For me – and probably many others – I still don’t know what I feel about the last 12 months. Hopefully for a few folks its been a totally positive flick book of endless summers, awesome achievements and personal progress. I reckon for many of us most the emotions are very much mixed and we’re feeling the same about heading into a potentially grim looking 2023.
This is meant to be a week to be jolly though. So despite being three days into a shivering, aching virus that I seem to be sharing with most of the UK, I’m going to try and find enough positive spin to help you appreciate the good things as much as possible.
Sorry Greta, but the summer of 2022 was great
If you’re remotely aware of the chaotic, perverted weather patterns raging across the world in the past 12 months, I think you’d be hard pressed not to agree that the climate is changing significantly. And it’s almost certainly our fault.
However, in the UK we’re in the awkward moral position that this gave us one of the best riding summers ever. So while we’re back to traditional Yule yuck now, don’t forget that we were riding dusty trails less than two months ago.
The pandemic/pedaldemic legacy
If you’re a bike shop/distributor/manufacturer things are very quiet right now. 2020 was an insane year as buying and riding a bike was the only thing people could do to escape Covid. 2021 was then a desperate year of fighting through back orders and strangled supply to find something to sell. Now suddenly, all that – often slightly out of date – stock has arrived at the same point the economy has tanked and most of us are trying to spend as little as possible.
The good news is that there are now a lot more people who’ve realized they love riding and what it can do for their physical and mental health. So over the long term we’re in a good place, but there are definitely going to be some shop and brand casualties before things level out.
Different people are riding
The great thing about the Covid cycling population is that it’s very different to the die hards. With nothing else to do partners and parents started riding with enthusiasts. Teenagers took to the woods everywhere to cut in fresh schralp trails. Being unable to fly or drive to distant destinations meant people found a new appreciation for local ‘not far, not gnar’ options. A year on these people are now moving around more but they’re bringing a different perspective to what pedalling off road can be. That means way more interest in ‘gravel’ that often trends towards MTB touring in this country. That's reflected in bike sales and the massive popularity of recently launched routes from Cycling UK. We’re also seeing the rise of awesome women’s only events like Evolve, Sisters of Send and targeted riding groups that help whole new demographics over the ‘bloke barrier’.
We're realising people are riding for different reasons
Partly because new people are riding and partly because people are riding in a different way, the past two years have seen a big change in realising how riding affects mental health. Chasing adrenaline with rad moves and aggro headlines isn’t the only focus of MTB media coverage any more. Turns out being totally tuned into singletrack lines can be a really valuable mindfulness focus for leaving the black dog behind. We’re realizing that getting out into nature is probably more important for more people than getting air. Injuries like concussion are being treated far more seriously with riders like Tahnee Seagrave brave enough to document their struggles to get back up to speed after serious injury.
More formal studies like the research and hands on group rehab work being done by DMBIS and linked universities in Scotland will hopefully lead to wider recognition that mountain biking is something really positive. Not just an irritant to dog walkers and an unnecessary load on struggling A&E departments.
More brands are involved than before
Ok so the news of Cervelo and Factor adding XC race bikes to their line up won’t have meant much to a lot of folk. I’ve not seen much of Rapha’s new MTB range on the trails either, despite some excellent reviews. Big roadie brands getting even slightly dirty is big news though and I think it represents the gateway for a lot of drop bar folk moving through gravel and onto proper off-road capable machines. And being Rapha and Cervelo they’re bringing more of the spendy sorts into our shops.
Bikes and bits are better
Yes, costs have risen painfully and – particularly at lower price points – you’re getting less bike than you were for your money a few years ago. That’s the same with everything we’re buying right now though and at least bikes have got better.
Shock tune, suspension and build details on machines like the Santa Cruz Hightower and Yeti SB120 advance the game subtly but significantly on previous versions. The ‘trail’ category might be even more blurred than before but whether you’re at the light and feisty Mondraker Raze end of things or the super slack and adjustable Specialized Stumpjumper EVO end it’s a brilliant time to be riding a fresh bike. E-bikes have surged forwards in terms of flat out electric enduro tech with Bosch’s Race Motor and in more subtle, super light ways with bikes like the Trek EXe.
My ‘best of the 2022' listings covered component wins from tubeless pluggers and sealant to really clever pumps and cost effective performance boosting wheels. We’re lucky to have a really diverse spread of developers too from individual innovators to mega corps on the move. While not everything new has been a total win, there’s loads to look forward to from the major manufacturers in 2023 too, even if we can’t officially talk about it yet.
Riding bikes is still awesome
But the main thing is that whatever you ride and why, riding bikes in 2022 was still absolutely awesome. For personal reasons I spent Christmas Eve afternoon crushing myself on the climbs and chasing wheels on descents until I was shaking and staggering when I stopped. And then we did another lap. Led out, laughed at, but ultimately looked after by mates who could maybe only be that close to me through the shared experiences and emotions of mountain biking together for years. While it’s almost certainly why I’ve got this virus now, it was also exactly what I needed. Exactly the reminder I’ll need whenever the weather is bad or my head is down that putting foot on pedal and hands on bars can be the answer to all sorts of troubles. A confirmation of the reasons why playing on bikes in the woods has been a vital part of my world for over 40 years and that will hopefully continue for 2023 and a whole lot more years to come.