What makes a perfect bike? Every year a new king is crowned only to be dethroned when the next model year arrives. Our bikes are still evolving, that is indisputable, but are we evolving too?
A friend asked me recently to choose my favourite bike? The question should be an easy one, but I just couldn’t come up with a clear answer. I knew which was the fastest on my home trails, but did that mean it was the best? Delving into my memory, I recalled many amazing moments from the trails and flashes of pure joy on some of the best bikes in the world. Yes, there were bikes that felt insanely competent, were ludicrously well specced, or impressed against the stopwatch, but the bikes that I really remembered were the ones that let me play on my line.
We’ve all felt it, that momentary realisation that we are dancing on an invisible line. I’m not talking about the ‘racing’ line, but that feeling of riding into the unknown. That thrilling feeling where time both slows down and speeds up, a floaty sensation that things are just a little bit out of control. Crossing the line doesn’t automatically mean you are going to have a big crash, but you are rolling the dice and gambling with fate. Elite racers spend a lot of time with both wheels firmly over the line. They need to. To stand on the top of a podium, experience and tactics stand in equal measure to bravery and risk. But us mere mortals just want a bike that will give us the confidence to play on the edge and cross over into the unknown when we want to from time to time.
Mountain biking, like few other sports, encourages us to test our limits. We don’t ride on asphalt tennis courts or manicured football pitches, but in wild terrain in the remotest parts of the world. Our sport gives us not only the opportunity to achieve, but also to be scared, to take risks and often to overcome our fears, no matter how small. It’s a rare thing that our work life rarely provides. You can’t easily go into your office and flirt with danger. Imagine spinning from a ceiling fan or riding the photocopier down the stairwell – exciting yes, but it will certainly end with you getting fired. When we ride a new or scary trail we get to dance with our own fears, seeing how far we dare push. Is this the day where we hit that gap? Or blast though that gnarly rock garden? Is this the day we push our line?
With risk, there’s also reward. Do you remember the feeling when you first sent that drop you’d been nervously riding around for months? Have you ever felt like that at work? I’m guessing not
This is what makes mountain biking so much fun. During our lives, our perspective changes too. In our teens, the line just isn’t there. It’s invisible and nothing is impossible, nothing is too crazy. As we get older the line creeps into sight, each mistake or fresh injury pulling it a little closer. We get some coaching or do a few races and manage to push the line further away. Then comes the mid-life crisis, where a bulging wallet tempts us to fast motorbikes and cars, but then we realise we are too scared to challenge ourselves at 100+mph and buy golf clubs instead. It’s all part of life’s journey. Parenthood snaps the line right back to our toes and we start to find our thrills in adventure and achievement rather than in overcoming fear, mostly.
So why is it that at 40 years old and as a new parent, that I am riding perhaps harder than ever, chasing steeper trails, bigger drops and ticking off more air time. What is it that’s driving me to push harder at my line? A tough question, but with a simple answer. It’s because bikes are still improving. With every passing year, bikes get better, admittedly not by leaps and bounds, but the incremental evolution can be felt. Suspension, brakes, tires and geometry are continuously improving, allowing us to travel smoother and faster through increasingly harder terrain, pushing our line before us. Is this what prompts the need to continuously upgrade, to keep on current models and on the latest technology?
It would be easy to simply measure a bikes worth against the stopwatch, and for some, that’s all that matters, but there’s more to it than that.
The beauty of our sport is that each of us finds our own lines in different places, it’s not always white-knuckling a race stage. The challenge can be anything from riding a huge drop or railing a corner perfectly, to riding a rock passage without screaming, or conquering an easy trail without fear. Long-travel bikes require speed and nerve to push the line, demanding that we ride harder and faster, while short-travel rockets and hardtails make the line feel far closer than we expected, delivering thrills with less risk. It’s all relative.
No matter what bike we ride, how old it is or even what wheel size, we have all the tools we need to achieve something amazing, to escape our everyday lives. But as bike technology progresses, so do our expectations. So about that question. Which is my favourite bike? “The one I will ride tomorrow, I guess.”
This article is from ENDURO issue #039
Words: Trev Worsey Photos: diverse