Shiny shiny syndrome

Mountain biking is a pretty gear orientated sport. I guess most of us are guilty, at one time or another, of having thought that they could have ridden down that bit or cleaned that climb if only some part of their bike was different, be it tyres, suspension, lack of weight or maybe too much weight. Some people might say that there’s no point in constantly keeping up with trends and advances in bicycle technology but I reckon they’re wrong – that’s not just because my job depends on us all buying shiny new things though.

If you go back and ride an old set of suspension forks – the set of 1999 Bomber Z3s I have in my garage for example – back to back with the latest items – let’s say the 2011 Fox 36 Floats – there’s a gulf of difference – as you’d expect in 11 years (or 12 model years, the different time system used in the bike industry). The new forks are less bobby, have more travel, are lighter and can cope with more than one bump in a row before they go all vague. Same with tyres – you’d have to be either an attention seeking standout or just plain deluded to say that old tyres were better. Rubber that grips in the wet, sidewalls not made out of silver Rizlas, tread patterns that work in most conditions without being insanely draggy – all good things.

That said I’m naturally skeptical of claims that something is the next best thing – plenty of those have come and gone over the years but you honestly can say that there are a lot fewer rubbish bits of bike technology being released now. A lot of products that get slated on forums nowadays are still good, if not excellent, products by the standards of a few years ago – anyone complaining about service intervals on modern forks would do well to think back to how rubbish some early forks were – you filled them with grease to make them move, then they jammed solid because the elastomers ran out of space to squish when there was a bit of rain (because there weren’t any seals) and the the grease (regularly) needed to lubricate them attracted mud and grit like the Daily Mail attracts NIMBY nutcases. At least you get a fully functioning fork for a reasonable amount of time nowadays – and we’re still talking about the the not so good products, nevermind the stuff that everyone loves.

It’s also good to know that although most of us will never use our kit anywhere near limit, products are still designed to be used hard and in general they can deal with it. You might say that someone doesn’t need that big travel fork or that 140mm bike for ‘just’ riding trails, but can you honestly say to yourself that you’d like to go back to a 80mm fork and hardtail and that would be more fun? Pinch flats all the time, the sensation of broken wrists after rocky descents? It’s still fun, I’m not denying that. The question is more whether you can have more fun on a modern bike. I reckon so. There are arguments for hardtails still, for their joy and simplicity, but to say they’re actually better for riding proper, rough, off road is nonsense.

Kit is better and most of the advances in technology really are improvements – yeah, they cost a lot more but you can always wait for the inevitable trickle down of technology or for the front line of hardcore consumers to get bored with their new thing and buy the even newer thing. I like technology. I think that for the greater part (social consequences of globalisation, outsourced mass production in countries that might not have the same employee health and safety protection etc etc etc blithely ignored), it’s here to help and for the most part the people that design these things are trying very hard to make them work better or for it to be cheaper and more available.

That’s me at any rate.

On the flip side, there are also people like my other half, who refused to let me change the old tyres on her bike as the ones she had on were just fine, thankyouverymuch. She’s a firm believer in the fact that if she can’t ride up or down something then it’s not because her bike isn’t set up properly or the tyres are rubbish, it’s she’s not good enough, which as far as I’m concerned just isn’t on. She’s not a proper biker in this regard, her bag of excuses is lacking. She doesn’t even blame her fork compression settings for over-the-bars crashes. Pah. I blame her climbing background, where new gear is shiny and nice but very rarely makes the difference between getting up something and not*.

I am also a obsessive compulsive fettler and there is some history of me ‘fixing’ or ‘adjusting’ things to make them ‘better’ – usually with no discernible difference – so she is justified in telling me to bugger off when I come near her bike with a set of allen keys or something shiny, but this time I won and on the tyres went. You know what? They made a noticeable difference and made riding more enjoyable.

We all suffer from gear madness from time to time. It’s a fine line as to whether such things improve or ruin riding. The answer is probably a bit of both. Those new forks might make you faster – but some of that may well be down to the fact you think you’ll be faster with the new forks. Don’t get hung up on gear being the key to enjoyment and don’t scoff at technology that’ll help you go further, faster and be more comfortable. Keep it fun, which what it’s all about. Ride your bike, grin. Repeat, rinse – and sometimes – replace.

* or is that the same as biking? I’ve confused myself..