Josh Bender lives in a sleepy Utah town called Virgin, one of a
handful of places in the U.S. that requires residents to be
armed. The 29-year-old freeride mountain biker keeps a pellet gun
in his closet. The gun presumably helps him to feel safe at
night, which makes one wonder, Why does Bender spend his waking
hours trying to concoct new ways to hurt himself?
This is an article from the Sept. 8, 2003 issue
In his latest and most controversial stunt, the extreme biker
plans to jump his Banshee Scream off a 49-foot-high granite cliff
over Highway 143 in Brian Head, a ski resort 60 miles outside St.
George, Utah. While not as high as his record-setting 60-foot
vertical leap off Jah Drop in Kamloops, B.C., in 2001, the road
gap jump, planned for just after sunrise on Saturday, will be the
most dangerous he's ever attempted. "Duuuude, this thing's
gnarly," Bender says. "It'll be like riding one of those Laird
Hamilton waves. One mistake, and it could be the last jump for a
To complete the stunt, Bender will need to clear a
three-foot-high concrete barrier on the opposite side of the
highway. And after three seconds of air time, he'll still have to
dodge large, jagged boulders at the end of a steep 100-yard
landing. It's worth pointing out that Bender has never
successfully landed a road gap jump. Last year in Marino Valley,
Calif., he tried three times to stick a 40-foot gap jump and
crashed each time. Meanwhile, Wade Simmons nailed the same jump
on his first attempt, earning him the highly coveted cover shot
for the cult bike video New World Disorder III.
To this, Bender, who wears a brace on his right shoulder because
of crash-related injuries, offers a shrug. "I overjumped and
didn't have the bike I wanted when I tried that gap," he says.
"You can't really practice for this s--- anyway. You either do it
or you don't."
If Simmons is the reigning king of big air, Bender is the sport's
pioneer. He began pushing the limits of freeriding in 1998,
hucking himself over 15-foot cliffs, crashing where no man had
crashed before. Since then, extreme freeriders such as Simmons,
29, and 21-year-old Tyler (Super T) Klassen have been surpassing
many of Bender's signature jumps--and with more grace and
Bender admits if he doesn't go big on this upcoming road gap
jump, some other rider will. "I need to keep up to par," he says.
"If I--I mean, when I stick and ride away on this jump, it'll be
on to the next thing. The hunt for the 100-footer is still on."
Still recovering from a major operation on that right shoulder
nine months ago, Bender has had little time to rest leading up to
his epic attempt. In July he had a spectacular crash, landing
flat, facedown on the ground after a 20-foot jump. He was
unconscious for several seconds. "I've never photographed Bender
without his breaking something," says James Lozeau, who will be
on hand to document Bender's gap jump. "It scares me when he says
it's kind of sketchy. But he's a pretty determined guy. He's
definitely got some psychosis going on. He likes to push it to
Since he first scouted the Brian Head road gap six months ago,
Bender has returned three times in the last month to, as he puts
it, "edit the run-in and run-out." Friends brought a chain saw
and a pickup truck to clear debris and a particularly worrisome
boulder near the landing area. Several tower pads from ski lift
supports are on loan from Brian Head ski resort to cushion the
"Every individual controls his own story," says Bender.
"Everything I'm doing is within the limits of not only physics,
but also the human mind. There are even bigger and gnarlier
cliffs out there, and I want to do what's never been done."