Guy Kesteven tries to pin down the ethereal element of mountain biking - what is it exactly about biking that makes it such a hoot?
Why is one bike ‘funner’ than any other?
Fun is a massively overused word in bike testing because it’s an easy, throwaway comment about any bike that puts a grin in your chin strap. But with so many potential definitions of how to have ‘fun’ on a mountain bike, nearly all of which depend on personal preference, is it actually a totally pointless, meaningless phrase to use?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘fun’ is “Light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement; boisterous joviality or merrymaking; entertainment”. Unfortunately it doesn’t bother to transpose that into shock rates, head angles, chainstay lengths or even wheel sizes, even though everybody seems to suggest that having at least a 27.5in ‘mullet’ back wheel is more ‘fun’ than two 29in wheels.
Chatting to the SCOR mountain bike design team about their 4060 model (now ridden by the Fresh Prince of Jibbing himself, Josh Lewis) in Italy the other week, centred around its “play the mountain” mantra. So I asked Bastien – one of SCOR’s development and design crew – what that meant in terms of suspension. And again the “it’s poppy and playful” reply was pretty vague and subjective feel-good language, rather than an exact progression rate or the base high speed compression and rebound valving he’d chosen for the shock. As it turns out, the bike did feel really, really ‘fun’ and I had an absolute blast chasing other media, and Bastien himself, down some sweet, turn and burn trails at the Bike Connection Agency event.
And if I was reviewing it here, I’d put down to a really fast reacting, super-short chainstay, and a very progressive suspension feel that was super grippy off the top, an absolute turn-railer through the mid-stroke, and impossible to get full travel out of without removing volume spacers. The 65.5º head angle and was fast enough to catch the next turn a split second after exiting the last one, and combined with the slide-happy Maxxis Dissector rear tyre, it really got my hips shifting in a Shakira singletrack shakedown. And for me, a bike that makes me feel alive, involved, sucked into the action and buzzing at my ability to keep up with the group and share whoops, hollers and fist bumps at the bottom is probably the perfect definition of ‘fun’.
But would using the bike in mullet form be even more ‘fun’? Would running a large frame not a medium one be less ‘fun’? And while it blew my bloody doors off on this particular Italian job, that short back end, underused stroke and middling head angle set-up will make the 4060 less stable and speed-hungry on flat-out rock garden runs or big sketchy sends, which is what someone else might define as ‘fun’.
However, when I rode Hope’s HB916 enduro bike, it’s utter calmness and totally assured ‘basically a DH bike’ control at speeds, and down sections that I’d normally find stomach churning, was very impressive, but personally I found it really dull. In contrast, I had a ton of ‘type two fun’ racing e-bikes up climbs on a superlight Canyon Lux XC bike the previous day, even if I know combining laughter and lactic acid burn will be totally alien to a lot of people reading this.
So I guess the answer is the same as it is for many mountain bike-related questions. Arsing about in the dirt on a push bike is fundamentally a “light hearted, enjoyable and amusing pleasure” so whatever/however you’re riding, don’t get too serious about it and just have ‘fun’.