The Sounds of MTB

Whether we want it in our head or not, having a song playing on loop in your head during a ride is a familiar experience for all cyclists.

Column by Geoff Waugh | Illustration by


Back in 2005, I was lucky to find myself in the mountain bike mecca of Whistler, in Canada, and I remember it so well not because of the fantastic trails that I rode, day in, day out, but because of the music that I heard in the guesthouse every time I climbed the stairs to dinner. It was from the ground-breaking film The Collective, and it turned out to be the soundtrack of that summer.

I heard that collection of tunes so many times that year that I could listen from another room and instantly know just which section of the film was on screen. The Collective was the go-to pre-ride stoke flick, and the film to watch post-ride to see one more time how the experts did it. All together now: “Three, two, one dropping in…”

The great thing about the film and the soundtrack was that they both set a new standard by ignoring what had gone before — mostly hard rock and thrash metal — and went instead for a more mellow voice that mixed folk and funk and more besides. The producers even put out the soundtrack on a CD. I can see it on my shelves right now, although it rarely gets played. Honestly? Never.

I don’t ride with earphones, but I often find myself reciting music inside my head as I ride. Like when you hit a long climb and the best way to zone out is to hum a mantra under your breath, or in time with your breath. You do that right? I mean, I’m not mad or anything.

Often the theme is the last piece of music that was playing in the car as I pulled into the car park. Since his demise in January I have had Bowie on repeat. Something like ‘Speed of Life’, or ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’, with their icy electronic power, seem perfect accompaniments to a hack through some tight woodland tracks. Whereas I could definitely see myself out on a wet, grey moorland pedalling into a headwind as ‘Subterraneans’ or ‘Sense of Doubt’ played.

Imagine barrelling into a rock garden with the booming drums of Iggy’s ‘Lust for Life’ ringing in your ears! Pinging and pinballing through with the force of Detroit’s finest on your shoulder.

Or how about Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Go With the Flow’? Confidence-inducing stuff! On those long ribbons of Alpine singletrack, where the gradient demands a few pedal strokes to get up to speed, and then full auto, my inner DJ would be playing some mellow drum and bass. LTJ Bukem would do the trick. Something hypnotic in beat and staccato in rhythm and long enough to take me through the meadows from where the chairlift spits me off, to where I pull up with a skid at the bottom. My heartbeat syncing with the D’n’B BPM the whole way down.

Some jazz would work for me too. Davis’s Milestones, for example — perfect for riding between those huge moss-encrusted Welsh trail centre boulders. Somewhere dark, dank and full of wizards.

What about the Lakes, Dales and Peaks? How about some rousing classical? I remember being in the back of a Land Rover somewhere near Lofthouse in Yorkshire and someone flicked onto Radio 3. And it fitted perfectly. The car bounced and hopped on the rocks as we crawled off the tops and down to the village and I sat back in my seat and looked out at the vista, lost in some kind of Barry Levison film sequence.

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Once in Glencoe I made a diversion to see the fabled Signal Rock, used by the local MacDonald clan members to, well, make signals up and down the glen. In a clearing in the trees was a solitary piper, playing to no one, his notes floating into the leaves and into the sky. I walked close enough that the man couldn’t not see me, but I was not acknowledged and I wasn’t aggrieved. Everything was right for that moment.

What about you?

What songs do you love/hate to have in your head during a ride? As ever, leave a comment below.