Bespoken Word – Stop categorizing yourself

Graham drifting a gravel bike in the Dolomites
(Image credit: Basso)

I often get asked what sort of bike rider I am. My answer is usually a very honest, but unsatisfying response of ‘a bit of everything’. This gives the same vibe as someone who occasionally pops the radio on saying they listen to a bit of everything when asked what their favorite band is.

I often feel that my unsatisfying answer is then immediately dismissed with the assumption that I'm either not really a rider, not that ‘good’, or simply not interested in cycling. The difference is, as you can probably guess from my job as a tech writer on Bike Perfect, I am extremely into bikes. The reality is that my bit of everything is probably more than the average rider's bit of one thing, as I am frequently jumping between all disciplines from enduro to road and generally clock up a load of time on the bike in the process. I'm not the only rider I know that does this, a lot of the strongest riders I know all have an equally broad repertoire and are just super keen to get out on anything with two wheels.

It's obviously a harmless question, usually asked by other riders who are simply trying to find common ground and potentially a new riding buddy. The problem is it has a tendency to make cycling very tribal, whether that's based on ability or discipline, and the ‘us vs them’ nature can be quite damaging to the sport in general.

Graham riding a road bike in the Dolomites

If you don't try other disciplines you don't know what your missing (Image credit: Basso)

Not only are people writing off other riders based on presumptions but they are also limiting their own experiences. I have spoken to loads of riders who have cornered themselves into the mindset that they are one type of rider only to later discover that actually they have been missing out on other disciplines.

The most obvious tribal divide is between mountain bikers and road riders, despite the fact that both parties are often riding for similar reasons on similar two-wheel contraptions. I have spoken to mountain bikers who wouldn't be seen dead wearing lycra or riding drop handlebars and road riders who wouldn’t dare set foot in the woods. Luckily these two opposite factions have been brought closer by gravel riding. Road riders finally feel more comfortable dabbling in the dirt while the knobbly tires and disc brakes mean gravel bikes can up the endorphins by getting a little sendy.

BMC Fourstroke 01 TWO review

Enduro skills coming in to play on the French Tokyo Olympic XC test track (Image credit: Maxime Schmid)

Why it matters that it doesn't matter

‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ was often the approach in the past, it's become very clear that this doesn't really apply to cycling. Dabbling in other disciplines can hone skills, techniques, and tactics that wouldn’t otherwise be considered if you just stuck to your lane. Chances are MTBGR+ (mountain bike, gravel, road, plus and fat bikes) fluid cyclists are going to be considerably more capable and well-rounded as riders than someone who solely focuses on a single discipline.

Although gravity does a fair share of the work it's amazing the difference some added cardio from gravel or road riding can offer to enduro or downhill. A few drop bar evening training rides make climbs considerably easier which means more laps and faster mid-trail pedaling sections. Road and gravel riders who enjoy mountain biking are going to become considerably better bike handlers as the unpredictable surfaces and constant threat of trees really force you to hone your cornering and control, the results of such cross-pollination perfectly demonstrated by Tom Pidcock as he descended Mont Ventoux.

It's about more than just fitness and skills too, there's a reason other riding disciplines are also popular and it's usually exactly the same reason why you think the riding you do is the best, it's because riding bikes is fun.

And before any rad-bros say something like gravel riding is really boring compared to downhill riding, let's see if you are still saying that after descending down a loose gravel track with no suspension at 70kph. 

Graham skidding round a gravel corner

Every type of bike ride is as fun or rowdy as you want to make it (Image credit: Berria)

Keep things fresh

Rider burnout isn’t uncommon and riders can become jaded with similar routes, trails, and ride outcomes. It can be catastrophic to ride motivation and before you know it, the bikes that once brought you lots of happiness are now gathering dust in the back of the garage. It's an easy rut to fall into but sometimes all you need to pull you out is a new environment or set of challenges to reinvigorate your riding mojo.

Forming binary tribes is even more ridiculous these days as bikes are getting so good they are now capable of much broader types of riding. Obviously, if you have a drop bar bike and you want to ride some enduro there will probably be a significant outlay as it often requires a new bike at the minimum and probably a load of new kit too. However modern bikes are so good now there is some blurring of the lines, so why aren’t you?

The Vitus Venon Evo is essentially a road bike that can clear a 45mm gravel tire and recently I battered it down a load of tracks that admittedly if I was to do again, I would be reaching for a MTB. Although it was way above the Venon Evo’s pay grade, the bike handled the whole ride with zero complaints. I have dropped into mountain bike trails on gravel bikes, enduro trails on XC bikes, and then taken the same full-suspension XC bike on a gravel ride. My current Cotic SolarisMAX long-termer build is built with this versatility in mind, when asked what sort of riding it's for the answer will be ‘a bit of everything’.

So why not explore outside your regular riding remit, even if it's a little dirt detour on your road ride or deciding to take a long way home from the trails? You never know it might unlock a whole new love for riding and a load of new friends and skills along with it.

Graham Cottingham
Senior reviews writer, Bike Perfect

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has embraced bikepacking over the last few years and likes nothing more than strapping some bags to his bike and covering big miles to explore Scotland's wildernesses. When he isn’t shredding the gnar in the Tweed Valley, sleeping in bushes, or tinkering with bikes, he is writing tech reviews for Bike Perfect.

Rides: Cotic SolarisMax, Stooge MK4, 24 Bicycles Le Toy 3, Surly Steamroller

Height: 177cm

Weight: 71kg