Many times when I talk to other people–people who don’t mountain bike–about the sport of mountain biking, they seem to think that it’s like some sort of hobby that I have. Perhaps it comes up in conversation that I’m the editor in chief for one of the largest mountain biking websites in the world, and then they begin to think I ride for work, because it’s a part of my job. What they never seem to understand—what even my immediate family still might not understand—is that mountain biking isn’t a hobby.
It’s not a pastime.
It’s not something to do in my free time.
It’s not even just a job.
Granted, there are some mountain bikers out there who do approach mountain biking like a hobby or a pastime, something they do every once in a while. But to be honest, to most of the riders that I’ve rubbed shoulders with and that I ride with, riding is so much more than a hobby. And to those of you who tune in to Singletracks during your work day to get your mountain biking fix and who are now reading this article, I’d wager that it’s more than a hobby to you too.
Mountain biking is a lifestyle.
Those of us who define ourselves as “mountain bikers” know that riding isn’t something that we can simply not think about, or an activity that we engage in when we might find some spare time in our schedule. Rather, an embarrassing majority of our waking thoughts are dedicated to this sport that we cling to. Rides aren’t “fit in,” they’re planned days or weeks in advance. Or, alternatively, they aren’t really planned anymore—they just happen, because that’s what you do every Saturday morning, Tuesday night, Thursday night, and maybe every damn day after you clock out at 5pm.
For most of us, though, we have to answer the calls and the responsibilities of everyday life. We have to work, we have to pay bills, we have to take the kids to school. And the reality is that we often can’t ride every day, as much as it pains us. Or if we do try to ride every day, the days will eventually come when the weather is too poor to ride or injuries confine us to the couch for weeks or months at a time. When these evils of life get in the way, do we do what normal people do and focus our attention somewhere else? Do we take the opportunity to be efficient and get things done around the house, start a project, take up a real hobby, or get proactive and creative at work?
Instead, we get our MTB fix vicariously. We hit the trail database to plan our next ride. We surf the internet forums and get in online arguments about what the best wheel size is. We log on to social media to look at pictures of beautiful trails and watch videos of other riders hurting themselves (so you don’t feel too bad about your own broken arm). Instead of turning our attention elsewhere, we do research on the latest gear, read reviews, stay tuned to press releases, read race reports, and then hit the trail database yet again and discover a slice of singletrack gold that’s just waiting for our knobbies.
Now you might think to yourself, “how is mountain biking different from any other sport out there? Can’t any sport become a lifestyle?” While sure, there are tons of athletes who live and breath all kinds of sports to the point of obsession, I don’t think any other sport can provide the level of dedication and addiction equal to the mountain bike lifestyle. I’ve unfortunately had to take some time off the bike recently due to physical ailments, and as I’ve been partaking in other sports and activities—and pondered other sports and activities that I love—I realized that none of them was as deeply rooted and all-encompassing as mountain biking.
Right off the bat, I eliminated any form of team sport from the list of lifestyle choices. You know what the problem is with team sports? You have to gather a large number of people to do them! Then, you need to find a field or a court in which to play, get organized, form teams, follow rules, etc. Even for the most dedicated of adults, going through this process week in and week out will only result in one evening of game time per week. Sorry, but something you do just once a week doesn’t count as a lifestyle.
Also, team sports have rules. Personally, I hate rules. Give me freedom over rules any day.
Runners are a dedicated bunch. Many of them run at least 5 days a week, which even by mountain biking standards is a lot. Many runners have strict training plans and diets, and dedicate a lot of time and energy to the sport. However, while it’s definitely a lifestyle, it’s just not as involved and doesn’t require as much dedication as mountain biking.
First, running requires much less time commitment. Even if you’re training for a marathon, the longest of training runs might only be 3-5 hours in length. Heck, a 3-5 hour mountain bike ride is only average for many of us. If you want to start talking about long, hard rides, 8-12 (or more) hours isn’t out of the question.
Second, running is cheap. With high-end running shoes only costing around $200, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to mountain biking. Heck, I have $400 mountain biking shoes… and that doesn’t even count the $10,000 bike! While some might list this as a strike against the mountain biking lifestyle, I take it as evidence that mountain bikers are supremely dedicated.
Third, thanks to the speed of mountain biking, riding allows you to explore more of the world in a shorter amount of time. And thanks to the energy efficiency referenced two paragraphs above, you can spend more time exploring at a higher speed, thus maximizing your exploration of the terrain around you!
The ski bum is famed for his dedication to the sport, quitting his life and spending a full season shredding the pow. But you know what the problem with skiing is? The season is guaranteed to come to an end. Unless you hop a plane to New Zealand or South America every summer, there’s no way to ski all year round. And yet for many of us, we do mountain bike all year round—and with fat bikes now on the scene, there’s absolutely no excuse not to push pedals 12 months per year. Even a moderately-dedicated fully-employed rider can log as many days on the bike in a year as a ski bum can log in a season at the mountain.
River rats are another famed group of people who thoroughly embrace their chosen lifestyle. However, I see two major issues with viewing whitewater kayaking or rafting as a lifestyle more involved than mountain biking. First, every time you hit the river, (unless you’re just playing in a hole at a whitewater park) you’re going to need a shuttle. You’ll either need to coordinate with a friend, or thumb a ride. Either way, it’s a lot of work and hassle. Secondly, similar to skiing, the season is gonna end. Either the water levels will drop too far to be viable or entertaining, or the weather will get too cold. Either way, unless you migrate to a different river every winter, you’re limited by the weather.
Backpackers, especially thru hikers, undoubtedly live the lifestyle every minute of every day. Spending 3-6 months on the Appalachian Trail requires sheer dedication! But the problem with the backpacking lifestyle is that once most backpackers have completed their thru hike, it’s back to civilization. Then, the best they can hope for is to get away for a three-day weekend in the mountains, or to quit their jobs again next summer and do it all over again. See above for why mountain biking never ends. Plus, who said you can’t combine mountain biking and backpacking anyway? Ever heard of bikepacking? Then you’d have the undying dedication of living out of your pack, while also covering exponentially more terrain every day!
Dedicated rock climbers can undoubtedly turn climbing into a lifestyle, but it still doesn’t measure up to mountain biking. Why? Unless you’re bouldering all the time, you need to have a partner to go climbing. Sure, finding one partner to climb with is way easier than getting together two teams to play soccer, especially if you have other equally-crazy friends, but the truth is that schedules often just don’t align. There are only so many times you can get the people and the gear together to get out on the rock.
Also, climbing usually involves a drive to access the rock. Sometimes it’s minutes but oftentimes it’s hours. We drive to mountain bike, sure, but for most of us we have a ride that we can do from the house during the week when we don’t want to get in the car and waste time driving and money on gas. Try starting a rock climbing route from your back door.
Living the Dream
While the mountain biking lifestyle can be demanding in terms of time, money, and overall life commitment, those who’ve embraced the two wheeled dream can attest: while it might cost you all you have, the mountain biking life will reward you with a wealth and variety of experiences that few people in this world can claim. Mountain biking can and will take you places that you never dreamed possible—all you have to do is swing a leg over the top tube and start pedaling!