Chicken & Egg
AKA Location, Location, Location
By Benji Haworth
Benji ponders whether the local terrain makes the rider, or whether the bike they ride determines where they ride.
Chances are, that if you’re a keen rider of mountain bikes, you probably lived somewhere conducive to their use at the time of your first encounter with them. (Unless, perhaps, you encountered mountain bikes during their novelty boom time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, in which case you may well have been living on the 15th floor of a central London block of flats and you would have still felt the urge to own a mountain bike.) But I digress.
A General Theory of Mountain Biking
This theory – that I’ve just invented – states that someone must live within close proximity of decent trails for their initially casual dabblings into the mucky world of mountain biking to blossom into full grown dirt-biking obsession. The Theory goes on to state that the type of mountain biking that a person first experiences this obsession properly will go on to influence their riding from that moment on.
Speaking for myself, I was destined (or doomed, depending on your point of view) to be obsessive dirt-biker. I was a teenager during the first novelty boom time of the mountain bike. And I lived in a rural village blessed with great woodland trails and a nearby big ol’ lump of finest Lancastrian Pennine fell. A veritable perfect storm of dirt.
I say ‘dirt-biker’ rather than ‘mountain biker’ because my cycling history dates back to riding BMXs. I inherited that BMX from my brother, who was a teenager during the novelty boom time of the BMX. I used to ride it everywhere. Well, everywhere apart the sort of stuff that it was designed for.
Although the riding area available to me on my diddy-wheeled bike and my weedy legs was relatively modest: all within a one mile radius from our house; it was impressively varied. National Trust woodland singletrack (before the era of the ‘No Cycling’ sign, not that one of those would have stopped me anyway). Up 1-in-4 road climbs to get to the top of a rocky still-quite-techno-to-this-day off-road plummet. Jumping off lumps of the village’s ancient Abbey ruins. Using slumped-over gravestones as makeshift ramps in the churchyard.
A BMX wasn’t the right tool for the job. It didn’t matter. I had no choice. Well, I had a road bike available to me but that was clearly not going to be any good for the stuff I liked to ride. More significantly, not only was I denied a more suitable bike, I didn’t have any desire for a more suitable bike. I was enjoying myself riding stuff that I didn’t even know I ‘shouldn’t’ be riding on a BMX. Ignorance was bliss. I was lucky that my BMX had decent tyres. Yes, I was teenage rubber geek (wasn’t there a film called that?)
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Take Two Bottles Into The Shower?
Let’s go back to my old bike. It appeared that I had tuned myself into a corner. My bike was brilliant for my favourite local-ish loops but it struggled when out of the Shire. But I was loathe to hamstring its local performance. I cannot bear compromise when it comes to bikes. As my non-local riding became more and more frequent, the inevitable happened. I bought more and more bikes. Does any of this sound familiar?
Yes, I am one of those sad people who own such things as a ‘Wharncliffe bike’ or a ‘Shropshire bike’ or a ‘Calderdale bike’ or a ‘North Downs bike’ or a ‘Trail Centre bike’ or a… well, you get the idea. Multiple location-specific bikes are where it’s at for the uncompromising (stupid), obsessive (insecure), dirt-biker (mountain biker).I’m doing my best to ignore a couple of recent bikes that have had me thinking dark thoughts of – whisper it – the perfect all-rounder mountain bike. This is not a though that excites me. Or one that fills me with relief and contentment.
Where’s the fun in owning just one bike? I don’t want a sensible bike. I don’t want to reduce the risk of riding the ‘wrong’ bike. Sometimes riding the wrong bike can be perfectly right. But more importantly, there are also not many sweeter feelings than riding the right bike on the right terrain. Nothing else feels quite so, well… right.