Over a Beer: Greg, the Self-Flagellating Luddite

Photo: Colton Lock
Photo: Colton Lock

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.

In a previous Over a Beer column, I decried electric mountain bikes as “the Spawn of Satan.” One of the many upset commenters referred to me as a “self-flagellating luddite.” Quality insult, good sir! This caliber of invective has seen a marked decline since Shakespearean times, so I applaud you for your valiant effort.

Breaking Down the Insult

For those who aren’t familiar, to “flagellate” is to whip or flog, “either as a religious discipline or for sexual gratification,” according to Google’s definition. Apparently there are some interesting parallels to be drawn between S&M and ascetic religion… but that seems a bit off topic for today.

A “luddite” is, specifically, “a member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woolen mills, that they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16),” according to Google. More broadly used, the term can refer to “a person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology,” also according to Google.

I actually wrote a paper about the Luddites for a university course, and the most accurate interpretation of the term when used in a modern context would be to refer to a person who’s afraid that their job is going to be made obsolete by the introduction of new technology. Some people, such as the fellow quoted above, have taken to using the term to refer to a person who is anti-technology altogether. But the most accurate interpretation refers to occupation specifically. That said, the shift in the usage of this term could be viewed as a shift in the English language.

So -2 points for not quite using the term properly, despite what Google may say. But I give the insult 45 points overall.

What exactly the scale is, is anybody’s guess.

In essence, this commenter is saying that I hate technology, or really anything that would make life easier, because I enjoy whipping myself so much that I derive some sort of sexual or religious pleasure from the experience.

But really, he’s not far off.

Exactly how much this guy wanted to insult me isn’t clear, but quite honestly, he’s not far off the mark. While I’m not going to be getting rid of my full-suspension, carbon fiber enduro bike anytime soon, I’ve thoroughly been enjoying going back to the roots of the sport of mountain biking.

Yes, friends, I have officially built up a singlespeed.

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I’ve been hanging onto this 2011 Airborne Goblin hardtail 29er for years, because it has just kept going. Lately, though, the Goblin has seen very little use, and I wondered if a singlespeed conversion might breathe new life into this old bike.

I was right.

I’ve been having an absolute blast simplifying my mountain biking experience with one solitary gear ratio (two gears, many speeds, one ratio—as my mechanic friend Scot Banks would say). Not worrying about chains getting sucked, derailleurs getting ripped off, rear suspension not being tuned properly, or the utter pain in the thumb that shifting is, has been almost a spiritual experience. Sexual? Maybe that’s an article for another time…

Sure, there’s been plenty of physical flogging that has taken place in order to achieve this spiritual singlespeed nirvana, but honestly it has been more than worth it. The quietness and the simplicity more than makes up for the metaphorical cat o’ nine tails tearing at my flesh.

I mountain bike because I enjoy doing hard things.

Photo: Marcel Slootheer
Photo: Marcel Slootheer

I’m well-aware that many technological advancements in mountain biking came about to make the sport easier, to allow the rider to travel faster, or to enhance overall enjoyment. But even despite all those advancements, I think that at its very core, mountain biking is an extremely difficult endeavor. In fact, some of the most challenging moments or experiences in my life have taken place on the back of a mountain bike.

If I wanted to avoid difficulty and for my life to be easy, I’d sit on the couch, pop open a bag of potato chips, and binge-watch Netflix all weekend. I wouldn’t even consider swinging a leg over a bicycle. If I still wanted to go out in the mountains and experience that jaw-dropping beauty, but in an easy fashion, I’d buy a dirt bike, a four wheeler, or a side-by-side. (Heck, you can purchase a used dirt bike or four wheeler for less than most of the mountain bikes we write about.)

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But my goal in life isn’t to make it through to the end by taking the easiest route possible. Instead, I think that choosing to challenge myself and push my personal limits helps give life an interesting depth of experience, providing a unique sense of growth and accomplishment as I shatter personal goals and my own physical ceilings. Not only that, I truly believe that challenging my limits on the mountain bike and learning how to push through adversity has yielded dividends in resilience in all other areas of life, including work, financial trials—you name it.

While it may be painful in the moment, and sometimes I question why exactly I’m putting myself through unnecessary tribulation, at the end of the day the pain always feels worth it, and I usually come away with some new personal insight from the experience.

But that’s not all…

But going singlespeed isn’t all, folks! I’ve decided to truly punish my body and beat it into submission by spending more time traveling on foot!

*GASP*

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Top of Missouri Mountain, elevation 14,075 feet.

Yes, I mean running and hiking. You want to talk about true ludditism? Try running up a mountain.

That will break you down real quick.

So faceless internet commenter, whoever you are, thanks for labeling me a “self-flagellating luddite.” I’ll take that as a compliment.

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