Warning – what follows is a rant that may appear to be a bit random in places. It may also offend a few people but if I’m not pissing somebody off every day then I am probably not trying hard enough.
I have to admit it – I’m getting more than a little frustrated at the MTB industry. MTB riders everywhere have been flat out lied to and deceived by the MTB industry, particularly with the help of the magazines. In short, these entities have managed to convince most everyone that the key to enjoying mountain biking is more about the bike they are riding and the components hung on that bike than about how tuned the engine driving the bike is. This approach is total bull shit that will do little to really help riders enjoy the trail more.
I recognize it because the same thing has happened to the general fitness industry. You can’t open a single fitness magazine without being accosted by ads and articles pimping supplements and new machines and gadgets. The same money driven attitude has spawned this “all sizzle, no steak” approach that we see in the MTB magazines. Trust me, advertising dollars drive the MTB world just like it does the fitness world. And what the advertising dollars want you to see and hear the magazines are more than happy to print.
True story – several years ago I knew the owner of a large bike company that was importing a unique new bike from the European market to the states. I saw him on the trail one day and he was pretty pissed after a meeting with the editor of one of the bigger MTB mags. He had wanted to see about getting the bike reviewed by the mag and was told that the write up “could” depend on how much advertising he was willing to buy, plain and simple.
Granted, some smaller bike builders manage to get their bikes reviewed without having to invest in a good deal of advertising but that is the exception, not the rule. It is no coincidence that companies like Cannondale and Trek have no problem getting every bike they bring to market in the mags – they also happen to buy 2 page advertising spreads every month as well.
Magazines would quickly go out of business without these advertising dollars so they feel compelled to oblige those that basically write their paychecks. Now, I’m not saying that there is a big conspiracy in which all of these people know that they are blowing smoke up your butt, they simply don’t know any better. Like my dad told me once – if you grow up in a whore house you just don’t know that whoring is wrong. They just know how business has been done in the past and to them it is just business as usual.
We all know of riders who rip it up on whatever bike they ride. I’ve personally known 2 guys who rode some pretty beat up bikes and absolutely embarrassed everyone else on the trail, no matter how new and advanced the bike everyone else was riding. To use a better known rider as an example, how did Fabien Barrel win 2 DH World Championships on a Kona Stab? Is the Stab the most technologically advanced bike in the world? Hell no, Fabien is just a great athlete and he trains his ass off.
Or how about my boy Rich Houseman? While Yeti obviously makes great bikes, was it the bike that allowed him to win his first Pro title last season? Nope, Rich has worked hard over the years to get where he his at and I guarantee you that he could throw a leg over any bike and be a threat on the track.
Top riders, both pros and bros, know the truth – give them a bike and they can tear it up because they have the most important asset a biker can have – superior physical skills. Training can give the average MTB rider better physical skills and while they may never get to the same point that a Fabien or Big House are, they can get closer than they will be by trying to figure out how to shave a pound off their bike or what shiny new part in the bike mags they must get next.
Seriously, what will make a bigger impact on your riding – adding 75 lbs. to your deadlift or adding a carbon fiber handlebar? Investing in a bike skills camp or investing in the new XTR build kit? Living in Fruita I have seen countless guys on the best bikes money can buy poking along the trail because they are physically weak and their skills suck. You simply can not appreciate the small performance increase these top tier bikes and parts offer unless you are physically in shape to do so.
Now, I do acknowledge that you do need a decent bike that is made for what you are doing. Obviously a Wal-Mart bike will not do and trying to downhill on a XC bike will get pretty scary, but once you have invested in a decent bike that is intended for the type of riding you are doing the best way to enjoy the trail more is to start worrying about increasing your physical skills and capacities.
However, the mags don’t get advertising dollars from training sources so they don’t want to “waste” space promoting something that does not pay them to do so. They are also afraid that they will lose readership if they do something different than the other mags, a lemming mentality that does little to advance our sport.
So, what does this all mean? First, check yourself and your priorities. Do you really want to be a better rider and enjoy riding more? If so, what are you doing to achieve that goal? If your answer is something like “saving for a new (fill in the blank)” then maybe you’re going about it the wrong way. If you are really serious about getting all that you can out of your saddle time then your answer must include investing in yourself through some sort of skills or physical training program, preferably both. If not, then being a better biker is not really a priority of yours, which is fine, just know that you’ll probably be riding at the same level this time next year, even with a shiny new crankset or handlebar.
Second, if you are serious about being a better rider then take some action. Invest in yourself and let your favorite bike mags know that you would like to see more coverage of skills and physical training. If they start to think that their readership wants to see this type of stuff then they will be much more likely to devote some of their space to it.
Anyways, so ends my rant. My singular mission at this point is to help re-shape the mentality of the MTB world and hopefully help my fellow riders better appreciate what investing in themselves will do for them. Hopefully some of you can help me do just that.