The Soapbox: My Past Life

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Words by Chris Southwood | Images by Flowtographer

I’ve just turned 30 and I’m selling my downhill bike. Now, those two things aren’t necessarily connected. It’s not like I made a new year’s resolution or anything. But it’s happening, and I think my position is exactly like hundreds, if not thousands, of others.

For the last two years, my downhill bike has sat largely neglected. It still has tyres that I got in 2009, and if you know how fast downhill rubber wears out, that’s saying something. I’ve spent more time bleeding the brakes than riding it, getting it perfect for the next outing that never came. In the meantime, my trail bikes (there have been a few in that period) have been copping a flogging. They get ridden everywhere.

And as much as I like to believe one day the urge will grab me and I’ll want to race a club downhill, I’ve finally accepted that it’s just not going to happen and the old Morewood will make its way to eBay. But that doesn’t make me sad, and I’m not ditching the DH bike because I feel like I’m getting too old or slow for it. I’m giving up on pure gravity simply because I have way more fun on my trail bike now than I’ve ever had on my downhill bike. And I know I’m not alone.

Everywhere I look, blokes (and it mainly is) my age are hanging up their body armour (kids, if you don’t know what that is, pick up a mag from before 2005), putting rapidly depreciating downhill bikes up for sale and buying a 140-160mm travel bike. And it’s always for the same reason; you can have as much, or more, fun on the new generation of all-mountain bikes than a downhill bike can ever give you.

It’s easy to take it for granted, but the versatility and capabilities of the bikes on the market in this category nowadays is completely ridiculous. 12 kilo, 160mm-travel, carbon bikes that will happily ride down any downhill in Australia at 90% of full-speed and then let you pedal back up, all day long.  No need to organise a shuttle driver, ride them anywhere, free from the expectation you’re likely to destroy a rear wheel or wear out an $80 tyre, all while providing you with exactly the same capacity to get a rush but with generally less dire consequences.

Even better yet, there are now races made specifically for retired downhillers like me riding bikes like this.  Enduro events are springing up like mushrooms in a disused Dainese Race Jacket. And the crew out there making the most of them are the same faces that once populated the shuttle lines at downhill races, just more weathered. They’ve all got jobs, families, responsibilities and one incredible bike that delivers more great experiences than should be possible.

Mountain biking is about to witness an explosion of this kind of racing and this kind of rider. It’s going to eclipse downhill racing, it’s going to eclipse Olympic cross country racing, and it’s going to reinvigorate the industry. I can’t wait to see it happen.

Now, who wants to buy a bike?

Is it an old age thing, or are bikes and riding changing so much that I don’t need my downhill bike anymore?