The mountain bike industry comes in for a lot of flak, not all of it justified. Do you think that five grand (And the rest – Ed) for a flagship model bike is too much? Believe it or not, there are cheaper ones in most companies’ ranges. Like bikes with 26in wheels and steep geometry? Hie ye to our classifieds forum and bag yourself a bargain. Nevertheless, there are some things that I really wish MTB companies wouldn’t do. Here’s a non-exhaustive list..
1. Model years
If you’ve got a good product, which has months of R&D behind it, why change it every year? I guess you can argue that model years are good because they mean last year’s bikes get discounted, and are therefore more affordable. But isn’t that offset by the fact that plenty of folk are riding around on perfectly decent bikes, yet feeling inadequate because they don’t have the newest model?
Model years seem like a throwback to the auto industry of the 1950s, when cars had pointless tailfins, did 15 miles to the gallon, and were basically a distraction from impending nuclear annihilation. Yes, shiny new things are nice, but so is the feeling that you’re buying something because you want it, not because you’re caught in a late capitalism consumer death spiral.
2. Cheap suspension forks
If I ever become dictator, I will ban any mountain bike costing less than £500 from having front suspension. Cheap suspension forks are the mountain biking equivalent of the human appendix – they serve no apparent function until they go wrong and almost kill you. The mountain bike world has been doing lots of interesting things with tyres recently, so why not use these to provide a bit of cushioning instead? I’d rather ride a bike whose handling and performance is dictated by a simple air-filled torus, rather than a heavy, unserviceable pogo stick, any day of the week.
3. Ignoring women
This is a bit of a contentious one. Yes, I know that there’s a circular aspect to the gender mix of a sport, that many “women’s-specific” bikes are in reality anything but, and that there are broader social and cultural reasons why women may not choose mountain biking as a means of filling their spare time and sucking up all their disposable income. I also know that there are some companies going the extra mile to get more women riding and to give them bikes that they want. But still.
Cycling Weekly’s recent “token attractive woman” gaffe touched a nerve, not because it was a lapse in editorial standards, but because it was a sadly predictable glimpse of a much deeper problem. It’s amazing how many mountain biking companies market to a notional all-male audience, or sponsor a team of blokes but not one single female rider. If clever marketing and an inclusive attitude can bring millions of women into running – the most unpleasant, crippling form of recreation ever invented – then surely mountain biking, which features more cake stops and fewer fankles, should be an easy win?
SPD, ABP, VPP, CTD, SID… The mountain bike industry loves acronyms, more than the MOD, middle management and Mumsnet combined. The rest of us just scratch our heads, and think how much nicer paint jobs could be if graphic designers and paint shops could concentrate on making bikes look good, instead of applying letter transfers in meaningless combinations.
A short disclaimer first. Yes, I know the environmental impacts of mountain biking can’t be compared to lots of other human activity (at least, until we start burning down forests instead of just building jumps in them). But it seems to have become mandatory lately for every marketing video to feature riders hitting every trail like it’s a purpose-built DH track, with sharts of dirt firing out from every turn. Whether it’s carving bloody great ruts through nice woodland, discouraging folk who just want to mountain bike as a way to explore the countryside, spilling the beans on secret trails, or just the overall lack of originality, there are plenty of reasons why shredits should stop.
6. White Kit
Despite being almost 40 years old, mountain biking still hasn’t realised that it involves riding off road. For proof, look at the profusion of white shoes, white shorts, white saddles – even white grips, where simply installing them can coat them with a patina of perma-grime. I can’t even keep white kit clean when I ride on the road, let alone on my local trails, which are mostly minefields of inky black puddles and sheep shit. Perhaps the mountain bike industry has forged an holy alliance with the manufacturers of washing powder, or baby wipes?
7. Branded Riding Tops
Mountain bike clothing often seems to be where hip-hop fashion was in 1992 – basically, the most important feature of your garment, apart from the baggy fit, is the size of the logo. I don’t want to get all Naomi Klein, but for those of us who aren’t sponsored riders, and don’t like being a walking advertising hoarding, can you maybe try something a bit more understated? You know, kit that’s aesthetically pleasing, as well as letting you know who made it?
8. Loose Ball Bearings
AKA Faff Balls. They may be cheap and strong, but good grief they are fiddly to replace. If you’re unlucky enough to have to renew some, I’d suggest getting your hands on a magnetic parts bowl, some very stiff grease, and a complete absence of anything else to do for at least one evening. If nothing else, make sure your kitchen units have enclosed plinths, or you’re never going to be seeing those tiny silver rage-spheres ever again.
9. Shoes With Mesh Fronts
Do the designers of these ever ride in the UK? (No – Ed). Or at all? Do they realise that they make even the slowest encounter with standing water into grim, soggy-socked purgatory? In fact, I’d go so far as to say that shoes with mesh fronts are responsible for a significant degree of trail erosion, as riders pick their way round puddles like they’re negotiating a live minefield, instead of a bit of water. If you’re going to prioritise ventilation over weatherproofing, at least make the heels or soles mesh too, so the soupy shoe-juice has somewhere to drain to.
10. Making Everything Stiffer
Why does the bike industry always think stiffer is better? Is it a bloke thing? Do they realise that mountain bike tyres, assuming you don’t pump them up like you’re going for an hour record at a velodrome, squidge way more readily than any other part of the frame? That the most important element in the cycling equation, the person riding it, is just a floppy bag of watery meat, who doesn’t necessarily want every sideways impact from a rock or root transmitted straight into their groaning core?
There’s a lot of chat about how stiffer bikes give more “precise” steering and handling. If you were doing anything with precision – buttering some toast, or sewing on a button – the last tool you would choose for the job is a 30-lb collection of metal tubes, accessorised with a couple of giant spinning hoops. And furthermore, all the most annoying new standards of recent years have been in the name of stiffness. I’ll make an exception for modern wheel-securing systems, as these have an obvious safety benefit, but 35mm bars, press-fit BBs and Boost wheels are a royal pain, even before you start riding and rack up a hefty physio’s bill.
I’m now bracing myself for a flood of “you left this out” responses, but hold on a sec – we have a feature in the magazine, Room 101, for this very purpose. If there’s anything in the mountain bike world which really winds you up, you can email our resident Overlord of Griping, Charlie, at email@example.com and he’ll dish out catharsis, correction or chamois cream as appropriate in the next issue of the magazine.