Open Mic: Ronnie Renner

Open Mic: Ronnie Renner

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Ronnie Renner is one of the most outgoing, and funniest, guys in the business, but once a year he gets serious and goes for gold in X Games Step Up. He won gold in 2007 and 2009, but was edged by Matt Buyten in showdowns in 2010 and 2011. This year, after another Buyten battle that pushed both well above previously-established heights, Renner came out on top. We called him yesterday to get his thoughts.

Racer X: What’s going on, Renner?
Ronnie Renner:
Hey, Weege. Could you start the interview with, “As Renner lays on the hammock, with his dog liking him and his kids climbing on him asking for money, the interview begins.”

Well you’ve won the gold in X Games Step Up. Sounds like quite the celebration going on!
We’ve got a Nerf war going on right now. I have a two month old little boy, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, a nine-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy now. I’m running the gauntlet of parenthood! It’s hard. Being a professional athlete is a selfish kind of thing in a way, so one of my goals this year was to be more efficient with my time. Sounds like a good plan anyway but I’m sure I’ll mess it up.

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Renner versus Buyten has become the theme of X Games Step Up.
Garth Milan photo

[Laughs] Hey, it wouldn’t be X Games without another Renner versus Buyten battle in Step Up.
Yeah, he’s definitely at the top of the leaderboard for arch rivals in my career. I never looked directly at him as the one to beat until maybe the last three years. RC made his appearances, and MC, and I had two years where they didn’t even invite me. So Buyten has four golds and I have three, but I’ve had less opportunities, as well. But Buyten is the man, and he’s always getting better and better, so I’m sure we’ll have a few more years of good battles.

You’ve done a lot of things, racing, freestyle, freeriding, but why does Step Up really seem to work so well for you?
I come from the racing background, but that didn’t work out, and I can sum up the rest of my career like this: I was never passionate about freestyle competitions, it’s just something I did because it was the only way to make money riding. It came naturally to me, at least until they started doing tricks while doing backflips. That’s when I realized I wasn’t going to take those kinds of chances everytime I rode. I’m more of a methodical risk taker, a time and place kind of guy. Step Up is one of those things where, bottom line, there are no judges. There’s no second-guessing yourself if you get beat. It’s the closest feeling to wining a race if you can kick everyone’s ass in it.

And you put real thought and preparation into this.
It’s always at most a two-to-three week crunch time to get ready, because you just can’t practice it all year and withstand those landings. Honestly, dude, I didn’t actually do a single step up this year before the event, I just made sure my bike was good for the approach. Every year has been different, have tried different ways. The first year I won I practiced my butt off, but then I was switching between two strokes and four strokes all the way until the day of the competition, so I really didn’t know what to expect until right before the event, anyway. It always comes down to just doing it on that day, and what the lip is like. You could have a last minute gearing change, or with my freakish ways, a last-minute bike change. But this year I had faith that the Dungey-edition KTM 450 was the right bike. They built me a great 350 last year, but I just made some mistakes myself by practicing too much jumping and not working enough on the approach. This year all I did was work on the approach, and just kind of trusted my jumping skills when I got there. Also, I can’t leave out Enzo suspension, this isn’t a shameless plug, I really mean it. I had less than one week to get this bike ready and had to trust that they would hit the nail on the head the first time, and they did. Suspension setup is critical here. You can’t hit the approach with a bike that is too stiff, you can’t transition into a whip the right way, and the lip sometimes gets a kicker in it. So you can’t go too stiff, but you have to handle that landing properly, too.

With that said, I know a lot of people will say that I was landing harder than Buyten, but that’s partly because I whip it, and partly because he does his run in second gear and I do mine in first. I know my landings are gonna’ hurt the cajones!

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Renner took home his third career Step Up gold medal this past weekend.
Garth Milan photo

You guys were jumping like double the height this year of the previous years.
The lip used to be like 13 feet, this year they got that thing up to like 16 feet. It makes a big difference because you have more transition. Also, it’s the bikes, man. They’ve gotten so much better. Buyten has kind of dominated the last heights the last few years, I didn’t have the aggression to really go for it at the bigger heights. But I finally found my sweet spot where I could just hold it pinned and going for broke.

They don’t give out silver and bronze medals in Step Up. So what was the feeling to finally win again?
I’m just blown away. Being 35 and dealing with so much in real life with my kids and things like that, plus, the last few years, I made mistakes in the event. It’s really easy to kind of get down on yourself. I have started to put the puzzle pieces together in my life, not like it was ever too crazy, but it’s just better now. And the bike. I can’t say enough about how helpful to have confidence in your machinery.

What else do you have going? Still pushing the freeriding thing?
Absolutely. That’s where a lot of my skills come from in Step Up, because I’m always searching out big lips that pop you up, so I can do better whips. I consider myself much more of a freerider than a freestyle rider. It’s something that I have been able to relate to the public on and keep the sponsors happy. I’ve been able to keep my career going, KTM and Red Bull fully stand behind me, Fox has jumped on board. It seems like everyone supports me for my Step Up and freeriding. They’re definitely not supporting me for my rocksolid backflips, because they don’t exist!

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