Debate: Is It Even Mountain Biking?

by and 93

As part of a new head-to-head debate series, Hannah and Chipps agree to disagree on what constitutes ‘mountain biking’ and, by extension, on what should appear in this magazine. We’ve given them a couple of pages to set out their stall.

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Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

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Home Forums Debate: Is It Even Mountain Biking?

Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 93 total)
  • Debate: Is It Even Mountain Biking?
  • 3
    ayjaydoubleyou
    Free Member

    To describe whether something is mountainbiking, I like Didnthurt’s proposal, but propose an addition third rule:

    1: Your tyres must touch dirt/mud at some point during the ride.

    2: You must have fun during the ride (type 1) or after reminiscing (type 2)

    3: You must at some point while on dirt/mud, stand up for the purpose of improved handling of your bike.

    Still suitable to be able to “do mountainbiking” on your hybrid/gravel/shopping bike, and not gatekeeping on equipment or local terrain. And conversely, if I were to go for a quick local trip to a friends house (on my mountain bike) it would not be mountainbiking.

    21
    imrobert
    Full Member

    I’m 100% with Chipps on this. I don’t think the magazine is or should be an outdoor lifestyle magazine with some bike shaped objects in it. For me, riding over a bit of dirt or pootling on a canal path isn’t mtb.

    4
    Kramer
    Free Member

    Let’s face it, a lot of what, traditionally was called XC mountain biking is in fact gravel biking and is better served by using a gravel bike because they’re quicker and more fun.

    2
    fasgadh
    Free Member

    My preferred use of a hardtail is now rebranded as “gravel” and I seem to be expected to use damaging narrow tyres.  Sometimes on a hack, I will use Spooky Wood and the blue so I guess I just qualify.

    TL:DR there are -1/12 angels on the pin.

    1
    Bruce
    Full Member

    I don’t think MTB actually exist it’s a marketing ploy from the 90s.

    I just ride bikes some times it’s off road sometimes it’s not.

    We used to go to nice places and ride most weekends but this has gradually declined as we are more concerned about the environment and our impact. Now most of our “MTB” riding is for holidays and if we go somewhere for some other reasons and can fit in an off road ride.

    Age affects what I will ride now as at 70 I don’t bounce like I used to and have no desire to be taken of a hill by Mountain Rescue.

    What might be a more useful discusion is around car speeds and driver behaviour as I often feel unsafe on the road. It’s quite hard to do any bike ride completely off road unless you go to a bike park or trail centre and driver behaviour and attitudes to cycling can be appauling.

    The other thing that most often gets ignored is the environmental impact of offroad riding and may become a issue. (See the Coed y Brenin discussion)

    ayjaydoubleyou
    Free Member

    Let’s face it, a lot of what, traditionally was called XC mountain biking is in fact gravel biking and is better served by using a gravel bike because they’re quicker and more fun.

    does that not just mean gravel has become a subclassification of mtb? we don’t have to shun it or claim its totally different because the handlebars are weird.

    If you time travelled back to 1995 and gave the bike designers of the day access to modern materials/construction/components, but showed them nothing about the last 30 years of bike racing, or trail centres etc; I reckon they would come up with something pretty much like a modern gravel bike.

    13
    alpin
    Free Member

    I don’t and won’t buy a magazine or click open a link that showcases or reviews MTBs with motors.

    Zero interest.

    I do, however, have an electric cargo bike, but that’s a utility and not a play bike.

    5
    Speeder
    Full Member

    Kramer
    Let’s face it, a lot of what, traditionally was called XC mountain biking is in fact gravel biking and is better served by using a gravel bike because they’re quicker and more fun.

    I fail to see how a pumped up racer could ever be “more fun” than an MTB on any surface but each to their own.

    If it’s done on a mountain bike it’s mountain biking. Curly barred wotsits are not mountainbikes, they’re cries for help.

    1
    tenburner
    Full Member

    We used to go to nice places and ride most weekends but this has gradually declined as we are more concerned about the environment and our impact.

    Go enjoy yourself. Nothing you do will make a shred of difference to the environment (even if you were flying a private jet to go riding every weekend)

    lovewookie
    Full Member

    Let’s face it, a lot of what, traditionally was called XC mountain biking is in fact gravel biking and is better served by using a gravel bike because they’re quicker and more fun.

    does that not just mean that popular MTB’s are now not that well suited to traditional XC MTB and are slow and less fun over it?

    personally, I think that is probably about right. our corner of MTB has shifted, with the help of technology, lighter bikes, lighter longer travel bikes especially, so the gnarly trail stuff that 20 years ago was only really tackled by a few folk on their 150mm forked cove stiffee’s or freeride bikes that were somewhat out of place on club rides (but always welcomed I may add). Lighter, longer travel bikes were the gateway to the shift I think, to the shift of focus to the fun parts, the descending.

    of course now that the gateway has opened, bikes are becoming heavier again as normal riders push the boundaries of what they ask of components.

    what was XC, is either gravel-plus, or stuck in a niche along with bull moose bar singlespeeding.. ;-)

    however, back to the subject, it’s all mountainbiking, or rather ‘off road’ biking, and as long as it’s enjoyable and relatable than great.The debate about whether gravel is in that category, I think not. for those of us around in the late 80’s early 90’s, It’s ATB, not MTB. However, would I object to it being in a mag as a feature, similar to other niches around a central theme? No, the ‘essence of why’ is still there.

     

     

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    I don’t think MTB actually exist it’s a marketing ploy from the 90s.

    The French got it right with VTT. If we’d not let ourselves be influenced by the Americans we’d not be having this discussion.

    In the UK, mountain land is defined as that over 610m. Therefore, you’re not mountain biking if you are cycling below that altitude.

    FWIW, as a runner, we call thin, sinuous paths singletrack too. It’s an explanation of path type, not a definition of what type of bicycle you can use on it.

    3
    tomlevell
    Full Member

    If it’s done on a mountain bike it’s mountain biking. Curly barred wotsits are not mountainbikes, they’re cries for help.

    Please explain John Tomac.

    Tomac_Zap-e1458748369261_e-copy

    2
    hooli
    Free Member

    Kramer
    Let’s face it, a lot of what, traditionally was called XC mountain biking is in fact gravel biking and is better served by using a gravel bike because they’re quicker and more fun.

    Depends what you used to ride and call XC? I know somebody who said similar so I took him for a local (what I call XC ride) and he nearly cried. Rutted bridleways, rooty forest paths, dried horse hoof prints and the odd drop or jump when we can find it.

    Look at the world cup XC courses, would you ride those on a gravel bike?

    1
    Bruce
    Full Member

    The problem is that as bikes are getting more capable people are looking for for more technical terrain, this means  that taking a inexperienced rider on even a blue route can be a steep learning curve.

    Just ride your bike, have fun and don’t trash the environment.

    4
    robertajobb
    Full Member

    “Nothing you do will make a shred of difference to the environment (even if you were flying a private jet to go riding every weekend)”

    A very American or Chinese approach then.

    Let’s get some Lignite burning power stations built to charge those eMTBs

    Kramer
    Free Member

    does that not just mean that popular MTB’s are now not that well suited to traditional XC MTB and are slow and less fun over it?

    Trail bikes and above, almost certainly.

    Look at the world cup XC courses, would you ride those on a gravel bike?

    I think that the key word in my statement was traditionally. XC has moved on, and rightly so IMO. It could still do with being even more technical, until professional road racers can’t just dip in and win.

    I fail to see how a pumped up racer could ever be “more fun” than an MTB on any surface

    Fair enough, and as soon as you’re on singletrack I agree with you. But on gravel roads, which is a lot of what we used to ride before things got more technical, gravel bikes work better. They’re faster and easier to pedal up hill.

    3
    Blackflag
    Free Member

    Can we not just go back to ATB?

    iffoverload
    Free Member

    I ride a modern “gravel” bike with flat bars and 2″ xc tyres with mates on 170mm ebikes..who cares what you call it, its just fun, and even more fun over 15mph  ;)

    1
    cookeaa
    Full Member

    If you time travelled back to 1995 and gave the bike designers of the day access to modern materials/construction/components, but showed them nothing about the last 30 years of bike racing, or trail centres etc; I reckon they would come up with something pretty much like a modern gravel bike.

    I’m not sure if they would. In 1995 MTBs were were growing in popularity but still new and exciting, with new ideas still being tried and forms of riding/racing being fleshed out.

    Fast forward to ~2015 MTBs had become a mainstay of the cycling world, and had diversified into various sub-niches with specialist types of ‘MTB’ for each market, there’s more money and marketing behind MTBs but arguably very few truly ‘new’ concepts were being dreamed up just tweaking some angles and adding the odd cog and pissing people about with new “standards”.

    Then along comes “Gravel bikes” which were really just a reimagining of CX bikes with a bit more tyre girth and better (MTB derived brakes and gears (a bit like like in the earlier days of MTB in many ways), plus there were fewer definitions over what “gravel riding” is/was or indeed what (if any) rules applied to the kit to be used. Another decade beyond that there’s still grumpy sods for whom MTBs are the pinnacle of cycling and Gravel bikes are nonsense (Who I’m sure would love comparisons to the miserable gits on old touring bikes in the 80s rubbishing those new fangled MTBs), and the “Gravel bike” is in the throws of being defined, divided into Sub-niches and marketed back to the sweaty masses.

    It’s all been done before. Gravel is in the ascendancy today as much because the MTB has sort of run through that 30 years of niche creation and marketing hype and a backlash with some alternative attitudes was due. The zeitgist has already changed for gravel too; people seem to simultaneously love and hate “competitive” gravel or sneer at/embrace crusty bike packers on their laden Surleys in equal measure.

    If you gave 2024 bicycle technologies to the 1995 bike industry, they’d still creep along the same trajectory of incremental changes to the MTB, it was the part of cycling with a buzz around it at the time. Curly barred bikes just weren’t in the place to be meddled with back then.

    “Is it even MTBing?”
    I suppose you at least need a simple definition of what MTBing actually is to answer that question, In my head it’s still simply riding a bike off-road. So I guess Gravel bikes count too, but I’m sure there’s now people who would consider themselves Gravel bikers not MTBers, who are less enamoured with what seem like expensive complex toys to the uninitiated.

    Personally I still have a grumpy attitude to E-bikes, but E-MTBs do still ‘count’ IMO.

    Perhaps the more pertinent question is does it really matter?

    The mag is Called ‘Singletrack’ which simply implies “off-road cycling” to me, so I don’t see why the whole gate-keepy debate over the legitimacy of what you might ride on whatever trails is needed.

    The terrain/destinations/adventures/events should speak for themselves, if people get hung up on the tools used they’ve already missed the point really.

    4
    zippykona
    Full Member

    My Spanish friend referred to my mighty steed my “Countryside Bicycle”.
    She was right.

    tomlevell
    Full Member

    I think that the key word in my statement was traditionally. XC has moved on, and rightly so IMO. It could still do with being even more technical, until professional road racers can’t just dip in and win.

    There’s literally only 2 on the mens (can’t think of any women currently) side who do this with any success and they just happen to have grown up racing offroad and never stopped either. Granted MVDP has only really done CX for the last couple of years mainly due to so many of the big road racing suiting him (Worlds 23 and Olympics 24). Pidcock has done less CX and more MTB.

    If anything those 2 coming in make it more exciting as it can turn the racing on it’s head.

    1
    didnthurt
    Full Member

    I fail to see how a pumped up racer could ever be “more fun” than an MTB

    You either live right next to some epic trails or are a bimbler 😜

    On the easy off-road trails where I live it is a hoot riding on the limit on an sub 9kg bike with skinny tyres, whilst riding on the limit of grip and fitness. We averaged 35km/h on a section on last night’s weekly gravel ride, on a relatively flat woodsy trail. Bliss.

    I do like a ride at the Golfie too, but thinking about trying it on my gravel bike makes me break out in a cold sweat, no thanks.

    1
    iffoverload
    Free Member

    the deciding factor is stem length, more than 50mm and its not “mountain bikin’ ” any more..

    3
    chakaping
    Full Member

    I thought we’d agreed to call it “wild cycling”?

    I fail to see how a pumped up racer could ever be “more fun” than an MTB on any surface but each to their own.

    I suspect you haven’t actually tried a gravel bike?

    Most people who have seem to agree that they’re more engaging up to a certain (quote low) level of technicality.

    Please explain John Tomac.

    Can I suggest that we introduce “Tomac’s Law”, a bit like Godwin’s Law, to measure the time it takes for someone to bring JT up in any discussion relating to gravel/drop bars off road?

    3
    munrobiker
    Free Member

    If you think what you’re doing is mountain biking, it’s mountain biking. You don’t have to let anyone else set a criteria.

    You can then pick a media outlet that matches your taste and definition of enjoyable biking, which may or may not be Singletrack.

    GavinB
    Full Member

    What does the abbreviation MTB stand for?  Is it meant to be Multi-terrain bike, a derivation All-terrain bike, or the French VTT? Or do people just randomly think it abbreviates mountain bike?

    Multi or all-terrain seems a bit more inclusive, regardless of what you’re riding.

    nickc
    Full Member

    For me, a mountain bike ride is when the ride involves a mountain bike* and some single-track.

    *its evolved over the years, but like the definition of species,  it might be a bit loose and ill-defined, but every knows one when they see it.

     

    ads678
    Full Member

    The French got it right with VTT.

    and

    Can we not just go back to ATB?

    I don’t read the magazine but I would have thought a mag about mountain biking would cover all aspects of off road cycling. Mountain biking is just a term used for riding a bike off road, some times this involves mountains and other times it’s just on rough ground, there must be countries in the world that don’t actually have mountains but people still ride mountain bikes there.

    It’s the jorno’s job to make it interesting for the reader!

    If we’re talking about racing i.e. DH, Enduro and XC defining MTB, are 4x and dirt jumping classed as mountain biking?

    endoverend
    Full Member

    As Bula hatted child of the golden days of early mtb – while a contemporary lens may see the way we rode as ATB, we still rode massive mountains and proper sketch terrain with a nonchalant disregard to the sanctity of our bones. This type of bike is still my favourite type of bike, the sort of bike that is good to ride anywhere and everywhere. In my mind the Atb is closer to the heart of Mtb – if the picture of a modern Mtb has a motor on it, then I’m not an Mtb’er anymore.

    1
    Bruce
    Full Member

    When we were children we lived on a new estate that was still being built.

    We used to ride our bikes on the soil heaps, the local footpaths and tracks in the woods.

    This can’t have been Mtb or gravel riding as the hadn’t been invented.

    2
    thepodge
    Free Member

    Mountain biking is clearly defined by being the pastime of people who at most opportunities will dismiss gravel and or electric bikes.

    2
    chrismac
    Full Member

    I would suggest that by modern definitions tomac is racing a gravel bike on a fire road.

    1
    lunge
    Full Member

    I ride a modern “gravel” bike with flat bars and 2″ xc tyres

    No, you ride a hybrid, or maybe a 90’s style MTB. Gravel bikes have drop bars.

    Anyway, I think Mountain Biking covers such a broad church, from downhill at Fort William to bimbling along a fire road.

    Gravel I see as closer to road than MTB, but I accept that’s just a personal view. If I was going mountain biking I wouldn’t have drop bars (even if Tomac did).

    andyha
    Free Member

    Forest Biking ?

    tenburner
    Full Member

    “Nothing you do will make a shred of difference to the environment (even if you were flying a private jet to go riding every weekend)”

    A very American or Chinese approach then.

    Let’s get some Lignite burning power stations built to charge those eMTBs

    Its exactly that approach that means you shouldn’t sacrifice driving somewhere to ride your bike on the weekend

    ayjaydoubleyou
    Free Member

    I would suggest that by modern definitions tomac is racing a gravel bike on a fire road.

    If such a race existed today – 10-15 min of loose fireroad descending, maybe some off camber ski piste crossings – what would the winning bike look like?

    1
    kerley
    Free Member

    Didn’t he also use drops to be in the same position as when on his road bike that he was racing on rather than because he was some sort of predictor of the gravel bike.

    2
    IdleJon
    Full Member

    Anyway, I think Mountain Biking covers such a broad church, from downhill at Fort William to bimbling along a fire road.

    But not riding along old railway tracks or towpaths. That’s for the Cycling UK bunch wobbling along in their hi-viz. Obviously you can use these routes to access proper trails but you don’t go for a MTB ride along the canal. :D

    1
    iffoverload
    Free Member

    No, you ride a hybrid, or maybe a 90’s style MTB. Gravel bikes have drop bars.

    No, ragley trig is marketed as a gravel bike, drop bars are a bit tricky to manual or pull off a decent bunnyhop with so flats with cowhorns fitted inside brakes for moar aero, it has room for chunky tyres and gets ridden regularly on chunky trails.  So yep hybrid .. 🤔

    thegeneralist
    Free Member

    This type of bike is still my favourite type of bike, the sort of bike that is good to ride anywhere and everywhere.

    Hmmm. I disagree. Generally they were rubbish pretty much anywhere and everywhere, which is why they evolved into something completely different

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