What do you think?
It turns calm people frenzied with glory and pushes the limits of bike design, but is that good or bad?
All pain, no gain
Something strange happens to quite normal people when they zip a number board onto their cables. Where once that person would ride sensibly and within their limits, they are now transformed into Tony Montana in the final scene of Scarface: crazily confident, cocky and risk-happy.
In case you’ve never watched the film, it ends badly for Tony. And it often does when you’re racing, too. Sure there’s a level of risk any time you ride your bike, but something happens to that fine balance between safety and speed when you’re against the clock.
Squeezing a couple of fractions of seconds off your time, beating a friend, getting a KoM on Strava: it all makes it more likely you’ll finish the race in A&E.
Mountain biking isn’t really about racing — the sport was born of a desire to break free from rules, do what you please and ride how you like. There are some big competitions out there but most of us don’t take part. Racing a bike is like a snooker player becoming obsessed with the speed at which he can pot, rather than enjoying the beauty and accuracy of his work.
Racing isn’t much fun, either. It’s painful when you pedal so hard you get tunnel vision, scary when you’re teeing up on the line and ultimately a lost cause: unless you’re better than Joe Barnes or Rachel Atherton, you’re not going to win.
Live to race
Without racing and racers, our regular rides would suck. Well, they wouldn’t suck, because any ride on any bicycle is a good experience. But our regular weekend riding wouldn’t be as much fun as it is, if it wasn’t for the influence of racing. It doesn’t bear thinking about what things would be like if it was left to non-racers to design mountain bikes.
I’m no racer. I have done some racing, but I can’t say I enjoyed it much or got much from it. I wouldn’t even recommend that you try it. But I’m really, really glad that there are weirdos out there who like to ride dirt bikes either against the clock or against competition.
You see, racers are never happy. They’re never satisfied. Even when they win they have niggles about how it could have gone better. They have ideas about how to go faster next time. They want their bike to be better, even it if it’s only by a fraction.
But you and I aren’t like that. We’re pretty happy with our bike as it is. We’re patient, sensible people — and patient, sensible people never invent anything. They never progress anything. Left up to us non-racers the bikes on the shop floor today would basically be the same as those from 20 years ago. Ugh. Who would want that (apart from certain 50-year-old retro-heads)?
Although I think the actual activity of racing is several universes away from the sort of riding
that I — and most of the silent majority of mountain bikers — get up to, I praise the Lord that it exists. Racing has none of the ‘wheres’, ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ of my riding, but I wouldn’t want to be without the ‘whats’ it has brought us.