What’s the thing that you love most about mountain biking? For some the answer comes to mind immediately, for others it requires a bit more thought.
A summer’s evening, a pub with a beer garden and a bunch of bikes stacked up against the wall. It’s a familiar scene for most riders, the inevitable conclusion to the mid-week razz around the woods with your mates. In amongst the usual post-ride buzz, beers and chatter a topic gathers momentum. What’s the thing that you love most about mountain biking? For some the answer comes to mind immediately, for others it requires a bit more thought, and a bit more beer.
Considering everyone sitting around the table is in agreement that they love mountain biking, everyone’s thing, it turns out, is different. Sure, there are elements of mountain biking that are towards the top of everyone’s list of loves, but when it comes to pinning down the one single thing that gets us going, the answers vary.
Whether you’re a devotee of gnar, love to ride far, or appreciate mountain bikes purely as objet d’art, you can find your thing within it
Character traits and backgrounds influence what our thing is. For the ex-skateboarder with dodgy knees, bikes have replaced boards in delivering a demanding technical challenge, for the 9-5 office worker, mountain biking gives much needed time outdoors, and the stay-at-home dad appreciates the time spent just chatting shit with mates – like we are doing now.
Our beer fuelled chatter is hardly conclusive, but it proves that when it comes to pinning down the thing we love about mountain biking, there’s a lot of things to consider. Think about your thing. Are you someone who needs to switch on STRAVA and go hell-for-leather every time your tyres hit the trail? Do you relish time to yourself, the escape from the day-to-day and the headspace that brings? Are you happy to just spend time tinkering in the shed or collecting the bikes you lusted after as a kid? After all, it’s possible to love mountain bikes and not actually ride one… As in our pub-ride gang, there will be some who know exactly what the thing they love most about mountain biking is, and others who haven’t given it a second thought – it’s just a thing they do.
Mountain biking’s trump card over other cycling disciplines is its range of adaptability. Whether you’re a devotee of gnar, love to ride far, or appreciate mountain bikes purely as objet d’art, you can find your thing within it. Naturally the thing you love and why you love it will draw you in one direction or another, bringing you in contact with riders who think in a similar way. Sometimes it puts you in contact with people whose thing is totally different to yours.
Mountain biking’s range and depth means that you can ride a rigid fat-bike covered in enough luggage to see you around the world, or a freeride behemoth with 10 inches of travel, and still be a mountain biker. A mountain bike can be many things, and what your thing is will likely determine what your bike looks like. But, chances are you have more than one bike in your life – because if there’s one thing we all love, it’s another bike.
XC bikes, enduro bikes, down-country bikes – having a bike to match whatever thing you’re currently into is part and parcel of mountain biking. With a big enough garage and budget we’d all own a lot more bikes than we currently do. Sadly for most of us, shed space and disposable income are very much finite, so our bikes have to be able to do a bit of everything, hence the popularity of trail bikes. Trail bikes are generalist bikes, bikes that get on with being just mountain bikes, whatever your thing. Bikes might be able to be split into all kinds of categories, but it can be confusing, and mountain bikers aren’t keen on being pigeon holed. Boxes are for bikes, not riders.
A case in point is one rider in our group. With no prior knowledge or experience of mountain biking, he bought a trail bike over lockdown purely as a way to get out of the house. ‘Trail’ sounded good and described the kind of thing he wanted to do, he had no idea what enduro meant and cross-country didn’t sound very sexy. From local blasts and bike parks to hike-a-bikes, he and his trail bike are on a grand tour of all the things mountain biking has to offer, and working out what the thing he loves most is part of the process. Right now his thing is everything. Others have a very clear and precise idea of what their thing is.
For one of our group, racing is life, and if riding doesn’t somehow involve a competition, they aren’t interested. They happily admit that when their racing days are over, they’ll walk away from bikes altogether and take up anything else that lets them flex that competitive urge. For riders with that drive, explaining what their thing is, is straightforward, it’s a defining part of them as a rider and as a person.
Mountain biking is his thing, it’s what defines him, everything else is just stuff that fits in around riding.
Also sat around the beer garden table are a World Cup level mechanic, a mountain bike journalist and bike company rep, but it’s a kitchen fitter who is most obsessed with anything mountain bike related. He’s ridden everywhere, seen every video, read every magazine, and has all the t-shirts to prove it. Wrenching on kitchen sinks is just a means to wrench on his bike and go riding, working for himself gives him the freedom to do that on his terms. Mountain biking is his thing, it’s what defines him, everything else is just stuff that fits in around riding.
Tuning out the noise
If you’ve ever rolled into town on a bike caked in mud with a smile and the contents of a puddle on your face, chances are you’ve noticed a few odd looks from onlookers. They can work out what you’ve been doing, but they’re probably not sure why you’ve been doing it. Mountain biking is sold as this big, brash thing to outsiders, an extreme sport that’s the reserve of daredevils, weirdos and outsiders. The thing non-riders love about mountain biking is the drama – big risks and big crashes. Mountain biking’s less obvious qualities don’t make the headlines, or viral edit cut. It’s a subtler, more personal experience that is behind a lot of what makes up the thing we love most.
Everyone’s experience of mountain biking is different, but whether you’re a beginner or an old hand, mountain biking has some common themes that we all can riff off, finding our own style, rhythm and thing we love along the way. Whatever kind of rider you are, and whatever you ride for, some of these things are universally understood. The feeling of sights, smells and sounds coming at you as quickly as the trail does, stimuli forced at you to the point your brain tunes out everything except what’s right in front of you.
For some this enforced focus is intoxicating. Concentrating on nothing more than making your way down the trail as quickly as possible is very much their thing. For others the opposite is true. Bimbling describes riding aimlessly along at just above walking pace. In a sport of shredding, sending and ripping, bimbling isn’t very cool. But there’s joy to be found riding at a pace that allows your senses to soak up everything that’s going on around you, and leaving your brain with enough bandwidth to appreciate it all. Shifting down a gear and smelling the bluebells is no bad thing. When it comes to experiences, sometimes the bike is just an accessory for the real reason to ride.
One of our number agrees. After much thought, he reckons his thing is the peace mountain biking brings him. After struggling with mental health problems in the last couple of years, he’s found that the reason he rides a mountain bike is to give himself some space, take a brain check, and press the reset button when things feel a bit too much. Something we can all relate to, but for him it’s been a literal life saver. Pedalling on his own, letting his mind wander and just letting the trail unfold in front of him is the thing that he loves about mountain biking. That doesn’t stop him joining us for a group ride and getting involved in the faff, inane chat and semi-competitive blast down the trails that that involves. But given the choice, he’d be out on the moors enjoying his own company.
Finding out what other people’s thing is gives you a better appreciation for what makes them tick. It also helps explain their favourite trails and route choices. From our crew, if Craig is leading, we know we’re in for a long ride (some might say death march) that will probably mean getting to the pub for last orders, if Matt leads, it’s worth putting the kneepads on and taking a few brave pills. Everyone on the ride influences it with their thing, their take on what a great mountain bike ride should be. It might not always be entirely your thing, but it does keep things interesting, and give a better insight into the people you’re sharing the ride with.
His thing originally was riding flowing jump lines, but after moving to the area and not being able to find any, he decided to give trail building a go and build what he wanted to ride.
It’s sometimes worth reassessing what your thing is and why you ride. Unless you’re a pro rider with a contract, mountain biking owes you nothing, and if you aren’t getting anything out of it, maybe it’s worth finding other things that interest you more. That might mean exploring some other aspects of mountain biking, and there’s plenty to explore, or it might mean making your own thing.
For another Thursday night regular, mountain biking isn’t about the bikes, or even the riding, it’s about making trails. His thing originally was riding flowing jump lines, but after moving to the area and not being able to find any, he decided to give trail building a go and build what he wanted to ride. Now he’s found building the trails is the thing he loves most. Spending time shaping the perfect berm, sculpting jumps and imagining new and interesting ways of working with a hillside gives him a feeling of satisfaction and purpose. Thanks to his thing, the rest of us benefit.
Sometimes the thing you started riding for is the thing that stops you riding. Getting stuck in a metaphorical rut happens when you keep doing the same thing over and over again. What was once fun and exciting feels more like routine. People change and their things change too. Thankfully mountain biking changes too.
Universal but unique
Another rider in our group recently lost his mountain bike mojo. Life had gotten in the way of riding, fitness started to ebb away, nerves started to get the better of him, and spending rides pushing his bike up and down trails didn’t appeal. Then, despite some reservations, he got an e-bike. Not only is his mojo now fully charged, but he’s jumped out of the rut and reckons he’s riding, and enjoying it, more than ever. E-bikes haven’t become his thing, but they have given him his thing back. Buying a new bike might seem a bit extreme and your current bike probably isn’t holding you back, but sometimes a new bike is the thing that pushes you forward.
It’s getting late, and through the dubious wisdom that comes from too much sun, and possibly beer, one of our number says, “We all have the same thing in our head, it’s just… different.” We laugh, but he’s right. Mountain biking is something wedged in all our brains, but we all see it in a different way. It can be hard to put into words what that thing is exactly but we all feel the benefit of having mountain biking in our lives. For some of us it defines who we are, for others it’s just something we do in our spare time, for our group it’s the thing that brings us together on a Thursday night.
Whatever your thing is, just get out and ride.
Let us help you get out and ride. We’ve got guides to the best mountain bikes for every budget and riding preference, and of course the best electric mountain bikes too. To have the least stressful ride possible, don’t forget to gear up with a multi-tool in case of unexpected mechanicals and a backpack or hip pack to keep your stuff in.