Throw-back Thursday – Should I stay or should I grow?

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You will recall that Mike has just completed the Tour Divide race in a record time (although due to re-routes to avoid forest fires his time isn’t eligible for the course record under the event’s current rules). If you don’t recall this then check our news story here. Well, Mike hasn’t always been a global endurance racing android of course – there was a time when he wrote pearls of wisdom in the column inches of Singletrack. Since today is the launch of our new Throw-back Thursday series, we thought you’d like to read what was going through Mike’s head over a decade ago in issue 4 of Singletrack.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go was first published in 2001 in Singletrack Issue 4

There was a Howies advert once with a tag-line that read: “There are more people alive today than have ever died, being alone is going to get harder.”

We’d all like to see our sport get more recognition wouldn’t we? We think it’s great seeing mountain bikes on the telly, the sport needs more recognition to grow, we say, get more people interested and we can all have fun together, we say. But is that right? Do we all want to grow as a sport, is this the best thing for us?

Picture thanks to Kathy Schoenderfer, Ovando MT.
Picture thanks to Kathy Schoenderfer, Ovando MT.

More people in the sport would mean more bikes sold which in turn would lead to more manufacturers putting more money into even better bikes and components as well as bigger race teams and more races. Great, but what does this mean at the weekend when you want to get away from it all to ride. It will be just you, your bike, the elements and – oops – loads more riders all over your favourite trail.

Now having given this situation some thought, and while an increase in the number of riders will no doubt be good for the industry for the obvious reasons, I am in two minds as to whether it is a good thing from the rider’s perspective. Sure, more like-minded people, all friends together and all that but the selfish part of me lingers, a voice in the back of my head reminds me that those precious miles of little-known singletrack in remote parts of the woods round here won’t stay that way for long. Is this me adopting a ‘not in my back yard’ attitude or is there something more that other riders can relate to?

Mountain biking means different things to different people and, often, different things to the same person. It can be the opportunity to meet new people as well as get away from all the people you know already. There is a social aspect to our sport in that clubs and group rides can bring people together, you can ride with someone once and you feel like you know them. There is also the anti-social aspect though, the escapism, the personal time and the solitude.

This leads to many clichés like ‘freedom’ and ‘being at one with the trail’ but anyone who has ridden alone or even in a very small group can relate to them. To many though, this is as much part of the attraction as the social side, if not more so, and being alone is all part of the effect, the Zen of mountain biking if you like.

If it gets harder to be alone on the trails then the sense of personal adventure will be lost, we will become just another consumer group using the countryside as a playground for weekend fun. Perhaps we secretly like being the underdogs in the access squabbles with our ‘you wouldn’t understand’ attitude in answer to the rambler’s inexplicable feeling that mountain bikes are just ‘wrong’. Maybe we enjoy being mountain bikers because it is something different, an extreme sport. If everyone did it, if it were just like football, there would be no fun in it. How special would we feel then? How unique would we be?

Maybe we enjoy being mountain bikers because it is something different, an extreme sport.

OK so maybe we aren’t in any danger of becoming too huge for our own good just yet, but the modest set up we have now seems to work OK. There are enough riders and consumers to support a handful of quality top end manufacturers in the UK and a few quality magazines, maybe everyone gets up and changes seats every now and then but then the sport is evolving, reinventing itself. Just look at the race scene; first it was cross-country races, then the downhill scene exploded, followed by side shows of dual etc, now adventure racing has gained popularity and 2001 looks set to be the year of the endurance race. We are also in no danger of dying out either then, the mountain bike is a versatile machine by its very nature and can lend itself to many different applications. So rather than trying to push and pull the sport in new directions should we just let it evolve and enjoy our riding in the mean time?

In conclusion then, have I found an answer? Well no, not exactly. Yes I’d like to share the fun with more people but maybe the ‘fun’ wouldn’t be quite so much fun, the more people you had. If this ‘fun’ then had an inverse relationship to the amount of people, would there be a happy medium whereby there was a decent amount of people enjoying a decent amount of ‘fun’?


By Mike Hall – 2001

Comments (1)

    Extreme sport? I struggle with that description but maybe we can put that down to the 12 year gap since the article was written. Intresting though given the massive rise in trail centre riding since then; I’m sure he’d comment on this aspect of biking if writing the article now. I think the quest for wilderness/alone-ness is always ultimately selfish; the presence of any single person into your experience is an intrusion; yet they may be looking for same thing and be similarly put out by your presence. It’s how you handle it that is important to me; a few people met on a back of beyond trip shouldn’t really spoil your day and a simple hello isn’t a big deal. Clearly his point about increasing numbers is an issue; but I think the effort required to plan and execute a decent remote trip means they will always appeal to the minority (leaving guided trips/commercial ventreus aside). What might be worth considering is how much of a fad the current rise in mountain biking is; will it taper, be replaced by something else, or is it the one true way?

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