We’ve teamed up with Jeep, who are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, to shine a spotlight on some of the ultimate renegades from the world of action sports – past, present and future. Like Jeep themselves, Shaun Palmer is an American icon. A maverick in every sense of the word, Palmer relished a challenge and loved proving his critics wrong. Having enjoyed a hugely successful career as a pro snowboarder in the early 90s, he took up downhill mountain biking and in the space of a few short years proceeded to rewrite the rulebook. Here Dirt Magazine’s James Smurthwaite tells the story of his career, and this seminal 1998 cover shot.
The world of downhill racing can be roughly split into two distinct eras, BP and AP – that is Before Palmer and After Palmer. When Shaun “Napalm” Palmer strode into the infant sport in 1995, it was still dominated by skinsuits, bullet helmets and a European, road cycling mentality. Palmer’s short lived eruption of panache, punk and pig-headedness would leave it irrevocably changed.
Along with motocross legends Randy Lawrence and Mike Metzger, he joined the factory team of Jeff Steber’s Intense Cycles. He had already acheived great success in snowboarding but he shocked everyone by finishing seventh at the second round of the 1996 World Cup and missing top spot at the World Championships by a mere 0.15 of a second from Nico Vouilloz.
It wasn’t just the success that made Palmer a legend though. He rocked up to races in a party bus and swaggered around the pits in a gold top hat and
At the time Palmer was the face of the ‘extreme sports generation’, a god in the eyes of many. His attitude (and success) also earned him many enemies but that’s the price you pay for being a true renegade.