Why do we do it?
Why do we gear up in the hundred-degree heat of summer?
Wake up early for the perfect light?
Obsess the science, when riding is an art?
Or push ourselves to defy gravity, when the landing may be unknown?
It’s that sublime feeling of earning life’s little victories. The grit with the glory. The small sacrifice for the big “WHOA”. Bring together three friends who love riding, who can push each other’s limits, and aren’t forgetting about the good times in-between – then you’ll know the why. It’s a mindset many of us search for the perfect words to describe. At the end of the ride, grinning from ear to ear, there’s truly Nothing Better.
Although it had been months since the trio rode on common ground, Graham Agassiz, Kyle Norbraten and Paul Genovese, [not so] formally known as The Black Collars, convened in Kamloops, B.C. over the summer with no shot list, no schedule, no goals to tick off – just ride.
Growing up under the wing of some of the OG freeriders from the early 2000’s, Aggy’s hometown of Kamloops, B.C. shaped him into the big mountain rider that he is today. After a decade of racing BMX as a grom, Aggy switched his focus to dirt jumping and slopestyle to make a name for himself in the industry. Lapping Rose Hill on the daily and hitching rides, Aggy soon found himself in the epicenter of the freeride culture, donning a Monster helmet, globe-trotting for filming and competitions, and returning to the Red Bull Rampage site, year after year, as one of the top qualifiers.
Aggy’s loose, rugged riding style is by all accounts a byproduct of his environment. “Right when you think he’s on the brink of explosion, he controls a skid and busts out a trick, which I’m a huge fan of,” said Paul Genovese.
With the Kamloops Bike Ranch down the street and vertical silt bluffs lining the horizon, Aggy’s backyard is also his playground. And when his friends show up to ride, all bets are on.
It's confidence-inspiring when you've got your buddies to bounce ideas and thoughts off of. We're very skilled riders on our own, but when you get to go shoot together, we’re pushing each other to do our best on every feature. Nic and Aaron from Mind Spark were as stoked as we were the entire time, and altogether that’s just the perfect recipe.
Paul has been looking up to Aggy since he was throwing his first can-can. Competing as a slopestyle athlete since he was 12 years old, Paul has been honing his box of tricks in the small valley town of Fernie, B.C. under the influence of the early pioneers of freeride. When the sport started to shift towards slopestyle, Paul refined his skillset for competition and began traveling with the FMB Tour in 2011.
“Me and Aggy have always had a cool relationship. He's always been super helpful and given me good advice. When the Black Collars concept came about a couple of years ago, it was cool for him to think to bring me along. Ever since then, it has reignited my passion for riding my trail and downhill bike a lot more.”
Every single feature we shot was my first time riding it. It was uncharted territory for me, but something I've wanted to do since I was young, riding in a proper freeride edit.
"With Aggy showing us all the sweet spots, I felt so grateful to ride what we did together. And Norbs – he’s got the most insane big mountain skills. I was so impressed with his riding all week,” Genovese said.
While the landscape for throwing tricks in Kamloops is different from the sculpted transitions on a Crankworx course, Genovese’s favorite trick is still a Superman seat grab.
Growing up in the sleepy town of Prince George, B.C., Kyle Norbraten tooled around his neighborhood like every other kid – exploring backyard trails, building ramps on the street, and jumping over his friends. Before the dawn of social media, Kyle obsessed over freeride films to fuel his inspiration for what’s possible on a bike. At 16 years old, he attended one of Andrew Shandro’s summer gravity camps, opening doors for coaching, sponsorship and eventually landing the dream job of being a professional rider.
Traveling the world to ride, film, and compete for the better part of his 20’s, Kyle made six appearances at the Red Bull Rampage, including his infamous 2012 run that left the internet trending with the hashtag #norbsgotrobbed after fans disagreed with the judges’ low score on his flat-drop spin. After a few more years, Kyle respectfully retired from the Rampage, feeling like he had accomplished what he set out to do, returning to his roots of imaging, exploring, and riding for the pure joy of it.
The best expression of the connection between me and my bike is on trails and natural lines that link rhythm and flow from top to bottom. That's the ultimate feeling for me.
These days, Kyle is an electrician, working full-time, and chasing the shred every moment in-between the daily grind. Listen in and you’ll hear the loudest bellyaching laughter stemming from Norbs.
“The good energy and vibes between the riders and filmers made for such a good time. That energy is what fuels each of us and each other. You watch each person drop in, bringing a different style and strength," Norbraten said.
Everyone's laughing and excited to review what we’ve just worked for as a group. This is the part of the lifestyle job in mountain biking that we all love - it's all the moments in-between that makes the experience whole.
Although the three admittedly are experiencing heavy withdrawals from the daily nug collecting during their week together in Kamloops, Aggy, Paul and Kyle are all back to work. Being a Black Collar isn’t about the results, the glory, or the numbers. It’s about working hard for the right reasons, sharing it with your friends who love it just as much, and not forgetting about the good times and what brought you there.
Videos by Mind Spark Cinema. Words by Sarah Rawley. Photos by Mason Mashon.