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Photo by Karl Nielsen.

Photo by Karl Nielsen, from Maureen Gaffney’s article titled “‘I Wish They Had That When I Was in High School!’ How NICA Continues to Inspire.”

I may get flack for saying this, but I’m sick of the annual bicycle industry product release cycle. Every year most brands–especially the big ones–remake their lineups, releasing new for 2017 (or are we looking at 2018 products already?) bike models that are constantly offering the latest and greatest components and technology. Oftentimes, that tech makes certain components obsolete just a year or two after they were released.

If you watch most mountain bike media sites, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our purpose as mountain bikers, the reason we participate in this sport at all, is merely to stay informed about the latest products and to shell out our cash for the latest-and-greatest do-dads to be released.

But of course, that’s not the truth at all. The reasons we mountain bike are many and varied, but for most of us it’s because something about riding a bicycle on a narrow ribbon of dirt in the mountains resonates deep within our soul.

Not because we like reading tech reviews on the internet.

I deeply believe that the sport of mountain biking can speak to the human condition on many different levels–from physical well-being to emotional balance, to a thirst for exploration and a return to the primal world, to building healthy relationships, dealing with the effects of aging, and so much more.

Being a mountain biker is about so much more than merely being a consumer. So, I’ve rounded up what I think were the 13 most truly meaningful articles that we published on Singletracks.com in 2016. These articles were meaningful in a number of different ways–they may have spoken to the human condition, deeply criticized mountain biking itself, or pointed toward significant ways the sport could and should change.

If you haven’t read these articles yet, be sure to dive in and begin reading, or bookmark this list for future reference:

Ride Bikes, Be Happy: How Mountain Biking Improves My Mental Health

Author: Helena Kotala

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This article began life as a post on Helena’s personal blog, and I asked her if she’d consider turning it into a longer piece for Singletracks. I was convinced that Helena’s need for physical activity–most importantly, mountain biking–in order to achieve and maintain emotional balance was a theme that would resonate with many, many mountain bikers. And as the 1.5k social shares show, it did!

Here’s another article on a similar topic that I wrote later in the year:

See Also
By Greg Heil
 

Mountain Biking Has an Identity Crisis… And it Affects Us All

Author: Greg Heil

mtb_identity

In addition to being a meaningful article, this was one of the most widely-read Singletracks articles of the year. Since I wrote it, it’s been translated into multiple languages with my permission, and has been quoted and discussed at mountain bike advocacy summits around the world.

The perception and portrayal of mountain bikers as abusers of the environment VS the reality of most mountain bikers as avid environmentalists and conservationists is perhaps the greatest contradiction our sport has ever known. How do we deal with this? What’s the solution to this problem?

There are no easy answers.

Following Your MTB Passion: How 4 Riders Turned a Love of Mountain Bikes Into a Career

Author: Helena Kotala

Photo: Brice Shirbach

Photo: Brice Shirbach

Turning our passion for the sport we love into a full-time job is a burning desire for countless mountain bikers. In this truly inspirational article, Helena profiles four riders who did just that!

Newsflash: The Sport of Mountain Biking Lacks Diversity

Author: Jeff Barber

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While this article was merely a statistics report based on one of our regular surveys of Singletracks readers, merely bringing up the topic of diversity proved to be a controversial subject on social media. The two highest-voted comments on Facebook were:

“Why does everything have to be made into a race thing? Can’t people just be left alone to be happy doing whatever it is they want? Different strokes for different folks…” -Adam Knochowski (127 up votes)

“Wtf keep the stories about mountainbiking please. Please don’t start this stupid discussion in the mtb world. Some people like it and some people don’t. What the f does it matter what color or gender you are and how many are into mountainbiking.” -Bas Van Driessche (58 up votes)

While Jeff didn’t push any racial agenda in the article whatsoever, apparently simply reporting facts about who does and does not take part in mountain biking is an affront to the echo chambers of hundreds of mountain bikers.

Over a Beer: Why Does Mountain Biking Still Have Podium Girls?!

Author: Greg Heil

Photo: Richard Masoner, via the Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Richard Masoner, via the Flickr Creative Commons

Facing a similar negative reception were articles that dealt with sexism in the mountain bike industry, most notably my column asking: “why does mountain biking still have podium girls?!”

Some of the top-voted Facebook comments on this article were:

“Oh gawwwd give me a break. Get a life and find a real issue to whine about.” -Sean Spellacy (114 up votes)

“Why would this author feel the need to write articles about a tradition in biking that isn’t harming anyone? The most popular biking race in the world, Tour De France, is currently on as I type this and they still use podium girls at the end of each stage. People just need to stop bitching and whining about everything. Get some chip and dale guys for the women’s races and all is good.” -Mark Baker (91 up votes)

But in this case, there was more back-and-forth on the topic. After an overwhelmingly negative influx of negative comments, a voice of reason finally rose above the fray:

“Wow look at all the men commenting who don’t get it. No wonder cycling continues to be so male dominated.

The issue is that despite things like Lael Wilcox winning the Trans Am, against all the men, proving that women can compete at an elite level, women continue to be placed as a second thought below men in races, or even excluded entirely. The only place for a woman in the Tour de France is as a podium girl. They cannot compete, they are only there as prizes/objects to be won. The message it sends is that as a woman, it doesn’t matter how hard you train or how many races you win, the only thing you’re good for is how you look.

To everyone saying podium girls don’t hurt anything/there are bigger issues to worry about, sexism continues to be real, especially in cycling, and if you don’t see that as a problem to fight then you’re probably a guy who hasn’t had to deal with it before.

To those saying we need podium guys for women’s races, sexual objectification in the other direction doesn’t help anything except continuing the concept of objectification.

And to those saying it’s a tradition, slaves were a tradition when America was founded. Didn’t make it right. When enough people got together and said this is fucked up and it needs to stop, it did. Of course a podium girl is not a slave and I’m not trying to make that comparison, what I’m trying to say is that just because something has been done for a long time in the past doesn’t mean it has to continue.

Women are more than just pretty objects to be won. Kudos to the author for getting it and taking this (surprisingly) controversial stance to work toward equality among the genders.” -Jessica Johnson (65 up votes)

For another article with a related theme, be sure to check out “It’s a Man’s World” from Maureen Gaffney:

See Also
By Maureen Gaffney
 

5 Benefits of Youth Mountain Biking Programs

Author: Melissa Davidson

Photo: Rick LaBelle

Photo: Rick LaBelle

Phew, that was a lot of controversy! If there’s one thing that almost all of us can agree on, it’s that getting more kids on bikes is a good thing. In this article Melissa Davidson discusses the 5 benefits that youth mountain biking programs–specifically NICA–offer to kids.

Also be sure to check out Maureen’s take on the topic of NICA:

See Also
By Maureen Gaffney
 

How To Be a Mountain Bike Dad

Author: Matt Reimert

IMG_6896

For many kids, the love of mountain biking can begin well before they’re NICA-age. In this excellent article, Matt Reimert explains how to be a mountain biking dad in such a way that your kids will develop a natural and genuine love for the sport.

Rocking Beyond Retirement: Ned Overend’s Top 5 Tips for Staying Strong on the Bike

Author: Scott Cotter

Ned-above-Durango-1200x914

While most of us wish we could stay young forever, as we well know, that’s not how the world works.

How to best deal with old age as mountain bikers has long been a popular topic on Singletracks, and 5 of the most recent nuggets in that vein of gold were these dynamite tips from Ned Overend on how to keep rocking on the mountain bike into retirement.

Responses to the 10 Most Common Arguments Against Allowing Mountain Bikes in Wilderness Areas

Author: John Fisch

photo: boulderwhiteclouds.org

photo: boulderwhiteclouds.org

What are mountain bikers if we have no trails to ride? I’ve argued in the past that “Opening Wilderness to Mountain Bikes Is the Most Important Mountain Bike Advocacy Effort in History,” and John Fisch expands on this theme by tackling common arguments against allowing bikes in Wilderness.

Also be sure to read his article rebutting five common arguments against the specific bill introduced by the STC, the “Human Powered Travel in Wilderness Areas Act”:

Keep Your Eye on the Prize: One Mountain Biker’s Race Against MS

Author: Helena Kotala

Photo via Grace Ragland.

Photo via Grace Ragland.

Mountain biking is filled with inspirational characters who have overcome incredible odds in pursuit of singletrack bliss. Grace Ragland is one of them. She’s an incredibly talented mountain bike racer and she has Multiple Sclerosis.

Over a Beer: Giving Up Isn’t an Option – On Overcoming Injuries

Author: Greg Heil

DSC06968-hdr

No matter how lucky we may feel, sooner or later the painful side of mountain biking catches up with each and every one of us, and we have to learn on how to deal with and overcome injuries.

A Fat Bike Love Story

Author: Helena Kotala

Photo: Jarrod Bunk.

Photo: Jarrod Bunk.

What is more meaningful in life than true and lasting love? Our writer Helena found the love of her life thanks to the novelty of the fat bike!

Over a Beer: What Kind of Life Do You Want to Live?

Author: Greg Heil

DSC01114-hdr-1200x904

Finally, is there anything more important in life than making a conscious decision about exactly what sort of life you want to live? In this Over a Beer column I ask you all to think carefully about exactly what kind of life you’re choosing for yourself, through the actions you take every single day.

Still thirsting for more meaningful, inspirational, and controversial articles? Here are 10 honorable mentions:

Your Turn: What do YOU think was the most meaningful Singletracks article of 2016?

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# Comments

  • mongwolf

    Happy New Years Greg. I think your intro to this article probably pretty much explains the success of Singletracks.com. Though ST writes about the latest models, components, technology, etc. as other sites do, it is the human stories, the connection between ordinary riders (some not so ordinary), and the sharing of our diverse EXPERIENCES that I think resonates with so many. You might say that ST has a different resonance than other bike magazines and sites, and it’s a good resonance. Thanks Greg for all the effort you put into ST to make it what it is. I think I can venture out and speak for other ST users to say that your efforts are not overlooked, especially your sharing of your own personal experiences and challenges. All the best this coming New Year. Here’s to an injury free year for you.

    • Greg Heil

      Thanks for the kind words Floyd 🙂 Warm fuzzies!!

  • mongwolf

    Also one comment off topic, I have a couple of plugs for the new website format. First, it might be nice to have an “All” edition to the website for those of us who want to regularly read and be stimulated by other riders all over the country and world. Second, instead of just the blue image for the edition header, you all might select a cool photo that depicts riding in the region or a runner of a few photos like the trail pages. That might spice it up a bit.

  • Scott Cotter

    Great list, Greg, and thank you for including the article on Ned. The man is an inspiration and just an all around good guy so it’s nice to see his wisdom being on display again.

    But also thank you for the other articles. I’m on Singletracks nearly every day but I sometimes miss some real gems. And you picked some that I just got so enjoy for the first time.

    Here’s to a 2017 filled with great rides, great articles and new adventures.

    • Greg Heil

      My pleasure, Scott 🙂

  • iliketexmex

    I have a little bit of a different take on the first point of the article. The lure and distraction created by the marketing efforts related to the newest product is not unique to mountain biking. It is a necessity of a business, can you imagine how well Giant would be doing if they were still making their 1998 models? I don’t even think they would be selling to Walmart. So change is inevitable, it is a competitive market which has delivered many improvements (and many changes which were merely marketed as improvements). I think some of the frustration comes from is the tendency to see something we do not have and let it cause reduced satisfaction with what we do have. That human trait has been discussed in some of the oldest religious texts. It is not unique to humans, as this tendency has been observed in primates as well. Let the product development guys keep pushing the envelope and the marketing guys describe what is so great about it.. Don’t let their efforts create dissatisfaction with what you have. Be skeptical of the marketer’s message a new thing will actually make your life better. Things generally don’t. I smiled just as wide on that old bike as I do on my new one. We get to ride mountain bikes and that is pretty awesome.

    • Greg Heil

      “So change is inevitable, it is a competitive market which has delivered many improvements (and many changes which were merely marketed as improvements).”

      Yes, as you said–inevitable. The main point of what I was saying is that while new bikes and products are produced every year, I don’t think our purpose as mountain bikers is primarily to be consumers, no matter what the marketing folks may think. Instead, I think we take up mountain biking for the love of the sport, and what it gives to us. As you said: “I smiled just as wide on that old bike as I do on my new one. We get to ride mountain bikes and that is pretty awesome.”

      Cheers!

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