Why “On-Sight” Racing is a More Accurate Term Than “Blind” Racing

Racer: Vid Persak Photo: Kike Abelleira

Like any sub-culture, mountain biking is fraught with dynamic terminology that shifts, shortens, and fades over time. Some words are technically appropriate, like fork-dive, some figurative, like shred, and others are descriptive, like dirt-nap, for example. Altogether, our dialect makes this sport more enjoyable to talk and write about.

Occasionally a term or phrase gains traction that really doesn’t make sense or simply doesn’t describe the thing that it’s intended to illuminate. With the growing popularity of enduro, the term “blind” racing has become a common part of the dirtbag lexicon. It’s used to indicate a race on trails that participants have never seen. The word “blind” can easily be replaced with a more descriptive, accurate, and generally more thoughtful phrase, such as “on sight.”

“On-Sight” Racing more accurately describes the true experience racers are having while riding trails we have never seen. We are literally racing by sight, rather than a by the combination of a memory of trails we know and what we can see. We are looking up fiercely, scanning every new trail feature to determine our next lean and loft. These hyper sight-dependant behaviors are arguably the inverse of being blind.

Furthermore, there are very few mountain bikers in the world who have any idea what it would be like to be blind. Any blind person who hears a rider who has useable vision use the term “blind racing,” might have a few words for us about our physical privileges and lived experiences. There are undoubtedly more thoughtful and accurate ways to describe things.       

Lastly, it’s worth noting that every cross-country event prior to the contemporary short-lap format was raced “on-sight.” Not many Olympic level athletes were showing up to every World Cup track weeks in advance to pre-ride the three- to four-hour courses. They simply looked at the elevation profile to know where to attack and rode the rest by sight. They didn’t need to invent any special terms to denote how many times they had seen the tracks. 

Next time you get to race your bike on new trails, will it be on-sight? Are there other MTB terms that you think could be replaced or used differently? Please share them in the comments.