerous. We were tied with a rope with Pepa, who was speeding me on the motorcycle, and during one of those rides, Pepa slowed down earlier and the rope jumped 3 times in front of my front wheel. In a 180 km/h, when we were already braking.
Now let's move on to some of your projects. In 2012, you founded the project Zam. Can you tell us more about it?
A bunch of young guys said, "let's travel somewhere", so we jumped in the car and went to Mongolia, haha. The funny thing was, that I actually got married 10 days before and went to Mongolia with my friends for a month on my honeymoon. But fortunately, my wife has a halo over her head and was okey with it, living with me is often not easy. So back to Zam - in 2012 we traveled to Mongolia, before that I had a bike camp in Ukraine, after that I came to Kyiv, where my friend Lukáš Jusko, with whom I also have Simple Ride camps, came. He is also a surfer and suggested that such adventure trips could be transferred to cycling as well, because no one was doing it at the time. We traveled all over Russia, through Moscow to Novosibirsk, where Adam Maršál, photographer and editor, came. And Marty Smolík, a cameraman and my friend from Bublava, also came with him. So this is the group of four people behind the Zam project. Zam means journes in Mongolian. We started using it because our first trip was to Mongolia.
Does this project still work today?
We were stopped by covid. Just before covid, we were in Russia as part of Zam 8, when we went to the Peninsula, which is the northernmost point of Russia. That was also an interesting experience for us. It was not easy to make it happen. It involved all these permits, not only to get across the border, but also permission to film and stuff like that. In Russia, for example, they came after us 3 times last year. For example, the lady with the machine gun who guarded the station and shouted at us, wanted to take Adam's camera etc. It was really not easy in some countries. The idea of the Zam was, that we will explore destinations where biking is not yet available, or are in its very beginning, we will connect with the local community and actually help them become more visible. Our big partner was, for example, Pinkbike, which is the world's most watched server for gravity mountain biking, and they helped us with contacts and other things. But I think it will start again, we just have to find the impulse to start doing it again after the three-year break. We need to find out what should be the thought and value of continuing in Zam.
And what are you doing at the moment?
I'm doing a lot of things right now. I deal with marketing, I do sports management myself, I work with sponsors and partners on products, so I'm involved in development and testing, and I also draw some product designs. And I bike. I still have a lot to do, for example I am currently preparing a new project. I got a permit to North Bohemian mines, to be able to get into the shaft again, so now I'm deciding what to do with it. For example, I am also an ambassador for Visit Austria, so I visit destinations in Austria from where I create cycling content. And I have a few more things I'm working on, but I don't want to mention them yet, to not jeopardize them. I'd rather not talk about it and then shoot it straight.
Last year, according to your words in the LEGAL DEEPER video, you conquered your own demons and ride down the coal mine you grew up near. Can you tell us something more about the video?
I grew up in the north of Bohemia near a coal mine, and it was normal, for example, that we had such fog there that you couldn't see anything, we had coal holidays, people received funeral benefits and so on. After I broke in there a couple of times (I got a 2x records because of it and it smelled like a fine) together with the photographer Milo Šlávka, we wanted to do it legally this time. It wasn't easy at all, for a year and a half I fought for a permission to get there. In the end it worked out. I got to a place that terrified us all in our childhood and where civilians never actually get to. I have seen with my own eyes the hard work of people who face the daily risk of losing their lives. The places I rode in that video no longer exist today. They're just not there anymore. It has been cleared, plowed. But it was one of the other points I wanted to fulfill. And it certainly wasn't the last.
And then did you feel like you had "conquered the demon of your childhood"? By riding it, and on top of that - legally.
I was more or less relieved because I could see that there was a shift for the better. The way it looked when I was little is long gone. All the technology that is used there is already at a high level and does not pollute the environment as much as before. New cycle paths are being built around, old quarries are being filled and they are becoming lakes. It's just significantly better than I remember.
Finally, can you tell us something about your plans for the future?
In addition to the Zam project, I also have the Kill Hill project, for example, which is about finding and riding down some interesting hills. I am currently fighting hard for a permit for the Stromboli volcano in Italy. I have already been there once with my bike in 2017 as part of the Young Guns project and in 4 days I rode down three active volcanoes. So I know it's possible to go there, but I'm trying to get a permit to go up and down on an electric bike, because no one has done it before. At this moment, Stromboli is so terribly active that it is not allowed to go up, only with a volcanic guide and only up to 400 meters high. Not more. And Stromboli has around 917 m.a.s.l. The activity that was there two weeks ago was so strong that it burned all the vegetation up to the towns, so we delayed it until spring because of that. In order to go there, I need to have two volcanic guides who have transmitters and are connected to the headquarters that deals with seismic activity. It cannot be done otherwise. So that is, for example, one of the things that I am intensively preparing and I believe that it will come out next year. In the meantime, I'm still working on either one more hill or one more volcano to ride, but it looks like we're headed to South America for now.
Is it planned for this year?
Yes. I had in mind one more village on Svalbard called Pyramiden. It is now a ghost town, a former mining town. Above it is a hill also called Pyramiden, it is shaped like a pyramid and I know it is possible to ride it down. But it's terribly difficult, because of the fact that polar bears live there. One must have a permit, have a local guide with a shotgun or have a firearms passport and take the shotgun. Of course, it is not easy at all to get that permit, and in case there really was a conflict there and a bear was shot, you have a huge problem with conservationists, the National Park and other institutions on Svalbard. So those are the risks I deal with.
It's interesting to hear that you got to deal with things like this, where there may be a threat by a polar bear, because that is, for example, in my world and certainly in the world of most people who will read this, complete nonsense that someone deals with this in the framework of biking.
Yes, for me it's not just about keeping myself fit and ride as much as I can as part of biking, but it's also about dealing with situations that may arise. In this case, for example, the probability that I can shake hands with a polar bear is about 80%.
Photos: Miloš Štáfek and Adam Maršál
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