Gee Atherton, what can you say? The man is a legend, one of the most laid-back, take-it-all-in-your-stride kind of guys, not to mention one of the nicest people you could meet. He's done it all, he's nearly broken it all too, and now he drops his latest epic Ridgeline IV: The Dolomites.
Everyone knows about the horrific crash in The Knife Edge, the previous release in his Ridgeline series, and how Gee has battled back stronger than ever. Fully committed to his rehab, coming back to not just turn up, but genuinely compete in Red Bull Hardline and take a top ten spot. Last month in Pal Arinsal, Andorra he made his return between the tapes of a Downhill World Cup, failing to qualify but the spirit to ride and race was still clear to see. Gee has also just been announced as a rider for next month's Red Bull Rampage, which is arguably the most prestigious freeride mountain biking competition on the planet.
When I spoke to Gee during a visit to Atherton HQ in Wales not long after his life threatening crash, he had hinted at some epic lines and locations that were on the radar for the Ridgeline Series. If you follow him on Instagram, there were plenty of clues to the location of this release. Ridgeline IV: The Dolomites, sees Gee and his team head to the famous mountain region in northeastern Italy. The UNESCO World Heritage Site draws in mountain bikers, climbers and hikers from all over the world. Gee takes his Atherton AM.170 beyond what we mere mortals can do on a mountain bike, as he hits some of the most exposed and remote riding spots – not just in the Dolomites but on the planet.
Gee spoke about his plans for the Dolomites, “Since the first hour of the first build for the original Ridgeline film it’s been the dream to take this concept to the most amazing places around the world. The potential to find awesome, remote mountain ranges where we can test ourselves to the limit, and explore what’s possible on a bike."
This film also differs from its predecessors in that the team didn’t have to move a rock in building the lines Gee would ride, using the natural ready-made hiking paths, but also scoping out new lines in what is some of the most unforgiving terrain seen in the series so far. There’s even some pedaling, even though it's not at racing speed, it's inches from huge ravines where putting a wheel out of place could mean an extremely serious outcome.
Work started on the project back in June with Gee and the team doing some scouting hikes – where it quickly became apparent that they were “out mountained”. There was no way to take shortcuts here, there would be long hikes up the mountains, into the unknown, that could lead to discovering a cool little section of singletrack, but also a chance it would lead to nothing. There were long days in knee-deep snow followed by nights developing map reading skills and trying to fit in as much sleep and fuel as possible before another scouting mission.
The actual filming took place in August, in what was much improved and less hostile weather, but the access to riding spots still involved four-hour hikes, roped climbs, ladders and abseils. The team was also burdened with camera equipment, drones, food supplies and of course Gee’s bike, broken down to frame, bars and wheels to share the load.
Atherton said of the experience, "It was physically and mentally the most demanding week of the series so far, where a sense of adventure and genuine concern for our survival drove the team onwards in search of some of the most incredible scenes we've ever filmed. The Atherton AM.170, was tough enough to withstand being bounced off cliff walls as it was hauled up a cliff on a rope, lighter to hike up the mountain than my downhill bike, it pedals super-well and is “enough bike” to tackle every inch of the Dolomites steep and rocky terrain."
Gee was accompanied by his “right-hand man” Jamie Robertson and photographer Dan Griffiths, who had both been involved in the project from the beginning. But in such a perilous location they also involved Brodie Hood, a high altitude and adventure specialist. Brodie is one of the few people to have flown drones to the top of Everest, an experienced climber and a member of the Lochaber Mountain rescue team in Scotland.
Gee explained, "Brodie and his fellow cameraman Matt McCormick from Paddy Graham’s 'Legs of Steel' Production crew brought a deep knowledge of the mountains and kept us alive. It meant that we could say yes to things that we wouldn’t have tackled alone. There’s a sequence at the end of the film where I ride down a ridge at sunset, and it’s stunning, but it was so steep and exposed and the potential consequences were huge. Dan and Jamie had both been with me for the Knife Edge filming and the aftermath. I could see that they were torn about encouraging me to work near the edge of the cliff, but Brodie devised a harness system that meant that I could practice controlling my speed while he let out the tension until I got comfortable. The section of the film where I’m riding the slowest, picking my way down the ridge was the most demanding of all."
Gee summed up the trip by saying, “Going to places that are bigger than us, where we have to perform at our absolute best is always cool – I think we’ve shown the potential to take this project global and I already can’t wait for what’s next..."
Check out the Atherton AM.170 that Gee rode in the Dolomites and the rest of the Atherton Bikes range at Athertonbikes.com.