Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Retrogrouchy Like A Fox

I'm sort of obsessed right now with this tweet from Matt Phillips, who if I recall correctly is the testing director for Bicycling magazine:
On one hand it comes off as a humblebrag: trails are too easy for me these days thanks to those darn millennials and their PC agenda.  On the other, it seems to be suggesting that because today's expensive, high-end bikes make riding difficult trails easy, we should make the trails more technical to maintain a baseline of perceived difficulty, thus requiring cyclists to remain on the bleeding edge of tech in order to enjoy themselves.  This is like saying we should starve public transit while letting our infrastructure go to shit and instead set policy that encourages people to drive around in oversized all-terrain vehicles.

Oh wait, that's what we're doing.


Granted, the "problem" Matt Phillips is describing is not really a problem around these parts.  Here, it's rooty and rocky, and unless you rip all the trees and boulders out and bulldoze everything flat that's not going to change.  If anything I encounter more and more built features designed to indulge people who ride around on bikes with lots of suspension and ride over the same obstacle fifty times in a row while blasting shitty music from their Bluetooth speakers and making videos of themselves with their iPhones.

Nevertheless, I'll certainly take his word that it's happening where he is, in which case my question is...why is this such a bad thing?  What, ultimately, is the point of riding these overwrought cutting-edge mountain bikes if they're just making things, as he says, "easier, safer, more fun"?  Are the bikes and trails just supposed to keep getting proportionately burlier until we're riding all-terrain recumbents that look like Mars rovers?  It seems to me that these darn avocado-munching millennials are realizing the "ever-increasing firepower" approach to bikes is kind of silly, hence the gravel bike phenomenon--which is what I was getting at awhile back in this Outside column:

At the same time, the bicycle industry seems to react in a roundabout way when it comes to riding off-road. Common wisdom holds that the gravel bike was a response to the limitations of the road bike, but wasn’t it just as much of a response to the limitations of all those over-suspended mountain bikes ill-suited to the long haul? Basically with gravel bikes and “road plus” and all the rest of it, we’ve just reinvented the rigid mountain bike and added drop bars—which is pretty much exactly what John Tomac was riding almost 30 years ago.

In light of this, doesn't it make sense to enjoy these rolling, smooth trails on simpler bicycles?  Isn't the appearance of having "zero features or personality" a function of riding a bike that's designed to isolate the rider from any trail features or personality that might be present?  Isn't it kind of silly we're now at the point where even your saddle has to telescope, and if you don't get to use that feature on a ride then it's because the trail is somehow featureless and devoid of personality?

Well, the answers are obviously yes, yes, and yes.

In any case, there's really only one conclusion to all of this, which is that I spend WAY too much time thinking about this stuff.  But who can blame me?  Reality is just too depressing.

47 comments:

Serial Retrogrouch said...

..I consider myself a lupine retrogrouch.

Stephen Hill said...

If buddy boy wants to head out in the woods with a pick axe and a shovel and cut his own trail have at it, and while he’s out there he can pack out all the energy gel trash, and leave no trace while he fucks off

you got me down said...

Podiumful?

Now that I clicked on the "reality is just too depressing" link my lunch is not fun.
A minivan...ugg. No doubt it was just an "accident..."
Hmmm...drive confused accelerator for break?

huskerdont said...

Mountain biking still seems plenty hard to me, but then, I'm getting older and don't enjoy falling as much as I used to. Part of the reason I went with a 27.5 is that there was less distance to fall.

Hey, the world needs sucky mountain bikers too. I fill a niche.

jno62 said...

Amen!

Anonymous said...

Being in my seventh decade, having no off-road skills to speak of, and having recently bought a CX or gravular sort of bike to commute and hoon around on, I am all for easy trails.

Futuro Grouch said...

Modern full suspension systems could employ “newer” technology, designed to amplify and enhance the ride experience. The new “Duplitronic suspension-augmenter” could be programmable to provide the full range of Terra Firma feedback, from simulated rock gardens to rocket propelled Evil Kneivel gap jumps (battery included).

Anonymous said...

I will agree with Mr. Phillips that the current trend in mountain bike trail building does go overboard in terms of making trails that are "wide and flowy" and the pendulum needs to swing back to more natural trails, BUT not because of the high tech bikes coming out.

Back in the day, at least "my day", trail building consisted of 1) walking an area to find the line that required a) minimal tree removal, b) rocks to go over, particularly on slopes, for fun and to limit erosion (rock doesn't erode, dirt does), and c) not through wet areas. After finding and flagging out the line, you 2) raked the duff off the trail, and 3) removed limbs from the trees you purposely did not cut down so you didn't loose an eyeball. That was it. The trail "incorporated" (i.e, left natural) roots, rocks and turns so you had to check your speed and not take out the "non bike" trail users (yes you took them into account), and was fun and challenging. Some sections easy, some were not, depending on what was there originally and the personality of the trail builder. The trail you made blended in with the woods, it really didn't look any different than a hiking trail. Sure, there was some sections that were very difficult, and you either walked that section or learned to ride it. And the trail also took on a different personality depending on the season and weather, so it was always an engaging ride. There were usually multiple lines that you could ride, given the natural roots, rocks, turns, and topography left in the trail.

Now, you don't have a proper trail unless its' been machine built out, made super smooth and wide. All the trees are cut down within 5 feet of the trail on either side as you need to remove them in order to get your bobcat excavator in. Then the logs from those trees you removed are used to build "features". And then, of course, you carry rocks (the ones just moved out of the trail with your bobcat excavator to make it smooth) to specific locations to install a few more man made "features", and then hike in some lumber to build skinny's for yet another "feature. The trail then resembles a Nordic ski trail, with a mini skate park thrown in every 1/4 mile, that usually has an escape route. Its fun, for the first few rides, but after a while its boring. The trail has been made sterile so it feels the same regardless of season or weather. Once you've mastered the one line of such a trail, there is no more challenge to it. Even the built in "features" usually only have one line, and once you've done it, that's it.

So for me its this- Do you like your trail all natural, or plastic surgery'ed up? I'm a fan of the all natural ride, regardless of the bike I'm riding it with. Its just way more interesting, in the long run.

Schisthead said...

FWIW, there are sidewalks to challenge you and your FS 29er in any major city.

XD

Anonymous said...

That dude at 2:19PM hit the nail on the head.

DaveD said...

Sounds like his cycling benchmark is his "Peloton" living room toy.

BikeSnobNYC said...

Anonymous 2:19pm,

Yikes, we don't have that around here, that sounds horrible.

--Tan Tenovo

pbateman is tired of work and going to buy a tree. said...



i do like your black single speed mountain style biking bike. probably the best looking bike made of an actual material suitable for bike making you own.

okay, off to get in the car and pick up my christmas tree, which i do intend to use for pagan rituals and possible virgin sacrifice this year. well, virgin is a long shot, but i do still plan to do your mom under it.

i'm putting the tree in my new-to-me older benz SL (an r129 if you are a technical sort) and at least 50% of my motivation for this is so i have an extremely florida photo for social media.

portaging a tree in this manner is really douchey, but maybe not quite as douchey as actually riding one. : )

Al said...

Motorist are jacking up the body this week and it's only Tuesday. In Florida, a woman plows into a group of 14 people on bicycles, she kills one person and injures 6. She said the sun got in her eyes while she was "distracted". I bet she walks with a slap on the wrist, if that. Ya well, no shit, reality is depressing.

McFly said...

To suspend or not to suspend, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the back to suffer.......

Big Woods Biker said...

As a mountain biker and trail builder I prefer handbuilt natural trails. Machine built trails are often a scar upon the land and man-made features are out of place in the woods. After all, I am out there to enjoy nature, not play in some playground.
That's what bike parks are for. Rocks and roots are part of the mountain and if I want to avoid them I ride on a road. Dirt, gravel, or paved. I've also done the cycle from rigid, hardtail riding in the '80's-90's to front suspension to full suspension, back to fully rigid. Heck, back in the day we put the biggest tires we could find on our touring bikes and hit the dirt in the mountains and it was a blast. I'm glad to be out of the war of everything being bigger, better, more technological, and more expensive to buy and maintain. I'm 60 years old and still love to be outside in the mountains riding my bike. If I can't ride it I can always go for a hike.

David Suto said...

Umm, I was going to write a note but it looks exactly like Big Woods Biker's. I just bought a beautiful forest green Pine Mountain and it reminds me of why I started mountain biking every time I ride it and as a plus the big tires are easy on my aging hands.

Nathan Johnson said...

What? There’s a place and time for all of it. Sometimes I just want to go as fast as I can between the trees and away from cars. I don’t ride park or care about smashing my body against the rocks. Is it a trend to build these machine built trails? Is it any worse than the trend of obesity or socially acceptable vehicular homicide?

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that increased efficiency (better suspension) just leads to more time the efficient thing gets used (fiddling around on lumpy trail features). This destroying everything.

Anonymous said...

Round these parts, the days when you could keep it real with exclusively hand-built trails through the woods are gone. Not because I and everyone else no longer care for that style of riding but because there are just so many more MTBers now that it's impossible to build enough trail in that style, and even if you could the land managers are tuned into the fact that there are lots of people on bikes who can't gnar, don't want to gnar and will, in fact, ride around the gnar if at all possible. There are trails for the masses, not just a small cadre of core riders. So be it. If you go looking you will find suitable options for you and your precious 23-pound 6-inches of travel carbon wonderbike to get properly rad.

Alexander asdf said...

Good analysis.

Beck the Biker said...

Drop bars and low-tread tires can be suprisingly agile off-road. I think Sheldon Brown even remarked on the suprising amount of traction he got riding road slicks on his neighborhood trails using a little lower tire pressure. Traction patch and all that. Biking in the climate-challenged world almost demands a curb-to-curb approach from any cyclist with a conscience these days and a bike to match the pursuit. However, American sloverncy rules, and driving to go biking will remain a popular pastime with the outdoor enthusiast crowd and the rest of the recreational bicyclists, both on and off-road.

Drock said...

Cheaper gas leads to more suspension.

George Krpan said...

"Basically with gravel bikes and “road plus” and all the rest of it, we’ve just reinvented the rigid mountain bike and added drop bars—which is pretty much exactly what John Tomac was riding almost 30 years ago."

Ain't that the truth.

purpleano said...

Almost any trail is difficult if you ride fast enough. Maybe fancy bike mag guy needs to grow a pair of legs.

Anonymous said...

The Red Bull Gnar fest proves that bikes that can ride over anything can . . . well . . .ride over anything, so why bother making "trails" for them.
But, as much as I like a technical challenge every now & then I mostly just want to ride and it would be nice if I could sorta take my eye off the trail every now and then and enjoy being out in nature and relax my grip on the handlebars slightly.

Back in my trail building days we sort of built trails around the Gnar and rideability was key, an obstacle was inherently unavoidable, now the trails are routed directly at large blocks of rock, small cliffs, Jumps, etc. This may appeal to a small cadre' of riders, but the average rider is gonna say "eff this, mountain biking sucks" and who does that benefit??

Schisthead said...

"This is like saying we should starve public transit while letting our infrastructure go to shit and instead set policy that encourages people to drive around in oversized all-terrain vehicles."

Although this works perfectly for what city councils do, this strikes me more as a 'we should spend immense amounts of money on infrastructure with money stolen from public transit so people in oversized all terrain vehicles whose capabilities are never utilized can express their particularly vapid brand of style.' kind of situation, at least as it applies to the kinds of trails discussed.

It is unfortunate that I am this well-versed in the mechanics of the situation.

Anonymous said...

Wait, so if I put drop bars on my 86 Rockhopper it'll be cutting edge again?
Thanks BS!

Benjamin Elliott said...

Wheres Ted K??!

Anonymous said...

You can drive your fancy MTB to the trailhead using the new Jeep Gladiator, https://www.cnn.com/videos/cars/2018/11/28/jeep-gladiator-unveiled.cnn

Anyone missed the Hummer?

huskerdont said...

Reading all this, I feel we must be very lucky here with our local MTB trails. They're mostly in the woods and wind around trees, go over lots of roots and the odd rock, cross some creeks, and where trees have fallen, have limbs piled against them so can ride over if you feel up to it. Long may they remain.

Matt said...

The gravel bikes are a throwback to the rigid mtb days...when you needed SKILL to not crash. Where you had to pick your lines carefully, and have learned technique both climbing and descending. I personally think the gravel bike fills a large spot in my 'quiver'...3 sets of tires/wheels and it goes from full-on road to shitty pave/dirt roads to as gnarly dirt as you are willing and able to ride it on...the full spspension mtb fills the rest of the quiver. The gravel bike can climb nearly anything, it's descending that is where things get really interesting. One thing I've learned w/ my gravel bike: just because I CAN ride it on gnarly dirt doesn't mean I should. I guess it all depends on your mood and riding mission. Gravel bikes just aren't downhill-bombers. But they can be quite fun regardless.

Steely Danzig said...

I agree with the tweeter. He is saying that people buy big plush bikes to ride on golf cart paths and then say that they are mountain bikers. people are lazy idiots, just watch the explosion of e-MTBs.
PurpleAno- that's just stupid.

der blaue Reiter said...

I wouldn’t want to ride it every day, but... where can i find an all-terrain recumbent that looks like a mars rover? Maybe like the cafe racer Sammallahti photographed in Solovki? That would go over well at critical mass!
http://www.artnet.de/k√ľnstler/pentti-sammallahti/solovki-white-sea-russia-dog-on-motorbike-a-M5KphATWeKRi7UPWCwYetA2

O4fuxake said...

Friends don't let friends ride PurpleAno.

JLRB said...

I used to live where MTB trails were a short pedal away but moved to where they require a full day commitment. So I got rusty/older, but still love the chances to ride dirt when I can. I never had a full suspension MTB until a year or so ago - impulse bought one for me as a gift for me from me, etc. It's nice and all for getting through rock gardens, but I'd rather ride easier "flowie" trails on a rigid or hardtail.

Wait, what was the question?

On the beaten track said...

Does anyone have an opinion about the two guys (an American and a Brit) cross country skiing to the South Pole? They each are dragging a puke with all their gear. Sounds incredibly tough and stressful. In any event, should they have tried it on fat bikes? Thee altitude there is crazy - something like 9000 ft, and there are some serious hills, too. The issue is seeing that a hill is there - they say they feel the climbs when they are on them.

Anyway, makes my local mtb trails seem tame (and I get a hot shower after a two hour ride).

Pist Off said...

Flow trails with berms and essentially paved path are an IMBA-endorsed way for mountain biking to be safer for beginners and attract new riders. That’s their spiel anyway. I think it’s bullshit, but I know the point of view. Dumbed down trails are an inevitable part of marketing bikes as expensive toys for resort parks. At the same time, current suspension bikes are easy to ride fast, with high stakes for crashes at speed. I ride a suspension and a rigid MTB and think both have their place, but seriously most people on big suspension don’t know how to ride for shit. Rigid bikes force some skill in use, and lower speeds where skill can’t compensate. 6 inch travel carbon bikes are all over this state and allow just about anyone to go fast most places. That’s boring for the rider and increases the MTB traffic on all trails. A six-inch enduro bike has limits so far beyond most rider’s skill levels (yes mine too), I wonder why people enjoy them. Like riding with a sensory condom.

FTBK HEVN said...

I'm sorry... what was that you were writing?
I must have drifted off to Fatbiking Heaven.

The 1970s said...

Pre-teen Bill Gates on a bicycle.

Loving the classic photo said...

The 1970s said...at 8:39 PM

Thanks for the great photo!

I wonder if Bill and Melinda Gates let their kid(s?) ride around with no supervision. I hope so. It builds up confidence and a sense of local geography that staring at a screen does not.

Maybe the kid(s?) ride with their bodyguards.

sweatpants cyclist said...

Here's an interesting device for the "What pressure you running?" folks: the Air Hawk Pro Cordless Tire Inflator (https://youtu.be/nA8i05kmW1o), or any cordless air compressor for that matter. You can dial in to your heart's delight!

JLRB said...

When I Zwift, I always go full suspension

Haywood Jablome said...

Single speed for singletrack

Die free said...

Saw this today...

https://www.bicycling.com/news/a25358099/drivers-give-helmet-cyclists-less-room/

wishiwasmerckx said...

RIP Paul Sherwen.

The TdF coverage will not be the same without you.

McFly said...

Wiwm, THAT guy was the TDF for me. When its 117 out in July I come home turn on the DVR and veg out to those soothing British commentaries.