The march of progress. Or not.

It’s a truism in mountain biking that bikes are continually improving. Anyone who’s been riding longer than a decade or so – and owns, or has at least tried, a fairly current suspension bike – is likely to agree. I mean, head angles steeper than 65 degrees… what were we thinking? And let’s not get started on those archaic tiny wheel diamaters, or flimsy quick release axles, or triple chainrings (remember those?). 

Am I right?

There’s also, paradoxically, a resurgent interest in old bikes. The older and more obviously anachronistic, the better. Retro bike restoration is quite the thing – and not all retro enthusiasts are leaving their newly be-polished creations in the garage. Getting out there and actually – gasp! – riding a retro bike is almost socially acceptable. 

We’re well past the stage where a middle-aged bloke on a mid 90s hardtail, wearing fluoro Lycra (TM) and a period helmet is seen as some kind of skinflint throwback. Nope, we’re just as likely to see him (and it’s almost invariably a him) as a retro enthusiast. Keepin’ it real. Not letting the technology ruin the ride. All that.

Any maybe – just maybe – there’s something in this. A little while back I tackled a route that I used to ride regularly in the mid ‘90s: 15 hilly, rocky and technical miles in the Peak National Park. This time around I was on a modern(ish), slack(ish), mid-travel big-wheeler. Disc brakes. Fat, grippy tyres. More suspension travel than I strictly needed. 

Last time around I was on a steel hardtail. V brakes. 150mm stem. Barends. Whippy RockShox Mag 21 suspension fork. Stupid light wheels. 

Predictable result, no?

No. In the mid ‘90s I regularly stomped round that circuit in two hours dead. This time around? I wheezed home in around three. Since the bike is most definitely a whole lot better, I’m blaming the rider. There are some things that money (and progress) can’t buy.

This article first published in Cranked #13

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