Stop us if you've heard these ones before
Who doesn’t love a good fight? Here’s our pick of the best/worst debates in mountain biking. It doesn’t even include Shimano versus SRAM!
In vague chronological order…
1. Rigid vs suspension
This started as a rigid fork versus suspension fork back in the 90s. The modern equivalent of it is hardtail versus full suspension. Regardless, the essential idea here is that suspension makes things easier and is therefore evil. Which, in itself, brings us on to the next argument…
2. Suffering vs smiling
Sheesh, there are a lot of the arguments on this list that can be boiled down to this essential debate. For some reason* anything to do with cycling seems to be closely allied to suffering. If you’re not suffering, you’re not doing it right. Sure, sometimes arduous sections bring on Type 2 Fun an that’s all well and good. Suffering can be fun (when it ends), but fun can be fun too you know? There’s nothing morally superior about hurting. Nor inferior about feeling joy. See also: uplift days vs climbing yourself to death.
3. Fast vs fun
Is the fastest bike the best bike? You’d think so. And, if you’re in a race, you want to go as fast as you can. But is speed all there is? What about feel? What about fun? I don’t want to come across all curmudgeonly retro and say things like “over-biked” because I don’t believe that. A more-capable bike is always better than an less-capable bike. But mountain biking for most people is about having fun. A fancy super-supple dual-link carbon full susser may well be faster but is it more fun to ride than feedback-giving single pivot metal machine? Fast bikes can be dull. The funnest bikes are rarely the fastest. Not always mind, but sometimes. See also: stiff vs flexy, light vs heavy, 29 vs 27.5.
4. XC vs DH
Yes, this is still a thing. Although these days the stances have changed mainly because most mountain bikers are neither XC nor DH. We’re all just flipping trail riders these days, thank God. After a few years of being on the ropes, XC racing is in the middle of a surge of interest. Partly due to improved online TV coverage, more interesting courses and – truth be told – less-awkward-looking ungainly riders.
5. Single pivot vs multi-link
This debate has had legs. It’s been going almost as long as mountain bike suspension itself. On one side are the single pivoters and on the other are those who like a pivot somewhere between their rear wheel and their front triangle. Only relatively recently has the debate calmed down to the point to the point where people are accepting of the fact that different suspension designs are just that, different. Better at some stuff than other stuff. Not better, not worse. Different. Pick the right horse for the course and you’re a winner. In fact, pick the wrong horse for the course and you’ll still have a blast. Full sus bikes are ace these days.
6. Material A vs Material B
This used to steel versus aluminium back in the day. Nowadays the debate is aluminium versus carbon. As well as the ‘which rides the stiffest/safest/best’ aspect to this debate, we now have the ‘which is the most ecologically sound’ angle. It was all so much easier when the only (playground) debate was ‘which colour bike is the best’.
7. Mainstream vs alternative
This one arguably (ha!) started with Kona in the early 90s. Everyone had a Specialized mountain bike. The cool kids had Konas. You could kind of make an argument that the smaller alt bike brands were making more progressive bikes back in the 2oth century but who in 2019 can really say that Ibis (for example) is pushing the envelope more than Specialized or Trek? Then again, there are still instances of smaller brands leading the way (Mondraker, Transition, even Orange) that we think this argument will keep on for a while yet.
8. Manmade vs natural
AKA trail centres and bike parks versus off-road paths not explicitly designed for mountain bikes. You know the argument. Trail centres are not ‘real’ riding. They’re the morally bankrupt fast food version of mountain biking. Yeah yeah, whatever. Enjoy your bog snorkelling while I freewheel around these next few berms. See also: jank vs flow.
9. Flats vs clipless
Despite the seeming specific nature of this one, it is pretty much an extension of the ‘fast vs fun’ debate above. Being clipped in is faster. It just is. The empirical evidence is everywhere in all things UCI World Cup. But is it ‘better’? I, for one, am never clipping in ever again.
10. This wheelsize vs that wheelsize
Come on, did you really think we could leave this one out? After a period of mutual truce the whole wheelsize debate is back on the table with the arrival of the latest cure-all/compromise/con: the mullet bike. Hurrah! ‘The best of both worlds’… hmm, where have we heard that one before? #650B
11. Strava vs the world
Is Strava ruining everything? Is it making trails wider and/or straighter? Do you not know whether you’ve enjoyed yourself until you get home and analyse your stats? Are your secret trails no longer secret? Strava is human beings. And some human beings aren’t how we’d like them to be.
12. E-bikes vs regular bikes
“The whole point of cycling is self-propulsion. Self-propulsion is the best bit of cycling. It is cycling’s raison d’etre”. “Anyone against technological advances is nuts, particularly when they’re strangely selective — disc brakes, suspension forks and functioning headsets, yes please; electric power and bigger wheels, oh no thank you. It’s still cycling, it’s just different.”
13. Long vs longer
The whole longer, lower, slacker geometry movement of recent years has unquestionably been a brilliant thing. The improvements of a 2019 bike versus a 2014 are more marked and significant than those of a 2014 bike compared to a bike from 1994. The key ingredient has been length. Specifically top tube length and reach. But have we reached a tipping point? Are there now some bikes that have wheelbases so lengthy that they barely feel woken up until screaming along at super high speeds? The sort of speeds that are rarely, if ever, achieved on most people’s regular rides? Quite possibly. Having said that, longer really is better and your 2014 really is out of date. Sorry.