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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
For a moment I thought I was on the NYTimes, great writing!
Ha, you’re going to make me blush! Thanks for the compliment! 🙂
Outstanding article. Just . . . outstanding. From start to finish. A great read that has inspired me on this otherwise mundane day.
Thanks for the kind words, John!
Awesome read! And, strangely enough, I’ve recently changed my ’08 Cdale trail to a single speed, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. It’s now seen more time in the dirt as an SS rig than it has for it’s entire previous existence as a multi-ringed leviathan. I do a lot more huffing, puffing, and walking, and also have a silly smile plastered on my face more frequently. Life is good!
Keep up this column, I truly enjoy it.
Thanks for the encouragement!
Aren’t we all self-flagellating luddites? Hey mountain bikers, there’s this thing called a dirt bike and you don’t even have to pedal it. 🙂
Haha yep… at least, as long as we’re not riding ebikes!
I don’t always self flagellate, but when I do, I do it like a Luddite.
Amen. Nothing like the masochistic hypoxemic rapture of mountain biking!
Great read man… and now its time to bring it up a notch, ss fat bike 🙂
Ha, I don’t know if I’m up for that!!
Perfect timing for this as I just refreshed my hardtail as a single speed and also find myself enjoying long hikes in the backcountry. In fact, I spent 8 days in Isle Royale National Park this June exploring a good chunk of the island I hadn’t previously seen along the way.
That sounds incredible!
This is so great! 🙂
“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”
Sounds like you’ve never ridden a dirt bike offroad! Just like an MTB…you can ride “easy” if you want, but most of us don’t.
Contrary to expectations, just because you have a throttle, doesn’t mean it’s easy! Just like riding a MTB downhill ain’t “easy” from a physical exertion perspective. York University (in Toronto) did a study of recreational offroad dirtbike riders and found that the physical effort expended is quite substantial, and more than many other recreational activities. Riding both a dirt bike and an MTB, I would say that if I’m pushing it (usually), both are comparable in physical effort, though in different ways. Uphills on an MTB make my quads burn….but so does riding tight single track, standing, at speed on a dirt bike!
If you are in the greater Toronto area, I’ll arrange to take you riding on a dirt bike on some of our more challenging single track trails….that might open your eyes to how much effort it takes to ride a dirtbike offroad, Greg! 😉
To begin, try quoting my entire sentence… I’m not referring solely to dirt bikes here: “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.”
So, let’s say for the sake of argument that I want to “get out in the mountains to experience jaw-dropping beauty,” which means I’m not out to get gnarly, and I’m not out to go long distance–I just want to get to a cool location. Most likely, I want to cover easy to intermediate terrain to access said views, since my goal isn’t challenging rocks. Let’s say for the sake of argument, that I need to ride 20 miles round-trip to do this, and tackle 2,000 feet of climbing.
This will take me roughly 3 hours at a good clip on my mountain bike, or about 7 miles an hour. Heck, with my current physical fitness level, it could take longer 🙂 Now if it’s relatively non-technical terrain, what amount of time do you think you can cover it on a dirt bike? Now maybe you’re slow, but I have dirt biking friends who talk about getting pinned at 80mph on dirt 4×4 roads in the Colorado Rockies, and breaking 100mph on 2wd dirt roads. Assuming a mix of 4×4 roads and singletrack on the route, let’s say you should be able to average 40 mph.
In that case, it will take you 1/2 hour to complete the ride I just described–or literally 6 times as fast as I completed it on a mountain bike.
40mph too fast? Let’s cut that in half to 20mph. I went four wheeling last weekend, and I was regularly hitting 45mph on dirt roads, with slower speeds on technical doubletrack. I could EASILY maintain over a 20mph average during my first-ever four wheeler ride… and according to my dirt biking friends, the dirt bikers I passed while I was riding the quad needed to turn in their man card. (Also, I’ve literally ridden a motorcycle for about 3 miles ever, and after about 2 minutes to figure out the clutch, I was going 30mph off road.) So 20 mph average should be more than easily achievable on an intermediate-level mix of dirt roads and singletrack.
Even at 20mph, you’re still completing said loop in 1/3 of the time that it would take me on my mountain bike.
Now I’m not saying that hour-per-hour dirt biking isn’t a work out, but if you’re talking mile-per-mile (as I referenced in my article when talking about getting to a place to enjoy beautiful views), there is absolutely NO WAY that dirt biking is more difficult mile-per-mile than mountain biking.
I only quoted the first part, because riding an ATV or UTE is a lot less effort. 😉
I don’t know of many folks that buy a dirt bike as an “easier” mode of transport to get to see some cool scenery. Just like people don’t exclusively buy mountain bikes for the same reason. Yes….both vehicles will get you there, some faster, some not, but that is not their primary purpose is it? Sure isn’t for me…though I do enjoy the wilderness, nature, trails and scenic views as part of the experience regardless off which two wheeled flavour I’m on.
Given your logic, why not just buy/rent a DVD (or stream YouTube vids) and see the vistas on your large screen TV from the comfort of your couch? No distance nor speed required, barring the occasional trip to the fridge for beer refills and/or washroom for beer ejection. 😉
Just didn’t want folks to think that riding a dirt bike offroad, as in on technical single track trails, is “easy”. It’s not…it’s a massive workout.
Per unit of time, which I think is more relevant to effort expended, both MTBs and dirtbikes require a lot of physical effort when you are using them as part of their respective “sports”. Ever tried to ride a dirtbike at 80 mph (or 130 kph where I’m from) on a rough dirt road…sure you’ll get there faster, but you’ll be pretty beat up from the experience of hanging on for dear life at that speed.
But if all you want to do is to get to a nice mountain vista in the shortest amount of time, by the easiest route possible, with the least effort expended, then sure….I see your point. LOL
BTW…many dirt bikers think that ATV/UTE riders are wimps! But a lot of dirt bikers also are MTBers.
There’s probably some deep philosophical significance to that…..but I’m not sure what it is. LMAO
“Given your logic, why not just buy/rent a DVD (or stream YouTube vids) and see the vistas on your large screen TV from the comfort of your couch?”
What logic is this, exactly? Please elucidate, why don’t you.
Even if you’re just sitting on the top of a mountain pass or quietly chilling at a campsite in a woods, that experience is so radically different than sitting in front of a TV. I even made that distinction in my original article.
The point that I was making is that even if I wanted to get outside and enjoy nature, there are easier ways to do it than human-powered activity. And as I irrefutably argued above, riding a motorized dirt bike is objectively easier than riding a non-motorized mountain bike.
So ultimately, I’m not sure where you’re going with this. Is dirt biking more difficult than riding the couch? Yes, I noted that in my original article. But is it more difficult than mountain biking? If we’re taking an apples-to-apples comparison, the answer is “no.”
“riding a motorized dirt bike is objectively easier than riding a non-motorized mountain bike.”
“But is it more difficult than mountain biking? If we’re taking an apples-to-apples comparison, the answer is “no.””
These statements are only true if the context of the statement is trying to ride a fixed distance on an easy route, for instance, to get to a scenic vista.
That is my only point.
If the context is riding technical trails for an identical period of time, then I beg to differ, since controlled studies have shown that they are closer in physical exertion required than not.
So I guess we’re both right. 😉
Incidentally, love the “Over A Beer” column!
Thanks for the feedback; glad you’re enjoying the column!
Well hello Greg,
You would have been waiting for the faceless one to rise above the trenches , bayonets fixed to face the fusillade of neo-luddites. Yes indeed I have updated the insult to reflect the context of our times. A neo-luddite will regain the lost two points. I was assuming you were scoring me out of 50, regardless, I can sleep well with 45. On a more jovial note I am flattered you have taken the time to devote your academic muscle in dissecting my invective and enlightening your readers. Your single speed adventure transcends the classical interpretations of self flagellating well beyond the religious and sexual . As you rightly point out, a shift in the English language. My one reservation endorsing this shift is your spiritual nirvana, silent and simple. Trappist monks share your strict observance and flagellating would undoubtedly be on their to do list although I hasten to add, not daily. However their beers, mainly Belgian, are bottle fermented, pack a punch and I guess, from both sides of the divide, we can all raise a glass to that.
Haha yes!! I vote this comment of the week, good sir!