Against the Grain: An Argument in Favor of Over Biking

Gravel bikes made under biking cool. For some riders, over biking is even more fun.
For where I live, this is likely the least capable bike I would bother with, and I keep gravity tires mounted year-round so I never have to unsheath the innertube.

Against the Grain isn’t Bad Religion’s best album, but it’s a damn fine offering. The songs tend to be lead-guitar-heavy, and I would put the ten tracks from Suffer above it for the band’s Best Of list. However, against the grain as a life philosophy fits a lot of my personal preferences and some decision-making processes. Maybe “question everything” is a better way to phrase it.

My penchant for over biking falls hard into this conceptual crevasse, as nearly all of my trail friends are fans of the flipside: under-biking. Put simply, underbiking means you have a bike with a little less travel or capability than you need on most rides, and over biking means that you have a little extra of those same elements. My underbiked buddies like to say that a less capable bike forces them to keep their skills sharper and makes the trail more exciting. Pro Rider Geoff Kabush has practically made a personal brand out of short travel on big trails. That’s a fantastic and valid perspective, and I have a different one.

Having ridden and raced single-speed XC and CX bikes for many years, I understand the appeal of underbiking. I also recall myself and other single speeders on our hardtails blathering statements like “I would have cleaned that, but ya know, it’s harder on a single-speed.” While certainly not true of all single speeders, I now see that my bike’s capability was being used as an excuse. Those same excuses can sometimes be extended to shorter travel bikes, where people will say they didn’t hit the drop because they don’t have enough travel. The more humble reality might be that they weren’t comfortable hitting the drop on any bike, or were not in the mood on that particular day. If you’re over biked for the trail, you can’t make any of those statements, and instead, have to be humble and comfortable with your personal safety decisions. Fortunately, there’s a good chance you don’t need to say anything because no one cares if you hit the drop or ride around it. Your friends just want to have fun in the woods together. No need to point fingers at the bike.

This Raaw Madonna is my current long-term test bike, woefully over biking trails all over Galbraith while eating roots when we venture out of town together.

In the same vein, you can take that bike that’s too much for your local tracks to a gnarlier slope without the need to own a fleet of expensive trail toys. While it’s great to have the “right tool for the job” most of us can’t afford to own a suitable bike for every place we might pedal. A 160mm bike that’s designed to race enduro takes a little extra energy to move on flatter, local trails and it’s right at home when I get to venture out toward taller peaks. The elusive “quiver killer” might just be the bike that works everywhere, and excels in the most challenging spots.

Overbiked? Maybe, but it’s fun as hell.

With added travel and more aggressive geometry, you can go bigger on the chill trails, potentially making the bike feel a little less “over” and more “party.” Folks like to say that leggy gravity sleds make the trails feel too easy, but have y’all tried doubling the pace and loft-height on those same trails? While less travel likely makes sense, a big bike can be a lot of fun on mellow trails if you let go of the brakes and aim to bunny hop or nose-bonk everything in sight.

One of the best bits of over biking is that shit seldom breaks. My bike is always ready for the gnarliest trails my guts can handle, and the reinforced tires and components very rarely fail. This is essentially the opposite of my experience with lightweight single-speed and geared XC bikes, and I’m not in a hurry to move back toward feathery components. When there’s a rough chunk in a tame trail I can push through it as hard as I want and never worry about a flat tire or busted rim. Mechanicals still happen, but their frequency is almost irrelevant compared to daily punctures that were accepted as the norm in years past.

So, is there a too-over biked? Yes, undoubtedly. I still prefer to pedal to the top of the mountain, and DH bikes are not designed for ascending. Some dual-crown machines are lighter than the size large Madonna I’m riding, with shorter wheelbases, but their slack seat tube angles relegate them to the chairlift or shuttle trailer. The cutoff for me is with bikes that can’t be pedaled with a tolerable level of efficiency and comfort.

Alongside the ascribed privileges that give me unearned advantages in life, like being born male and white, I am privileged with heaps of time to ride bikes and test the best new toys. It’s easier for someone like myself who gets to maintain a decent level of fitness to enjoy over biking. If I were only able to ride on the weekends, or I couldn’t afford to travel to new trail centers that require a longer travel bike, I would likely join team under bike.