Does mountain biking have a self-esteem issue?

As editor of Cranked, every single word that goes into each issue passes by my critical gaze. Several times. There are a lot of words in each issue of Cranked (ballpark 28,000 – 32,000), so all this critical reading and tweaking takes a little while. Well, a long while.

It’s worth it because words matter. Mainstream consumer mags put their contributors in a straitjacket, then ratchet-strap them to the floor and make them write their features blindfold, with their hands behind their back. At least, that’s what it can feel like. Stringent and inflexible word counts limit what can be said, and extensive style guides restrict the way you can say it.

Mass market mags do things that way because they feel they have to. Cranked isn’t mass market, so we do things… differently. We don’t give our writers word counts to work to, we let them express themselves however they want, and we even (gasp) allow the occasional expletive (which we don’t asterisk). Not only that, but words that are unusual or long or will require a dictionary (or sneaky Google) are positively encouraged.

I only mention all this to illustrate that we’re tuned into the importance of language. All of which is a precursor to asking, does mountain biking have a problem? You don’t have to follow all that many social media streams for very long to realise that a peculiarly aggressive lexicon has slipped in under the radar. Trails aren’t ridden, they’re shredded. Owned. Ripped (and so on… you get the idea).

For some riders, this is already an issue. Land access and trail conflict are problems that have to be dealt with wherever you ride in the world; portraying an image of mountain biking as little more than destroying the land over which your tyres are rolling (goes the argument) doesn’t do anyone any favours.

Which is a fair point. But I’m beginning to wonder if the purveyors of this new language of trail rape-and-pillage aren’t, perhaps, stretching the point a bit. It’s almost as if they’re over-compensating for something. You could argue the toss over the way in which videos tend to show a lot of slow-mo roost (loam or scree, it doesn’t really make any difference). This isn’t a sustainable way to ride, natch. The crews who fix trails around the world know this.

But, more to the point, the vast majority of riders aren’t actually capable of riding this way. Cornering foot out, motocross-style, takes a level of skill and nerve that most trail riders can only dream of possessing (this writer included). You know how when you get one of your riding buddies to video you nailing that huge drop and it looks so… lame?

That.

It’s analogous, I think, to the way in which caravan manufacturers in the UK – purveyors of white plastic boxes on wheels, in essence – feel the need to dress their wares up in names that the products can’t possibly hope to live up to. Marauder. Avenger. Swift.

Nope. It’s a caravan. And that’s a bloke riding round a corner, fairly slowly. You may think you’re shredding… but you’re really not. Which is a good thing.

3 Responses to Does mountain biking have a self-esteem issue?

  1. George July 3, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

    its not new we have been shredding trails since big bikes have existed (just look at old MBUK isues or old PinkBike articles ! and its no bad thing …. its modern mass market mountain bikers that have the wrong idea, softening the sport for the masses to sell more bikes ….

    • Seb Rogers July 3, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

      Hey George,

      Thanks for your comment. Not sure what you’re driving at, though. New riders are too soft? Says who? Why? More riders is good for the sport, surely? Would you rather mountain biking was a tiny, niche sport? We’d have less kit, less choice, less progression in the sport, fewer purpose-built bike parks, and so on. Not sure that’s something I’d sign up for.

      I don’t entirely agree that the image of ‘shredding’ is a good thing, either. It’s not great for land access, and (as you allude to) it’s potentially off-putting for new riders. Plus, as I pointed out above, it’s often a lie anyway. Shredding is very often in the brain of the doer, rather than the eye of the beholder. If you see what I mean 😉

      Best

      Seb (editor, Cranked)

  2. Vinay July 10, 2017 at 10:26 am #

    This is such complex matter. First of all we have to accept that we all have our footprint. What we should do is inform ourself and choose which part of it we really want to keep and what can go or could be reduced. Do you really want that latest cellphone? What’s up with the old one, would a refurbished phone do for you? Well, if that particular phone really is what makes you happy and/or makes life/work easier then go for it. It is not something you can decide for something else.

    In the context of outdoor sports and more specifically, erosion through mountainbiking the same applies. That article on erosion (a few Cranked issues back) opened my eyes. I always though compacting the earth was good. Makes it stay put so less erosion, right? Apparently not necessarily, as the compacted earth is less capable of absorbing water so the water will then roll down the hill and actually cause more erosion. So is it better to hammer the earth or ruffle it with your sideknobs? At the end of the day, it is all going to affect the terrain and people have been really good at pointing at each others. Mountainbikers, the subset of “aggressive” DH riders, the other subset of riders with pedal assist, horseback riders, hikers, cows, deer… At the end of the day the deer have to be shot because of the damage they inflict to the terrain. But ask the deer and they’ll blame someone else too. Just accept that everything causes damage to some extend and just look for yourself whether it is still worth it. I recall a cover shot on Dirt magazine UK of Gee hitting a berm, spitting a nice uniform cloud/fan of roost. Sure this may not have been good for the trail (though the real pros typically put in the shovel work to make up for it) but considering I still remember that shot, it was well executed. It sold the magazine, the photographer could sell his shot (sorry for not figuring out who it was but Jon Gregory probably did the lay out back then) and Gee rode his bike the way he was supposed to. This is their job. And there is footprint. So is there for the environmental activist who travels the world for speeches, research and whatnot.

    But it may hurt sometimes. I recall I hated it when there was an XC race on the trails where I used to ride. In the weeks prior they widened the nice ribbon of singletrack into what seemed like a highway (so that the racers could overtake more easily), then filled all these challenging holes and the space between roots (because it could be dangerous) and on race day the racers would lock their rear wheel on the steeper/technical descends because that was the “safest” way down. Especially after a wet race, fun sections of the trail were pretty much destroyed for well over a month. I discussed this with someone who rightly responded that these races to some extend justify that we could ride there too. Hikers are much more likely to accept racers with logoed up lycra doing something seemingly purposeful than the odd ragger on a steel hardtail having his own kind of fun. And there is no easy way to say who has right of way. We have different values. You can argue ’till the cows come home.

    Final perspective. One day I was helping on a dig day on a trail I don’t frequently ride, building a new line and doing some maintenance. The other people there were moaning about an upcoming obstacle run in the same area. Hundreds of people would trample a certain section of the trail which was obviously never going to be good. I thought this was ironic in a way. Back when mountainbiking started, people were riding hiking trails for lack of anything better. Which got hikers all possessive and pissed about “their” trails. Now that mountainbiking got serious, expensive and competitive, we’re getting all posessive and picky too. “Trails are full, you can’t join unless you are just like us.”

    But as mentioned earlier, this erosion thing is too complex. Is the rider climbing with pedal assist actually causing more erosion than the rider spinning up on the lightest gear? How often do you rock up on maintenance day compared to that rider skidding all over the place? And do they actually skid by just grabbing the rear brake or do they actually unload the rear?

    Of course there are some definite dos and don’ts but in general you’ll always be both right and wrong. Just inform yourself, make sure you’re aware of the consequences of what you’re doing and then decide if it is worth it. With mountainbiking probably, in most cases people will find it is. With the phone though, probably not.

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