This one hurts a little. It’s no secret that mountain bikers love 4runners and Toyota 4x4s in general. I’m not sure what it is about the connection, but there’s something about the over-engineered, reliable, and chunky trucks that resonate with mountain bikers. I own a 4runner and can easily say that my mountain bike friends are more likely to have a Toyota truck than any other vehicle, with Subaru a close second.
Unfortunately, Toyota’s bulletproof eminence does not extend to their marketing, at least not with their latest attempts on Instagram. I don’t know who else has noticed, but auto brands have featured A LOT of mountain bikers in their imagery as of lately. See this recent Bronco Sport TV ad with some ladies yanking their MTB out of the back, ready to ride, or this Ranger ad – with a mountain bike subtly propped in the back, transparently competing for Tacoma buyers. Yes, automakers and advertisers know how to tug on an off-road adventurer’s heart strings.
Then you have this image from Toyota, with a good intention that has completely misfired. Oh where can we start? Based on the beige soil and the green pop in the background, it almost looks like they could be parked at a trailhead in Southwest Utah, but based on the authenticity of the mountain biker, it could be a dirt lot in Iowa for all we know. Then, there’s the rider. Clad in an aggressive yet brandless DH kit, long sleeves, DH pants and a full-face, per the UCI’s recommendations, though sans any additional PPE. The shoes are a nice touch too, and look almost like my grandfather’s daily walkers.
Social media commentators have gone after the bike most aggressively though; a murdered out department store bike with 26″ wheels, a mess of cockpit hosing, and neatly placed reflectors, as if the bike had gone straight from Wal-Mart’s top shelf display, to the back of the rackless 4runner, to a trailhead. The bike looks about three sizes too small and the rider’s posture looks awfully nervous considering there isn’t a descent in sight. To their credit, the fork does look as if it’s mounted correctly.
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But, as Jay-Z and many rappers have said over time, real recognize real and mountain bikers have spotted an inauthentic attempt to connect with hardcore adventurers. The funny thing, I suppose, is that the mountain biker in question and their attire is not all that off base from what a lot of first-time riders look like. Looking back on the pandemic, how many riders have you seen on the trail that looked brand new to the sport, with an old 26″ bike that has been collecting dust in the garage, and an old dirt bike helmet and snowboard goggles?
All in all, it seems like mainstream America still struggles with the image of mountain biking, and leans toward the depiction of one of two ends of the spectrum; the gravity side or the XC side, and both portrayals are usually a touch off.