Mountain bike riders: shut up about your bloody equipment!

People often ask me, “Dr Behooving, why is mountain bike culture so idiotic?” You just need to look at the kinds of places where mountain bikes are really popular: not on flat pastural lands where ingenuity thrived, or around port towns where clever traders were the ones spreading their seed, but in mountainous regions that have always attracted and retained the most stupid. Afghanistan, Appalachia, Tasmania… You know what I mean. Hillbilly country.

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It is a good thing people in mountainous regions don’t earn a lot more, or I would be writing about ATVs. The motivations are roughly the same: to get muddy;

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get air;

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and get injured.

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Notwithstanding the redeeming aspects of mountain bike riding (exercise, serenity, low impact), it is the youngest and dumbest of all bicycling niches. It has the least cross-over with bicycle transport, making it stupid. It has no traditions older than a dog.

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The most damning point though is no one can even decide what a mountain bike is. All the old ones with 26″ wheels were palmed off onto the kids when the theory arose that a mountain bike was something with 700c wheels and big tires. But those experiments have since been passed on to the wives as the theory floats around that a mountain bike has wheels of middling diameter. Sheds are littered with non-tapered forks, skinny skewers, non-mechanical seat posts, and various “old-school” components all less than 3 years of age. Most have been deliberately broken, a tactic of mountain bike riders to justify the purchase of new bits of shit that they will also destroy as an excuse to upgrade  again.

If you think they’re ungainly with their waste of equipment, consider how they get to the tops of their mountains. Not by pedalling. They use chairlifts, and where these don’t exists, they shuttle each other with multiple cars.

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No wonder the next generation of mountain bikes (that will trigger its own cycle of monthly upgrading) will have tires as fat as a Jeep’s. If it weren’t for the money that bike brands are making from broken drive trains, I would say within ten years mountain bikes would not even have pedals. But ladies, don’t be surprised when an electric moto-cross (EMX) turns up in the post for your big bellied hubby. Yep: that’s on the way!

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Somehow these victims of commerce need to be saved from themselves. It is not easy though, when mountain biking is not really a sport. The UCI protects road racing cyclists form their own madness by banning new innovations from competitions. It helps too that enough of us are still racing who started in the days of 531 tubing, our presence on the club racing scene tempering the inclination among newcomers to be upgrading each season.

Most mountain bike riders though would not care in the slightest what a sports body said. Only the tiniest minority ever competes! Neither would I recommend that more try their hands at mountain bike racing. The only winners there are the bike shops, whose tactic is to dream up so many kinds of events (downhill, gravity enduro, marathon, cross-country, etc.) that joining a club means owning 5 separate bikes.

The solution? Go solo. Promote mountain biking as a solo pursuit, or an activity shared by no more than one or two friends. It’s when strangers get together that gear is used to start conversations. Look at the way members of bush walking clubs gear up to do something you or I would do in our thongs.

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The sooner they put their equipment in the same category as bird watching goggles or photographers’ vests, and stop riding in groups with virtual strangers, the sooner mountain bike riders will be on track to dismissing the rest of the population as absolute dick heads (as I always have) and start living their lives instead of working all the time to buy excessive equipment.

My own mountain bike is an assemblage of secondhand pieces and superseded components bought for a third of full retail. I’m not going to show you, lest you feel tempted to share your opinion.

What I can say is I will be using it a lot during my remaining time in Tasmania. My house backs onto reserves filled with flow trails and berms, and for $6 of petrol I can car-pool with a few non-consumerist friends to one of the most incredible mountain bike venues anywhere in the world. I find it stupid that trails such as these are not woven into the fabric of cities but instead built as incentives to drive, but really, there is only so much I can do to change a stupid world’s thinking.

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10 Comments

  1. Adanac says:

    Wow! You’re better than BikeSnob. A good assessment of the situation. In fact, why don’t we all get together and invent a new word for mountain biking that doesn’t involve the word bike since it has nothing to do with transportation cycling or even cycle racing.

    Also, I like how you use the old meaning of the word thong. Back when it referred only to a type of footwear.

    • Steven says:

      “Funnier than BikeSnob and smarter than Mikael,” according to Time Magazine.

  2. Ian S says:

    I’m with you on this one. I believe that the mountain biking craze has hurt commuter riding for children because retailers have stopped providing sensible children’s bicycles for commuting to school. It is for this reason that I have resorted to rebuilding a 1976 child’s bike for my daughter and will rebuild an early 1970’s boys Malvern Star for my son. The old bikes had sensible wheel sizes (real 24″, 540 wheelchair sizes), sensible geometry, were robust, were often lighter lugged tubing and had proper mudguards as a standard fitting. Some even came with dynamo lights!

    The main development that has improved bikes is the greater use of anodised materials in place of rubbish chromed steel. The other improvements are the advent of the belt drive, better IGHs and disc brakes, but only for heavy use applications.

    • crank says:

      Oh yeah, all the kiddie MTB-style bikes from KMart with a warning on the frame: “Not for off-road use”! 😀

  3. Nick zintilis says:

    I see your point on equipment,but some of the stuff they test on mountain bikes may be of use for Road Racing like faultless indexed shifting and later this year the UCI has given the go-ahead for a test period with Disc Brakes.

  4. Luke says:

    There is so much innovation happening in MTB that the staid world of “proper cycling” is missing out on. It cracks me up when roadies and others resist things like disc brakes, thru axles and tubless tyres when they have never used them. How many times have you read “solving a problem that doesn’t exist”?

    Enjoy Derby. Must be awesome to have that nearby. I’ll get there one day. In the meantime I’ll enjoy my disease elsewhere.

  5. Phil says:

    Riding a bike for a child is all about the freedom, the same is true for adults whether riding road or mountain bikes. When I got my first mountain bike 23 years ago I was no longer confined to roads and I was free to explore the bush tracks in the hills near my home , no driving required. Mountain biking is a legitimate form of cycling but the industry does have a lot to answer for with the constant changes in the technology.

    • Steven says:

      Arbitrary changes and manufactured desire. They should just make full suspension 29er fat bikes with hub gears. Everything else is an iPhone 4.

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