Do we take mountain biking too seriously?

The holidays have provided a great opportunity to step back from the busyness of work and the mountain bike world for a few days. Sure, I still got out on my bike, but the time off has made me feel a bit introspective lately.

Riding over the holidays. Photo: Jeff.

After thinking about the mountain biking industry and why we do what we do, a question came to my mind:

“Do we take ourselves, and mountain biking, too seriously?”

Now, I’ll be the first to claim that road bikers take themselves way too seriously, and way more seriously than the average mountain biker does. While I enjoy road biking too, Sacred Rides’ recent article titled “10 Reasons Mountain Biking Is Better than Road Biking” is right on the money. And while mountain bikers are way more chill than road bikers, the question is unfortunately still on the table: do we take ourselves too seriously?

Before I dive in, I do have to acknowledge that the bike industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and anywhere there’s money to be made it’s serious business. Racers and industry professionals, and even writers like myself, put food on the table and keep the lights on by taking mountain biking seriously. And since very few industry professionals are becoming what anyone would call “rich,” it’s often a struggle to compete with the other guys for the few dollars that are available.

In light of this struggle, perhaps sometimes we as an industry take ourselves too seriously, and maybe it’s our fault for rubbing off on the average consumer. While I don’t necessarily know where the blame lies, here are three ways that I think we average mountain bikers take ourselves and mountain biking way too seriously:

Problem 1: Going Fast / Going Big

Of the three, this is probably the most minor point, but it’s worth noting. I’ve definitely ridden with people who obsess about their speed, cadence, heart rate, lactic threshold, and the aero-friction VS drag quotient of their jersey fabric. The pro racers who keep the power on with their finishing times aside, why are mountain bikers so caught up with going fast out on the trails? I mean, I like to go fast and it’s fun, but do we need to obsess about our speeds?

Some of the least-fun rides I’ve ever been on were rides where I was trying to push my speed, meet a time goal, or burn up a Strava segment. But whenever I do that, there’s no time to stop and take in the views, shoot a couple of photos, drink a beer and chat with friends, or session a gnarly rock garden until I clean it. It’s go, go, go, all the time.

Instead, try going slow on your mountain bike.

Photo: Mammoth Mountain.

Think you’re immune since you ride gravity? Think again. This same mentality can even apply to the gravity scene, and instead of “go fast” it’s “go big.” Why do enthusiast riders, who aren’t in front of the movie camera for the next big flick, put their lives on the line to send a big jump? Oh sure, the adrenaline is awesome, and nailing something huge is super gratifying, but you know what kills that adrenaline buzz the quickest? Breaking your back. Breaking your arm or your leg will kill the buzz pretty well too, because you won’t be riding for many months to come.

You know what’s better than nailing a big jump and risking an injury that could keep you off of the bike for the rest of the season? Hitting smaller jumps, but riding every single day and not getting hurt.

Problem 2: Buying the Latest-and-Greatest Gear

Out of these three problems, I think the industry at large bears the burden of guilt for this one. Take, for example, the incremental component changes and improvements that we see every year. Sure, there have been some great advancements in recent years, including 1×11 drivetrains with clutch-style derailleurs, smoother suspension, and awesome dropper posts. But is it really worth it to upgrade the components that you just bought last year to the tune of thousands of dollars?

As a writer, I’m sure that I’ve been to blame for this before. For instance, I love carbon fiber for its low weight and vibration damping properties, and I’ve said so many times. Dang I love carbon. But have I ever actually paid out of pocket for a carbon bike, or even so much as a pair of carbon handlebars? Hell no, I can’t afford it on a writer’s salary!

$9,500 Specialized S-Works Stumpjumper FSR 29er

As I said above, I love carbon, so I’m not here to hate on carbon or new improvements. However, I am here to advocate against getting caught up in the false impression that you need to upgrade every year to get the latest-and-greatest components. Last year’s model will work just fine, and to be honest, 2010’s products will as well. While we can’t really fault companies for trying to make money (that’s what they do), as consumers we don’t need to buy into all the marketing hype we read.

Bottom line: the best bike to ride is the bike you own, or the bike you can afford. Love what you have, and ride it into the ground.

Problem 3: Negativity

This is the problem that sparked my thought process over the holidays. While for some time we here on Singletracks have been largely immune to the flame wars that have marked other mountain bike websites and forums, I’m sad to say that as Singletracks continues to grow, we’re starting to see more and more vitriol in the comments section and on our Facebook page.

It seems like that’s the price of being a major publication these days, but I really have to wonder: why do people get so bent out of shape on the internet about mountain biking? Seriously, let’s take a step back people: we mountain bike because it’s fun. And if someone chooses to have fun in a different way than you, or chooses to express a differing opinion about this sport that we all love, what’s the point of getting all riled up to the point where you cuss them out and insult their character? While I think level-headed conversation and debate can be productive and interesting, when we reach a level of negativity and hatred where personal attacks and threats are bandied around, the discussion stops being fun for anyone involved in such a flame war.

With the going fast / going big problem, at least those guys are still out riding their bikes. They’re still mountain biking. With the problem of buying the latest-and-greatest gear, while I don’t think it’s smart to obsess about incremental improvements, for many people new gear fuels the desire to ride, and it often does perform better, even if it’s not that much better. However, when it comes to online flame wars about the sport of mountain biking, nobody involved is actually riding their bike at the time of the discussion, and there is absolutely no tangible benefit that comes from such an argument.

Solution

In my humble opinion, when we take the above things too seriously, mountain biking becomes not-fun–or at least, not as fun as it could be. It becomes work, it gets expensive, and it becomes stressful. Why would we want to “work” at biking after we work 40-60 hours a week at our jobs? Why can’t mountain biking be affordable, fun, and relaxing, a stress reliever, an escape from real life?

Answer: it can be. But to do so, I think we need to stop obsessing about things that don’t need to be obsessed about, and enjoy the ride. Heck, try not making any riding goals for 2014. Try not buying any new gear for your mountain bike. And try closing the web browser instead of responding to that idiot on the internet forum.

Grab your mountain bike, ride some singletrack, and have fun!

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