It’s not that I don’t love tech. I was super keen to head back to the Core Bike Show (the UK's biggest bike trade only event) and give Hope’s brand new Pro 5 hub a spin exactly thirty years after I bought one of their first hubs.
I’ve definitely got some catching up to do with the folks at Enduro bearings and it sounds like Topeak had some new integrated tool stuff to look at. It would have been good to check in with Santa Cruz, Fox and 7Mesh to get some more background info on gear I’m currently testing. And from the team WhatsApp chat, I know the rest of my Bike Perfect comrades have unearthed plenty of other interesting bits of kit that they’ll now have first testing dibs on.
You can take the boy out of the tech, but…
While I missed the Core show because I had to hit a deadline for writing up and videoing Cycling UK’s new Snowdonia MTB route, it’s not like I didn’t do a tech deep dive prepping for that. I spent a big chunk of Monday tweaking my Specialized Chisel into bikepacking mode rather than its normal gravel bike hunting rig. Wales was probably going to be wet so out came the trusty Ortlieb Seat-Pack. But to maximise testing time I added a new bag support that was supposed to stop sway when honking out of the saddle. To be fair it did do that, but badly fitting side arms meant it clunked horribly from side to side when I gave it a quick trial run. It made it really awkward to fit the bag to the saddle too so that came off again. The several bar rolls I fished out all got chucked back in the box in favor of a backpack for easier access and less stress about trashed headtube paint (the Chisel is hella' pretty and I want it to stay that way).
The new Ergon grips and saddle stayed on after a quick test spin though and I found where I’d hidden the headset cap GPS mount. Im not taking chances though so both the Hammerhead and the Wahoo cycling computers have been loaded with the route just in case.
A quick YouTube rummage reminded me how to switch AXS shifter pairing so I could run a 10-52 Eagle block and X0 rear mech rather than my normal ultralight 10-36, SRAM Red setup. And no, don’t do that at home because it’s not supposed to work. Plus, you’ll spend any singletrack ride crapping yourself that the rear mech doesn’t get destroyed by a sniper rock.
The superlight Roval Control wheels have proved seriously tough though so they stayed on after I’d partially peeled the tires to top up the sealant.
Then it was time to refine the exact blend of Polartec Alpha jacket, Gore shell merino/3D synthetic base layer clothing system that I’d been changing every time I’d checked the forecast for the preceding week. I’m actually embarrassed how long it took me to decide which socks would work best with the Fizik winter boots. Because we all know* that too fat is more dangerous for toes than too thin if the predicted snow does come down. (*And if you don’t know I could spend an awkwardly long time boring you with why that's the case, because tech and all its fascinating facets are what I’ve spent the best part of three decades writing about.)
And while I know I’ve become professionally obsessive about kit tweaking and checking out the latest gear, I also know I’m not alone. Hell, several MTB forums are filled with that kind of chat and you’ll hear it most times you eavesdrop into conversations with other riders.
Run what you brung
The thing is though, apart from an angle adjustment here, a suspension click there, tire pressure change or bag strap re-tension, once you roll into a ride you’re committed. Whether it’s a DH run, local woods playtime with your mates or bikepacking across Snowdonia, you’ve just got to ‘run what you brung’ and make the best of it.
And for some blissfully free from faff and fret riders that’s all they ever do. They’ve haven’t clicked on the ‘subscribe to the latest hype’ button because their old Marin/Kona/Specialized/whatever is absolutely fine. They’re just in it for the ride and the experience rather than the engineering.
And that’s just another part of the diversity I love about mountain biking. I can be equally happy chatting nonsense about tire carcasses or cresting Welsh summits to unroll views of the next epic descent. Refining my view on the grip properties of a tire while simultaneously wondering what the Romans who built this ancient road were thinking about. Or I could be totally lost in the incredible landscapes a mountain bike can take you into. Quietly and stealthily enough that sheep, deer, eagles and hawks barely register your presence and you can hear every tree creak and stream rush. But fast enough to get you further than ramblers or runners could and still keep most of the kit weight on your bike.
Isn't mountain biking brilliant?
So as I head out into the hills again today it’ll be with a big smile of appreciation for how many ways you can enjoy mountain biking. I just hope I did get my clothing choice right and don’t get so cold and wet I wish I’d gone to Core instead.
BTW, the Cycling UK Traws Eryri (Trans Snowdonia) route from Machynlleth to Conwy will officially open later this year and it’s literally an absolute beauty. Especially if you like your hills and scenery big, your trails rocky and your history plentiful. We'll have more on that as soon as we can.