Originally published in Issue #182
Some people claim there is a “wheelie gene” and either you are born with the innate balance needed to wheelie or you are doomed to a life of dull, two-wheels-on-the-ground riding. I’m not sure if I subscribe to that theory, but I do buy into the idea that some of us are genetically predisposed to seek change, even at the expense of dependability.
Obviously mountain bikes have been on a steady evolutionary journey from the moment Gary and Charlie toasted the forming of MountainBikes with what I am guessing would have been a celebratory doobie of NorCal’s finest. Or maybe it was Mexico’s finest back then; Wikipedia probably doesn’t have an entry for dope-import stats from the late ’70s. Or maybe it does, but I refuse to go down that rabbit hole, because I am actually typing more than two sentences without deleting and starting over. This is progress and I am going to roll with that, bad joint pun and all.
Digression aside, I’m not talking about obvious improvements that were quickly adopted. I’m sure some will debate this, but things like double-wall aluminum rims, folding-bead tires, index shifting, and clutch derailleurs quickly became the norm on high-performance bikes, with little fanfare. Good technology that was reliable when first introduced and quickly adopted by the masses.
Suspension was the first real test to the mountain bike consumer. Expensive, unreliable and flexy—the increase in performance came at a hefty price tag in both money and time spent on maintenance. These days, if it doesn’t have at least 120mm of travel, I’d rather just ride a rigid bike. But back then 63mm of poorly damped travel from a flimsy fork was revelatory for some people, and thanks to those early adopters, even sub-$500 suspension forks today are impressive performers.
The 29-inch wheel faced similar issues, with limited tire choice, bad suspension forks, wack geometry, and legions of haters. But some people rode those early bikes, saw the positive aspects buried under those issues, and handed manufacturers enough money to drive product development and create some truly impressive bikes. A well-designed 5-inch-travel 29er is by far the most potent all-around mountain bike ever made.
The point? Dropper posts. There is no single item in the last five years that has changed riding as much as the acceptance of dropper posts. After a good bit of time on a rigid bike equipped with a dropper, I realize that, if given the option, I would give up rear suspension, gears, and front suspension (in that order) before I would give up my dropper. The problem? Droppers, even after what seems like years of development, are, with few exceptions, expensive, finicky, and prone to failure.
Is it because many of them have us sitting on top of a closed hydraulic valve as we bounce down the trail? Maybe it is the little shifter cable and still-janky remote levers? Is it some patent issue I don’t know about? There is a reason my favorite droppers use a mechanical lock: That mechanism will keep the post in place even if the air spring fails and becomes unsprung. But those two posts have some issues as well: The Fox remote is hideous if mounted above the bars, and the Specialized only comes in a 35mm offset, which messes with bike fit.
I have a feeling that if we hang on, we’ll see more droppers at better prices with better remotes and reliability. The big question is, when will Shimano join the fray? This seems like a real possibility now that Fox [is now in] Shimano’s OEM territory with its ownership of Race Face and Easton. It would be pretty sweet to have Deore, SLX, XT, and XTR dropper-post options to go with some of the best drivetrains and brakes made.
In the year 2015, if you haven’t ridden a dropper post, you need to beg, borrow, or steal one, ASAP. I guarantee it will make your riding better and more fun. If it doesn’t, I may have proof that being genetically predisposed to not seek change also exists.
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From Issue #186
The axiom we hear is this: If we can make enough easy-to-ride trails, more people will ride mountain bikes, which will mean more trails and more access for everyone.
My favorite trails have always been a mess. Hell, some of my favorite rides have involved me walking down stuff I found too intimidating. Let’s look at two places that have a ton of trails I enjoy: Pisgah, North Carolina, and British Columbia. Much of the riding here is hard. It’s technical, it involves a lot of climbing to get to the downhills and those descents often require a serious set of skills to navigate safely.
These places did not become riding destinations because they have easy trails. They became riding destinations because word of mouth spread about the feeling of accomplishment one gets after figuring out the puzzle that a difficult trail lays in front of you.
I’ve heard the argument that if a trail isn’t hard enough, just ride it faster. Is that what we need on these beginner-friendly trails? Dudes on enduro bikes going mach chicken on some buffed-out flow trail, scaring the crap out of the couple who just picked up new bikes and have so far managed to go for only one ride with a helmet on backward, doesn’t sound ideal to me.
I understand trail-building standards are needed to maintain trails. But I also understand that there are miles and miles of trails that existed long before bikers started building trails, and will exist long after we all get kicked off of them because the e-bike apocalypse will have stripped us of all rights and access.
How many of those natural gnar trails I am a fan of would be built today? In the U.S., on public land, I would guess zero percent. Standards need to be met, and trails that devolve into a beautiful mess of exposed roots and rocks won’t ever happen on terrain that has been perfectly sloped and graded and bermed and armored.
I’m hoping there is more middle ground to be had, somehow. Watching trails get sanitized to “preserve” them seems like shaky ground at best. Keeping things rideable while still allowing nature to take its course seems like a more holistic approach than what I often see these days, which smacks of man trying to tame the natural world. A trail that evolves with time and weather seems a lot more in tune with nature than a bunch of manicured berms out in the woods, at least to me.
Perhaps I am speaking out of place here. I haven’t been to a trail-maintenance day in much longer than I would care to admit. I don’t sit on any boards that control the hows and whys of building new trails. Dirt Rag’s yearly mountain bike festival, Dirt Fest, relies on the machine-built Allegrippis flow trails of Raystown Lake in the state of Pennsylvania, which is notorious for difficult rocks and roots. Maybe the way I like to ride and the trails I like to ride on are throwbacks to a time in the past most riders wouldn’t like to revisit.
But honestly, I don’t think so. I think we need hard trails. And lots of them. As bikes continue to get more and more capable, I hope we still have trails that don’t remind me of groomed BMX tracks.Tweet Print
Take a look at the bikes above. They seem to share very few things in common. One is a stripped down rigid bike, or as they say on the in Internets, “ridged.” The other is a very modern all-mountain bike, able to survive weekend trail rides and the worst downhill tracks imaginable.
What are they doing together? Why am I asking myself questions? They are together because they are both mountain bikes. I’m asking myself questions because it is a cheap and easy rhetorical device, utilized in this case because I’m already late with this column.
On a personal level, I love both these bikes, and understand why they exist. Maybe I’m just some kind of weird pansexual when it comes to bikes, or maybe there are just a lot of people who can’t see very far beyond their own front wheels.
Do you find yourself deriding other riders’ choice of bike? Do you look down your nose at old equipment? Do you often find yourself thinking that some new technology is ruining mountain biking? Do you like to complain that this sport is getting too expensive? Are you now asking yourself why I’m asking you questions?
It’s time to let this all go. Deep breaths, long exhales, get your damn chakras in line. All those thoughts are dead ends. Other riders’ bikes should have zero impact on your day. As for new technology ruining things? Where does that line of thought stop? Suspension? Gears? Pneumatic tires? You’ll be naked and walking if you head too far down that rabbit hole of Luddite-ism.
I’ve got no problems with people picking a station and getting off the train of technological progression, but admit its arbitrariness and move on. Next time you see a rider on a bike you don’t understand, and you feel that ugly anger and xenophobia bubbling up, take a look at the rider. Odds are the dude or lady is grinning.
It doesn’t seem to matter if the bike is a clapped out Trek 830, some guy Matt Chester-ing it through the woods on a fixed gear Franken-bike, or a $10k dream bike, riding is riding, and riding is good.
Right now, we have a huge range of mountain bikes available to us, from super basic single speeds to carbon fiber wonder machines. Ain’t no one telling you to ride one or the other. As someone who gets to ride more mountain bikes than 99 percent of the population, I’m only going to tell you to ride as many bikes as possible, as often as possible. This shit is fun. Don’t worry about everyone else. They’ll get by fine without your bad looks and grumbling about whatever it is you want to complain about.
Let the hate go, man. Or at least direct it toward something truly worthy of our distain: inline skaters. Those guys are the real numbskulls. ￼￼
Editor’s note: This rant originally appeared in Dirt Rag Issue #176. To make sure you’re reading all of our columnists, order a subscription today.