My local trails have been undergoing a bit of a renaissance over the past year or so. Thanks to the efforts of a small army of volunteers overseen by the public-spirited local bike hire shop, sections that had become washed out, bumpy and sketchy in the wet have been given a thorough makeover. Bermed to flow and smooth as a freshly built pump track, it’s now all about carrying as much speed as possible. Fun, right?
Well, yes. But I’m not entirely convinced. And here’s why.
Mountain biking as we know it might have begun as a gravity sport, but it quickly borrowed from touring bikes’ wardrobe and dressed itself up as a go-anywhere, do-anything mode of transport (alongside the gravity side of things, which never really went away). Intrepid riders soon discovered that a mountain bike can go all kinds of places that other bikes can’t. And that remains true to this day.
But if you buff the trail, carefully bank up the corners and risk assess the whole lot to within an inch of its life, you’ve gone from ‘I wonder whether I can ride down here’ to ‘I wonder how fast I can ride down here’. Both are fun. But there are plenty of purpose-built mountain bike trails around right now that you could quite happily get round on a gravel bike (or even, in some cases, a road bike). And doesn’t that slightly defeat the point?
It’s happened in skiing: the unskilled masses (I include myself in this group, by the way) flock to the resort ghettos, where lifts and groomed runs ensure minimal broken limbs or worse. Meanwhile, the use of skis as backcountry transport is limited to the military and elite winter sports afficionados.
Trail maintenance is great, and essential. But let’s not dumb down mountain biking. I like it rough. How about you?
This article first published in Cranked #18