Photo: Snow Bike Festival / Nick Muzik

Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Shops roll fat tired bikes onto their showroom floors to prepare for the onset of a long, snowy winter. Riders are shaking down their snow-specific rigs, checking to make sure they have all the gear they need to brave the cold, dark, wet trails of winter—and inevitably, adding more gear to their Christmas wishlists.

Some people have argued that fat biking isn’t even really mountain biking, or is almost another sport entirely. Of course, I disagree with that sentiment—I think fat biking is one of the most important revolutions in the sport of mountain biking, ever.

Rider: Brett Rheeder. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

On the other end of the spectrum, Red Bull Rampage just wrapped up in the Utah desert less than a month ago. While we can’t tear our eyes away from those death-defying stunts no matter how hard we try, the cynics still say, “this isn’t mountain biking. No, these guys are just acrobats that just happen to use a bicycle in their stunts. Rampage isn’t true mountain biking.”

Rider: Szymon Godziek. Photo: Bartek Wolinski / Red Bull Content Pool

Stunt-style mountain biking is further conflated with dirt jumping. Is dirt jumping really mountain biking just because the rider is using a 26” wheel? Yet somehow, all of a sudden it becomes BMX riding—a totally different discipline—when he swaps for a 20” wheel and a different-shaped handlebar?

As we consider the disciplines that are perhaps more core to the sport of mountain biking, we generally reference cross country, trail, enduro/all-mountain, and downhill. But even when it comes to cross country versus downhill, their respective adherents still debate and fight about what is and is not “true” mountain biking.

Cross country riders will say, “you need to pedal up the hill and earn your descent. Shuttling, getting a chairlift ride? That’s not true mountain biking—you didn’t work for it!”

The downhillers will scoff, “riding flat, buff trails that you could easily pedal on a cyclocross bike? That’s not true mountain biking—technical gnar, big jumps, and riding the line between radness and injury/death is what puts the ‘mountain’ in mountain biking.”

Believe it or not, this discussion of what is and is not “real” mountain biking even bleeds over into the never-ending trail design debate. As if riding a bike in the woods somehow isn’t enough to qualify as “mountain biking,” the anti-flow trail crowd will argue that “wide, manicured trails with berms and jumps is not true mountain biking. That’s a vanilla, flavorless type of riding that is anything but the true rocky, rooty, challenging, narrow, natural feel of how riding bikes in the woods first began.”


The proponents of flow trails will sometimes even argue against natural-style singletrack trails, saying that “mountain biking is all about speed and getting air. I don’t have any desire to ride slow trails that threaten to rattle me off of my mountain bike.”

The Richness of Mountain Biking

While perhaps it is beneficial to draw the line between mountain biking and not-mountain biking somewhere (what about riding gravel roads? When does a mountain biker turn into a groadie?), more and more I’ve come to appreciate the many different strains of cyclists who all identify, in some way or another, as mountain bikers. The fact that all of these different types of riders enjoy riding bikes in the woods, on a variety of trail types and in a variety of different ways, makes our subset of cycling so incredibly rich and diverse.

As a mountain bike publication, Singletracks is able to talk about so many types of riding—and we enjoy covering it all! From endurance bikepacking to Rampage, every flavor of mountain biking finds a place on Singletracks.

Personally, I refuse to pigeonhole myself into just one type of riding. Why limit myself to, say, just enduro racing when I can go do adventure riding, hit the bike park with a dual crown fork, go bikepacking, break out the fat bike in the winter time, or even (gasp) put skinny tires to pavement?

If there’s one thing that will keep me riding bikes for decades to come, it’s this rich diversity that our broad sport offers, and the constant variations that we can enjoy. While other sports like, say, tennis, consist of doing roughly the same few things over and over again in the same closely-defined bounds, the broad diversity of human-powered biking is incredibly attractive.

Let’s not limit ourselves by stereotyping or discriminating against one type of rider just because we might not agree with how they choose to interpret the sport. Instead, let us embrace this incredible diversity for all it gives us!

# Comments

  • triton189

    Single best decision I made was eventually getting a fat bike. Forced me to slow down and enjoy the areas I was riding in. Also gave me at least 3 more months of riding here in the midwest during the winter.

  • Sea Loam

    The only thing that should not be called mountainbiking is the riding of those electric motorized things that some companies are trying to disguise as real bikes.

  • Fast n Slow

    Two wheels on a trail or double track in the woods in the mountains in the hills is mtbing. Doesn’t really matter the bike as long as your peddling. Trial is trial, slope is slope. Can you trial or slope while mountain biking? Of course. Fat bike is like putting snow tires on your car.

  • bill.cornelison

    I’m pushing 60 and the thought of going ass over tea kettle on some gnarly, rock and root strewn trail just isn’t my idea of fun. The rider determines if they are mtbing. Enjoyment is the only criteria. Even if it’s with an ebike, that might be the only way a person can continue with riding. Live and let live.

  • sapios

    If you are riding in the dirt, no matter if you are on a 26″, 27.5″ 29″ or fat bike it’s all mountain biking. The verity of trails is what keeps it exciting. Oh yea and the only motor is human power, not e-assist.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    The only thing that is not real mountain biking is e-biking (e-mopeding is more correct). Add a motor and it is not biking, it is motorcycling. If you want to ride a motorcycle then ride a motorcycle and go ride where motorcycles are allowed. Just because the bike companies think they can make money from “e-mopeds” doesn’t mean that I want to hear about it or do I want to ride one. I’m sick of bike websites and magazines jamming e-mopeds down our throats. If I was interested in motorcycles I would go to those websites. I’m 60 years old and I plan to ride until I’m dead. I ride just as well now as I did 30 years ago. Just because your old doesn’t mean you stop being physically active and fit. Ned Overend and Tinker Juarez are my heros and they’re still kicking ass in their 60’s. Quit wimping out and being lazy and get out there and pedal, dammit!!!

  • Scott Cotter

    I remember when 29ers started hitting the scene and during a marathon event I pulled into a checkpoint and there was a guy at the entrance castigating every person not on 29″ wheels.

    It was odd that some guy felt so badly about who he was that he decided to sling abuse at people who didn’t ride what he did.

    I’ve got an idea. Let’s all ride what we want and be nice to each other.

    • Greg Heil

      “Let’s all ride what we want and be nice to each other.”


  • mongwolf

    Two things appear obvious from Greg’s piece and the comments. First, most all of us embrace all the disciplines of mountain biking even if we ride just one discipline … … and location matters little as long as there is dirt or organic matter under the knobbies. I think most of us would even consider/concede that riding a mountain bike on the small rolling hills of Kansas would qualify. Actually, those rolling hills of Kansas can be quite beautiful and quite tempting to ride on. I just drove through central KS yesterday, but I digress. Second, I think most agree that riding an e-bike does not qualify as mountain biking because it is motorized and not fully human powered. I must completely agree. It may not be motorcycling exactly, but it is definitely not mountain biking either. It is just a step too far. And imo it is a step too far to allow such motorized equipment on non-motorized trails. Let them be on motorized trails. It is simply crossing a logical line that is rationally apparent.

  • mongwolf

    To continue the thought about e-biking, though it may be a bit (a very tiny bit) hardcore, I have to say that if you TRULY WANT to MOUNTAIN BIKE, then you CAN DO IT, barring some physical disability or serious injury. If you have physical conditioning issues, then you will just have to start small and build up. Start on easy trails. Heck start on the road if you have to. Do other exercise if you must to build up to biking. But don’t use e-bikes as an escape to avoid what mountain biking demands. I didn’t start biking until I was 50 years old. I couldn’t ride but a few miles on relatively easy terrain. If I did anything more, my hips would fatigue and give out. I had a conditioning problem — one that I knew I needed to overcome if I wanted to “mountain bike”, and I knew it would be good for my overall health. So for the past five years, I have been gradually building up my riding. Now I can do moderate rides in the mountains — 25-30 miles are quite reasonable now. Would I like to do 50-100 miles across mountain ranges? MOST DEFINITELY. Can I do that now? Not yet. But the key word there is YET. Hopefully in the next five years, I will build up to where I can do a century type ride in high elevation. But the main point is that I am not going to join in with any person or group that tries to “dumb down” mountain biking to something less, such as e-biking, just because I can’t do it. Rise up to the standard, don’t try to dumb it down. And if you truly cannot rise up to it for some reason, then accept that you are human. As human beings, we all have certain limitations. For example, I would like to be able to understand the mathematics of string theory and how it moves past the mathematics of calculus, but I just don’t think that’s going to happen. But that doesn’t mean I somehow try to lessen or dumb down mathematics and the theory of quantum mechanics to accommodate my limited intelligence. Instead, I applaud it and respect it and hold in high esteem those persons who have accomplished such mental achievements. Please, let’s all of us (including the IMBA and land managers) do the same for mountain biking. E-biking is not mountain biking.

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