Bigfoot and Rusty Toyotas: Ryan ‘R-Dog’ Howard’s Coolest Custom-Painted Bikes

Photo courtesy of 805 Beer

Near the end of February, 805 Beer released a video on Ryan “R-Dog” Howard and his hometown of Aptos, California, where the legendary Post Office jumps bred riders such as himself, and for 15 years was the stomping grounds of riders like Cam and Tyler McCaul, Brandon Semenuk, and others.

Even though R-Dog gets new bikes and frames every year, he holds onto the bikes of his past and says he’s never sold one of his custom-painted frames. We wanted to get a closer look at some of the paint jobs inspired by his childhood influences and learn a little more about his riding style, whips, and which bikes he’s riding these days.

Where did you start riding?

I was born and raised [in Aptos]. And I rode a lot with Cameron McCaul and Brandon [Semenuk]. Brandon would come to town every winter to escape the snow and they kind of got me in because they rode for Trek at the time and they put in a good word for me and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.

What year did you sign with Trek?

2009.

What kind of bike did you start riding on?

Everyone has their first mountain bike that’s kind of a piece, ya know, and then you slowly get nicer bikes or whatever. But we all started on downhill bikes randomly at the post office jumps. And then we realized it’s easier to make it through the jumps and easier to do tricks on a hardtail or dirt jumper. And everyone kind of graduated to that over the years. That was probably the early 2000s.

How did that transition to the Trek team work?

Cameron would actually just let me use his old bike. He’d get a new one and I’d build up the old one. There was this first-gen hardtail called the Trek Jack — I’d just get hand-me-downs from Cameron. And I’d have to give them all back, but he still has them all on his walls, which is dope.

The team manager was Andrew Shandro, and we worked out a deal, and the first few years I was getting free bikes, which was awesome because Trek was making a name for themselves and I had dope teammates which was pretty insane to me at the time.

What was it like going from an old downhill bike to a hardtail or dirt jumper?

I probably weighed 115lb at the time and we had these downhill bikes that were probably 50lb, but you learned a lot about throwing the bike around. Now bikes are crazy light, suspension is really good, but we didn’t know any different then.

What was your downhill bike?

Growing up in Aptos there’s a lot of Santa Cruz bikes and I rode a first-gen Bullit when I started to get into mountain biking. That was my dream bike at the time and a lot of kids in town rode that bike. And then I was on the Santa Cruz Syndicate downhill junior startup team so I would get deals on my Santa Cruz bikes, so I had a Heckler and a VP-Free and stuff like that.

What are a few bikes from the past 15-20 years that stand out to you?

I’ve never sold any of my custom-painted bikes, and I’ve been getting custom-painted bikes for ten years now. But they all just tell a story, you know? It’s like a tattoo in a way. It’s so hard to pick just a handful.

My first one would be something to talk about. It was a Trek Ticket and it was this vibrant green color. It was a total surprise. I showed up on a trip and they had it sitting there waiting for me all built up ready to go. It was my first visit to Trek in Wisconsin and we went to Rays Indoor Bike Park.

Ever since then, I would get at least two a year. I would ride some stock colorways, but they’re so cool and we can give them our ideas and they’ll give us a mockup. They’re really easy to work with and really talented over at Trek, so we’re lucky.

What’s another bike for you?

Ryan Howard on his Big Foot bike during qualifications for Red Bull Rampage in Virgin, Utah, USA on 26 September 2014. // Dean Treml / Red Bull Content Pool

This one I did after the Big Foot monster truck that was blue with some pinstriping down the side and white rims to go with it. It was a sweet looking monster truck — not that I’m super into monster trucks, but it was a cool colorway and one I filmed the SRAM ‘In the Know’ edit on in 2015 and that was a huge kickstart for my career. It was probably my most viewed web edit and I feel like I made a name for myself when that one came out and that was the bike I was on.

R-Dog’s Bigfoot bike

Another one that stands out, is an Evel Knievel tribute and they actually made 50 of them — it was a Trek Ticket S — it was a slopestyle bike and that was the only time out of any of the athletes really that they sold a custom colorway. I still get messages from people every once in a while of people getting their hands on them or they’re still riding one. It’s pretty cool to see they’re still around.

The Evel Knievel inspired rig.

What model was the Big Foot bike?

That was a Session Park. They made the Session and then the C3 guys, we all got custom rear ends — shorter ones. And they were more playful for bike park, not so much racing. They sold them for three years maybe.

Hawaiian shirt edition. Photo courtesy of R-Dog.

There was a Hawaiian T-shirt scene going on for a few years there. Everyone would ride the bike park in a Hawaiian T-shirt. So I thought it would be cool to do a Hawaiian T-shirt bike. It was red with white flowers all over it, little surfboards, and palm trees and that always caught people’s eye.

What do you think it is about these bikes that makes them feel special?

A faux-patina’d Trek Remedy matches perfectly to the patina’d Toyota. Photo courtesy of R-Dog.

It’s stuff that I’m interested in, or cool colorways. Sometimes they’re flashy, sometimes they’re subtle. It stands out to people, it’s not a stock bike. So when we’re in the bike park line, or whatever it is, people engage with it and ask questions. I think it’s a cool way to stand out and get more eyes on our bikes.

A lot of your themes feel very Americana, like you had a Dale Earnhardt one, or Back to the Future, or some other 80s themes. Or the rusty Remedy that matches your old Toyota.

I guess that’s another standout one. It’s so hard to nail them down. It’s stuff that reminds me of my childhood, like Back to the Future, I watched that when I was a kid. The Dukes of Hazzard one, that was a show I watched growing up. They’re cool colorways that stand out and people can relate to it and it has a little story behind it whether they know what the ’01’ on the Dukes of Hazzard bike meant. Sometimes people get it and sometimes they don’t.

I saw in another interview your favorite movie is Joe Dirt. Do you think you’ll do a custom paint job on that ever?

We have to be careful with copyrights. I’ve definitely gotten turned down in the last few years. I tried to do an In and Out Burger and we reached out to them, and they said thanks for going about it the right way but they couldn’t allow it. If it’s a copyright thing, that could get Trek in trouble and it’s not worth it.

With some of these being so unique is it hard to switch from one frame to the next?

Not necessarily. Bikes are always changing, right? New stuff, new sizes, new suspension. When you’re done with the bike, there’s something new to put on. It seems like every couple years there’s something new or a new wheel size or a new fork size, whatever it is. You gotta keep getting the newest thing and promoting the next best thing that my sponsors are coming out with.

If it’s still a good bike, I’ll let my buddies ride them. I’d rather see them get used than sit in my shed and collect dust. There are only two rules: Don’t get it stolen and you have to give it back when you’re done.

Are you still competing in Whip-Offs or other contests?

R-Dog in whip mode at Crankworx Whip-offs in 2019. Photo: Matt Miller

I’m definitely stepping back from the contests over the last few years. I still like going and being a part of it, riding, or whatever, but I’m not trying to win anymore. Kids these days are so good, especially at Whip-Offs. It’s pretty hard to compete with 18-, 19-year-old kids that are sending it way harder than I am. If I can go out and do my best whip and land straight, I’m stoked on that. It’s hard to see these kids land completely sideways and they still ride out of it, but I feel like if you’re going to whip, you gotta bring it back. That’s half the process. But I still enjoy going and watching everyone progress, and seeing how insane all these dudes are starting to get their bikes sideways.

When you’re setting up a new bike is there anything in particular to make it better for whips or tricks?

There’s little things I’ve learned over the years, like where you want your bump stops in your fork, or maybe you want to run a smaller wheel in the back, or run a tube in the back for weight. It’s kind of all personal preference.

My bars get wider the bigger the bike is. If it’s a downhill bike the bars are wider than my dirt jump bike. I’ve never been a big trick guy, it’s just the five tricks or however many, and I try to do them really well. But it’s not like I’m changing my setup too much these days.

Which bikes are you riding mostly these days?

I have way too many bikes in my shed. It’s just the right tool for the right job. If I’m filming some trail bike stuff and it’s like more of a tricky, jumpy, flowy track, I’ll ride a 27.5 trail bike. If it’s a rompy, fast, high-speed, need a lot of traction, I’ll ride my Slash, and that’s 29 front and rear. I ride my e-bike every day, and that’s a Rail and that’s 29 front and rear.

I have a downhill bike that’s 27.5 front and rear, I have one that’s mulleted, I have a hardtail for dirt jump stuff, and a slopestyle bike. They’re like golf clubs, if you have a long shot, you’ll use a driver, if you have a short one, you’ll use a putter. You have to have the right bike for the right time.