This realization started a few years ago when I was chatting to Seb at Cranked magazine about how useful dropper posts were because having a low seat made getting on and off easier when we were stopped. I mean, obviously, we assured ourselves that it was mostly about being able to shred the steepest descents and pull off the sickest Slopestyle moves at will. But the fact it was also the mountain bike equivalent of those motorised easy get-up chairs they advertise between funeral care ads on afternoon TV is a definite win for a bigger proportion of the mountain bike population than it used to be.
Flat out, teeth out
Thankfully ‘Progressive’ geometry is pensioner friendly too. I’m not just talking about the fact that the handlebars and front wheel are further away so we can see them properly. In the same way that we’re starting to hold our phones at arm's length, longer reach gives more time for age-dulled synapses to react to a slip of the front wheel. Slacker angles keep us straight and upright like a hand rail down the side of the front steps. In fact, we’ve now come to a point where the less you do on a bike the better it will ride.
None of that nasty twitchy steering that needs teenage proprioception to keep it on track. None of that constant clambering back and forth over short wheelbases and cramped contact points created by road bike-shaped frames. In fact, you have to try really hard and go really fast to properly get flung over the bars now. But when we started, walking back to where you last saw your bike was something that happened every few minutes.
There’s no more reaming your rectum on the saddle end or crushing yourself over bar ends just beyond your knees on climbs now. Steep seat angles and long reaches mean we just sit and pedal a perfect triangulation of rider and tire weighting uphill using silly big gears, and traction supple but mostly bob-free suspension. Even steering is largely redundant. Now we just lean into turns. And you know how much old people like leaning on things.
E is for Elderly
Component changes in recent years have been like a pensioner's wishlist, too. We have bigger, comfier, stickier tires that grip like one of those handy jar openers or the rubber mats you can put in your shower to stop you breaking your hip with a soap slip. And while tubeless tires don’t always inflate first time and often leak at embarrassing moments, well, that’s something we’ll all have to get used to in other areas of our lives. Just be glad that as a mountain biker you’ve almost certainly got better cardio health and a stronger pelvic floor than most folk your age.
Sequential gears – sometimes with electric shifters for your arthritic thumbs – leave far more mental capacity for a nice Sudoku puzzle session after your ride than if you were still trying to work out ‘which gear next’ on a triple chainset and 7-speed block. Wider, shorter saddles with holes in the middle are the bike equivalent of piles cushions. Pedals are bigger and flatter so we can wear comfortable shoes done up with Velcro straps and dials, not clatter weak ankles over tiny XC clippers in plastic shoes with awkward to tie laces. Enduro helmets that come over our ears mean we can pretend that’s the reason we didn’t hear what was being said to us, rather than admitting we’re going deaf.
Baggy shorts and shirts are much more forgiving of a lifetime thinking we’ve burnt more calories than we actually have than neon Lycra was. Knee pads come in ever so handy when we’d rather do a bit of gentle weeding this weekend than turn ourselves inside out on the trails. GoPro recording of every run means we can rewind the bits we didn’t see or hear properly first time, just like we do with the TV these days. Or watch the footage our kids/grand kids have made before telling them how much harder it used to be, but that we were better for it.
Mountain biking is probably one of the few areas where things are actually bigger than they were in our youth too. Handlebars and tires are wider, while wheels are huge. And while average suspension travel and stem length have swapped in terms of measurements, 750mm width bars (as a minimum) make it far easier to get down a trail than 570mm bars (as a maximum) did.
And let’s not even get started on the exponential explosion of electric mobility bikes in the mountain biking community. In fact the only thing with fewer E-numbers now are the snacks we eat.
Over the hill
We’ve even changed the mountain biking landscape to make it easier for us. Trail centres mean you can expect every ride to be 100% enjoyable, rather than a 30% joy/70% soggy, soul-crushing slog/push being a win. And even then, riding at original sites like Coed-y-Brenin now seems like a proper old-school pioneer experience compared to the groomed bowls, berms and uplifts of the latest parks. While there isn’t a specific ‘grey’ grade of trail yet, knowing what to expect on a blue, red or black still makes things a lot easier as we crawl back from whatever injury “we don’t quite recover from like we used to”. Visitor centres with scenic vistas and gourmet menus have replaced cold tins of rice pudding in the back of a Transit van or a wilted cheese butty sat in the rain in the boot of a Nova as the welcome back reward of a ride well done.
Older not wiser
And while the amount each of us are either acquiescing into old age on E-bikes, or fighting furiously against the inevitable decline of ever creakier, leakier carcasses the maturing of the mountain bike world is something riders of all ages can be thankful for. Because nearly every aspect of mountain biking being easier than it used to be is a win for everyone. That means younger, fresher riders can push the limits ever further, brand new riders can get thrills with less spills, and battered old idiots like myself can still ride as fast as we used to 40 years ago.
Or to put it another way, the best thing about the maturing of mountain biking is the fact we can still be as immature as ever.