Our 'Trailfinder General' Benji Haworth is going up in the world...
I am part of a dying breed. Part of an apparently invisible group of mountain bikers. A silent collective of bikers who actually like climbing. I’m not talking about rock climbing with chalk bags, crash mats and rubber Geisha shoes. I’m talking about riding a mountain bike on a trail that goes upwards. Crazy I know. Don’t get me wrong, I prefer descending. Without downhills I wouldn’t bother with mountain biking at all. Gravity is good.
But I must admit to being part of a generally older bunch of bikers who also appreciating the times when you have to battle gravity rather than it being your ally. Now we feel this position needs some exposition. We don’t mean we like to climb uphill as fast as we can. I’m not into Strava KOMs for climbing. The sort of climbing we like is hard but not in a purely lung-vomiting way. We like climbs that go on for ages. We like climbs over terrain that are lumpy and sketchy. Climbs that are gradual slogs on fireroad aren’t very interesting. Show us a technical climb – ideally one spread out over twenty minutes or so – and we’ll be in our element. We’ll roll up our sleeves – sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically – and we’ll give it our damned best shot.
So if we’re not bothered about how fast we get up a technical climb, just what are we aiming for? We’re cleaners. We like to clean climbs. Getting from the bottom of the badass climb all the way up to the top of it without putting a foot down. No dabs. “No dabs” used to be something you’d hear much more often back-in-the-day compared to today. Nowadays you’d feel like something of a tit for saying it out loud and proud.
It’s not cool to like climbing. Being able to haul and winch and thrutch your way up unfeasible slopes is no longer deemed a skill worthy of noting let alone respecting.
The harsh fact is that a lot of riders who have started mountain biking in the modern era just aren’t very good at proper off-road climbing. This is a real shame to me. It’s hard not to lazily point the finger at trail centres as the root cause of rootless (and looseness-less) riding. Trail centres aren’t the only cause of the dumbing-down of climbing but they are a significant factor. Trail centre designers understandably try to make the climbs as easy as possible.
When such newbie riders head out into the wilds of the real world with its un-groomed trails and unpredictably loose and lumpy trails, they come unstuck. They don’t like it. They go back to their predictable woodland playgrounds. So then what happens? We have certain outdoor authorities beginning to sanitise natural trails.
The thing is, in doing so – by removing any technical challenge to ascending – they are also removing any kind of challenge and thus reward. No one feels rewarded by an easy climb. No one gets to enjoy or appreciate climbing by only ever doing boringly basic climbs.
It’s time we happy few stood up (out of the saddle) and shouted about our love for climbing. And if you don’t like climbing, climb some more. You’ll get it eventually.