First, I need to co-credit Pat Campbell Jenner (Product and Burpee Specialist at Forbidden bikes), who I was riding with last week for the inspiration for this slide into the truth about what mountain biking is. Sat on top of the hill, getting ready for another flat-out fun ride on a bike I can’t tell you about yet, we both just started laughing. Laughing about the fact that however seriously we take the tiniest details and how many graphs, stats, tech innovations and evolutions we’d been talking about all morning, we were still basically talking about toys for having a good time with. And seeing as the best mountain bikes only come in sizes for teenagers and above, that means we're actually in the adult entertainment industry.
So a handful of people like police, park rangers and paramedic responders use mountain bikes as a serious tool, but lots of mountain bikes that could be used for playing on trails just end up in daily grind servitude too. Pro racers can be forgiven for getting wound up about weights and efficiencies when they need every watt they sweat out to get them further, and DH/enduro racers don’t use data loggers, custom-cut tires and custom shock tunes just for the laughs.
For the most part, mountain bikes have always been primarily designed to make riding fun. Big fat grippy tires let us cross terrain other bikes can’t and twiddly gears let us get to the top of big hills much quicker than walking. And while most ramblers and runners whine about coming back down being the worst bit, if you’ve got powerful brakes, the best MTB suspension and confident handling becoming a gravity groupie is awesome.
The bike I was testing yesterday and the event I did the weekend before were geared more towards type 2 fun, but they were still fun. That’s because if you’re off-road, even climbs have enough challenges and distractions from different surfaces, trees, roots, rocks and skinny twisting turns to take your mind off your melting legs and last-gasp lungs. That’s a world away from road riding where there’s nowhere to hide and no way to compensate with skill or guile once you’re caught in the agonizing glare of the suffering spotlight.
While it’s not relevant, I also realized that us old-school mountain bikers likely got our initial off-road fix in the same local woods you may have encountered discarded bags of ‘pre-loved gentleman’s literature’. These days, I suppose the internet serves a similar level of access to every potential interpretation of ‘dirty fun’ – with much of it being far less savory than off-road riding. However, we’re now seeing actual adult entertainment providers such as OnlyFans getting directly involved in MTB via athlete sponsorship, although this is only to try and restore their reputation as a content provider for all leisure interests.
Head space not head angles
But before we vanish down those rabbit holes, let’s get back to the basic point that Pat and I realized as we sat in anticipation of another run. While I’ll always deep dive into how changes to various kinematic curves, geometric nuances, how chains get from crank to rear wheel, shock tunes, frame feel, fixtures and all the potential combinations of compound, spec, pressures etc all affect the exact experience a bike will give you, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we remember that mountain bikes are just brilliant toys for taking us away from the potential stresses and miseries of the rest of our lives and concentrating on the thrills and joys of playing in the hills and woods. And if we properly surrender ourselves to the opportunity to get lost in those mad, mindful moments then it doesn’t matter what we are or aren’t riding, how much it costs, whether it’s set up right or if the internet tells us we need something longer, lower and slacker.
Or as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, if you're mountain biking right, head space will always matter more than head angles.