I’ll finish. Probably. Or possibly not, because my cherished belief that the many issues with my riding can be simply solved though the slavish adherence to shiny purchasing syndrome has been superseded by the Peter Principle. To summarise Prof Pete, “Every man rises to his own level of incompetence and then stays there”. I’ve some pretty strong personal evidence that would buttress this theory beyond any danger of rebuttal.
But enough about my day job. Age brings many thing one of which is supposedly wisdom – in my view nothing more than realism sent for a marketing makeover – and while I continue to bloody love riding Mountain Bikes, I’ve accepted I’ll never be more than aspirationally average.
Let’s talk evidence again; I’m overly cautious when conditions aren’t perfect, useless with anything exposed especially if covered with chicken wire*, slow in super tight stuff and dangerously ragged when it gets properly rocky. None of this has to do with the stuff below groin level, and everything related to a small skill pie constantly nibbled away by basic scardycatness.
But reel me out some sweepy singletrack and I’ll respond with progress that is adequately brisk. Show me steep and scary, and I’ll show you how to get down there although it won’t be pretty**, plaster me with mud, freeze me with cold and threaten to benight me, and I’ll respond with a level of bloody mindedness that’d have the medical profession checking me for Donkey DNA.
Flicking back to work, I heard a brilliant phrase from the HR Borgs that went something like “Unconsciously incompetent“. I think that describes my riding perfectly – I am not the slowest up hill or the fastest down, but I’m mostly having a fantastic time even if others are laughing behind their hands.
Grudgingly – back to the Peter Principle – I still have to accept some of this is definitely still bike related. But not that much because MTB’s now are just so bloody good. Invest£500 and be rewarded with a component combination that’ll thrill you until your permanent grin promises sectioning in your near future. Spend a bit more, and you get a little less – yet sufficient degrees of separation eek out some kind of insane value proposition.
The trailcentre at Afan worried me that the marketing men have won. The car park rolled out pristine, range topping bikes, cool threads, an entire batallion of body armour and some well padded, middle aged white guys decamping from new reg Audi’s and BMW’s. Sorry to wander of the point here, but when the fuck did that happen? It must be trail centre specific, because the guys I ride with totally fail to mainline that particular look-at-me drug. Sure, they have nice bikes but they can ride them a bit.
I can’t help thinking it’s stopped being about trudging through endless winter nights to bank Karma for summer epics. If it’s not on a plate, perfectly groomed and encased in FairTrade latte’s, then this breed of mountain bikers can’t see the point. I spend too much money on bikes because I absolutely bloody love it, even though I’m not brave enough, skilled enough, fit enough, whatever to get anywhere close to the limits of the stuff I buy.
But they are not fashion accessories. It really pisses me off these guys – and they all are – can’t generally ride for shit, but that doesn’t matter because they look like they can. And after a day pinging them off the trail, let me tell you I am not stereotyping here. If we all get ghetto’d onto Scalextric circuits, and exclusion is now based on the stupid price of entry, then we bloody well deserve it.
To trump my own argument, days like this are why trail centres are ace. We rode W2 – 45k, 3000 feet of climbing taking in the Wall and Whytes routes. The ST4 was properly fantastic on every section, a proper trail bike with non racey angles, enough travel to get you first in and then out of trouble, super low bottom bracket that replaces cornering with instinct, and a puppy dog love of just never wanting to stop.
The odd pedal strike aside, it’s the best short travel full suss I’ve ever ridden***, it never feels underbiked or overweight. It’s both simple and clever making best use of the brilliant shock technology now on offer. It’s Jedi Speeder fast in fast singletrack even with my fists of ham, and bounces up and down rocks as well as bikes with significantly more travel and heft.
I liked it very much. I liked riding with my friends more, and feeling fit enough to enjoy through to the very end. Driving home, I had a thought on loop which went something like “I fucking love riding mountain bikes, don’t you dare ever take that away, don’t let stuff get in the way, don’t make excuses, don’t make this AOB. This isn’t about being different any more, it’s not about the next best thing, it’s not about what makes you look good, it’s about flashing between trees, picking lines that shit you up and then make you laugh out loud, grinding up climbs, taking the piss with your mates and just not ever stopping“.
Do I want an ST4? Sure, lots of reasons, even a few good ones. Would I make a deal with the devil to sell everything I own to ride a few more years on what I already have? You betcha.
* A material I think of “face ripper”
** A comment that encompasses almost everything I try.
*** And yes, I accept there have been a few.