The Numbers Game

I’ve never been any good with figures, but increasingly my conversations about mountain biking feel like I’m reading a barometric pressure chart – my poor brain sometimes struggles to attribute meaning to numbers being flung my way. And every year the mountain bike numerical soup gets thicker, swimming with new component or frame standards that sound like an international dialling code.

"You know what moments like this really need, mate?" "No, what?" "A discussion about wheel sizes."
“You know what moments like this really need, mate?” “No, what?” “A discussion about wheel sizes.” “Dickhead…”

The thirst for evolution and incremental improvements is the driver, and don’t get me wrong, I love the way bikes are always progressing. I just wish there weren’t so many numbers that went along with it!

Go back fifteen or so years and it wasn’t so. The only numbers thrown about were frame size and travel – you certainly didn’t need to specify wheel size because wheels had one size. Now you can’t talk about wheels without sounding like you’re rattling off the dimensions of package you’re shipping.

Definitely not thinking about bottom bracket measurements.
Definitely not thinking about bottom bracket measurements.

The times-table of axle sizes and hub widths was much simpler too: 90% of mountain bikes had the same axle and hub widths, with downhill bikes the only exception. Admittedly most riders’ wheels were being held in by ridiculous little chopsticks, never may they return, but that’s not the point. Now we’ve Boosted the issue to include 100×12, 100×15, 110×15, 142×12, 148×12 and 157×12 too, plus good old 110×20, 150×12, 100×9 and 135×10. The answer is 15,964 by the way.

29,1x11,157x12,110x15
29,1×11,157×12,110×15

A handlebar was just a handlebar. It had the diameter of a handlebar and was about one handlebar wide. Yet now we agonise over just how much to trim (or not) off our 808mm bars and debate the merits of 31.8 and 35mm clamps.

Dare we get started on bottom brackets? Once 68mm or 73mm (both threaded), the bottom bracket options now read like the Australian Standards sticker inside your helmet: 68mm, 73mm, BB92, BB98, BB30, PF30, BB386 and about a dozen other variants on the theme too. Or drivetrains? 3×9 has become 1×10, 1×11, 1×12, 2×10, 2×11 and 3×10…phew.

Not concerned about hub widths.
Not concerned about hub widths.

While I’m not sure if my improved numeracy can be called an upside, in some ways the onslaught of number has made actually getting out on the bike even more of an escape. Once you’re on the trail, you can forget about the fact your bike’s running 27.5, 2×11, 148×12 with BB92, you’re just riding, and hopefully that never changes!

The important numbers: how far and how long you rode this week.
The important numbers: how far and how long you rode this week.

The Middle Power: Could 27.5+ Kill 650b?

We’ve ridden a good handful of 27.5+ bikes now, certainly enough of them to give us a decent picture of their merits. We’re firm fans. In the sandy, rubble-filled, rocky and generally slower-speed trails near Flow HQ, the Plus format is ideal. The bikes float over sand, find braking and climbing traction where we’ve never had it before, and corner on the slippery turns like crazy.

FLOW2471
Hardtails are prime for a Plus invasion.

For us, the Plus format is really just an evolution of how we’ve been setting up our personal bikes too; we, like many people, have been running ‘Plus-ish’ configurations, with wide rims and big rubber, for a couple of years.

IBIS
We’ve long been semi-mid-fatting our bikes with mods like 40mm rims.

We’re well aware that the style of trails we often ride aren’t what everyone else encounters. On the hardpacked trails of Canberra or Adelaide, or the red dirt and clay of Cairns for instance, a Plus bike mightn’t be the right tool for the job.

On the fast, handpicked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.
On the fast, hardpacked trails of Canberra for example, perhaps 27.5+ would be out of place.

We’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range.

Either way, in many instances, Plus bikes do have some pretty clear advantages over a regular 27.5 bike, certainly enough to justify their existence. This doesn’t make everyone in the industry happy, and we’ve had numerous chats with designers about their frustration with having to add another wheel format to their range. One engineer, who we won’t name, summed it up when we asked him if 27.5+ would survive: “There’s something to it (27.5+). Which is frustrating in a way, because they’re not beneficial enough to take over, but the format has enough advantages in some situations that it’s not just going to disappear either.”

LOW0070
The Norco Optic in a 29er has virtually identical dimensions and handling to the 27.5 version.

It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

So it that it? End of story? Are we going to have three common wheel formats – 27.5, 27.5+ and 29er –  from now on? Maybe.

And we say maybe, because what if we’re looking at this the wrong way. What if we shouldn’t be debating the survival of 27.5+, but should be asking if this is actually the beginning of the end for regular 27.5″ wheels? Hear us out here. It wasn’t long ago we assumed we’d all be on 26″ wheels forever, so the possible demise of the 27.5 wheel isn’t so silly really.

There’s plenty of evidence to support this notion. We see three main points. 1) Improvements to 29ers 2) The potential benefits for manufacturers 3) The sequence of development.

First point:

29ers don’t suck now. In fact, they kick arse. Without a doubt, 27.5 emerged at least partly in response to 29ers initially handling like a Winnebago, and that just isn’t the case any longer.

FLOW4994
Boost rear hub spacing has allowed 29ers to be more fun and agile than in the past.

Let’s take a look at what’s happening with frame design and geometry for 29er bikes. With the emergence of Boost hub standards, single-ring drivetrains, new fork offsets and other design improvements, we’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries. 29ers aren’t big boats any more, in fact, it’s totally possible to put together a 29er which echoes the dimensions of a 27.5″ bike now, and which handles, in many peoples’ opinions, just as well as a smaller wheeled bike.

We’re beginning to see the convergence of 29er and 27.5″ frame geometries

The new Norco Optic is a case in point; one of the overarching goals of that bike’s design was to make the 29er and 27.5″ versions handle as close to identically as possible. And the bike’s designer Owen Pemberton freely admitted to us that if they had their time again they might not have developed the 27.5″ version at all, so good is the 29er.

Pivot-Mach-429-Trail-31
Pivot’s Mach 429 Trail is another example of how 29ers emphatically don’t suck.

We can point to stacks of examples that show just how far 29er geometry and frame design has evolved, and how many of the handling traits we previously associated only with 27.5 (or 26″) can now be found in some 29ers.

Second point:

There are big benefits to bike manufacturers if 27.5″ goes the way of the dodo.

Consider this: unlike 29ers and 27.5″, 29ers and 27.5+ bikes can share the exact same frame. 

We’re already starting to see manufactures cotton onto this and develop bikes that can happily run 27.5+ or 29er wheels. Take the new Pivot Switchblade for example, or the Santa Cruz Hightower, both of which will run either 29 or 27.5+.

 It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29" or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.
Bikes like the Pivot Switchblade allow you to run either 29″ or 27.5+ wheels in the same frame.

Sure, you might have to make some small tweaks (like using slightly longer travel fork for the marginally smaller 27.5+ wheels), but essentially with one frame you can offer up two very different bikes, for two very different rider or trail types.  It’s like a half and half pizza – same pizza, two very different flavours, everyone is a winner.

At this stage, most people are inclined to view these bikes as a manufacturer hedging their bets, but maybe they’re actually just ahead of the curve.

Last point:

Please allow us to indulge in quick bit of ‘what if’ thinking here for a second, and let’s pretend the sequence of development was reshuffled.

Imagine for a moment that the 27.5+ format was developed before 27.5″.  If that were the case, do you really think ‘regular’ 27.5 would exist? We doubt it. Every aspect of bike development has been moving towards increasing grip, larger tyre volumes, wider rims – if 27.5+ had been developed first, it’s fair to assume that ‘regular’ 27.5″ would be seen as a backwards step.

Specialized-Fuse-Expert-6Fattie-14
If 27.5+ had arrived first, would we have ever developed ‘regular’ 27.5?

In this alternative reality, there’d have been 29″ wheels for the people who wanted lighter, faster-rolling wheels with a more precise feel, then there’d be 27.5+ for everyone else. (Ok, maybe downhill bikes would still have 27.5 wheels, but you get the drift).

Instead, just because 27.5 got here first, it’s now 27.5+ which has to prove its worth. It could have just as easily been the other way around.


This is all pure crystal ball gazing, of course, but with the mad pace of bike evolution now, who’s to say where we could end up. 27.5+ may well end up just being a diversion in the course of bike development. More likely, it may end up sticking around as a third option. Or maybe, it might end up on equal footing with 29er and we’ll see classifieds full of 27.5” bikes soon! What do you think?

E-Bikes: Would You Do The Electric Slide?

Part 1) The Ageing Old Mates. 

On my usual squeeze-it-in-before-dark loop, I ran into two local legends who I have not seen in many years.

Troy and Chris were some of the crew I really looked up to when I was first getting into mountain biking, I’d ride with them whenever I could. Chris could do the sickest wheelies you’ve ever seen (still can) with a massive grin underneath his massiver moustache. Troy was forever crashing (allegedly he once hit a tree branch so hard with his head that he snapped the seat tower off his old Intense Uzzi) but he was always riding, and usually had the best bikes. I’d tag along with them and a bunch of riders every Sunday. It was a bloody good time, and it makes me happy even writing about it.

Stopping for a chat, Troy told me he was just getting back riding after five years of kids, work, and life. Chris hadn’t really stopped riding, and he seemed stoked (he ALWAYS seems stoked) to have Troy back out there too.

It’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.

After a few minutes of chin wagging, the conversation turned to e-bikes, and Troy and Chris really got going – they are all for it. Both of these fellas are at the age where you’re entitled to slow down, get rounder, take the easy options sometimes. And for these guys, the promise of electric-assisted mountain bikes had them positively foaming with excitement. I asked them why, and they had no shortage of reasons, but in a nutshell, an electric-assisted mountain bike was going to let them ride more of the trails they enjoyed.

With a bit of help from an electric motor, they reasoned, they’d be able to climb faster, with less suffering, letting them squeeze in longer rides with more descents and allowing them to enjoy those descents more too because they’d be feeling fresher.

These guys don’t go as fast on the climbs as they once did. They’ve also got a lot less time on their hands to ride, thanks to family and work demands. They just want to cram as much enjoyment into a tight window of riding opportunity as is possible.

When you look at it through their eyes, it’s pretty hard to begrudge them wanting to make the most of those precious hours each week when they can escape for a pedal.


FLOW1478Part 2) The Committed Cyclist

A few weeks back, I was visiting my mate Pat, in Brisbane. Pat’s one of those guys who manages to find more hours in the day than most of us – he works a demanding job, he and his wife raise three kids, he’s always renovating his house, and in the midst of it all he manages to squeeze in an impressive number of hours on the bike too. By all rights, Pat is at a stage in life where he could quite easily let mountain biking drop off the radar, but he hasn’t.

He’s the guy who gets up at 4:30 to punch out 60km of hills and still arrives at his desk with his first coffee while while most riders are making excuses. He’s strong on the bike, but he has to work on it, it doesn’t just happen naturally; he trains, he races often, he’s been known to use a calorie counting app.

The helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.

In one of our many bike-related chats, we turned to e-bikes. Pat’s face soured, he clearly wasn’t a fan. I wanted to know what his opposition to electric-assisted bikes was. There wasn’t a standalone, single issue that Pat could put his finger on, more a feeling that it just wasn’t ok.

“Don’t you think it kind of defeats the whole point of mountain biking?” asked Pat.

For Pat, the idea that you’d want to bring electric assistance into the trails doesn’t make sense – having the helping hand of a motor isn’t just a matter of equipment choices, it’s changing the nature of the sport.

In Pat’s viewpoint, an intrinsic part of mountain biking is the work you put into it. Reward for labour; the harder you put in, the better it gets. Climb a long way, you get a longer descent. Train well, you can ride further and enjoy it more. Electric assistance throws that equation out of whack.

It’s also about the purity of it all (and I’m putting words in Pat’s mouth here), the direct relationship between your efforts and the feeling of flying through the trail. Electric assistance introduces something foreign into the experience, which for Pat would make it something other than mountain biking.


What do you think? Do you share a philosophical allegiance to either of these viewpoints? Let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook. 


FLOW1505

 

Dealing with 'Real' Fear

As mountain bikers, we spend a fair bit of time dealing with fear. Let’s face it, what we do is risky, and the fear we experience as beginners never really goes away (it just tends to get focused on specific things like drops or gaps).

Although many of us get better at dealing with our fear as we become more skilled, it often stops us from riding well (or at all), especially after an accident or injury (see http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back).


 

Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.
Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.

Even though we get better at dealing with it, sometimes the fear we experience on a ride is more than just ‘self-doubt’ when checking out a feature. Sometimes it’s genuine “shitting bricks” fear that paralyses us completely and shuts down our ability to ride. So today I’m going to talk about how you can learn to deal with those sorts of overwhelming feelings.

 Genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know that genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning. For a while (as little as a few seconds or as long as a few hours) you lose control of your ability to make reasonable decisions, take effective action, or even to communicate what’s going on. Often, this paralysis can be accompanied by intense physical and psychological discomfort: your heart beats rapidly, you hyperventilate, your guts churn, your throat and chest get tight, and your vision narrows. Sometimes, you’ll feel dizzy, experience an overwhelming feeling of dread, and find it virtually impossible to speak. Outside of mountain biking, most people would describe this sort of experience as a panic attack – when you’re riding, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s going to stop you in your tracks and make it pretty hard to keep going.

Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.
Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.

It’s not that hard to understand why this happens to us. Our brains evolved over a long time period and, at their core, are primarily systems for helping us survive in dangerous (or potentially dangerous) situations. When our brains perceive danger, the automatic response is to act in a way that will increase the chance of survival. Because, for most of our evolution, survival meant not being eaten, the default response is “fight, flight, or freeze”. In other words, the system reacts to potential danger by doing what works best against predators: fight back, run away, or stay really still and hope they don’t see us.

As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival.

Of course, in the modern world, this reaction is pretty much useless, especially when it comes to activities like mountain biking. Evolution takes a while to catch up, and it’s a lot slower than mountain bike development. As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that involves exposure, steepness, drops, air or anything else that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival. So its job is to stop you from putting yourself in harm’s way (and here’s the frustrating bit) even if you want to. When you experience fear that stops you, you’re experiencing your survival brain taking over – you’re no longer in control. As you’ve probably experienced, this is not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous – as those of you who’ve grabbed a handful of brake before going over a jump will attest to.

F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R.

There is some good news though. Despite their weird tendency to screw things up for us, the coolest thing about human brains is their ability to override core programming. This means that we can override the fear (to a certain degree) by training ourselves to get used to it (strategy 1 below), by recognising it when it happens and learning to function alongside it (strategy 2 below), or by bringing ourselves back when we’re in the grip of full-on, pant-wetting panic (strategy 3 below).

The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to.

I’m going to stop for a minute here and point out the blindingly obvious: sometimes fear is a really good thing. Sure, it can get in the way, but chances are it’s got a point (in that there probably is a genuine risk of harm). The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to. Getting over fear is great, but not if the cost involves an extended hospital trip. What I’m really saying here is: keep pushing yourself but know your limits.

Cairns2014-ThursdayDHpractice-23
“Getting over fear is great, but not if it involves a hospital trip.”

So, when it comes to fear when we’re riding there are three main strategies we want to take. The first one is mitigation: desensitising yourself to a fear response through careful ramping-up of stimuli. The idea here is to get your brain used to something that it finds dangerous by increasingly exposing it to things that activate a fear response. The trick is to never go big enough to activate the freeze factor, whilst staying fully conscious of the experience.

i)              Find somewhere to practise (a skills park or a section of your local trail is ideal), and start well below your threshold (i.e., something you find a little bit challenging but not too scary).

ii)             Deliberately relax (breathe, focus), and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions (e.g., make a conscious decision to not touch the brakes). If you do freak out, take it back several notches.

iii)           Ride it over and over again until it’s easy, then ramp it up to the next level.

iv)           Keep doing this over time (you won’t train yourself in one or two sessions) keeping in mind that you need regular consistency both to train and maintain the effect (because it’s unlikely to last beyond a few weeks without ongoing practice).

v)             Over time, start taking these skills out onto the trail and applying them to features that have stopped you before (always ramping up carefully). Make sure that you never scare yourself to the point where you freeze (this will often take you back to square one).

It’s important to note that, as mountain bikers, we’re often really poor at this training process. Rather than working on our weaknesses by developing our skills or getting actual lessons, we teach ourselves bad habits by just riding. If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it. No matter how good a rider you are, some skills training with someone who knows what he or she is doing will make a big difference.

Cairns2014-XC-Finals-91
“If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it.”

The second strategy is knowing what to do when fear starts to ramp up. Most of us aren’t really monitoring our physical and psychological arousal levels when we ride, so we usually go from “good” to “oh crap” without any intermediate steps. Imagine an internal, personal arousal gauge, ranging from blue (low arousal), to green (ideal arousal), to orange (on the edge), to red (pant-wetting time). The trick here is to train yourself to observe your arousal levels while you’re riding, and to keep yourself out of the red zone (the point where you freeze up and shut down).

i)              When riding, keep a little mental process going that checks your arousal levels. I usually edit it down to a single word like “blue”, “green”, or “orange”. This shouldn’t take much mental effort and certainly shouldn’t be distracting. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your usual arousal levels on different types of trails and features, the effects of these levels on your performance, and your optimal ‘zone’: the point at which you’re operating at your best.

ii)             Once you’ve got a handle on your arousal levels, start intervening when you notice yourself creeping into the orange zone. Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone. If you’re too tense, loosen up, breathe and refocus. This is a great time to stop and practise riding ‘that feature’ a few times (especially one that corresponds to something you’ve been practicing in the skills park) rather than just going around it.

WEB_NEWS_CAIRNS_WC_FRI_DB-1-3
“Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone.”

When the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

The final strategy is learning how to come back when you’re freaking out (when you’re well and truly in the “red zone”). This is both the hardest to learn and the most difficult to address in real-time, mostly because we don’t often get much of a chance to practise – after all, who wants to expose themselves to jock-soiling fear on a regular basis? The trick here is learning how to pull yourself back from the panic (red) zone and into a realm of at least some rational thought. It’s particularly hard because, when the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

i)              If (or when) you find yourself in a state of overwhelming fear or panic, the simple realisation that you’re panicking is extremely helpful, because it lets you access some higher-brain functions (that is, at least a bit of you is capable of observing what’s going on and intervening). If you’ve been practicing the two strategies above, this will be a bit easier.

ii)             Rather than trying to ‘push through’, stop for a minute and try to focus on something (anything) that you can control. A great tip is to squeeze your grips really tightly for a few moments and to focus really hard on that sensation (as opposed to the big sensation of fear or panic). Take a deep breath, loosen your shoulders, and assess your arousal level until it’s back in the orange or green zone. If the fear returns, stop again and repeat as often as required.

iii)           Once you can, get moving and past the thing that freaked you out. Don’t try and talk yourself into riding it – now isn’t the time. Instead, flag it for the future, go back to strategy one (above), and practise some skills progression as soon as possible.

iv)           Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t control when your survival brain kicks in, you can only reduce the likelihood of it happening, and improving your response when it does. Instead of getting shitty with yourself, help yourself by getting more practice.

Port-to-Port-MTB-Day-4-92
“Deliberately relax, and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions.”

Regarding that last point, here’s an important extra tip: most of us can be pretty hard on ourselves after a fear experience. This usually comes out as angry self-talk, alongside frustration with ourselves, and anger at the people around us. This is pretty normal, but it makes things a lot worse, especially around the macho, BS attitude that some riders (especially male) feel they need to take. Keep in mind that the survival brain doesn’t do well with being forced to do something it really doesn’t want to – in fact, that’s a really good way to traumatise yourself and put a much bigger roadblock in the way of future progress. Instead, try being a little bit more compassionate with yourself and others when it activates. After all, it’s only trying to keep you safe when you do something that it thinks is going to kill it!


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

Dealing with ‘Real’ Fear

Although many of us get better at dealing with our fear as we become more skilled, it often stops us from riding well (or at all), especially after an accident or injury (see http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-getting-your-mojo-back).


 

Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.
Some clench-inducing rocks in Cairns.

Even though we get better at dealing with it, sometimes the fear we experience on a ride is more than just ‘self-doubt’ when checking out a feature. Sometimes it’s genuine “shitting bricks” fear that paralyses us completely and shuts down our ability to ride. So today I’m going to talk about how you can learn to deal with those sorts of overwhelming feelings.

 Genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning.

If you’ve experienced it, you’ll know that genuine fear isn’t just nervousness, it’s a complete take-over and shutdown of functioning. For a while (as little as a few seconds or as long as a few hours) you lose control of your ability to make reasonable decisions, take effective action, or even to communicate what’s going on. Often, this paralysis can be accompanied by intense physical and psychological discomfort: your heart beats rapidly, you hyperventilate, your guts churn, your throat and chest get tight, and your vision narrows. Sometimes, you’ll feel dizzy, experience an overwhelming feeling of dread, and find it virtually impossible to speak. Outside of mountain biking, most people would describe this sort of experience as a panic attack – when you’re riding, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, it’s going to stop you in your tracks and make it pretty hard to keep going.

Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.
Being able to bring yourself back from the edge before panic steps in is key.

It’s not that hard to understand why this happens to us. Our brains evolved over a long time period and, at their core, are primarily systems for helping us survive in dangerous (or potentially dangerous) situations. When our brains perceive danger, the automatic response is to act in a way that will increase the chance of survival. Because, for most of our evolution, survival meant not being eaten, the default response is “fight, flight, or freeze”. In other words, the system reacts to potential danger by doing what works best against predators: fight back, run away, or stay really still and hope they don’t see us.

As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival.

Of course, in the modern world, this reaction is pretty much useless, especially when it comes to activities like mountain biking. Evolution takes a while to catch up, and it’s a lot slower than mountain bike development. As far as your ‘survival brain’ is concerned, mountain biking (especially mountain biking that involves exposure, steepness, drops, air or anything else that has potentially big consequences) is the opposite of survival. So its job is to stop you from putting yourself in harm’s way (and here’s the frustrating bit) even if you want to. When you experience fear that stops you, you’re experiencing your survival brain taking over – you’re no longer in control. As you’ve probably experienced, this is not only unpleasant, but potentially dangerous – as those of you who’ve grabbed a handful of brake before going over a jump will attest to.

F.E.A.R.
F.E.A.R.

There is some good news though. Despite their weird tendency to screw things up for us, the coolest thing about human brains is their ability to override core programming. This means that we can override the fear (to a certain degree) by training ourselves to get used to it (strategy 1 below), by recognising it when it happens and learning to function alongside it (strategy 2 below), or by bringing ourselves back when we’re in the grip of full-on, pant-wetting panic (strategy 3 below).

The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to.

I’m going to stop for a minute here and point out the blindingly obvious: sometimes fear is a really good thing. Sure, it can get in the way, but chances are it’s got a point (in that there probably is a genuine risk of harm). The trick is finding the right balance between prudent caution and the ability to ride the things you want to. Getting over fear is great, but not if the cost involves an extended hospital trip. What I’m really saying here is: keep pushing yourself but know your limits.

Cairns2014-ThursdayDHpractice-23
“Getting over fear is great, but not if it involves a hospital trip.”

So, when it comes to fear when we’re riding there are three main strategies we want to take. The first one is mitigation: desensitising yourself to a fear response through careful ramping-up of stimuli. The idea here is to get your brain used to something that it finds dangerous by increasingly exposing it to things that activate a fear response. The trick is to never go big enough to activate the freeze factor, whilst staying fully conscious of the experience.

i)              Find somewhere to practise (a skills park or a section of your local trail is ideal), and start well below your threshold (i.e., something you find a little bit challenging but not too scary).

ii)             Deliberately relax (breathe, focus), and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions (e.g., make a conscious decision to not touch the brakes). If you do freak out, take it back several notches.

iii)           Ride it over and over again until it’s easy, then ramp it up to the next level.

iv)           Keep doing this over time (you won’t train yourself in one or two sessions) keeping in mind that you need regular consistency both to train and maintain the effect (because it’s unlikely to last beyond a few weeks without ongoing practice).

v)             Over time, start taking these skills out onto the trail and applying them to features that have stopped you before (always ramping up carefully). Make sure that you never scare yourself to the point where you freeze (this will often take you back to square one).

It’s important to note that, as mountain bikers, we’re often really poor at this training process. Rather than working on our weaknesses by developing our skills or getting actual lessons, we teach ourselves bad habits by just riding. If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it. No matter how good a rider you are, some skills training with someone who knows what he or she is doing will make a big difference.

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“If you want to be a better rider and to deal with fear more effectively, just riding isn’t going to cut it.”

The second strategy is knowing what to do when fear starts to ramp up. Most of us aren’t really monitoring our physical and psychological arousal levels when we ride, so we usually go from “good” to “oh crap” without any intermediate steps. Imagine an internal, personal arousal gauge, ranging from blue (low arousal), to green (ideal arousal), to orange (on the edge), to red (pant-wetting time). The trick here is to train yourself to observe your arousal levels while you’re riding, and to keep yourself out of the red zone (the point where you freeze up and shut down).

i)              When riding, keep a little mental process going that checks your arousal levels. I usually edit it down to a single word like “blue”, “green”, or “orange”. This shouldn’t take much mental effort and certainly shouldn’t be distracting. Over time, you’ll get a pretty good idea of your usual arousal levels on different types of trails and features, the effects of these levels on your performance, and your optimal ‘zone’: the point at which you’re operating at your best.

ii)             Once you’ve got a handle on your arousal levels, start intervening when you notice yourself creeping into the orange zone. Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone. If you’re too tense, loosen up, breathe and refocus. This is a great time to stop and practise riding ‘that feature’ a few times (especially one that corresponds to something you’ve been practicing in the skills park) rather than just going around it.

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“Instead of ‘white-knuckling’ it, back it off a notch, and focus on your technique, the trail ahead of you, and your form on the bike until you’re back in the green zone.”

When the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

The final strategy is learning how to come back when you’re freaking out (when you’re well and truly in the “red zone”). This is both the hardest to learn and the most difficult to address in real-time, mostly because we don’t often get much of a chance to practise – after all, who wants to expose themselves to jock-soiling fear on a regular basis? The trick here is learning how to pull yourself back from the panic (red) zone and into a realm of at least some rational thought. It’s particularly hard because, when the survival brain takes over, it pretty much shuts down higher brain functioning, meaning that, for a while, there’s not much of ‘you’ left.

i)              If (or when) you find yourself in a state of overwhelming fear or panic, the simple realisation that you’re panicking is extremely helpful, because it lets you access some higher-brain functions (that is, at least a bit of you is capable of observing what’s going on and intervening). If you’ve been practicing the two strategies above, this will be a bit easier.

ii)             Rather than trying to ‘push through’, stop for a minute and try to focus on something (anything) that you can control. A great tip is to squeeze your grips really tightly for a few moments and to focus really hard on that sensation (as opposed to the big sensation of fear or panic). Take a deep breath, loosen your shoulders, and assess your arousal level until it’s back in the orange or green zone. If the fear returns, stop again and repeat as often as required.

iii)           Once you can, get moving and past the thing that freaked you out. Don’t try and talk yourself into riding it – now isn’t the time. Instead, flag it for the future, go back to strategy one (above), and practise some skills progression as soon as possible.

iv)           Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t control when your survival brain kicks in, you can only reduce the likelihood of it happening, and improving your response when it does. Instead of getting shitty with yourself, help yourself by getting more practice.

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“Deliberately relax, and commit to your chosen section or feature, making sure that you don’t let your brain override your actions.”

Regarding that last point, here’s an important extra tip: most of us can be pretty hard on ourselves after a fear experience. This usually comes out as angry self-talk, alongside frustration with ourselves, and anger at the people around us. This is pretty normal, but it makes things a lot worse, especially around the macho, BS attitude that some riders (especially male) feel they need to take. Keep in mind that the survival brain doesn’t do well with being forced to do something it really doesn’t want to – in fact, that’s a really good way to traumatise yourself and put a much bigger roadblock in the way of future progress. Instead, try being a little bit more compassionate with yourself and others when it activates. After all, it’s only trying to keep you safe when you do something that it thinks is going to kill it!


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams has a PhD in sport psychology, is a registered psychologist, and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about the joys and perils of being human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy lives and works in Hobart and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The $350 bike in a box and what it means for mountain biking

Updated – read our quick ride review of the Performance 29er bike here.


This unbranded, no-frills, 27.5”-wheeled mountain bike costs around $350 and it comes in a box. From ALDI.

Aldi Mountain Bike 4

Yes, we said ALDI, that eclectic marketplace where you find drop saws and vacuum cleaners alongside chickpeas and gingerbread. They could hardly begrudge us for saying they’re not renowned as a proprietor of fine cycles. Yet, in the last paragraph I deliberately used the phrase mountain bike, not just ‘bike’. Because this hardtail, unlike the buttery soft boat anchors with fold-o-matic wheels that are usually sold at department stores, is a true entry-level mountain bike.

In terms of build quality, value and attention to detail, this bike is well ahead of most others we’ve ever seen at this price. It’s constructed and assembled by the same manufacturer of Polygon Bikes, so it does have a quality manufacturer behind it, and they’re coming at this project with genuine mountain bike knowledge, which is reflected in the spec, construction and geometry.

It has a hydroformed alloy frame with sensible geometry that a beginner will appreciate, a 9-speed Shimano drivetrain with a direct-mount rear derailleur, full-length cable housings to keep the crud at bay, a wide handlebar, decent 2.25” tyres, a fork with hydraulic lock out for the tarmac…  In short, it looks and rides like much more than $350 worth of bike.  It is only available in two frame sizes, (restrictive, as they’re both on the big side) but if it fits you, then it’s a much better bike than those that got us started on the path of mountain biking all those years ago.

Now, if this bike had a familiar brand name on it and came from a bike shop, we’d all be cheering. But it does come in a box, and not from a bike retailer and that means it attracts a debate that we’re happy to thrash out here.

So what are the pros and cons of  bikes in boxes, particularly at this end of the market? We’ll aim to present both sides of the debate here and let you make up your own mind.

 FOR: Affordability and accessibility

Mountain biking, while not motor racing, is a relatively expensive sport to get into – conventional wisdom says you’ll need to spend the better part of $1000 on a bike and clothing to get yourself geared up with equipment that will be reliable and comfortable enough allow you to actually experience what mountain biking is about.

When mountain bikes are what you live and breath, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that $1000 for a bike and gear is an awful lot of cash for most people, especially if you’re a parent or partner forking out for a new rider who might well decide it’s not their kettle of fish at all.

A decent $350 bike certainly lowers the financial barriers to entry. The logical upshot of lowering the costs of getting riders onto a mountain bike is that more people, from more diverse walks of life, will get into the sport. More riders on bikes means more awareness of mountain biking across more sectors of our society. That’s a plus.

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The expert advice and support of a bike shop can be invaluable for new riders.

AGAINST: No expert knowledge

When you buy a bike from a retailer that doesn’t specialise in bikes, it’s pretty hard to expect a whole lot of expert advice. I mean, if they’re making you pack your own cans of tomatoes into a green bag, they’re not likely to be able to offer much advice about sizing, or show you how to change a tube, tell you what tyre pressure to run, or teach you how to lube your chain.

Conversely, when you buy a bike from a bike shop, you’re more likely to get a few of these gems of wisdom thrown in with the sale and down the line, not to mention establish a relationship that will hopefully continue as you progress in the sport.

FOR: It’s a steppingstone

Assuming that someone who buys a $350 mountain bike enjoys their experience, there’s a good chance that before too long they’ll want to upgrade their bike. This is where traditional bike shops can benefit, servicing the needs of riders who are looking for the next step up.

All bikes need servicing too, even cheapies, and this is another area where bike shops can stand to really benefit. Aldi’s never going to replace your gear cable! So even though bike shops didn’t make the original bike sale, they now have the opportunity to make some money through service, as well as foster a relationship with a new rider.

 

AGAINST: Taking sales from traditional bike shop retailers:

Buying bikes from a shop like Aldi, at least theoretically, takes sales from a bike shop. (We say theoretically, because you can make the case that someone looking for a $350 mountain bike isn’t going to go to ‘proper’ bike shop anyhow – they’d normally go to a department store.)

And while tradtional retail might be less relevant in some industries, bike shops are still the hub of our sport.  They foster the sense of community that makes mountain biking great.  They sponsor events, organise group rides, replace your hub bearings the night before a race and campaign against trail closures. And they need your support to keep doing so.

FOR: This is the new reality of retailing, economy-wide: 

Bikes, like the televisions we now buy online or the desks we’re assembling ourselves with little Swedish screwdrivers, are subject to the same changing retail realities as everything else.

Part of this trend is that bikes, increasingly, are being sold in boxes. It’s not just at this bottom end of the market either – Bicycles Online, Cell Bikes, and now YT-Industries and Canyon all currently sell (or are about to sell) proper, high-end mountain and road bikes in a box, direct to the consumer. It’s all about shortening supply chains and lowering margins.

It’s something we accept (and benefit from) without a murmur in other industries, so why does it upset us so much when it happens in the bike industry?

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Could this be how your next bike arrives?

AGAINST: It comes in a box

Buying a bike in a box means there’ll be an element of assembly required. And given how many people we see riding around with their helmets on backwards (or worse, their forks), we shudder at the idea of some punters wielding an Allen key. Admittedly, there’s bugger all needed to get this bike rolling –installing the pedals, bar and front wheel is it, and the instructions are clear and easy to follow – but before you go launching off water bars, you want to make sure everything is assembled as it should be.

This issue can get pretty heated: while we don’t necessarily agree, there are plenty of people out there who feel strongly that bikes just should not be sold in boxes, ever. Some even call for laws specifically to prevent bikes being sold in a box, citing the safety concerns of having improperly assembled bikes on the trails (or more worryingly, the roads).


So that’s that. Can of worms, opened! What are your thoughts? 

Faster, not Dumber

These are refrains we read often, usually in the shoot-from-the-hip forum of our Facebook page. In the past these comments generally accompanied discussion of 29ers (remember when those were contentious?), but now it’s something we’re more likely to read if we post a piece about the new generation of ‘semi-fat’ 27.5+ bikes.

Faster not Dumber 6

It seems, that in many people’s minds, fat rubber is cheating. Or if not outright cheating, not playing fair, as if ‘buying’ more grip is some loophole in mountain biking legislation.

We get it, we understand where this vibe comes from. There are lots of riders out there who learnt their craft on laughably bad equipment; grip-phobic tyres seemingly made from solid plastic, rims that bent like they were coat hanger wire, brakes that needed all four fingers. Advances in bikes have obviously made it much easier to ride many trail features that in the past would have caused all but the best riders to baulk. Riders who mightn’t have so much skill or ability can, to a degree, make up for it through more forgiving equipment.

And if you’re a salty old bastard, it’s tempting to be disparaging of riders who, often with confidence borne of excellent equipment, can ride the trails at the same speed as you, despite having waltzed into the sport only in the last few years.

Faster not Dumber 2

Having now spent a fair bit of time on 27.5+ bikes, with their massive tyres, we can promise you that in a lot of situations they are the ultimate ‘cheat’ bike. This much traction is a huge advantage in many of those areas that would have once sorted the men from the boys, so to speak. Loose climbs, rubble-filled corners, rough descents – they all become easier with grip. The transformation is instant, like jumping on the mushroom in Super Mario, things you couldn’t do before, you now can.

Of course, whether or not these bikes are faster overall is another matter entirely, as they are pretty ploddy on tame trails.

But when it comes to those features of your trails that would normally serve as a benchmark of skill – rolling that steep chute, getting up that scrappy climb – then plus-sized bikes do put you ahead of the curve.

Faster not Dumber 3

But here’s the crux of it all. If you’re a rider who has the full bag of tricks, rather than resenting the fact that plus-sized riders will likely close the gap on you, why not embrace the benefits yourself? If the advantages provided by plus-sized rubber can lift a mediocre rider’s abilities, imagine what they can do in the hands of someone who’s already pushing the limits of their equipment.

Suddenly those limits are set, like your tyres, much, much wider.

Faster not Dumber 4

What the implications will be for trail building, we’ll have to wait and see, because we can promise you that things that were borderline reckless or un-doable, can suddenly seem pretty sedate.

So perhaps, rather than dumbing down the sport, these bikes are actually opening up a whole new frontier of progression for trail riders, where suddenly we’re building and riding trails at a level that only the ultra-ninja mountain biker could have conceived in the past.

Maybe mountain biking isn’t going to get dumber, but faster, wilder and even more demanding.

We find ourselves saying all this with an element of genuine surprise. A few months ago, when we first learnt of the influx of 27.5+ bikes, we drafted an opinion piece that absolutely ripped the concept to shreds. We ranted against it as a sideways step, a distraction from real advancements, driven solely by companies not riders. In short, we had the exact same response as many people in our audience! But before we published that rant, we decided to wait a few weeks and actually give one a go.

Faster not Dumber 1

We’re glad we held off publishing, because having now ridden a good half dozen or so 27.5+ bikes we understand their potential. They’re not for every rider or trail, but for us they’ve got the ability to make riding faster, wilder and generally more of what we like – that is, faster not dumber.

Why you don’t really need to upgrade

Upgrade (4)

Does that anticipation you get waiting for the latest thing to arrive make you feel special? Do you rely on it to give you something to look forward to? Does the feeling disappear as soon as the ‘thing’ arrives, making you want to order something else to recapture that feeling? Of course, it doesn’t help that the marketing cycles for most bike and gear companies have accelerated. It seems like every month there’s a new wheel size, hub standard, line refresh, design change, or item ‘improvement’, all of which make it harder to be satisfied with the equipment you currently own – it’s now ‘out of date’!

Of course, it’s in the various bike companies’ interests to make you feel this way – after all, they want to sell more stuff. But is it in your interest? Does having the latest gear make you a better rider? More importantly, does buying new stuff give you more lasting satisfaction when you ride, or is it just a way of making you feel better in the short term?

Is it possible that spending time lusting after new stuff might actually degrade your riding experience?

Upgrade (1)

Let’s start with why you ride in the first place. I know I’ve touched on this a lot in the past, but it’s a big deal. When pressed, most mountain bikers will tell you that they ride for the freedom, the challenge, the social interaction, the physical activity, the access to the outdoors, and the feeling of deep connection that mountain biking can offer. Very few people will claim to mountain bike because they like looking good in their latest gear, or because it gives them the chance to show off their recent upgrade to their mates. In other words, for most people, mountain biking is about what you do, not what you have. It’s about the process and the experience, not the outcome.

It’s about the doing, not the talking.

Upgrade (8)

So, in theory, as long as your bike is actually capable of doing what you want to ride (and let’s face it, most of us ride bikes that are way more capable than we actually need), you can attain pretty much all of the things that mountain biking offers with what you already have. Or to put it another way, you get most of your psychological benefit from mountain biking by riding, not by thinking about or buying upgrades.

Upgrade (7)

So, if that’s that case, why do we get suckered into the need for new and ‘better’ stuff? Well, we can blame the same brain mechanism that gets us addicted to chemicals (like drugs) or behaviours (like gambling). The ‘mesolimbic dopamine system’ is a part of the midbrain that evolved to reward us for engaging in survival-based behaviours (like eating and sex). The reward comes in the form of increased levels of dopamine in this part of the brain, and dopamine feels really good. In fact, every time you feel good about pretty much anything, it’s because of dopamine. Annoyingly for us, the system hasn’t caught up with the modern world – which means it’s incredibly easy to hack. Hacking the pleasure centre is pretty much what marketing and advertising professionals do – they know that they can activate your pleasure centre by presenting you with something new. Once they’ve convinced you that a new thing is better than an older thing, not only will you get a (temporary) surge of pleasure by buying it, you’ll also no longer get activation of your pleasure centre from the old thing. They also know that this pleasant feeling is really short-lived, hence the need for rapid product cycling (so you’ll keep buying). In other words, if you rely on the ‘new purchase buzz’, no matter how recently you bought something, as soon as a ‘better’ version comes out, the thing you previously lusted after loses its sex appeal and the newer thing becomes sexy (and so on, and so on)…

Worse, if you’re convinced that the thing you own is no longer adequate, it can seriously degrade your riding experience. Instead of focusing on the great experiences of riding, our focus is now on noticing the newer bikes or gear that our friends have, and feeling envious about what they have that we don’t. Have you ever been perfectly happy with your bike, only to start noticing all the things your bike doesn’t do as well (or the scratches on the frame, etc.) as soon as a mate buys the latest upgrade? All of a sudden your beautiful bike isn’t quite as beautiful, and your ride loses its shine…

Upgrade (5)

If we’re not careful, once we’re convinced that our current bike is no longer adequate, we’ll start to rationalise the expense of an upgrade.

We’ll tell ourselves that we’ll be better riders if we buy those new brakes, or convert to the new wheel size. So, rather than practising being a better rider, or spending our money on a skills course, or maintaining our perfectly adequate equipment, we go for the upgrade. And guess what? The upgrade doesn’t really help, but we still tell ourselves that it might. We stop focusing on how to get more out of the riding we do, and the equipment that we have and, instead, shift our focus to the external (and entirely false) idea of “newer gear equals better rider”. In doing so we outsource our satisfaction to something external to us.

It turns out that lasting satisfaction (in pretty much everything, and certainly in mountain biking) comes from focusing on what’s meaningful. And what’s meaningful is the stuff we actually do – like riding regularly, improving our skills, enjoying time with friends, and appreciating nature.

Of course, there’s an argument for balancing good gear with good riding. It’s important to have gear that matches your abilities and the type of trail you want to ride. But, given that most modern bikes are capable of more than we can throw at them, chances are you’re already riding something that’s good enough.

Upgrade (6)

So, to summarise:

1)   Your bike and gear is probably already good enough;

2)   An external focus on what you don’t have tends to ruin your riding experience;

3)   Your brain will try and fool you into thinking that buying stuff is both important and meaningful. This is how advertising works. Don’t trust your brain on this – any ‘satisfaction’ will be short lasting;

4)   Long-lasting satisfaction comes from focusing on important stuff like learning to be a better rider, improving your skills, spending time with your friends, and enjoying the moment.

My advice: enjoy the ride. Sure, buy gear if and when needed, and enjoy that, but don’t make it your focus. Remember, while you need a bike, your bike is always secondary to the riding.


About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The Soapbox: Is Australian Racing Dying – A Promoter’s Personal View

Earlier this week, Flow published a bloody excellent article by Rodney Farrell. For the last year or more I’ve been surprised the MTB media hadn’t picked up on this, so good on Flow and on Rodney for doing so. I returned home to Australia a couple of months ago from a long ‘road trip’ lasting more than a year and, whilst away, often pondered the question that Rodney has gone some way to answering (I certainly hadn’t considered the impact of Strava though – perhaps I’m too much of a Strava avoider to have been blind).

Is the clock ticking for some of Australia's longest running events?
Is the clock ticking for some of Australia’s longest running events?

I too, like Rodney am an event organiser and I think it’s fair to say Wild Horizons is amongst the longest established organisers of mass participation MTB events in Australia. Back in the mists of time, in 1997, we set off down a long trail of MTB events with our Polaris Challenge. Then – and some still now – the Urban Polaris, Highland Fling, Mountains To Beach, 3 Ring Circus, Rock&Road…..

Back in those early years we could pick any weekend we liked without having to even consider what else was going on. Now perhaps it has come full circle and you almost don’t need to consider other events as it’s almost a given there will be plenty to conflict with whatever you do.

The entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities.

For 11 years with the Polaris Challenge we’d drag 600-700 people off to a new destination for 2 days. We didn’t even tell riders until 2 weeks beforehand where we were going! We’d take over a small village and a whole area of forest and farm, seeking out tracks and trails. We’d camp, dress up as cows or Dr Frankenfurter or worse. It opened up eyes as to places to ride; destinations.

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Are stage races the new growth area of Australian racing? Maybe, maybe not. If so, then it would buck the notion that cost is driving people away from racing, as stage races are generally not a cheap exercise.

I’ve loved witnessing the growth of the sport, the growth in events, the growth of trail networks and those MTB destinations. I’ve competed (and I use that term loosely) in hundreds here and overseas and still get a buzz from the whole event experience. As an organiser I get that same buzz from seeing riders and their families enjoying and enduring the event experience – the entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities…….

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The market, like all markets, has and should refresh its produce. 12+ years ago it was all about 12/24 Hour racing, then 6+ years ago came the turn of the Marathons, then a flourish of Stage Races (which many media pundits said was the next ‘big thing’ but in reality, given the commitments of time and money, could never really be so). Now I have come home to Gravity Enduro in the news. This is, I think, another result of now having excellent trail networks on which to entertain ourselves.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012… Since that time entries have been on a steady decline.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012. How good was it to sell out a marathon in a day, stick the money in the bank, do nothing for 4 months then bang in a few signs, grab a mic and warble for a day with a town full of people? Since that time entries have been on a steady decline. Hardly a major event has bucked the trend (with few notable exceptions like the Cape to Cape). Even some of those quoted in the comments to Rodney’s articles as ‘growing’ have actually fallen markedly. Our Highland Fling had over 2200 riders in 2011 and last year was down to about 1300. Our 3 Ring Circus had over 800 in 2011 and next week will be something like 350 when we run it for the 7th and final time. As much as I love the event, eventually it becomes more sane to spend the same money on a new bike and bugger off on a road trip…….

There's  little doubt there has been tremendous growth in the social side of mountain biking. Could that be a reason for declining race numbers?
Mates going for trail ride or a road trip. Bloody good fun. But could the increase in the informal mountain bike scene be a reason for declining race numbers?

Certainly, as Rodney alluded to, there are now a vast array of destinations for people to head to; to load up the car, ride great trails, drink local beers and wines and fuel up on excellent food. But it may be worth remembering that many of these destinations came about by event promoters and clubs developing trails with a primary function of putting on events; whether local club events or bigger ones. Purely as examples the Flow Trail at Thredbo was developed in part after we showed that it was possible to create an XC line down from the Top Station of the chairlift which we did each year for our Mountains To Beach stage race. Similarly the impetus for better trails at Lake Crackenback Resort was the same event. The great trails in Wingello Forest were originally developed with the impetus of events and are of course now there for all to enjoy. This is mirrored across the country.

Of course this, in itself, is no reason for sticking with the events.

Mont 24 2014
Yes, event promoters can make good money out of a well-run event. But there are also enormous expenses and risks. Last year’s last-minute washout of the Mont 24 should highlight this pretty clearly.

Cost is absolutely a consideration in everything we do to entertain ourselves and we, as race organisers, must understand that we compete against a thousand other demands for dollars not just against some dozens of other MTB events. No-one I know has made a fortune running MTB events and I am sometimes surprised at the occasional criticism made of so called private promoters as if it is OK for big brands, big (or small) shops to sell bikes/bike bling and make a living but not for someone to offer an entertainment product where you can use that bling. And of course the more the numbers fall the harder it is to maintain the entry price – things are much cheaper in bulk and sponsors understandably start to question their contributions if numbers are decreasing. So we have just put up the entry price for the 2015 Fling for the first time since 2011, a risky strategy perhaps, but I am not interested in putting on ‘cost and corner cutting’ events. But like all businesses if we don’t give the customer want then ultimately we close the doors (and bugger off on another road trip…..)

Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.
Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.

Like all entertainment, we have to keep it fresh; bring in new aspects and events. Sure the way we approach our events – themes, course modifications etc hopefully does this but it has not stopped the slide. This year at the Fling we are introducing the Some Fling, a shorter distance aimed primarily at junior (13-16) racers; a gap I’d happily to admit we’ve always had between our U-12 Kids Fling, non competitive Casual Fling and minimum 16 Half Fling. This year we are also introducing The Bundy Run, a Trail Running event on the Saturday. Whilst we’re not expecting many to run Saturday and ride Sunday we do recognise that MTB events are still an 80/20 M/F split. Trail running is something approaching 50/50. So The Bundy Run gives families a better chance of something for everyone. One parent does the Trail Run on Saturday; the other the Fling on Sunday and there’s always someone to look after the kids.

I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’

Rodney is right about many local regions not quite ‘getting’ the impact of MTB tourism or events. Some absolutely do; increasingly so. As a case in point, in my home shire which is also home to the Fling, the 3 Ring Circus as well as the Willo and assorted other cycling events, we have had close to zero support from our local Council or Tourism over the past decade. This when, conservatively, the events have put some ten million dollars into the local area and up towards half a million dollars have been raised by local community groups and charities. And this does not include the flow on effect of people coming to ride/stay all year round. I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’ I wonder what they think has been going on this past decade? And many of my grey hairs have come from hard won battles with bureaucracies where, particularly in NSW, it is easier to say ‘No, it’s too much work for me or might adversely affect my risks’ than to say ‘Yes, what a great idea for tourism and health. Now how do we make it happen within the bounds of public safety and risk management?

The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.
The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.

  What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too.

Since coming home I’ve been talking with other event organisers, bike industry figures, riders and others like food vendors. Absolutely without doubt per event numbers are falling (your evidence was certainly not anecdotal Rodney) but it is hard to know whether it is the same number of people spread across a larger number of events. Personally I think not. What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too. Again, so much choice, so much competition for the dollar, so few weekends. Perhaps we should all be campaigning for a shorter working week with a ‘short weekend’ every Wednesday? 104 weekends a year………

It has been very interesting to see the increasing crossover of road and MTB in the last 3-4 years. It is a key reason why we introduced our Rock&Road event this year. But what I have very much noticed since I’ve been back is the number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt. Why is this? Is it the profile of road cycling? Is it the reduction in the amount of maintenance, cleaning, laundry? As someone who loves the sounds and smells of the bush, loves the relative safety of mountain biking and loves being dirty, I find this surprising. And yes I do ride a roadie too.

IMG_1234

Giveaways/Goodie Bags are an interesting area. We try (try being the operative word) to have a strong element of sustainability in what we do. So when it comes to giving away things we really do think about the usefulness and quality of the items and the need or otherwise for a bag to put them in. So, using the Fling as an example, we have given away $20 bottles of local wine, $15 CamelBak water bottles, hydration packs, bladders, firestarter flints (well it was the Flingstones theme….), bananas (when they were $18/kilo after Cyclone Larry).

 The number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt.

We have never done cheap water bottles and in 20 years have never given away T-shirts. It is a difficult balancing act and I accept that this is potentially fraught as, whilst we might lay out our sustainability credentials not everyone will support that and may avoid the event in the belief we are cheapskates. None of these giveaways are free though. It is rare these days for a sponsor to say ‘here’s 1500 widgets’ particularly if you are chasing 1500 quality widgets.

So thanks again Rodney for writing on the topic and time will continue to tell what happens to the event scene. As mountain bikers we’re lucky to have an ever increasing canvas across Australia and NZ on which to entertain ourselves – destinations, events, tours – and the bike bling to decorate them. That’s healthy.

The Soapbox: Is Australian Racing Dying – A Promoter's Personal View

Is Australian racing dying? Entrants numbers at some of our country’s best events are on the decline, while the sport overall is going from strength to strength. To an outsider it doesn’t stack up, so we asked an insider for their perspective instead. Huw Kingston of Wild Horizons is a well known, long standing event promoter, whose events have been (and still are) some of the country’s biggest. Here’s his perspective on the changing events scene.


Earlier this week, Flow published a bloody excellent article by Rodney Farrell. For the last year or more I’ve been surprised the MTB media hadn’t picked up on this, so good on Flow and on Rodney for doing so. I returned home to Australia a couple of months ago from a long ‘road trip’ lasting more than a year and, whilst away, often pondered the question that Rodney has gone some way to answering (I certainly hadn’t considered the impact of Strava though – perhaps I’m too much of a Strava avoider to have been blind).

Is the clock ticking for some of Australia's longest running events?
Is the clock ticking for some of Australia’s longest running events?

I too, like Rodney am an event organiser and I think it’s fair to say Wild Horizons is amongst the longest established organisers of mass participation MTB events in Australia. Back in the mists of time, in 1997, we set off down a long trail of MTB events with our Polaris Challenge. Then – and some still now – the Urban Polaris, Highland Fling, Mountains To Beach, 3 Ring Circus, Rock&Road…..

Back in those early years we could pick any weekend we liked without having to even consider what else was going on. Now perhaps it has come full circle and you almost don’t need to consider other events as it’s almost a given there will be plenty to conflict with whatever you do.

The entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities.

For 11 years with the Polaris Challenge we’d drag 600-700 people off to a new destination for 2 days. We didn’t even tell riders until 2 weeks beforehand where we were going! We’d take over a small village and a whole area of forest and farm, seeking out tracks and trails. We’d camp, dress up as cows or Dr Frankenfurter or worse. It opened up eyes as to places to ride; destinations.

IMG_0482
Are stage races the new growth area of Australian racing? Maybe, maybe not. If so, then it would buck the notion that cost is driving people away from racing, as stage races are generally not a cheap exercise.

I’ve loved witnessing the growth of the sport, the growth in events, the growth of trail networks and those MTB destinations. I’ve competed (and I use that term loosely) in hundreds here and overseas and still get a buzz from the whole event experience. As an organiser I get that same buzz from seeing riders and their families enjoying and enduring the event experience – the entertainment, the trepidation, the pain, the pleasure, the laughter, the tears, the food, the beer, the mateship, the prizes, the contribution to regional communities…….

Port-to-Port-MTB-34

The market, like all markets, has and should refresh its produce. 12+ years ago it was all about 12/24 Hour racing, then 6+ years ago came the turn of the Marathons, then a flourish of Stage Races (which many media pundits said was the next ‘big thing’ but in reality, given the commitments of time and money, could never really be so). Now I have come home to Gravity Enduro in the news. This is, I think, another result of now having excellent trail networks on which to entertain ourselves.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012… Since that time entries have been on a steady decline.

Event entries probably peaked in 2011-2012. How good was it to sell out a marathon in a day, stick the money in the bank, do nothing for 4 months then bang in a few signs, grab a mic and warble for a day with a town full of people? Since that time entries have been on a steady decline. Hardly a major event has bucked the trend (with few notable exceptions like the Cape to Cape). Even some of those quoted in the comments to Rodney’s articles as ‘growing’ have actually fallen markedly. Our Highland Fling had over 2200 riders in 2011 and last year was down to about 1300. Our 3 Ring Circus had over 800 in 2011 and next week will be something like 350 when we run it for the 7th and final time. As much as I love the event, eventually it becomes more sane to spend the same money on a new bike and bugger off on a road trip…….

There's  little doubt there has been tremendous growth in the social side of mountain biking. Could that be a reason for declining race numbers?
Mates going for trail ride or a road trip. Bloody good fun. But could the increase in the informal mountain bike scene be a reason for declining race numbers?

Certainly, as Rodney alluded to, there are now a vast array of destinations for people to head to; to load up the car, ride great trails, drink local beers and wines and fuel up on excellent food. But it may be worth remembering that many of these destinations came about by event promoters and clubs developing trails with a primary function of putting on events; whether local club events or bigger ones. Purely as examples the Flow Trail at Thredbo was developed in part after we showed that it was possible to create an XC line down from the Top Station of the chairlift which we did each year for our Mountains To Beach stage race. Similarly the impetus for better trails at Lake Crackenback Resort was the same event. The great trails in Wingello Forest were originally developed with the impetus of events and are of course now there for all to enjoy. This is mirrored across the country.

Of course this, in itself, is no reason for sticking with the events.

Mont 24 2014
Yes, event promoters can make good money out of a well-run event. But there are also enormous expenses and risks. Last year’s last-minute washout of the Mont 24 should highlight this pretty clearly.

Cost is absolutely a consideration in everything we do to entertain ourselves and we, as race organisers, must understand that we compete against a thousand other demands for dollars not just against some dozens of other MTB events. No-one I know has made a fortune running MTB events and I am sometimes surprised at the occasional criticism made of so called private promoters as if it is OK for big brands, big (or small) shops to sell bikes/bike bling and make a living but not for someone to offer an entertainment product where you can use that bling. And of course the more the numbers fall the harder it is to maintain the entry price – things are much cheaper in bulk and sponsors understandably start to question their contributions if numbers are decreasing. So we have just put up the entry price for the 2015 Fling for the first time since 2011, a risky strategy perhaps, but I am not interested in putting on ‘cost and corner cutting’ events. But like all businesses if we don’t give the customer want then ultimately we close the doors (and bugger off on another road trip…..)

Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.
Are riders looking for new styles of events? Perhaps with less of a racing focus, like the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival.

Like all entertainment, we have to keep it fresh; bring in new aspects and events. Sure the way we approach our events – themes, course modifications etc hopefully does this but it has not stopped the slide. This year at the Fling we are introducing the Some Fling, a shorter distance aimed primarily at junior (13-16) racers; a gap I’d happily to admit we’ve always had between our U-12 Kids Fling, non competitive Casual Fling and minimum 16 Half Fling. This year we are also introducing The Bundy Run, a Trail Running event on the Saturday. Whilst we’re not expecting many to run Saturday and ride Sunday we do recognise that MTB events are still an 80/20 M/F split. Trail running is something approaching 50/50. So The Bundy Run gives families a better chance of something for everyone. One parent does the Trail Run on Saturday; the other the Fling on Sunday and there’s always someone to look after the kids.

I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’

Rodney is right about many local regions not quite ‘getting’ the impact of MTB tourism or events. Some absolutely do; increasingly so. As a case in point, in my home shire which is also home to the Fling, the 3 Ring Circus as well as the Willo and assorted other cycling events, we have had close to zero support from our local Council or Tourism over the past decade. This when, conservatively, the events have put some ten million dollars into the local area and up towards half a million dollars have been raised by local community groups and charities. And this does not include the flow on effect of people coming to ride/stay all year round. I had to chuckle recently when I received an email from the local council informing me that ‘A recent economic development summit has identified the Shire as having an opportunity market itself as a cycle tourism destination.’ I wonder what they think has been going on this past decade? And many of my grey hairs have come from hard won battles with bureaucracies where, particularly in NSW, it is easier to say ‘No, it’s too much work for me or might adversely affect my risks’ than to say ‘Yes, what a great idea for tourism and health. Now how do we make it happen within the bounds of public safety and risk management?

The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.
The Cannonball MTB Festival in Thredbo has adopted the same approach as the Bike Buller Festival, with multiple events over one weekend.

  What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too.

Since coming home I’ve been talking with other event organisers, bike industry figures, riders and others like food vendors. Absolutely without doubt per event numbers are falling (your evidence was certainly not anecdotal Rodney) but it is hard to know whether it is the same number of people spread across a larger number of events. Personally I think not. What also seems apparent is that it is not just mountain bike events that are suffering but music festivals, village shows and other outdoor activities are too. Again, so much choice, so much competition for the dollar, so few weekends. Perhaps we should all be campaigning for a shorter working week with a ‘short weekend’ every Wednesday? 104 weekends a year………

It has been very interesting to see the increasing crossover of road and MTB in the last 3-4 years. It is a key reason why we introduced our Rock&Road event this year. But what I have very much noticed since I’ve been back is the number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt. Why is this? Is it the profile of road cycling? Is it the reduction in the amount of maintenance, cleaning, laundry? As someone who loves the sounds and smells of the bush, loves the relative safety of mountain biking and loves being dirty, I find this surprising. And yes I do ride a roadie too.

IMG_1234

Giveaways/Goodie Bags are an interesting area. We try (try being the operative word) to have a strong element of sustainability in what we do. So when it comes to giving away things we really do think about the usefulness and quality of the items and the need or otherwise for a bag to put them in. So, using the Fling as an example, we have given away $20 bottles of local wine, $15 CamelBak water bottles, hydration packs, bladders, firestarter flints (well it was the Flingstones theme….), bananas (when they were $18/kilo after Cyclone Larry).

 The number of committed mountain bikers who used to ride occasionally on the road who are now committed roadies who ride occasionally on the dirt.

We have never done cheap water bottles and in 20 years have never given away T-shirts. It is a difficult balancing act and I accept that this is potentially fraught as, whilst we might lay out our sustainability credentials not everyone will support that and may avoid the event in the belief we are cheapskates. None of these giveaways are free though. It is rare these days for a sponsor to say ‘here’s 1500 widgets’ particularly if you are chasing 1500 quality widgets.

So thanks again Rodney for writing on the topic and time will continue to tell what happens to the event scene. As mountain bikers we’re lucky to have an ever increasing canvas across Australia and NZ on which to entertain ourselves – destinations, events, tours – and the bike bling to decorate them. That’s healthy.

The Soapbox: Is Australian Racing Dying?

So I thought, ‘why not get some feedback?’ Maybe it might lead to better events, in whatever format. Or maybe I’ll just be ostracised after publishing what may well be the thoughts of an idiot.

Some background: In the past I raced a lot, and I was an event organiser for two events in the Central West of New South Wales (the Ginja Ninja and the Back Yamma Bigfoot). For various reasons I don’t race a lot now and I’ve hit event organising on the head after the Ginja Ninja earlier this year. I admit, this clearly makes me a contributor to the (alleged) mass exodus from racing myself, but I’m keen to understand other people’s perspectives on why racing is on the decline.

Rodney Farrell. Ex event organiser and now infrequent racer.
Rodney Farrell. Ex event organiser and now infrequent racer.

I should add that I haven’t contacted Mountain Biking Australia (MTBA) or any other event promoters for actual figures that substantiate the claim that there has been a decline in racing numbers. But you only need to look at the anecdotal evidence to get a pretty good picture. Events that used to sell out in hours often don’t sell out at all. 24hr races that you had to scramble to get into have dropped right off. And now I see event organisers on social media almost pleading for entries, in New South Wales and further afield.

I have a few hunches on why racing numbers are down. Let’s start with the easy one: the expense.

Did events get too expensive? Were they always too expensive? Or didn’t they change with the times? Perhaps all three?

I don’t have an issue with professional event organisers making a good living or clubs making a healthy amount from an event. Having organised several events (hopefully good events) I understand the costs involved and the potential for making money and making a loss. But… has anyone else noticed the increasingly empty competitor pack? A few years ago when you signed on to an event you got the t-shirt, socks, the water bottle; I would think – that’s great, even though I didn’t really need them, it was just more to add to the collection but it served as a nice little memento from the event. Then I would come back another year and now the t-shirt wasn’t in the competitor pack. No biggie. But then when they took away the water bottle or socks, I started to think ‘what’s going on here?’ The entry fees certainly weren’t getting any cheaper.

24hr events have definitely declined in popularity. Why?
24hr events have definitely declined in popularity. Why?

Not so long ago I did a popular 100/50km marathon, I went and signed on, received a nice glossy goodie bag from a nutrition company, grabbed my number plate and wandered away. The race was fun, well-organised, great trails and I got the chocolate spoon award – 4th place. But my lingering memory is in the empty space of that goodie bag. The empty space that used to hold a drink bottle, maybe t-shirt or a pair of socks, some nutrition products, and the obligatory ‘gumpf’. This bag was now empty except for some flyers promoting the organiser’s own upcoming events. This got me thinking… I didn’t need to use a port a loo (the event set up meant that not many riders would have), I didn’t stop at the feed station (I did the 50km option) and my competitor pack didn’t have anything in it. I reckon that’s a pretty poor return on my investment!

Sure I race for fun, but I still want substance from an event. I still want to feel there’s value.

Another thought on what may be contributing to the decline is the effect of Strava. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks that it has had a huge effect on the numbers racing?

I should make my position clear, I use Strava, it collates my rides and I use it in moments of reflection. Do I ride for KOMs? Hell no, I ride for fun. That’s another article and argument I don’t want to get involved in. Of course I feel all the reasons that I have identified have their part to play and I am not sure on their apportioning, but for sure riders are Strava’ing rides, rather than racing.

My reasoning is, when the big marathons had 1500 riders there were a lot of mates there, racing each other, not the rest of the field. At the end they had their result amongst their group; their newly established pecking order, plus they could see how they stacked up against the broader community of riders. I see these same groups of mates are still riding, but now Strava’ing their rides.

They can still get their group pecking order and they can see where they stand in the grand scheme of things on Strava now, just as they once did by attending an event.

On the theme of technology, a number of handy little devices are now making it easier to find and ride trails that would have previously only been accessible during an event. Plus there are simply more great trails out there now, and they’re easier to find than ever. Events used to be a way to discover new places to ride, but that’s not such an issue any more.

What about the number of events? Could the decline in racing be contributed to by an oversupply of events? Did the calendar get suffocated? Or were there not enough events, or perhaps not enough diversity?

Gravity Enduro racing has definitely attracted new riders to racing, and probably drawn racers from other types of racing too.
Gravity Enduro racing has definitely attracted new riders to racing, and probably drawn racers from other types of racing too.

Moving forward, it looks like the racing landscape is changing. There is an influx of Gravity Enduro events which are increasingly well attended. But the number of people racing these doesn’t come close to balancing out the decline in racer numbers from the peak of marathon and 24hr racing 6-8 years ago.

It’s clear that there will be less events moving forward. Sadly from the perspective of an (ex) event organiser the dwindling numbers, coupled with a lack of support from other stakeholders (for example local council, tourism authorities) plus the red tape in regards to traffic management and the like now tips the balance against event organisation.

It’s a no-brainer than an influx of 300-400 riders and their support family/friends coming to a town for an event is hugely beneficial to the community. It’s unfortunate that local stakeholders haven’t given the events the attention or resource deserved, or fostered an environment that was conducive to running an event with minimal administrative angst.

Local councils could surely subsidise some expenses, like promotion costs or forestry fees. Then the events would have been cheaper to run, entries could have been more affordable, organisers could have offered more, the event may have been more enticing to riders.

Another option: Can we attribute the decline in racing to mountain bike tourism? I mean, who hasn’t ridden at Rotorua? (If you haven’t, do yourself a favour and ride Rotorua.) There are Aussies flying all around the world to ride now. Domestically, mountain bike tourism is going nuts – there are bunches of mates taking a week, or long weekends away, just to ride, not to race. This never used to happen.

With the proliferation of new trails and trail centres, riders have more options for travelling just to ride, rather than race, on great trails, like here in Derby.
With the proliferation of new trail centres, riders have more options for travelling just to ride, rather than race, on great trails, like here in Derby.

A few weeks ago I came across a group of five middle-aged (probably 44-55 year old) men who came through town from Queensland. Initially they drove to Thredbo, then up to Orange and on to Newcastle. They were on a drive-one-day-ride-the-next ‘Wild Hogs’ week. They all had trail bikes and whilst I’m sure they might have occasionally raced, their focus for this trip was purely fun.

In terms of the sport’s administration, perhaps they’re to blame too? It would be great to see MTBA supporting the clubs/private promoters more. Surely there’s a role for them there in streamlining the paperwork involved with event organising, liaising with the Police or Forestry on event promoters’ behalves? The last event my small crew and I organised we encountered several paper work road blocks that stalled us badly. Consequently entries opened much later than anticipated. It seems that each year the risk management bar is raised higher and unforeseen issues are raised. This is surely having an impact on event promoters’ motivation to push through the red tape.

So, party people, I ask you: why aren’t you racing?

Is it too expensive, was racing over crowded, not enough fun? Have you shifted your riding focus, or has Strava consumed you? And if you have stopped, what would make you get back into it? What do you want from racing that is not currently being offered?

 

The Soapbox: It’s OK to Take Winter Off

I spent a good deal of this morning arguing with myself over whether I should go for a ride. On the plus side, if I went out I’d get to ride my bike. On the down side, it’s cold, the trails are wet, and I’m just not feeling it. And I have to ask myself, why am I struggling so much? Why can’t I accept that I really just don’t want to go?

For most of us, mountain biking is more than a sport. It’s not like jogging or going to the gym. It’s a way of life, something that makes life more meaningful. It’s fun, it’s absorbing, and it’s something to fantasise about when you’re not doing it. But with all of that comes a sense of obligation. If we’re that into something, surely we should be devoting more of our time to it, surely we should be getting out there whenever we can, no matter what the weather, or how we’re feeling. If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

winter riding 1

 If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

And sure, there’s the “man (or woman)-up” argument. What’s a little cold or mud after all? But let’s face it – if mountain biking is about optimal experience, why should we accept a sub-par ride (or a whole season of them)? Psychologically, the major benefits of mountain biking come from the quality of the experience: the fun, the social interaction, the challenge, the skills development, the outdoor environment… And sure, some people love riding in adverse conditions, so they can still achieve all of these benefits over winter. But many don’t – for them wet, cold, and mud just isn’t what mountain biking’s about. And if you’re not getting the usual benefits that mountain biking offers you, if riding becomes stressful and unpleasant, if you have to battle with yourself to get out the door, then why are you doing it?

So I’m going to make a radical suggestion: if you’re not feeling it, why not take a break from mountain biking over the winter?

There are plenty of technical reasons to take a break over winter: it’s better for the trails (trail builders hate it when you trash their lovely trails by riding on them when they’re wet or muddy), it’s better for your bike (no more worn components), and you’ll spend a lot less time cleaning and maintaining your machine. Most importantly, though, you get to take a bit of time off your bike when it’s not as fun. It’s a chance to miss your riding, to appreciate your local trails, and to look forward to something. It’s a chance to not have to beat yourself up because you’re not a “real mountain biker”.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different. Cold-weather running can be great (it’s even better with a dog). Training on a spin bike, turbo trainer, or rollers, or getting out on the road bike is different, and a great challenge (especially for your endurance). Likewise, working on your core-strength in the gym will really help once you get back on the trails. Psychologically, cross-training will give you a different perspective on your usual training, and taking a holiday from your mountain bike can help increase your performance by introducing some fresh challenges and perspectives.

winter riding

So instead of beating yourself up, and forcing yourself to do something that you’re just not loving, give yourself permission to take a break. Lighten up on yourself for not forcing yourself to suffer for your sport. You’ll feel better for it, and you might just enjoy your mountain biking more when you pick it up in the spring.

After all, isn’t loving it what mountain biking’s all about?

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The Soapbox: It's OK to Take Winter Off

Seriously, it’s OK not to ride your bike over winter…

I spent a good deal of this morning arguing with myself over whether I should go for a ride. On the plus side, if I went out I’d get to ride my bike. On the down side, it’s cold, the trails are wet, and I’m just not feeling it. And I have to ask myself, why am I struggling so much? Why can’t I accept that I really just don’t want to go?

For most of us, mountain biking is more than a sport. It’s not like jogging or going to the gym. It’s a way of life, something that makes life more meaningful. It’s fun, it’s absorbing, and it’s something to fantasise about when you’re not doing it. But with all of that comes a sense of obligation. If we’re that into something, surely we should be devoting more of our time to it, surely we should be getting out there whenever we can, no matter what the weather, or how we’re feeling. If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

winter riding 1

 If we’re not suffering for our riding, are we even real mountain bikers?

And sure, there’s the “man (or woman)-up” argument. What’s a little cold or mud after all? But let’s face it – if mountain biking is about optimal experience, why should we accept a sub-par ride (or a whole season of them)? Psychologically, the major benefits of mountain biking come from the quality of the experience: the fun, the social interaction, the challenge, the skills development, the outdoor environment… And sure, some people love riding in adverse conditions, so they can still achieve all of these benefits over winter. But many don’t – for them wet, cold, and mud just isn’t what mountain biking’s about. And if you’re not getting the usual benefits that mountain biking offers you, if riding becomes stressful and unpleasant, if you have to battle with yourself to get out the door, then why are you doing it?

So I’m going to make a radical suggestion: if you’re not feeling it, why not take a break from mountain biking over the winter?

There are plenty of technical reasons to take a break over winter: it’s better for the trails (trail builders hate it when you trash their lovely trails by riding on them when they’re wet or muddy), it’s better for your bike (no more worn components), and you’ll spend a lot less time cleaning and maintaining your machine. Most importantly, though, you get to take a bit of time off your bike when it’s not as fun. It’s a chance to miss your riding, to appreciate your local trails, and to look forward to something. It’s a chance to not have to beat yourself up because you’re not a “real mountain biker”.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different.

If you’re serious about your riding, winter doesn’t mean that you need to take a break from training. In fact, it’s the perfect chance to do something different. Cold-weather running can be great (it’s even better with a dog). Training on a spin bike, turbo trainer, or rollers, or getting out on the road bike is different, and a great challenge (especially for your endurance). Likewise, working on your core-strength in the gym will really help once you get back on the trails. Psychologically, cross-training will give you a different perspective on your usual training, and taking a holiday from your mountain bike can help increase your performance by introducing some fresh challenges and perspectives.

winter riding

So instead of beating yourself up, and forcing yourself to do something that you’re just not loving, give yourself permission to take a break. Lighten up on yourself for not forcing yourself to suffer for your sport. You’ll feel better for it, and you might just enjoy your mountain biking more when you pick it up in the spring.

After all, isn’t loving it what mountain biking’s all about?

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The Soap Box: About Pain. Using Pain to be a Better Mountain Biker

Pain sucks. And it’s supposed to. Pain is there for a good reason – when it happens, as far as your body is concerned (or, more specifically, the part of your brain that monitors input from different parts of the body), something is wrong. And because we seldom doubt that this system is giving us anything but useful information, we usually listen to it.

And let’s face it: mountain biking is a painful sport. Climbs hurt, descents hurt, falling off hurts, getting back on hurts…

But here’s the thing. Whilst it’s true that pain can be a useful warning signal, it’s important for any athlete to be familiar with the different types and levels of warning. Many of us experience pain as one thing, sort of like an on/off switch. We interpret pain as either manageable or intolerable. But it can be a lot subtler. Some pain requires your immediate attention: injury pain says that something is damaged and ongoing activity will make that damage worse. Most high-level athletes know when damage has occurred and don’t try to “push through” – the consequences are usually a lot worse than losing a few competition points*.

Other types of pain can be extremely useful though. Muscle pain when we’re riding (assuming it’s not from an injury) alerts us to poor riding position, poor technique, inadequate fuelling, low hydration, or tension. Pain from riding hard above your anaerobic threshold means that you’re in oxygen debt and have an increasing lactic acid build-up in your muscles (meaning you’ve got a limited amount of time left before you need to stop). And for these types of pain it takes a lot more than we think to do damage. In other words, the only thing stopping you from continuing to perform alongside these types of pain is you.

Now, this is not the part where I tell you “no pain, no gain”, and advise you to “muscle through it”. First, that would be pointless. If it were easy to muscle through your pain, you’d already be doing it. Second, as powerful as we think willpower is, it has a definite time limit. Willpower only lasts so long (before needing to reset) so, if that’s all you have to rely on, once it’s gone, you’re done.

Nope, learning to ride with pain is not about increasing willpower, it’s about removing distraction. After all, that’s all that pain is: a large distraction. And we can overcome distraction in two ways: by increasing our tolerance, and by increasing our focus.

Increasing pain tolerance is not really what it sounds like. It’s not like training montages in martial-arts movies. It’s about listening to the pain, determining what’s actually going on, and acting differently. Most of us try and distract ourselves when we’re in pain, which is a really bad idea. If we’re distracted, we’re not paying attention, and if you’re not paying attention on your bike, things go wrong. So instead of distracting yourself by thinking of other things, you need to learn to think about what the pain is telling you. If you’re fatigued, for example, it means that your technique is likely to get sloppy (which can have nasty consequences on the bike). So back off a small amount, and focus consciously on your form: body position, head position, balance point, etc.

Training yourself to pay attention (increasing your focus) when you’re in pain, has a triple effect: (1) it helps to identify a problem; (2) it keeps you focused when you’re most likely to fail; and (3) it helps you train yourself to perform better when you’re fatigued. Let’s look at each of these areas in a little more depth.

1)   Learn to read what your pain is telling you. You can’t do anything about a problem if you’re not aware that it’s there. So learning to read your body and determine what a pain message means is paramount. As I’ve said, fatigue should mean paying greater attention to your technique. But cramping can mean “slow down and rehydrate”; loss of power even though you’re working hard can mean “you need fuel”; and back or neck pain can mean that “your body position needs attention”.
2)   When you’re in pain, practise focusing on whatever is getting sloppy. If pain is about getting your attention it’s also about focusing that attention on what’s important. One of the biggest things that pain can tell us is that there’s a higher risk of immanent failure. So bringing your conscious attention to what you need to do at that point becomes paramount.
3)   Train under fatigue. Training well when you’re physically, emotionally, and psychologically fatigued (states usually associated with pain) trains you to perform better when you actually need it. It’s all very well to perform well when you’re feeling great, but it’s the mistakes we make when we’re tired and distracted that result in injury or catastrophe. Notice when your focus is flagging, and pay even more attention to what you’re doing. Ensure your form stays good when you’re fatigued or in pain.

 

OK – if paying attention is the key, how do we pay more attention, especially when we’re distracted? First, we need to learn to notice when we’re distracted. Rather than cover old ground here, take a minute to read my article on ‘Riding in the Hear and Now’ (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/the-soapbox-riding-in-the-here-and-now/). Remember, whenever you notice that you’re distracted deliberately bring your attention back to what’s going on right now. Do this whenever you’re riding and you find yourself daydreaming, or distracting yourself because you’re in pain. Next, focus on what the pain is telling you and do something about it (see above).

Last, practise focusing on what’s actually important right now. Whether it’s about finishing a training set (well), making it through a technical section when you’re hurting, or getting to the top of a hill, there’s a good reason that you’re doing whatever you’re doing. As much as you might be hurting, you chose to be on your bike. Doing whatever you’ve chosen to do, to the best of your ability and in the here and now, is a lot more important than any uncomfortable feelings you might have^.

 

* Seriously, pushing through an injury is not a good idea – get off your bike (assuming you can still ride it) and get medical attention.

^ I’ve deliberately avoided talking about chronic pain in this article. It’s a different beast altogether, but also something we can do a lot about. If you’re having issues with chronic pain, get in touch and I’ll talk you though your options.


 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The Soapbox: Getting Your Mojo Back

Except that, on the second day, my GoPro got caught on an overhanging branch while I was descending, which flipped my head back and threw me off the bike. I landed on my right hand. When I got up, my wrist was at a really weird angle – a major break of the radius. Holiday over, and no riding for six months.

But here’s the crappiest part – despite spending that whole six months fantasising about getting back on my bike, when I finally got the go-ahead I was next to useless. Even basic descents made my head freak out completely. I’d completely lost my mojo.

Mountain biking often puts us directly in the way of both real and imagined harm, and this ‘survival’ centre in the brain can get really upset when we push our limits.

As I talked about in my last article, our mountain biking passion can be fickle. But occasionally, due to injury, stress, other life demands, or a minor crash (without injury), we can simply lose our mojo – no matter what we do, we just can’t make ourselves ride the things we want to ride. Today we’ll look at getting your mojo back.

To understand mountain biking mojo, we need to remember that a lot of what we ask ourselves to do on a mountain bike is in complete opposition to the parts of our brain that evolved to keep us alive. I covered this in my articles on “Training your brain” (http://flowmountainbike.com/features/training-your-brain-part-1-reprogramming/) a while back, so probably a good idea to nip over there for a few minutes and re-read. Basically though, we’ve evolved really good survival systems that are excellent at keeping us out of harm’s way. Mountain biking often puts us directly in the way of both real and imagined harm, and this ‘survival’ centre in the brain can get really upset when we push our limits; even more so when we seriously scare ourselves with near misses, or actually hurt ourselves when we crash. Often, this equates to a loss of mojo: the survival system starts generating major levels of fear or, even worse, insists on taking over at exactly the wrong moment (like grabbing your brakes just before a drop…).

It’s really easy to get extremely frustrated when we find ourselves balking on things that we know are easy

Getting back to riding after a loss of mojo is hard, especially when we know that we’re fully capable of riding whatever it is our survival system isn’t letting us ride. It’s really easy to get extremely frustrated when we find ourselves balking on things that we know are easy. It’s also really easy to get hung up on our new limit, and spend a lot of time in our heads questioning and berating ourselves.

But understanding what the survival system is doing (so you can respond appropriately) will help. Here’s a guide on what to expect and how to get past it.

1)   After a crash or injury your survival systems will try to protect you by keeping you away from similar activities. This is what they’re supposed to do, so don’t freak out about it too much.

2)   A part of the protection mechanism will be a temptation to replay an accident or incident in your head, over and over. This is normal, but it doesn’t help. Instead of indulging the memory (and surrounding thoughts) “thank” your brain, take a deep breath, and focus your attention on your surroundings. Do this over and over, whenever you find yourself indulging the temptation to mull over what happened. By refocusing your attention you’re training yourself to attend to what’s important (the here and now) rather than a memory of something that has happened and that you can’t change.

Stop being so hard on yourself… Pick a series of fun rides without a lot of challenge and let yourself get used to riding for fun again.

3)   You are not your survival system. It’s just a part of your brain that evolved to try and keep you safe. That means that just because you feel it, doesn’t mean that you have to pay attention to it (even if it’s really loud).

4)   Give yourself a break. Instead of trying to get back to full pre-crash/injury level in a short period of time, recognise that it might be difficult, and stop being so hard on yourself. Rather, pick a series of fun rides without a lot of challenge and let yourself get used to riding for fun again. Once you feel a bit more relaxed, start upping the challenge slowly. If things don’t work the way you hoped, relax, take a breath and let it go (then go back to ‘2’ above).

5)   If you’re recovering from an injury, before you start riding again make sure you’re signed off by your surgeon, physio, or other health professional. But also remember that most injuries are fully healed by around six months. After that time, the chances of reinjury are the same as they were post injury. In other words, once you’ve healed, the only way you’re going to hurt yourself again is by having another accident, and the more you freak out about that happening the greater the chances that it will!

6)   If you’re really struggling to get your mojo back, and it’s just not working, don’t try to do it by yourself. Asking for help is not an admission of failure, it’s an indication of how important mountain biking is to you! I’d recommend looking for a psychologist who has experience in sport and performance psychology, especially around reengaging post accident or injury, and work with him or her to get you back to what you love.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

 

The Soapbox: Riding in the Here and Now

Quite a few of you wrote in to ask how to enjoy your riding more. Lots of you reported that a lot of the time you just weren’t enjoying your rides: you’re just not feeling it on the bike.

Actually, this happens to us throughout our lives in lots of areas. After a while, things that used to be deeply engaging (and really fun) lose some of their shine. That great new job, the new relationship, the new car, all seem to be less exciting a few months or years down the track. So too, our feelings of satisfaction around mountain biking often wanes, and it can be really hard to motivate ourselves to get out for a ride. Worse, when do get out, many of us find it really hard to feel the love – we struggle through a ride, make mistakes, get more and more pissed off, and finish feeling crap. It’s enough to make you want to give up all together…

Do you really want to stop riding, or have you forgotten why you started in the first place? Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few important questions before we just go with our feelings?

Hang on though – do you really want to stop riding, or have you forgotten why you started in the first place? Maybe we need to ask ourselves a few important questions before we just go with our feelings?

A quick sidestep. Since when has listening to your feelings ever been a useful strategy? We all “feel” that our feelings are important, and that we should “go with our gut”, but most of the time your feelings just get you in trouble. In fact, most of us rely on our feelings to steer our actions, and a lot of the time those actions are definitely not in our best interests. Ever been angry and said or done something really hurtful/dumb/catastrophic that you’ve seriously regretted later? Ever “trusted your gut” only to have it lead you totally astray? Ever avoided things that were important because you felt anxious? It turns out that learning to distance your actions from your feelings can make the world of difference. It’s not like you’re going to stop having emotions – we can’t control our feelings even if we wanted to – but you can stop referring to them as the motivator for your actions.

Instead of simply acting on a feeling, try just noticing that you have a feeling (e.g., “I feel really annoyed”), and then direct your attention to something more worthwhile (like your breathing). Then try it again, and again. It’s hard, especially to begin with or when you’re really upset but, with practise, separating your feelings from your actions gives you a lot more freedom to make choices about how you live your life. When your actions are independent of your feelings, you can choose to do things that are in your best interests, even (or especially) when you don’t feel like it.

Why did you start in the first place? Was it the challenge, the exhilaration, the social interaction, being outdoors, having fun? Are these reasons still valid?

Coming back to mountain biking, why did you start in the first place? Was it the challenge, the exhilaration, the social interaction, being outdoors, having fun? Are these reasons still valid? Chances are that your reasons are probably just as relevant now as they always were, you’ve just been distracted. And if you’ve been distracted by your feelings (“I can’t be [email protected] going for a ride”), acknowledge the feeling and, instead of acting on it, remind yourself of why you ride, and get on your bike instead.

Our lives are full of distractions: work, stress, dissatisfaction, fatigue, hunger, worry… Many of these things take our attention away from the things that are good for us (like riding). The most important thing you can understand about distractions, is that they’re only able to distract you if they get your attention. If you choose to focus on the here and now, all of these things stop being distractions and become exactly what they are: just thoughts or feelings. On the bike we get distracted by a heap of things: our minds (worries, shopping lists, and other crap), our bodies (feelings of fatigue, hunger or pain), our expectations (the things you “should” be able to do, or your competitiveness), and external events (the weather, other people, etc.). None of these things actually require your attention, but when they do distract you, it’s pretty much a given that you’ll lose your focus and, therefore, your enjoyment.

Distraction means that your ride becomes about the distractions, instead of why you’re there in the first place.

So what’s actually worth paying attention to? For me, I ride because it forces me to pay attention to the present moment – it makes me mindful. If my head or my body distracts me, I’m riding badly, and that tends to end up in annoying feedback loop, one in which I ride worse and worse, and get grumpier and grumpier. Distraction means that your ride becomes about the distractions, instead of why you’re there in the first place, and if you’re not getting what you want out of a ride, there’s really not much point in being there.

But just because we start a ride distracted, because we’re tired, pissed off, stressed, or just absent, doesn’t mean we need to stay that way. The first step to getting back into the here and now, is to recognise that you’re distracted. That might sound dumb, but you can’t do anything about distraction if you haven’t noticed that your attention is elsewhere. So, once you’ve realised that your mind has drifted, try to pay more attention to what’s going on right now. That means that you need to focus on what you’re doing: your position on the bike, your breathing, where you’re looking, or reading the trail in front of you. As soon as you catch yourself losing focus (like going back to your nagging thoughts, or worrying about tomorrow) bring your attention back to your riding. Keep doing this (rinse and repeat) for as long as it takes to stay focused on the moment, even if you have to keep doing it for the whole ride. It will be extremely tempting to lose concentration, to be distracted by your thoughts or your feelings, but every time you successfully recognise that you’re distracted and bring yourself back, you’re doing what you’re there to do: riding your bike…

It takes concentration and a lot of practise, but it really is this simple to enjoy your rides a lot more. We enjoy riding when we’re actually focusing on riding, instead of spending our rides distracted, worried, or grumpy. All it takes is a regular reminder to pay attention.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com) or on (03) 9016 0306.

The Soapbox: Are you a lone wolf?

A little while ago, Flow asked you guys whether you preferred riding with others, or by yourselves. The responses were interesting: most of you seemed to get more out of riding with other people, but often rode alone because it was hard to find other people to ride with, or because you were embarrassed by your skill level. In fact, unless the purpose of a ride was to train, pretty much all of you indicated that, if given the choice, you would prefer to ride with other people (especially good friends).

Humans get more reward out of experiences with other humans (especially ones we like) than we do from solo activities.

As a sport psychologist, I find this really interesting, because it follows both the research and my own experience as a mountain biker. It’s all about shared involvement: humans get more reward out of experiences with other humans (especially ones we like) than we do from solo activities. Our preference for doing things with others is probably an evolved one: being with the tribe is safer, but also allows for cooperative activity, increasing our chances of surviving (it’s easier to bring down a mammoth with your mates). As a result, we get a buzz from doing things with other people that is harder to get by ourselves.

The fact that mountain biking is a challenging, absorbing, and fulfilling experience in its own right also enhances the group experience. Typically, we enjoy ourselves more when we’re doing something that is engaging (d’uh), but also that requires our full attention and a reasonable skill base. When we do this with other people, it stands out even more. This is probably why mountain biking is a great way to form friendships. When we share intense experiences with others, we’re much more likely to form strong bonds a lot quicker (you’ll also notice this sort of thing happening when you travel – sharing novel experiences with others forms a close connection because we’re much more open to experience in situations that require a lot of our attention, and where having support makes us feel more comfortable).

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Interestingly, when we ride with others we appear to encode more intense memories of the experience than we do when we’re by ourselves. Think about your own experience: chances are you have much more vivid memories of your last shared ride than from your last solo effort.

All of this adds up to an area that’s been a research interest of mine for some time: what types of exercise give us the most psychological benefit? Watching people punish themselves on treadmills in the gym (and hating what they’re doing) it’s pretty obvious that any psychological benefit is missing in action (even though they might be getting a physical effect). Researchers have shown that regular exercise improves mood, increases resilience, and decreases stress, anxiety and depression. But this only happens when we voluntarily engage in a physical activity we enjoy. Most interesting is that fact that this effect is enhanced when we exercise with other people (especially those we like). So mountain biking, especially with other people, tends to tick all the boxes for psychological benefit.

This is probably why mountain biking is a great way to form friendships. When we share intense experiences with others, we’re much more likely to form strong bonds a lot quicker.

Having said all that, there are times when riding with a group can be a pain, and a solo ride can be thoroughly refreshing. Groups add an element of competition, and it can be exhausting to feel like you’ve always got to outdo your riding buddies. Needing to go faster and harder every ride also adds an element of risk – although it’s great to be challenged, pushing your limits every ride whether you want to or not, can be dangerous or just scary, reducing the pleasure you take from the experience.

Without the pressure to perform, or the need to have other people around to see you rail a berm, a solo ride can be very pleasant – an opportunity to take things at your own pace, to stop and practise the things you want to work on, and to enjoy your own company for a while. Of course, it goes without saying that riding solo should go hand in hand with the good practice of letting people know where you’re going and when to expect you back, and to carry a mobile phone that gets reception where you’re riding.

My advice? Take some time to think about why you mountain bike and what you want to get out of it. If it’s all about the training or time by yourself, then don’t stress about finding people to ride with. But if mountain biking is about shared experience with people you enjoy spending time with, it’s worth making the effort to get out there with others. If you don’t have anyone to ride with, or your friends are always busy, check out the various riding forums, or local clubs, for riding buddies. It might feel awkward to begin with, but mountain biking is a great way to build friendships quickly. Three rides later, it’ll be worth it.

 

In summary:

Why ride by yourself? Training, time to self, chance to practise without pressure.

Why we ride by ourselves (even if we don’t want to): embarrassment, no one to ride with, low confidence.

Why ride with others? Increased psychological benefit, more fun, feels more memorable, added safety if things go wrong, increased challenge, chance to form good relationships.

The downside of riding with others: peer pressure, excessive competition, less chance to slow down or practise.

 

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com).

Training your Brain: Part 1 – Rebooting

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Then I realised something important: I’ve never really learnt how to ride a mountain bike properly. In fact, if you’re anything like me you probably learnt to ride your bike by trial and error with your mates (who were maybe slightly better riders than you). Like me you never learnt the basics, like efficient braking and balancing through corners, let alone the harder stuff, like drops, picking lines through rock gardens, or staying upright on sketchy corners.

Then I realised something important: I’ve never really learnt how to ride a mountain bike properly. In fact, if you’re anything like me you probably learnt to ride your bike by trial and error with your mates.

So I spent the summer going back to basics. I rode easy trails at slower speeds, and forced myself to concentrate on what I was doing. By slowing down I was able to focus on riding my bike properly and, in the process, reprogram my brain so that these gains stayed with me when I sped up.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. To be the riders we want to be, we’ve got to go back to basics and ask an important question: what controls our riding, our brains or our bodies (hint: it’s your brain)? So let’s start with a bit of neuropsych 101 (I’ll keep it brief).

As a mountain biker, one of the most important parts of your brain is a region called the cerebellum, an area responsible for most of your fine-motor control. Your cerebellum is the part of your brain that keeps you on the bike when things get sketchy before you’ve even figured out what’s going on*. Most importantly, you can’t access it consciously, it’s basically a completely separate system to ‘you’, that responds a lot faster than the ‘conscious’ parts of your brain. Because you can’t access it directly, there’s only one way to train it: lots and lots of practice (see part 2).

This is crap for riding, because it’s hard to ride well when you can’t think.

There are two other brain regions mountain bikers should know about: the limbic system (your monkey brain) and the prefrontal lobes (your human brain). The limbic system contains your ‘fear centre’ – it’s best to think of this part of your brain as a “don’t eat me” system. This fear centre activates a process called the ‘fight or flight’ response, which kept your ancestors alive when bears tried to eat them. When activated, it triggers a cascade of physiological reactions (including increased release of adrenaline and cortisol) that helps you to run away – including a shut down of your prefrontal lobes: the parts of your brain that you think with (you don’t need your prefrontal lobes when bears are chasing you). This is crap for riding, because it’s hard to ride well when you can’t think.

Being a good rider is about learning to use the parts of your brain that help, and getting over the parts that get in the way.

As humans, we’re often the victims of the more primitive parts of our brains (like the limbic system), but we’ve also evolved an amazing ability to learn to do complex and remarkable things. Being a good rider is about learning to use the parts of your brain that help, and getting over the parts that get in the way. So, in part 2 we’ll look at how to (re)program your brain to make you a better rider. In part 3 we’ll look at dealing with your fear systems so you can ride with flow.

* We call this muscle memory. In reality, however, your muscles don’t have any memory: they’re controlled by our brains (specifically by a combination of our motor control strip and the cerebellum).

About the author:

Dr. Jeremy Adams is a registered psychologist and director of Eclectic Consulting Ltd. He divides his time between mountain biking, working with athletes and other performers, executive coaching, and private practice.

In past lives, Jeremy has been a principal lecturer in sport and performance psychology at a university in London, a senior manager in a large consulting firm in Melbourne, a personal trainer in Paris, and a scuba instructor in Byron Bay. He’s also the author of a textbook on performance in organisational management, a large range of professional and popular articles, and a regular blog about how to be human (www.eclectic-moose.com).

Jeremy is based in Melbourne and can be contacted through his website (www.eclectic-consult.com).

Flow Lounge – 20/11/13

Welcome to the Flow Lounge, brought to you this week from Atherton, Queensland.

Join us this week to learn more about the massive explosion of mountain biking in this tiny tropical town. We also chat about the very luscious Specialized S-Works Camber, some uncharacteristically problematic bugs with our Lapierre Zesty E:i test bike and we road test a few of the most juicy pineapples on the market.

 

The Soapbox: Do you feel the love at your LBS?

Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.

Soap-Box-Masthead

 

Got something to blurt about? Send it to [email protected], and we might put it online. All Soapbox submission must be less than 500 words and will be kept strictly anonymous unless requested otherwise.

 

PLEASE NOTE: All Soapbox pieces represent the opinion of the writer solely and do not necessarily reflect the views of Flow!


A few weeks ago I made the emotional decision to change my local bike shop (my wife always says I’m too emotional… must be because I’m an artist).

I had been trying to stay very loyal to the one store and build relationships with both the owner and the crew that works there. A mate, who would arguably be the best mechanic in the whole area, works for this shop and we get on well. The shop also stocks the sweetest state-of-the-art bike bling. All the makings were there for a good long-term relationship; I was committed, there was friendship and the allure of shiny stuff.

But in the end it wasn’t enough. My LBS has to be somewhere I feel welcome even if I’m not coming in to pre-order next year’s $10k dream machine. My LBS has to be somewhere where you can just bump into your mates, share the latest stupid clip on YouTube, talk about the race from last weekend, trash talk the mechanic as he works on your bike and enjoy a beer after hours.

In many ways I’m probably a nightmare of a customer to have; I’m self-employed and often broke, I hate to pay full retail and I’m always looking to find a ‘deal’. But am I really much different from the rest of you? We all like a ‘deal’. The flip-side is that I can be a very loyal customer and advocate. And while the bones of a good relationship were there with my former LBS, the love wasn’t.

And so, I took a step into meat market of the ‘dating’ world, looking for a new LBS relationship.  I’ve walked walked down the road and spent $400 in the last four weeks on a pair of knicks, a new rear wheel that was sitting in the back room and I’ve had the bike serviced. Each time has been a pleasure to be in the shop, I’ve shared a cup of coffee, watched a young kid blow up a $2000 carbon rim with the compressor (loud noise! Poor kid!) and stayed back late on a friday evening drinking beer and watching someone else work hard. Could this be the love I’ve been looking for in my LBS?

What does your LBS mean to you? Is it just a place to do business? Or is it some extension of your riding group and club? Do you always feel welcome? We’d love to hear about your relationship.

 

The Soapbox: Should GPS Be Mandatory in Marathon Racing?

When bogans get involved the results are rarely good. A few months ago, the Brownie Points Burner 80km race, held at Taree, was thrown into disarray after local idiots decided to remove course markings. End result, lots of lost riders, some of whom ended up running out of water. It could’ve been a very bad day.

But even when markings aren’t stolen or altered, the potential for riders to go missing during a marathon race is always a worry for event organisers. Plenty can go wrong when there’s 100km of dirt to be navigated; when the red mist of racing descends, tired brains start missing things, or riders just simply follow each other like sheep, it’s easy to see how a rider can quickly find themselves five kay down the wrong fireroad and unsure of the best way out. In some instances, the results can be life threatening (take the 2012 Crocodile Trophy for example, when riders found themselves heading towards bush fires!).

Which leads me to ponder the question: should GPS units be mandatory during marathon races?

Obviously there are some barriers and the potential (and consequence) of getting lost is greater at some events that others. But with the costs of GPS units dropping rapidly, increasing numbers of riders are already using these devices to keep an eye on their progress, heart rate, power output or to manage their nutrition. With all this technology increasing utilised and increasingly more accessible, it does seem a little incongruent that we rely solely on bits of corflute nailed to a tree to make sure we don’t get lost!

There are plenty of advantages. Event organisers could upload a GPS file of the course ahead of race day, allowing racers to have a map right in front of their noses (on devices that have this capability); if a racer pulls this pin they can easily navigate their way back to the event centre; if a rider is badly injured, calling in help is a matter of simply providing the coordinates on the device and the heli is on the way. Ostensibly GPS units could even negate the need for expensive timing equipment. Perhaps this could lead to lower entry costs, offsetting the costs of buying the GPS unit itself.

On the flipside, mountain bike racing is already expensive enough as it is without imposing additional equipment costs on riders. Plus a GPS is no guarantee that riders still will not go a-wandering. It may be that this suggestion is one step too far towards the nanny state, but I do think it’s worthy of consideration.

 

 

The Soapbox: Sex Sells, But MTB Should Be Better Than That

Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.

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Got something to blurt about? Send it to [email protected], and we might put it online. All Soapbox submission must be less than 500 words and will be kept strictly anonymous unless requested otherwise.

 

PLEASE NOTE: All Soapbox pieces represent the opinion of the writer solely and do not necessarily reflect the views of Flow!


We want more women on bikes, yes? We all agree?

Good. Then let’s all put away the awkward semi-erections that we’re hiding under the keyboard and act like men (and I say men, because I’m overwhelmingly directing this at blokes).

Last week the mountain bike internet world went crazy for a very stupid video. I’m not going to go into too much detail – if you must see it, it’s not hard to track down on Pinkbike or VitalMTB – but essentially it was a video of boobs. Incidentally, they happened to be attached to a woman riding a downhill bike (and riding bloody well too) but let’s not kid ourselves for a second that the riding had anything to do with it.

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I don’t even know what this video was meant to promote and I really don’t care. Suffice to say that I, and probably plenty of other men, would really prefer it if mountain biking didn’t go down this path.

Come on, dudes, seriously. If you want to look at boobs that’s fine – I like boobs too, a lot – but let’s keep the ogling out of the sport. Simply, if we want more women in mountain biking, then this kind of objectification is not the way to go.

What adds to the frustration is that the woman in this video can really ride. This video could’ve been about her skills or building her profile so she can get some sponsors, but instead the camera spends 80% of the time looking down her cleavage.

And it’s not just this video either. I don’t know often I’ve seen some stupid comment in a forum like ‘I’d give her six-inches of travel , LOL’ whenever there happens to be a photo or video of any woman who just happens to ride a bike.

In my mind, mountain biking can and should be a bit better than this. We’re not some hick sport. I really want more women to get into mountain biking but with hundreds of thousands of slavering mountain bikers spewing this kind of crap across the net, we’ve got a long way to go.

The Soapbox: What’s The Obsession With Racing?

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What’s the obsession with racing?

This question came to me on a mountain bike trip to NZ back in Christmas. As I sat there at the trail head and observed the constant flow of people of all shapes, sizes and ages come to ride the magnificent trials of Rotorua it struck me that Lyrca, GPS devices, and type-A personalities were absent. No one looked like a “racer”.

As I looked into it a bit more that evening I couldn’t find much detail on racing in the region apart from a handful of significant events. It seemed that fun ruled the roost in this particular town and over a beer or three with a local who works in the industry, they fessed up that it’s hard to get the people of that region to come to a race.

I have also travelled far and wide with my bike and I have had similar experiences, especially in Europe. Most people I run into hardly ever race and instead preferred an adventure with friends. Racing seemed less of a priority.

But Australia seems to be different. One quick look at the Flow calendar and other online resources shows a schedule of weekend racing that could keep you busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking contest. Race after race, after race, after race; it’s endless. If I had enough money and time I could buy a van and race every weekend of the year and never see my friends and family again.

This race culture also manifests on the trail and social media. Australian mountain bikers seem obsessed with adding data collectors to their handlebars to monitor and share every millimetre of trail and aching heartbeat. My Facebook feed is filled with people telling me how far and fast they’re ridden and boasting of a KOM they’ve claimed on a 100 meter section of trail. I don’t get the same from my overseas Facebook friends, I just get photos of epic trails, views and beers.

The addiction to Lycra (the budgie smugglers of MTB) is also an anomaly, and that image too just says “race”.  Image is important, and in the same way a neck tattoo says, “I will punch you if you look at me again,” wearing Lyrca conveys the message that “I am here to race, perform, and my shaven legs will give me a 2.4 second advantage over the 80km race I am training for – now get out of my way.”

Australia is the only place I have ever seen such an addiction to racing. Do we all have something to prove? Were our childhoods that bad that we need pain of 100km racing to erase our memories? Is it just race promoters trying to make a buck or two? Does anyone actually think that wearing Lycra helps convey a good message?

Can’t we just ride for fun and back of the racing a little (and wear less lyrca)? I can bet you will have more fun not having to think of your calorie intake and what power watt measuring tool to get next.

The Soapbox: Carbon? Not For Me

Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.

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Got something to blurt about? Send it to [email protected], and we might put it online. All Soapbox submission must be less than 500 words and will be kept strictly anonymous unless requested otherwise.

 

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It’s going to take lot more than some market spiel about carbon being ‘five times stronger than alloy at half of the weight’ to convince me to ever ride a carbon fibre mountain bike.

Like most riders, I’m on a budget. I have two kids, a mortgage, plus two dogs that eat possessions rather than dog food. But I also love my mountain biking and I’ll work hard to find the cash to treat myself to a new bike every couple of years. This time around was the first occasion I’ve found myself seriously considering a bike with a carbon frame.

It was the weight, and the looks, that got me thinking about it. I read the reviews too, the ones that always talk about how nice carbon bikes feel on the trail. But I’m not going to do it. I simply don’t trust carbon fibre to go the distance.

I’m not saying I don’t believe the tech data that carbon bikes have more resistance to fatigue, or that they are stronger than aluminium when it comes to sheer strength. But until someone can show me a carbon bike that won’t break when I crash it onto a sharp rock, I’ll be sticking with a bike made from alloy. I’ve seen two frames just amongst my local club broken in the past three months from simple crashes that would’ve scratched an aluminium frame, but wouldn’t have meant handing over wads of cash for a new chain stay or main frame.

Maybe these blokes were just unlucky? Maybe they are hacks? Even if that is the case, it’s reason enough for me to stick with an aluminium bike for time being. I need a bike that will let me cock up and crash, or drop it onto a rock, without potentially costing me a thousand dollars. I can’t afford a mistake to cost me. That’s the real world for me, and that’s why I won’t buy carbon.

 

The Soapbox: Six Things I Forgot I Loved About Mountain Biking

I joined a road team this year. I think it had something to do with trying something different. My local club were keen to get a women’s development team going and it seemed like a good way to keep fit.

I wasn’t so much interested in events in a competitive sense, but I liked the idea of working with a team. And I had a secret desire to Jens Voigt myself – dig as deep as I could to help someone across the line who cares about winning more than I do. I like the idea of discovering how hard I can push myself if I don’t have to keep something in reserve for the last few sections of singletrack.

The Jensing hasn’t happened yet; a matter of having picked the wrong races or the wrong categories, perhaps. If I’m on my own, a flat road just doesn’t motivate me to pedal the way the promise of sweet singletrack does. In fact, what I’ve learned most from the road is how proud I am to be a mountain biker.

Things I thought were common to cycling more generally are actually more particular to mountain biking. Perhaps I’d lost sight of the forest for the trees.

So, six things I forgot I love about mountain biking:

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Trail magic. Doesn’t happen on the road.

1. That you’re always guaranteed of having fun on a ride. Unlike other forms of cycling, how much fun you have doesn’t depend on the pace of the group. You can punch hard through some singletrack, practice new skills, try to see how far you can go without touching the brakes. There’s always something new to discover whenever you hit the trails, and this always makes you a better rider as a result.

2. People don’t care so much about how you look. Despite keeping an open mind about roadie stuff, people keep reminding me I’m a mountain biker. I’ve been told it’s weird to wear jeans on the podium, asked to remove the visor from my helmet 15 seconds before a race start, asked to remove my hat for photos. Someone told me the backpack I was wearing on a bunch ride created wind drag. Good. Cause the bunch ride was really slow. And in my bag was everything I needed for the rest of the day. Like jeans and a hat.

Post-race chillaxing. Matt Carling and Gaye Camm swap stories after their respective  races in the retro category (for bikes from 2000 or earlier).
This. This DOES NOT happen at a road race.

 

3. You can be self-sufficient at a race and still have a chance. I like being able to leave a few biddons on a table, fix my own mechanicals, and carry spares on my back. Self-sufficiency is valued on the dirt. And being self-sufficient doesn’t mean you’ll loose sight of the bunch and wonder whether you should DNF to save your legs.

4. Event websites give you a good idea about the atmosphere you can expect on the day. I keep reminding myself that people new to mountain biking probably find it hard to find out too much information on a basic club race. But of the road races I’ve entered, I too often end up asking other people about the rules, where to go, what to plan or expect. I can’t seem to find it out online. Having said that, the events I’ve entered have cost a lot less and the infrastructure fairly basic.

Some of the best stocked food stations we've ever seen, including.... bacon and egg sandwiches.
And this. This wouldn’t happen either.

5. I love that if I rock up to a mountain bike ride I can completely knacker myself whatever the overall speed of the group. Do this on the road and you’ll leave everyone for dead, or be left for dead – knackered by default, just for trying to hold on. A mountain bike race is my own personal time trial. And social rides are more start/stop, which keeps everyone together. Plus people bring different skills and speed to different sections of trail. I’ve never ridden behind someone I didn’t learn from.

Briars Highland Fling 2012
And women. Women are actually get prize money, respect and recognition in mountain biking.

6. There are categories at races for women. That doesn’t mean that there are always people competing in these categories, but at least they are there. You can race with the guys, but feel valued as a female. And if you’re lucky to land on a podium, it’s a really nice way to meet other riders who are into the sport in a similar way to you. I came second in a fictitious women’s category at a road event recently. It bummed me out that I never got to shake hands with the winner, say g’day and compare thoughts on the day.

There is still a lot that I’ve really enjoyed from discovering a different way of riding: new friends, new pacing strategies, riding in a large group, different event challenges, tactics and dynamics. But it’s nice to be reminded that the six simple things above are as important to the fun, inclusive feel of mountain biking as knobbly tyres and a big, dusty grin.

 

The Soapbox: What’s the price of an awesome ride?

The sound of my SRAM XX1 chain ring grinding across the rock grabbed my attention for a split second, but not long enough for me to lose focus on the line I was trying to ride.

It was my sixth attempt on a seriously tricky section of trail, and each time I rolled into a particular point my chain would leave a gouge in the sandstone as I muscled the bike into an awkward chute.

Eventually I nailed the line and I was pumped, totally buzzing. I yelled into the bush like a kid and grinned for the next 20 minutes non-stop. It was fu#king magic.

It wasn’t until I got back to the van and the adrenaline had worn off that I even thought to have a look at my bike. There were a few scrapes and bits of pinky orange rock still clinging to the chain ring, but there wasn’t any real lasting damage. A good thing really, because I had no tools with me, and it would’ve been a long walk home if I’d busted a chain link or bent the chain ring teeth, not to mention the expense of replacing such a pricey item.

I was aware when I was eyeing up the rocky line, trying to decide if I was able to ride it, that there was a chance of hurting my bike. And after the first attempt and the crunch of steel chain on rock, that risk was confirmed. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to get that line ridden, and in my mind the potential for damage was worth the feeling I knew would come if I rode it cleanly.

But it did make me think; at what point do you decide the dollars at stake are too great? What is your price limit for an awesome ride?

I know plenty of people who won’t ride in the wet because of the damage it may do to their bikes, but then some of the best and most memorable rides of my life have been the ones where I’ve needed new brake pads and a chain at end (I’m looking at you, Capital Punishment 2010).

I’ve seen other friends absolutely gutted as they feed an XTR derailleur to the hungry spokes of their rear wheel, and equally I’ve seen some mates have a laugh as they tear off their second rear mech in as many rides.

There’s a particular trail my mates and I sometimes ride. We call it the Depreciation Trail, because the tight rock ledges and ruts invariably scrape paint from your bike. But we ride it all the same and laugh away the pain of gouged fork legs.

Of course your bike costs money to run, no matter how carefully you nurse it through the bush or shield it from mud. But to deliver the kind of experiences that I want, that feeling of riding a line that is right on the edge of your skill level, I know the price tends to rise.

I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to how you view your bike and what kind of experience you’re after. To me, my bike is an awesome piece of machinery, but it’s machinery nonetheless; things break, get smashed, wear out and need replacing… And when I look at the ledger, I know that on the balance of things, I come out way ahead.

 

The Soapbox: What's the price of an awesome ride?

The sound of my SRAM XX1 chain ring grinding across the rock grabbed my attention for a split second, but not long enough for me to lose focus on the line I was trying to ride.

It was my sixth attempt on a seriously tricky section of trail, and each time I rolled into a particular point my chain would leave a gouge in the sandstone as I muscled the bike into an awkward chute.

Eventually I nailed the line and I was pumped, totally buzzing. I yelled into the bush like a kid and grinned for the next 20 minutes non-stop. It was fu#king magic.

It wasn’t until I got back to the van and the adrenaline had worn off that I even thought to have a look at my bike. There were a few scrapes and bits of pinky orange rock still clinging to the chain ring, but there wasn’t any real lasting damage. A good thing really, because I had no tools with me, and it would’ve been a long walk home if I’d busted a chain link or bent the chain ring teeth, not to mention the expense of replacing such a pricey item.

I was aware when I was eyeing up the rocky line, trying to decide if I was able to ride it, that there was a chance of hurting my bike. And after the first attempt and the crunch of steel chain on rock, that risk was confirmed. But it didn’t matter. I wanted to get that line ridden, and in my mind the potential for damage was worth the feeling I knew would come if I rode it cleanly.

But it did make me think; at what point do you decide the dollars at stake are too great? What is your price limit for an awesome ride?

I know plenty of people who won’t ride in the wet because of the damage it may do to their bikes, but then some of the best and most memorable rides of my life have been the ones where I’ve needed new brake pads and a chain at end (I’m looking at you, Capital Punishment 2010).

I’ve seen other friends absolutely gutted as they feed an XTR derailleur to the hungry spokes of their rear wheel, and equally I’ve seen some mates have a laugh as they tear off their second rear mech in as many rides.

There’s a particular trail my mates and I sometimes ride. We call it the Depreciation Trail, because the tight rock ledges and ruts invariably scrape paint from your bike. But we ride it all the same and laugh away the pain of gouged fork legs.

Of course your bike costs money to run, no matter how carefully you nurse it through the bush or shield it from mud. But to deliver the kind of experiences that I want, that feeling of riding a line that is right on the edge of your skill level, I know the price tends to rise.

I guess at the end of the day, it comes down to how you view your bike and what kind of experience you’re after. To me, my bike is an awesome piece of machinery, but it’s machinery nonetheless; things break, get smashed, wear out and need replacing… And when I look at the ledger, I know that on the balance of things, I come out way ahead.

 

The Soapbox: Keep the Trails Organic

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The Soapbox: Why I Shop Local

Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.

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I’m using my time on the soapbox to ask ‘why’. Why can we jump online and buy parts from overseas for less than the wholesale prices our local bike shops can buy them for from the local distributors?

I love my riding and living in Sydney with all the sandstone tracks my bike cops a hammering. It seems to be every 12 months I will go through a couple of chains, chainrings, derailleur hangers, derailleurs, cassettes, brake pads, tyres… The list goes on. Maybe I’m a poor rider and even worse maintainer of my bike? Back to the point.

I have made the decision to support my local bike shop, so I buy my all spares from them; I want them to stay in business. But I know a lot of my mates buy from overseas because they get what they need at prices that are sometimes 40-60% cheaper. I don’t blame them on one hand when the family budget is tight.

I don’t think our domestic shops or distributors are at fault. I can’t help but wonder, are we, our local distributors and our local shops being fleeced by the large companies? They know that we are now able to buy in a global market. They know that the so called ‘high cost of transport’ is no longer an excuse given the fact online retailers can provide free shipping on many items. Do not they know that their actions puts pressure on our local shops? Or don’t they care, as it is all about the bottom line?

Whatever the case, I encourage you all to support your local bike shop. You may find they offer way more than than those overseas suppliers – it’s called customer service. And campaign to your local member of parliament to see if our leaders can’t do something to even up the playing field!

Done! Ahh! That feels better.

The Soapbox: Dumb and Dumber

Welcome to the Soapbox – a place where we invite you to express your opinion, no matter how well or ill-informed. A chance to vent your spleen, sing your praise, or chuck a tantie.

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Got something to blurt about? Send it to [email protected], and we might put it online. All Soapbox submission must be less than 500 words and will be kept strictly anonymous.

 

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Are modern trail building trends making our trails too tame? Or does the current depth of equipment and trail choices stop riders from thinking for themselves?

As our sport gets bigger, trail networks get formalised (or legalised), dodgy North Shore gets pulled down so no one gets sued. To get larger numbers at races, organisers make the courses ‘achievable.’ This is sold marketing speak as gentle enough for newbies, and more challenging for skilled riders if they up the speed.

Challenging? Not really. Or at least there might have been a small ounce of serious challenge until someone moved a boulder, cemented the dirt around an obstacle (Hammerhead at Stromlo comes to mind), or axed themselves early on prompting organisers to bunt it off.

No wonder gravity enduro is gaining momentum – it rewards riders who have a well-developed skill base without relying as much on the balls that let you shred a downhill trail with a modicum of success.

So the question comes up – with increased accessibility, are we dumbing down our trails? In part, yes we are. We’re also building trails that have more qualities of same-ness than difference. It’s starting to feel a little generic. Formulaic.

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But established mountain bike loops and managed trail networks aren’t the only places to ride, they’re just the locations that are easiest to find out about if you don’t know where else to look.

In any case, some of the most-loved trails are built with multiple skill levels in mind. But it doesn’t mean you can’t turn a green circle into a black diamond with some playful choices on your part.

Riders are like sheep sometimes. They follow the dominant line, on the most used trail, with the dominant bike used for that type of riding.

At the other end of the spectrum, people bang on about how hard something is if they can’t get it first go, giving the wrong impression about it to their mates. That doesn’t make it technical, sonny. It just makes it technical for you.

To hear some rider talk about the ‘technical’ sections of Wingello is ridiculous. Or Sparrow. Or Forrest. Want to see what technical is? Go see the trail building practices that the norm overseas. The BC Bike Race in Canada is well known for its technical singletrack stages in a way we don’t see on our shores at all. And the model in Europe is more about climbing for half the morning to get to a summit, then hauling down a walking trail where you honestly don’t know if each new section is even possible on two wheels or not.

A good rider is an adaptable one. It’s only laziness that is forcing you to stick to trails that are too easy to excite.

Feature: Australian Riders Find Creative Ways to Excel at the Top

Last weekend’s UCI World Championships racing confirmed that Australian’s are excelling in every discipline of mountain biking right now. Limited resources have meant some creative solutions have allowed them to get there.

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Australian’s Mick Hannah (L) and Jared Graves (R) relax after receiving their 2nd and 3rd medals at the 2013 UCI World Championships.

Like a lot of Australian mountain biking fans, we watched the World Champs this weekend from our computers and our phones. Instagram, Facebook, Redbull.tv, news sites, press releases, Twitter…

When one media source stopped short of giving us the information we were after we switched to the next. Sensations of promise and suspense amplified the excitement of some nail-biting results.

These new forms of spectating have certainly changed the ways we engage with sport. They bring us detail, in real time, at a level more personal than ever before.

The disjointed nature of these new forms of engagement means we can easily miss some big picture observations. Like the fact that last weekend has just demonstrated that Australians are currently excelling in not a few but every discipline of mountain biking. And they are doing so in some unique and exciting ways.

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Paul van der Ploeg celebrates winning the 2013 Cross Country Eliminator World Championships.

The weekend’s medal haul in South Africa saw Australians on the podium in Downhill, Trials, and the Eliminator. Meanwhile Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell have turned heads at every race this season in the cross-country World Cups. The fact that they are sitting first and third in their respective series’ highlights the relationship of steady progression to ongoing support.

Looking beyond the last few days, other recent successes are also important to note. Jared Graves is bringing home the medals in Enduro. Peta Mullens and Jarrod Moroni claimed second in the Cape Epic, a nine-day UCI stage race. Irish national and Australian resident, Jenny Fay, pulled off a fourth place finish just over a week ago at her very first Marathon World Cup.

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Pete Mullens and Jarrod Moroni at the 2013 Cape Epic

Men, women, juniors, seniors, imports, the future for Australian athletes looks bright. But despite these results, the writing between the lines of last weekend’s ecstatic press releases is how underfunded most of these athletes are.

Mountain Biking Australia awarded nine athletes $2000 to help with their World Championship campaigns. This points to what a small amount of money the organisation has to put toward any aspect of our sport in first world terms. At the same time, it highlights what a luxury it is to be able to travel the world to participate at all.

The decision to distribute these funds based on selection criteria for competition, irrespective of other (often financial) factors that impact these athletes’ ability to perform, was a controversial one. The main argument against this has been that perhaps our junior riders could do with financial assistance more than those signed to factory teams.

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Arguably Jared Graves is one of the most talented mountain bike riders the world has seen.

This argument is an important one. It’s not a coincidence that every Australian rider excelling at a world level in mountain biking right now has been working toward goals such as these for a very long time.

It’s also odd that, given the basis for MTBA’s decision, current BMX World Champion, Caroline Buchanan, wasn’t on the list. These selection criteria bias single-discipline expertise. This is another interesting ‘grey area’ in relation to performance development, outputs and proficiency. Most of the Australian athletes excelling at a world level right now are doing so in multiple cycling events.

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Caroline Buchanan is another multi-sport talent.

Van der Ploeg has been racing road, cyclocross and cross-country this year. The bike Graves raced to a bronze medal in the downhill is the same bike that has just seen him win at the Enduro World Series. Mullens moves between road, cross-country and marathon.

These aren’t unusual stories. On one hand, racing in multiple disciplines helps these athletes in terms of sponsorship, expenses and prize money – a creative solution in the face of limited resources. On the other, there’s a lot to be said for cross-disciplinary fitness and expertise.

Come Monday morning, we were certainly excited by the great rides we witnessed over the weekend. What we’re seeing right now is a number of riders, who’ve worked hard to find inventive ways to race at the top. They’re getting results across the board.

The fact that most of these individuals are not just excelling in a single area? We can’t help but wonder what this might mean for research, funding and scientific models that continue to focus on narrower, discipline-specific notions of performance and expertise.

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Bec Henderson on her way to another world cup win.

 

Racing: Course Confusion at the Brownie Points Burner Signals Ongoing Issues for Mountain Biking

Stolen course markings upset the outcomes of the inaugural Brownie Points Burner in Taree. It’s not the first time this has happened and, unfortunately, it won’t be the last.

 

‘I’ve got po-ten-tial,’ says the lead character in New Zealand film, Boy, with a thick kiwi accent. ‘What’s po-ten-tial?’ This is a line that often comes into my head when something promises to be great, if only a few important elements fall into place.

The Brownie Points Burner held in the Kiwarrak Forest, Taree on Sunday had a lot of potential. The event incorporates the Taree Tip Trails, a singletrack network attracting consistently high praise.  And by using the Clarendon Farm Retreat as a base, riders can happily plan for the event as part of a relaxing weekend away with family and friends.

Not a bad spot to base yourself for a race! Rooms with a view. The Summer House highlights also included tennis, volley ball and a hot tub.
Not a bad spot to base yourself for a race! Rooms with a view. The Summer House highlights also included tennis, volley ball and a hot tub.

The scenic 50/80km format promised to be different to more established events. It included more climbing than your typical marathon for starters. A lot of people were attracted to it for that reason. The warm August weather in this location helps to kick off some fitness ready for a summer of shredding.

The stage was set for a challenging and rewarding day out. Balloons were placed just off the course if riders wanted prizes that rewarded a sense of fun over keeping your head down for the win.

But it takes more than a good course and some fresh ideas to run a great event. Velo Events had put a lot of time, energy and money into getting the show underway but with only 120 or so riders entering the event, this impacted their budget and manpower. Unfortunately, what promised to be a fun hit out at the end of winter fell short of the experience people were hoping for.

Course confusion

As riders made their way into the event centre from 11.00am, it became apparent that course markings had been stolen in not one but several locations. This had been identified the night before, but tampered with again before riders entered the start chute.

The effects of the stolen signs were compounded by things the events team could have done better as well. Some course markings were hard to spot while riding, and there weren’t as many marshals on the track as would have been ideal. Additional arrows remained on course from previous events creating further confusion still.

Jason English was quick to talk to the event crew about where course markings had gone missing.
Jason English was quick to talk to the event crew about where course markings had gone missing.

Jason English (Merida) was the first rider through the finish arch. ‘This is what you need to know,’ he said matter-of-factly as he sat down at the timing table pointing at the course map with tent peg.

How people react in such situations reveals a lot about their character. While some riders vented anger and frustration as they crossed the line, English’s first instinct was to calmly chat with the events team to ensure the safety of other riders still out there.

Standing in the warm sun on a late August day, it was hard not to think about that event that could have been, rather than the event that was. Riders trickled in throughout the day. Most revealed they’d seen other competitors multiple times out on the course before grouping together to navigate back to the event centre. A decision was made to award the podium, and prize money, based on a countback to an earlier checkpoint.

It never occured to Naomi Hanson to short cut the course and call it a day.
It never occured to Naomi Hanson to short cut the course and call it a day.

Naomi Hansen (Subaru-MarathonMTB.com) was awarded the women’s win. She was also the first rider to reach the final checkpoint. The Noosa vet would have beaten the entire Elite Men’s field had the event been an orienteering one instead. ‘Don’t [let] anybody tell you that a woman can’t find her way around,’ she joked, also quick to reflect on what the event offered in terms of location and the quality of the trails.

 

The bigger picture

The downsides of the Brownie Points Burner certainly signal to the myriad logistical issues involved in hosting a great race. While it would be easy to point fingers at Velo Events for what they could have done differently, there are a lot of other successful events out there that have developed in light of some serious teething issues as well. It’s the when things go wrong that it’s easier to recognise the comprehensive (and often quite tedious) management plans that keep the best events on track.

The near-sightedness of event vandalism also has us shaking our heads. This kind of activity doesn’t just sabotage a race, it clearly puts lives at risk. This has happened before in Taree ahead of a Singletrack Mind Series race last April. Something similar has happened before the Husky 100. We’ve also heard of vandals going so far as to unscrew arrows and point them in the wrong direction, with the intention of sending riders down dangerous descents.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think of the consequences of such actions. These extend far beyond simply ruining an event, or deterring riders from trails shared by other user groups.

It’s also disappointing to think of the impacts of event sabotage on local communities. An established, fun trail network, such as the Taree Tip Trails, brings keen riders to eat, sleep and drink in nearby townships. While these numbers swell for events, well-loved trails attract tourism throughout the entire year.

Regional areas of Australia are fast cottoning on to the benefits of mountain biking to their local economies but actions like removing arrows sends a financial boost like this one elsewhere. We hope that as the visibility mountain biking’s benefits continues to increase a few bitter people can lay their prejudices to rest.

Dylan Cooper led home a mock charge for the line.
Dylan Cooper led home a mock charge for the line.

Bigger and better

The Brownie Points Burner was created because organiser, and walking encyclopaedia of Australian mountain bike history, Hugh Flower, saw the marathon format as a great way of showcasing an exciting destination.

Given the attraction of the trails in Taree, the relaxing accommodation nearby, and the warm climate just before Spring, we really hope to see more events like this one develop into something great. Not only to fulfil their potential, but doing so means they become part of productive conversations that make mountain biking more accessible in other communities as well.

 

The Soapbox: The Melting Pot Keeps Getting Murkier

Cyclocross is so hot right now, the latest darling of the industry, with races on seemingly every other weekend at the moment. It’s a cool sport, a bloody tough one, and it’s capturing a lot of interest here in Australia. We’re fans of CX, but this video recently released to promote Giant’s new range of CX bikes just left me a little irked. Why?

Cyclocross was a sport that sprung out of the muddy, cold, shitty autumn and winter of northern Europe, when the road racing season was at an ebb. The classic image of a pack of mud-covered mad Belgians, slogging it up a shredded grass slope with their bike slung over a shoulder is pretty damn cool.

What’s being shown here is not cyclocross. It’s mountain biking. But on a bike that’s ill-suited to the task.

Adam Craig is a phenomenal rider, an absolute demon. But watching him here just feels awkward. On a mountain bike, Adam can tear a trail to pieces, on cyclocross bike, he can bunny hop a log. Twice. From two different angles. In mega slow-motion.

If Adam did this on his mountain bike, do you think we’d look at it twice?

Mountain biking is already becoming increasingly easy. Racetracks are tamer than ever, people bash b-lines around every obstacle they see. And now all of a sudden we’re being encouraged to take to the mountain bike trails on a bike that makes even the most basic of skills something worthy of a super-slow-mo double take? Hmmm….

I know there are folk out there who will call me a hater, so I reiterate my belief that you can ride what you like, where you like, by all means. If you want to take a cyclocross bike onto the mountain bike trails, go right ahead. There are no rules about what you can and can’t ride on the dirt.

But in a sport that already has 700 sub-disciplines and prize categories form master single-speeders to sub-junior unicyclists (seriously, have you stuck around for the presentations at a marathon race recently?) do we need to drop cyclocross into the mountain bike melting pot as well?

Can’t mountain biking just be mountain biking?

 

 

The Soapbox: The Top 5 Products I Keep Coming Back To

In theory, riding should be as simple as grabbing a helmet, hopping on any old bike, and going for a pedal. But quality equipment often takes the simple experience of riding and makes it even better. While manufacturers are continually coming out with new improvements in these areas, every rider has a few favourite items they return to time and again.

These are mine: Products I keep purchasing again and again. For interest’s sake, I’ve included some completely problematic and somewhat arbitrary estimations of what each item costs per ride.

 

1. Hikenbiker Merino

 

I reviewed Hikenbiker Merino thermal wear for a magazine about five years ago, and have purchased several more of these Australian made woollen goods since. They’re flattering enough to wear off the bike, keep you warm through the mid and cool seasons. They go well as pyjamas too. Best not to do all three things in one day.

I tend to buy two new thermals every year or two, rate their versatility, and love that when they finally get too worn out for off bike use, they still go well under a winter jersey. The company’s ‘Snippit’ beanies add extra warmth on the colder days, fit under your helmet without having to adjust any straps and stop you snap-freezing at mid-ride coffee stops. Found online and at weekend markets in the Sydney area, they cost less than many competitors’ products too.

Cost per item: ‘Carrie’ long sleeve women’s base layer: $80 / ‘Snippit’ beanie: $25
Cost per ride: 1 long sleeve / 3 rides a week x 26 weeks a year x 4 years: 26 cents 1 Snippit beanie / 4 rides a week x 13 weeks a year x 8 indestructible years: 6 cents.

 

2. Local Bike Shop Kit

 

A good local bike shop supports the experiences we want from our riding in more ways than I can count. They can help you troubleshoot equipment choices and they keep your bike working smoothly when your backyard mechanic skills cannot. They’ve got your back for warranty claims and they make your neighbourhood a better place.

Supporting them back by buying some shop kit is a no brainer. It also makes you feel like part of something and like you’re doing a very small thing to help them back. With custom kits runs being a lot more affordable than they used to be, designs are looking fresher than ever and are often available in a women’s cut now, too.

Cost per item: Custom printed Tineli women’s short sleeve jersey: $110
Cost per ride: 1 jersey / 2 wears a week x 45 weeks a year x 2 years before the design gets updated again = 61 cents. This is surely offset by discounts on parts.

 

3. Trendy Maxxis Rubber

 

I should preface this one by saying I predominantly ride XC trails in South East Australia, in dry conditions. While most tyre manufacturers offer one or two (often excellent) treads for dusty, loose-over-hardpack surface, Maxxis offer several. And there’s always one that’s the most trendy. The Larson TT was the first to really capture my attention, soon followed by the faithful Crossmark, and far more recently, the wide bag Ikon. There’s often something more aggressive to match the latest fast rubber for the front of your bike too.

I like that this is a brand stocked by almost any shop I walk into. And Maxxis ride qualities will always be a point of comparison when chatting with someone about trying something new. Like any rider I enjoy the different ride experiences offered by different brands of tyres, but the reliability and ease of purchase of the latest trend from Maxxis inevitably keeps me coming back for the next new thing.

Cost per item: Maxxis Ikon 3C EXO 29×2.20: $110 / Maxxis Ikon Exception 29×2.2: $39
Cost per ride: 2 tyres / 2 MTB rides a week x 24 weeks = $4.60 / $1.60 (if you don’t bust a sidewall)

 

4. Stans NoTubes Sealant

 

This one points to my laziness as much as it does to my resistance to try something new when I’m happy using something that works. Stans NoTubes sealant isn’t the cheapest way to tubeless your tyres, but it sure is reliable. And when you need it, you need it right away. Time spent faffing around trying new concoctions is precious when you’re ready to hit the trails. I like that you can buy Stans in large bottles too.

We go through a fair bit of this stuff at Flow, especially considering that test bikes seem to always come with tubes. These are even more time consuming to deal with than trying new sealant and I think everyone agrees that the ride quality is just not the same.

Cost per item: Stans No Tubes Sealant, 16Oz: $25
Cost per ride: 2Oz x 2 tyres / 2 MTB rides a week x 16 weeks = 20 cents.
 

 

5. The Humble Glad SnapLock Bag

 

Running alongside the invention of new mobile phone options, is series of contraptions for carrying them while you ride. Personally, I can’t go past the humble zip lock bag. It’s relatively waterproof, see-through, replaceable, and still allows me to use the touchscreen and earphones with an iPhone 5. What’s more, when I lose it, I can just rip another out of the box of sixty in the pantry.

Cost per item: Glad Bags Resealable Snap Lock Mini Value Pack 60: $3.42
Cost per ride: one bag / 4 rides: 1 cent. That’s a very cheap insurance policy for your electronic goods.

 

Articles like this one reveal more about personal preference than any definitive checklist of must have items. But we’d be curious to hear what items you keep returning to as well. A brand of knicks? A saddle that you run on every bike? Races that give you beer or a keepsake bottle opener key ring once you cross the line? What biking ‘musts’ do you keep returning to again and again?

 

 

The Soapbox: Cheating at the Enduro World Series?

Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised when I woke this morning to see that VitalMTB had posted news containing allegations of cheating in the Whistler round of the Enduro World Series. Heck, I have had several off-the-record conversations with Enduro World Series competitors and it’s apparently rife.

What does surprise me though is the seemingly lack of will from the Enduro World Series, the media that closely follows the racing, and the athletes who compete, to either say or do anything appropriate about it.

Of course I cannot confirm any allegations, and I am not pointing a finger at any single rider, but the sheer potential of cheating is so disappointing and worthy of public debate.

The series thus far has been riddled with underground murmurs and rumours about cheating since the first event in Italy. Hiding food (to allow for a lighter backpack), bike swapping, riding liaison stages without helmets, cutting the courses, illegal practise, outside assistance… the allegations go on. It was only a few weeks ago I watched Cedric Gracia, livid at the time, expressing his anger at all the cheating at Enduro racing. My hat goes off to him – at least he speaks out.

Of course there will always be the argument of “bending the rules” but even that can be enforced by establishing the right culture of good sportsmanship. Culture, and the power of its combined peer pressure, sometimes has more power than any policing or enforcement can ever have.

To me it all represents a potential failure for the inaugural season of what is supposed to be the future of our sport. Enduro is a battle of rider vs terrain and gets back to the roots of our sport, with a sense of fun thrown in. I love the concept of Enduro racing and the thought of people cheating is beyond belief.

A cheat is a cheat. We all throw our hands in the air in disgust and anger when someone gets busted for drugs. Why not apply the same enthusiasm to punish and shame the “non-drug” cheats.  After all, a cheat is a cheat not matter what. The seconds gained from a pre-race shot of EPO is no different from the seconds and minutes gained from cutting the course.

I personally feel that if the organisers don’t get serious about both policing and enforcing the rules, and the true spirit of the sport, then we, the fans, will lose interest very quickly and the end of Enduro will happen well before we had had enough time to enjoy it.

My challenge to the organisers of the Enduro World Series, the media, and the athletes is to make a bigger effort to catch the cheats, test the allegations and their actions using the appropriate mechanisms, and if found guilty, apply the same penalties as you would a drug cheat. Stop any potential for cheating to rot the core of the sport.

A cheat is a cheat and if you let to happen at the top echelons of the sport what hope is there for Enduro racing at the grass roots level?

I love Enduro, at least when I know it’s honest.

 

The Soapbox: The Tyranny of Numbers

A computer made me feel sad recently. I was out on the road bike (yes, I dabble) heading up one of Sydney’s well-known climbs at Bobbin Head. It was only the second time I’d used a GPS and heart rate monitor, and the chest strap still felt a little weird to me – like I was shackled by the torso.

My riding buddy, Will, was a gadget bandit from way back. He knew all about heart rate zones, lactic and eating more than jelly snakes during a ride. As we climbed, a beep made me look down. Apparently my heart rate had crept over 190, and the computer was now warning me that I was in danger of meltdown.

‘Will, what’s your heart rate?’ I asked. ‘168,’ he came back, worryingly. He wasn’t going any faster than me, and his face showed just as much effort, but clearly his body was operating efficiently on all six cylinders, while my carburettor was gummed up from too many training pies.

I’d always thought of myself as relatively fit, but apparently I was not so much. The numbers don’t lie any more than Shakira’s hips. Will was 20 more fitnesses fitter than I. When I got home I looked at the data – I’d maxed out at 202 bpm and spent far more time than I would’ve ever imagined up above 180.

I didn’t quite know how to react! On one hand it was a shock, on the other it made me feel quietly chuffed that I’ve obviously been riding completely red-lined a lot more often than I realised. (No wonder I often felt like a vomit.)

Since that first rude awakening, I’ve been torn. I want to get fitter, but I can’t decide if knowing how close I tread to implosion is helping or hindering me. There’s part of me that likes the discipline; I can see on a little screen in front of my blurry eyes just how the previous night’s five beers or the week prior’s kilometres hinder or improve me. It’s addictive too, uploading your data, seeing it all mapped out.

But at the same time, when I leave the chest strap and GPS at home and just ride, I feel like I make real gains too. I’ve been riding for long enough that I know a pace that I can sustain – I find the point where my face gets suddenly tingly and then back it off a quarter turn. And if I don’t feel like hurting that day, then I can call it a ‘rest day’ and go get a donut.

I haven’t yet taken the heart rate monitor to the dirt (though the GPS gets used there) and I don’t know if I ever will either. For me, my time on a mountain bike has never and will never be about getting fitter. I ride a road bike to make my mountain biking more fun, and when it comes to the dirt I’m not quite ready to completely succumb to the strangely alluring tyranny of a number fetish…yet.

The Soapbox: Ball of Confusion

‘What do you think about 27.5?’ – It’s a question I find myself being asked half a dozen times a week. Either that or the close variant, ‘which wheel size should I get on my next bike?’ And to tell you the truth, I don’t even know any more…

It used to be so easy – you picked a bike with the right amount of travel for your trails and riding style, fitted your favourite 26″ tyres to your 26″ wheels and got down to business. Then came 29ers, but it really was still pretty easy to understand: If you wanted to ride cross country and keep your wheels on the ground, you got a 29er. Like to get your wheels off the ground or fond of a little radness? Your 26″ bike sir/madam.

It started to get murky as 29ers began moving into ‘trail’ territory – suddenly you had to make the choice between a long-travel 26er, or a long-ish travel 29er for your all-mountain-ish riding.

And then came 650B. And now it is just doing my head in.

I’m not anti-650B, not at all. I understand that products evolve, things change. There are sound engineering rationales for the middle size wheel. And even if it does seem like a mighty lot of work to increase the diameter of mountain bike wheels (or one variant thereof) by a centimetre and a bit, well, that’s ok. The bikes DO ride better. But all I can say is thank god I’m not working on a bike shop floor on a Saturday trying to explain to a second-bike-buyer what wheel size does what. Because frankly, I don’t know anymore. And neither does the bike industry. There is simply no logical narrative around wheel size any longer.

Let’s look at three of the biggest brands in the world by way of example: Trek, Giant and Specialized.

Trek have taken the approach to 650B that I envisaged would be most widely adopted. Their bikes with 120mm of travel or less have 29″ wheels, while their more aggressive bikes (the Remedy and Slash) now have 650B wheels. This makes sense in many regards as fitting a bigger (29″) wheel into a long travel package is hard to do without stuffing the handling or ending up with a massive boat of a bike. Trek maintain that 29″ wheels are ideal for cross country and some trail riding, but not so much when it comes to getting really rowdy on the trails… Well, at least that was the case until they unveiled the 29er Remedy, which kind of stuffs up the simplicity of Trek’s overall approach. Oh well… onto Giant.

Giant had taken the more common path when it came to 26/29″ wheels. Sure they had the Trance 29er, but most of their 29ers were cross country machines, and anything vaguely gravity oriented was a 26er. Simple. But then came 650B/27.5″ and Giant  grabbed it like a pit-bull, adopting the wheel size in a wholesale fashion for 2014. Not only have they all but eliminated 26″, but it would seem that they’ve begun the machinations to kill off 29″ bikes from their lineup too. In Giant’s opinion, 27.5″ is THE wheel size for mountain biking. Imagine, a single wheel size for all styles of mountain biking – crazy! Oh wait, that was 2007….  So let’s have a look at Specialized’s approach.

What do you know – another story once again, and this time not a 650B bike in sight. As far as the crew at the big red S are concerned, if it ain’t got 29″ wheels,  it ain’t right. Ok, ok, there are a couple of exceptions, but Specialized are overwhelmingly massive believers in massive wheels. From their cross-country racing hardtails, all the way up to the their 155mm-travel Enduro, it’s 29″.

Then of course there are other versions too, being espoused by all kinds of manufactures. For instance, the idea that smaller riders need 650B as 29 won’t ‘work’ for them, while taller riders need a 29er. Or the notion that cross country racers are better served by a 27.5″ for quicker acceleration, while marathon racers need a 29er…thanks Nino. And for every argument put forward, there’s an engineer or marketing person telling you the exact opposite somewhere in the industry.

I understand change, I’m not resistant, I like development. We don’t always know what’s best – sometimes it takes engineers to show us. We can have 650B, 29 and even ‘old-school’ 26″ bikes, that’s all fine, I like them all and think they’ve all got a legitimate place.  But unless, at the very least, we can start agreeing on what wheel size is right for what style of riding…well, the confusion is just going to end up turning people off the sport, and that is the last thing I want.

 

It’s Tour Time: Get Ready To Reset Your Body Clock

The Tour de France has begun. Yep, it’s not mountain biking but it’s an important three weeks for cycling in Australia. It seems to be one of the few times when we all bond together and forget our separate genres of cycling. And sometimes, just sometimes, it brings the non-cycling people into the same space to celebrate the world of riding a bike.

Over the next three weeks Le Tour will flood the cycling media. Mainstream media will jump on board too, especially if the Aussies are standing on podiums, or someone else ‘goes posso’ for drugs. Sprinters will deliver nail biting, high powered finishes, climbers will dance their way to high altitude finishes, jerseys will be decided.

Who will win yellow?
Who will win yellow?

We’ll hear tales of heroic feats, blow-by-blow accounts of each stage as it unfolds and experts will weigh in on doping again and again. We’ll marvel at the technology we see riders use and the cutting edge research that helps them to use it.

I enjoy this side of the Tour as much as most cyclists. But what I enjoy even more is watching the ways the Tour touches my world at a local level.

Following this spectacular race from Australia, in GMT+10 time, brings a magic all of its own. Over the next three weeks cyclists and non-cyclists will slowly reset their body clocks to Tour Time.

With stage finishes in the very early hours of the morning, and SBS’s TV coverage – which has grown from 6pm highlights to live broadcasting for the entire event – beds are swapped for couches and early morning routines include a series of cycling news sites, podcasts or Tour specific Apps.

Bleary-eyed cyclists in the work place become an expert, someone that others can ask questions of as they start to weigh in on the racing as well. It builds relationships between that person who some others ‘don’t get’ and colleagues who begin to share their enjoyment for adventures on two wheels.

People are initially drawn in by the beautiful French scenery but soon start to wonder how it all operates – how do the teams work, who will win the yellow jersey, look at all those legs.

Roads are lined with people of all ages, speaking many languages, cheering for riders from home.
Roads are lined with people of all ages, speaking many languages, cheering for riders from home.

Meanwhile, groups of avid riders flock together to fight fatigue and will each other through the night. Mountain bikers, roadies, super-commuters…the regular distinctions lose their significance in July.

Friends gather around the heater, cycling clubs hold fundraisers, bike shops keep their doors open late one night or encourage customers to join them for an Alpine or Pyrenean finish from a cosy location down the road.

Those hill climbs aren’t quick. People sit and chat. They get to know each other so much better off the bike around a few beers and a meal.

As the final mountain stages hit, or a decisive time trial unfolds, conversations reach another level. Sitting at a trendy inner-city café in 2011, when Cadel Evans was on his way to his big win, people at every table were talking about this massive event. Mountain bikers everywhere were quick to point out that he came to the road after an impressive early career on the dirt.

The shear size and scale of the celebration for Cadel’s yellow jersey victory reached another level still. Why we didn’t get as excited about his previous 2nd place victories is beyond me. The only rational response I have to this is that with these other excellent results the profile of the race grew bigger still, adding to the appreciation of what it takes to stand one step higher in Paris.

My immediate family were so excited that year my brother set up an exercise bike in front of the TV and ‘rode’ the time trail with Cadel. He has a road bike now and is fast running out of mountains to climb of his own.

Seeing a mountain top finish is a team effort.
Seeing a mountain top finish is a team effort.

We swap text messages about things like tyres and helmets, and I throw him second-hand (somewhat skanky) pieces of gear. I laugh as he tells me about long rides, epic hunger flats and sitting on the side of the road just out of Canberra as none other than Michael Rogers rode past and asked him if he was OK.

Flicking through social media adds another dimension to what it means to follow the Tour. For the last few weeks my Facebook newsfeed is full in the mornings with images from friends who’ve headed to Europe for summer. Cycling, touring, media, work trips…

Most of these people are not there specifically for the ‘Grand Boucle’, but it’s certainly shaped their itinerary. It’s planted ideas about mountains to climb, towns to visit, and pubs to hang out in watching a broadcast in the same time zone as the race.

I was this person last year. I enjoyed every minute of experiencing the Tour from France, but something was missing.

Seeing a mountain stage in real life is on many a riders bucket list.
Seeing a mountain stage in real life is on many a riders bucket list.

The personal journey through the race is not the same when you aren’t madly trying to stay awake for each finish, pushing through thresholds of your own. And the experience different when you’re not going through it in the same timezone as several mates, scattered around the country, snuggled by the heater, quite happily doing the same.

Most of all I missed watching the impact this bike race has each year on my local community. As a cyclist in Australia, throughout the month of July, the positive impacts of the Tour make me feel more visible – on the road, in the work place, as I head to the trails. I feel a little lighter, more accepted, part of a lifestyle that others want to know more about.

Helicopters bring race footage to the world.
Helicopters bring race footage to the world.

#busgate was trending on social media, after the Orica-Greenedge team bus got stuck in the finish arch of stage one. And a new ‘Orica Bus Driver’ Twitter account is fast amassing new fans. The 100th Tour has just begun and Aussies are already stamping their own brand of enjoyment all over this absolutely massive event.

 

The Soapbox: Practise Makes Good Enough

 

Through my formative teenage years, every Friday night after dinner my dad would disappear into the lounge room. There he’d stand, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of him. Then, slowly, solemnly, he’d begin to swing his arms back and forth. He wasn’t, as we’d assumed, finally having some kind of breakdown or seizure; in fact he was ‘practising’ his golf swing in preparation for Saturday morning’s 8am tee off.

Golf is one of the most frustratingly addictive sports going. And while whacking a little bitof rubber and plastic around miles and miles of paddock mightn’t share many obvious similarities with mountain biking, us mountain bikers could really learn a lot from the world of golf. And I’m not talking about how to wear three-quarter knickerbockers with panache or how to jump your bike over bunkers (though both are a lot of fun).

If there’s one thing that golfers know how to do, it’s practise. Hours of refining their swing at the driving range, patiently drilling putt after putt after putt on practice greens under the judging gaze of their cohorts in the clubhouse. Countless superannuation funds have been sunk into private tuition, Zen meditation tapes and secret strategies to fortify the mind against the sledges of playing partners. And for all this effort, golf remains a sport where it can all unravel faster than you can say ‘Gee, your backswing’s looking a little tense.’ When it does unravel, what do golfers do? Practise more, hit more balls, concentrate harder, buy new clubs, drink more red wine and swing their arms in the lounge room with greater fervour.

Mountain bikers don’t do this.

When was the last time, honestly, that you donned the lycra, packed a sandwich and headed out with the express aim of practising a skill, a section of trail, a new technique?
For most of us, the answer is never. We learnt mountain biking through just ‘doing’, and that has taken us to a point that we consider good enough. It’s like handwriting – every one of us, at some stage, was given a gold star for it by some well-meaning teacher, and from that moment on there was no need to improve, which is why most of us produce a scrawl that looks like it was scratched onto the page by a wound-up chicken.

As super coach Mark Fenner says, ‘Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ We ride our local loop, we roll around the same obstacles, we walk down the same sections, we get off to lift our bikes over logs that, with a little practise, we could hop over. Meanwhile, we look on with admiration as someone else flies through that rockgarden, drops off that ledge or hops over that gully. Yes, some riders are just more naturally gifted, and I’m sure you’re still having a bloody good time. But with some practise, perhaps some tuition to break old habits, who knows how much more fun you could be having?

‘I can’t bunny hop,’ I’ve heard riders say. What, you’ve got special gravity? Of courseyou can bunny hop. It just takes practise, and thankfully practising mountain biking isn’t exactly an arduous task – hey, you’re riding! Practise may not ever make you a perfect rider, but when you reap the rewards of your practise sessions out on the trail, well, there are few more perfect feelings.

The Soapbox: A bit of belief goes a long way

The last two days have been momentous for Australian mountain bike racing. Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell both took victory in the opening round of the UCI XCO World Cup – Bec in the women’s under 23s and Dan in the open men’s.

Let’s put this in perspective: the last time an Australian won an XCO World Cup was back in 2000, so to have two victories in one weekend is unthinkable.

For the last 13 years we’ve heard time and time again that Australia just isn’t much good at XCO racing, that we can’t compete with the Europeans, that we didn’t have the raw talent. Quite clearly, that’s crap.

What our riders have lacked is not talent or determination. It’s support and the backing of people who genuinely believed in our riders’ abilities.

This is Bec and Dan’s first year of racing with Trek Factory Racing, a fully-supported factory team, whereas in the past they’ve been largely on their own. When we chatted with the pair earlier in the year, they talked a lot about the challenges of racing in Europe and how they were really excited about having the opportunity to focus on their racing, not booking hire cars, finding somewhere to sleep or servicing their own bikes. And now, in their very first World Cup outing, they’ve showed us just what a difference that support can make.

We’ve always known that Dan and Bec had the ‘minerals’ and the dedication to win at this level, but without proper support, they were fighting an uphill battle. We hope their incredible success opens the eyes of those who hold the keys to allowing more young riders to follow in their footsteps.

Congratulations Dan and Bec, you’re bloody champions!

Watch Dan’s race here: http://www.redbull.com/en/bike/stories/1331591003682/watch-live-uci-men-xco-from-albstadt

The Soapbox: Pulling The Wool Over Your Own Eyes

Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me again, it’s a pretty good trick.

Just a little way back, at the Mont 24 in fact, I overcooked my goose slightly. Getting a bit excited, I pushed myself into the anaerobic zone a couple too many times and ended with cramps in my face (not legs, face). It was a new one for me.

Needless to say, the last few kays of that lap were a bit of trying experience and I found myself resorting to one of my standard mind tricks to get my slightly nauseous butt through the remaining five or so kays. I began breaking the rest of the lap down into little chunks, digesting each bit of the trail, one small section at a time, rather than concentrating on how far I still had to go. It became a race to the next corner, the next switchback, rather than a race back to the transition area.

I find myself doing this quite a lot, particularly on the road bike, or when faced with a mother of a climb. For me, it’s a really effective way of finding the motivation to keep digging deep. Pick a spot on the trail or road 50m up the climb and keep reeling it in, like some tractor beam out of Star Wars. Tick it off then pick another. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The brief self-congratulatory buzz of achieving each small milestone gives me the motivational kick needed to achieve the next. It’s self-fulfilling and, while I’m clearly living in denial about how big the climb really is, it works for me every time.

The other trick I find myself pulling…on myself… (geez, my psychologist wife would have a field day with this) is to lie about how many gears I have. Essentially, it’s all about denying myself the use of the granny gear if at all possible.

Sounds stupid, but for me, the moment I drop into my lowest gear (especially if I’m at a race) it’s like I slip into a state of defeat. I lose the will to put any grunt through the pedals, and suddenly it just feels like pure suffering. I sit down and find myself in a funk, like a petulant teenager being forced to do school sport. It hurts.

On the flipside, if I know that I haven’t used my lowest gear yet, I feel like I’m still in the game, like I’m having a proper crack at it. I know I could just adjust the limit screws on my derailleur and take the granny gear out of the equation, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about not feeling beaten!

It’s also about having the reassurance that you’ve got somewhere you can go to as a very last resort. At some stage, we’ve all pushed at the shift lever in vain, hoping against all reason that we’ll find another, lower gear there. By keeping my granny gear ideally untouched, I have that mental safety net – I know that if things get really hard, I’ve still got one more ace up my sleeve to bail me out.

Whether I’m just good at tricking myself or perhaps just very gullible, playing these little games has become part of the way I deal with tough times on the bike.  What works for you?

 

The Soapbox: I Associate Strava With Cancer

We’ve heard how some hate it and some love it but here’s a different and personal story on how it can help.

 


I associate Strava with cancer. Not in the sense of a ‘cancer on the soul of mountain biking’ as some do. And not in a bad way.

Strava helped lead me back to the light – a born-again mountain biker.

I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. A GP I’d never met before went pale as he examined my throat and from that moment I was in the machine. It’s an impressive one with lots of remarkable healthcare professionals and very flash gear. My favourite was The Mask. A sheet of polymer lattice was softened and went clear in a warm water bath. This was then draped over and moulded to my face, throat and shoulders. I’d be locked into this 5 days a week for seven weeks to line me up precisely for the death rays. I also had three sessions of chemo – cisplatin, which is nuclear-strength and has left me partially deaf.

The cancer was the result of a virus (who knew!?) and is very treatable and survivable. My chances were even better than the average, as I was mountain bike fit. Anyway, long story short the treatment was gruelling, one of the toughest, I was constantly reminded.

I got through it and then recovery and recuperation began.

I’d been so focussed on counting down the days of treatment and also pretty spaced out on morphine, that I ignored or missed the warnings that this would be a long process. I lost nearly a third of my body weight and there wasn’t much to spare to start with.

My throat was mincemeat.

It did take a while, but five months after treatment ended I finally climbed back on my bike. We live in Rotorua and moved here in 2000 mainly for the mountain biking. We actually live across the road from the forest so it is only five minutes to the northern trailhead of the Whakarewarewa network

I started slow, just 10 kilometres on low-altitude flat track. That’s slowly built up to 25-30 kilometres, even getting close to the roof of the forest. Hello, granny – or even walking.

It’s a special place that Forest – with healing powers.

And Strava? Well, the week before that first ride, I’d done a bit of media work on one of the Rotorua classics – the Whaka 100. Magellan is the sponsor and they sent me a very smart GPS unit as a thank you. It seemed rude not to use it and was a major spur to get out again. The only way I could figure out how to access the information on my Mac was via Strava.

I’ve never obsessed about distance or other stats. Fun was my motivation. However, the GPS and Strava have really helped me get back on the bike. The challenge isn’t versus others, but against myself. Improving times and an accurate measure of distances covered, total elevation gained and so on has really helped rebuild my confidence. I do check where I am on the charts. And I am pleased to not be last on most trails. In fact, not even close.

On New Year’s Eve, we headed out on Te Ara Ahi. This is Rotorua’s contribution to New Zealand’s National Cycleway rolling south alongside the road to Taupo. It’s mainly concrete, tar seal and a short section of hard-packed pumice. Not hard, even on trails bikes with fat-tyres. It was still a mission.

When I uploaded the ride info to Strava, it revealed total distance was 57.4 kilometres – my age.

 

Sid Taberlay: Frustrations, Promises and a Path Forward for MTBA

As one of Australia’s leading mountain bikers, Sid Taberlay has had more involvement with MTBA than most. He wrote to Flow recently explain his views on where things have gone wrong and, more positively, how riders and MTBA are now working on a path forward.

 

Please note: These are Sid’s opinions and thoughts – Flow welcomes a response or counter opinion.

 

Sid, just prior to the XCE racing at the 2013 National Champs at Stromlo.

Perhaps I should start with a little background. I raced nine World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Olympics up until 2008, at which time I had lost the love for racing in Europe. Don’t get me wrong – I still loved riding my bike, I was simply emotionally tired.

So I stepped back and started racing events I really enjoyed and wanted to race, primarily in the USA since my wife was working in LA. Over that time I became distanced from what was happening with the Australian National MTB program. Then in 2011, with the Olympics just around the corner, I decided that making the Olympic team would perhaps be a nice way to sign off from competitive racing. This decision brought me back into contact with MTBA and has lead to where I am today, like many other athletes, frustrated. Here’s why.

MTBA was formed back in the late 90s in response to a feeling that mountain biking was being neglected by Cycling Australia. It was supposedly an organisation “by the members, for the members”. But from where I stand today, I have to question the relevance and role of MTBA, both for the masses and for elite riders.

MTBA has several thousand members, but what does it really offer? Trail advocacy? Yes – and it does a good job on this front –  though by no means is MTBA the only avenue available for local clubs and riders to secure legal trails. Event support? Most of the country’s biggest events are run without MTBA involvement. Regulation? The rules that govern competition are really set by the UCI, and merely passed on by MTBA. Insurance? Perhaps this is MTBA’s biggest reason for existence. As an MTBA member, you’re covered should you have a serious accident at any MTBA sanctioned event. In my mind, this is why most people are members – they are just buying an insurance policy to be involved in their local club, they don’t have any real understanding of what MTBA is or does.

From an elite perspective, it’s no secret that there has been considerable friction between elite riders and MTBA of late. It’s a very complicated scenario, but from my perspective, it all comes down to feeling that MTBA have not given sufficient support to our best elite riders in a logistical, monetary or coaching support sense.

Back in 2011, when I became re-involved with MTBA, I was dismayed by the lack of communication given to riders about the selection process or logistical arrangements for the World Champs. I’ve relived that experience again recently, as I’ve been coaching my cousin-in-law Ben Bradley. Ben has World Champs aspirations and so we’ve been targeting races that will garner him the points needed to secure a good starting position at Worlds. Unfortunately this has created tension with MTBA as it was not ‘their’ way of doing things.

This is a story I’ve heard time and time again from the parents of junior racers; riders are largely uninformed of what is expected of them – there is no transparency surrounding the National Team selection. But if riders should choose to work out a personalised program of racing, or choose to work with coaches other than MTBA’s coaching staff, then they are disadvantaged at selection time. To me, this is crazy; junior riders need flexibility to balance riding, education and work, and this is exactly what personalised coaching offers them.

This attitude of poor communication and inflexibility was best demonstrated recently with the Oceanias (to be held in Tasmania, over the Easter long weekend). With just weeks to go, riders were given information about a pre-Oceanias Junior Team Camp. For one, many riders had already booked flights, accommodation etc, unaware of the camps, but more importantly, the camp was to include a huge training workload that had the potential to seriously undermine months of coaching preparation for the Oceanias. As one of the events that has the biggest bearing on UCI points, changing training plans so close to the Oceanias could have a huge bearing on a rider’s World Champs chances.

The costs of racing for your National Team and allocation of funds is also a source of contention. Most junior riders (or their families) can expect to be around $10,000 out of pocket should they be lucky enough to be selected to attend the World Champs and associated pre-World team camps. While some families will find a way to make this happen, for others it’s simply too big an ask – what a pity it would be if the next Australian World Champ was unable to fulfill their potential because of the costs involved.

This doesn’t just effect juniors too, of course. While MTBA spent $55,000 on staff at the 2012 World Champs, every athlete involved (including our Olympic representatives) was handed a bill to pay to cover the costs of representing their country. This raises some serious questions – should it really cost you thousands and thousands of dollars to race for your country?

When I first raced at Worlds, back in the year 2000, it did cost me, but less than $1000 all up. If things operated back then as they have been recently, I would’ve abandoned my elite racing hopes long ago.

Things are looking like they may be on the up, however. Of the back of a very heated meeting just prior to the National Champs at Stromlo, it looks like the wheels are turning to change the way things operate at MTBA. Here are some of the changes that have been promised:

  • Riders are allowed to keep their existing Oceanias arrangements without ramification for their World Champs selection chances.
  • There will be additional freedoms for riders to make their own arrangements for travel to Worlds (hopefully allowing them to reduce their own costs)
  • Selection criteria for the National Team will be communicated more clearly.
  • Junior training camp structure, timing and costs will be communicated long in advance.
  • The World Champs team structure will be determined and communicated well in advance.
  • MTBA will set up a committee with team and rider representation to help shape the future direction of the National Program support.
  • MTBA will survey all 2012 World Champs team members about how the organisation can best address athlete needs for 2013.

While these might all seem like very basic elements (and they are), these are key areas where MTBA has let elite riders down in the past. Getting these basics right at least gives our riders a chance of knowing where they stand with regard to progressing through to the National Team and preparing themselves properly for competing at a World Champs level.

Hopefully in four years time we can turn the TV on and see our current generation of young guns lining up at the Olympics. If not, we may be turning the TV on to watch those same riders lining up for their first Grand Tour on the road while we talking about what good young mountain bikers they used to be.

Jared Rando: Why Is Australia So Good At Downhill Racing?

Why? Seriously, it makes no sense. We have no big mountains to race down, our access to good downhill tracks is limited at best, the conditions here are incredibly different to those at World Cup races, and we have a relatively tiny talent pool for riders to come from.

Still, year after year, our pro downhill racers continue their run at the top of the World Cup circuit and once a year, our Junior and Elite racers band together to consistently take the number one or two spot in the team rankings at the World Championships.

Why Australia is so good at downhill racing is a common question. Pro’s get asked it all the time and I’ve definitely been asked it more than once during my time as the National downhill Coach. To be honest, I don’t really know the answer, but I have some theories. It’s something I’ve been thinking more and more about over the last year and here is what I think makes our racers some of the best in the world.

Jared Rando knows a thing or two about racing downhill. Years as a pro, and now the National DH coach, have given him a unique insight into the mechanics of a good racer.

We have an extremely high level of competition at a National level.

Want to win a National round? Well you’ll have to beat the best racers in the world. Even if you want to make the top 10 you have to beat some seriously quick racers. Anyone coming up through the ranks has this as their target and this pushes racers limits to the max. Want to make the Australian Junior team? Well, you’ll need to have a finish at a National Round which would put you in the top 10 of the Pro class (I don’t like the term “Elite” for our top racers- these guys are Pros). Sounds a bit tough? Well, it is – but that didn’t stop 10 Junior racers achieving just this last year and 7 achieving the same this year. High benchmarks = high performances, and Aussie DH racers always rise to the challenge.

Aussie Pros are Pro.

We’re lucky, Australia’s pro downhill racers are some of the nicest and most down to earth guys you’ll ever meet. They are humble, committed and good at their jobs. Any pro out there knows that it’s their job to sell bikes for their sponsors. The other part of being a pro is building and developing the sport (partly, so there are more people to buy their sponsors bikes!). Australia’s pro downhill racers are fantastic advocates for downhill racing. They encourage the younger, developing racers and genuinely love the sport and want it to grow. This is a huge part of why the guys coming up are so good and why pro teams want Aussie riders. Our young racers have fantastic role models and this legacy of helping the younger riders and developing the sport is being passed down from generation to generation. Pro pros keep Australia at the top.

We have heroes.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point but without heroes in the sport, young guys don’t have much to look up to. Every year, Australian downhill racers provide us with a list of heroic stories to inspire and motivate their younger peers. And it’s not all about winning either- Sam Hill’s World Championship run in 2007 and his 3rd place finish at the Champery World Cup that same year come to mind. Mick Hannah racing and kicking ass with some serious injuries; Tracey Hannah and Bryn Atkinson’s come backs from broken femurs over the past few years; Rennie winning the World Cup when he was only 22; Troy Brosanan not letting injuries hold him back and working 110% to get fit again. These are all incredible stories and just the tip of the iceberg. You need heroes in any sport, and Australian donwhill has plenty.

Sam Hill is a hero to many, not only in Australia, but around the world.

Australian downhill racers love the sport.

The Australian donwhill scene isn’t without its problems. Low numbers at races, limited sponsorship, limited funding opportunities for young developing racers, a relatively high cost of racing, large distances between races and limited exposure to World Cup style tracks are just a small sample of problems Australian downhill racing has always, and will always have. And you know what? I don’t care. Neither do most downhill racers out there. Australian donwhill racers love the sport and everyone (well, maybe nearly everyone) involved is doing everything they can to help develop the sport. Australian racers do what they can with what they have and don’t let the problems get in the way. Our love for the sport and the determination of Aussie donwhill racers keeps us at the top.

If we can keep all these things happening within our sport, I’m sure Australia will keep producing world class donwhill racers and stay at the top. Downhill racing is a unique sport and a proud part of Australian mountain bike culture. If you haven’t checked it out before, well maybe you should. Nothing’s better than riding your bike down a hill as fast as you can go and a downhill bike allows you to go really, really, really fast.

Thank you to everyone who rides, the pros, MTBA and anyone in the Australian bike industry who supports downhill racing in any way shape or form for making it all happen. As part of a much bigger team, we can all contribute to keeping Australia at the top of the donwhill world for a long, long time to come.

 

 

The Soapbox: Please Lay Off the Throttle

I recently posted a comment of Flow’s Facebook page about the wish for moto riders to stop trashing our trails.  That post got many comments and I thought it best to take the time to clarify and expand my thoughts.

My favourite local trails aren’t legal. Not for mountain bikes, not for 4WDs and not for dirt bikes. But with the illegality largely unenforced, the area is a bit of a playground for all comers. For as long as I’ve ridden there everyone has coexisted nicely and there’s been a good balance between users. Dog walkers, motos, mountain bikes, teenagers smoking drugs.

I’m used to these trails being chopped up, rough and loose. That’s one of the reasons I ride there, because the trails are so technical, unpredictable and always challenging. In many ways the motos have shaped some of the best of parts of the trail, berming up corners on the fireroads or created cool rock scrambles that are good to ride down.

Yet over the last couple of years the numbers of dirt bike riders on the trails seems to have gone through the roof. This isn’t a problem in itself – motos have just as much legal right to be there as I do. But when the rise in moto numbers seems to be accompanied by a collective decline in their respect for others, then we have a problem.

For me personally it came to a head a few days ago. I’d been avoiding the trails because it had been raining a lot; with so much sand and clay in the trail surface, riding in the wet trashes your bike and chews up the trails. On the fireroad into the trails I was almost cleaned up by two guys on dirt bikes, riding side by side round a corner at 50km/h. No sorry wave, they just forced me into the scrub and kept going. But it wasn’t until I hit the singletrack that I really got the shits…

The singletrack I was riding had been built by mountain bikers: it’s tight, very technical – most motos wouldn’t get out of first, maybe second, gear. As I mentioned, I’ve been avoiding it because of the rain. Apparently some moto riders haven’t been so worried.

This trail has always had a few motos ruts, but nothing like the massive channels that confronted me now. Big, deep trenches dug up by riders who have either no idea how to use their clutch lever or who just don’t give a stuff about anyone else enjoying the trail too. In other places, new lines had been simply ridden through the bush where the corner was too tight for a moto to make it easily around. Sections of scrub just flattened by riders who didn’t stop to think for one second, that perhaps this trail wasn’t really built for motos.

As I’ve said earlier, rough, technical trails are great. But rendering them almost completely unrideable to anyone without 125ccs under their butt is just selfish. And trashing the bush in an area that’s already seriously contentious with the green lobby is counter-productive for everyone. If motos are serious about getting more trail access, ripping a shortcut through the bush to avoid a corner is about the dumbest approach I can imagine… This kind of stuff will get the whole area closed down to all users in no time.

I’ve heard all the arguments: that it’s fundamentally an access issue, that motos need more legal places to ride too, that it’s just a few bad apples giving moto riders a bad name, that mountain bikers do the same thing to walking trails. All of these arguments miss the basic point that on the whole, motos and mountain bike trails don’t mix. This is especially true in areas where there are hundreds of other trails users looking to enjoy the same patch of dirt over a weekend.

If you live in a capital city and want to ride a moto, you cannot expect to just be able to ride the same local trails as shared by walkers and mountain bikers and then, when the inevitable confrontation happens, chuck your hands in the air and say you’ve got just as much ‘right’ to be there as anyone else. This is over simplification in the extreme and the worst kind of feigned ignorance. In terms of the impact upon both the trail and other users, a moto is in a different league. In one wet ride, a moto can tear apart a singletrack in a way that 100 mountain bikers never could – this cannot be denied with a straight face.

Yes, moto riders have the same legal rights to ride these trails as I do (or in this instance, the same lack of rights), but that’s no excuse for flouting common sense and ruining the trails for everyone else.

Ridden by few and ruined for all.

Jared Rando: If Chuck Norris Rode A Bike, He’d Change His Name To Jared Graves

Sometimes you just have to put everything aside and give credit where it’s due. Jared Graves is the man.

Jared Graves is a better bike rider then me, and he’s a better bike rider than you. Even when you beat him, he’s still a better bike rider than you. Why? He’s undoubtedly one of the best all round bike riders there has ever been, and he’s beaten a lot of different people, at a lot of different forms of cycling.

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be cool to do XC, DH and 4X at National Champs on the same bike. It was fun, and I had a good time doing it- but my results were hopeless. Jared Grave’s just made me look ridiculous by doing it all, and actually kicking ass whilst in the process. Granted, he did use different bikes, but I reckon if he used the same bike, he would have done a hell of a lot better than I did (I got last in Elite Mens XC for the record) or ever could do.

Jared hasn’t raced XC in many years but in an effort to lean down and get ready for the Enduro World Series he’s been riding and racing XC. 7th at the Nationals shows just how talented Jared is.

Here’s a guy who has podium World Cup DH finishes, US National Dual Slalom wins, BMX World Cup wins, won at least a thousand 4X World Cups and World Championships, represented Australia at the Olympics (as a favourite to win) and this year he’s decided to race the Enduro World Series for something different. And I’m sure he won’t suck at that either.

For training, he’s racing both DH and XC and killing it. He finished 7th at the Australian Titles in XC and was 2nd in DH. No one’s done anything like that for a long, long time, and to see someone do so well at both, in this day and age, is absolutely insane.

Jared Graves racing downhill at the 2013 Nationals in Canberra. Not long after finishing 7th in the XC Jared qualified 1st in DH. Amazing.

It’s all too easy to get caught up with the superstars of our sport- the flavour of the month who is having his or her time at the top. But, sometimes, when you sit back and look at the bigger picture, you notice some pretty incredible things going on that you might not have noticed before.

Mr. Graves, you have my respect (well, more of it anyway) and hats off to you. I don’t think we will see someone with such rounded talent on a bike for a long, long time.

Even Chuck Norris would have a hard time keeping up.

The Soapbox: Strava's Pleasant Surprises

We at Flow always welcome diverse opinions.  Flow regular, Kath Bicknell, took the time to shine light on a different view from Jared Rando on the subject of Strava.
It’s a fair bet that if the road goes upward you’ll learn about a leaderboard when you get home.

Strava brings out the worst in some people. The online documentation of times over terrain it collects has people quite animated about the negative impacts of turning every ride into a race (link to Rando’s).

And fair enough. As virtual sprint points are layered over favourite trails this can certainly disrupt the social character a lot of us seek on the rides we enjoy.

But don’t blame a computer program for your own behaviour, or that of those around you. The actions and attitudes Strava exaggerates start with the riders who use it.

Many users who are unfashionably competitive about segment performance are well aware of their behaviour. Some don’t care, some choose to self-police; they only take the Garmin out sometimes, wait months between uploading rides, or save segment chasing antics for solo sessions (on a time trail bike when the wind is right). Some just keep those competitive thoughts quietly to themselves.

As pro-Strava behaviour becomes normalised on the trails I see it becoming another way individuals filter the people they enjoy riding with. In this respect, it’s not much different to groups of riding mates evolving over a shared sensibility on other topics. These include the length, duration and skill level of the ride, flow and interest factor of conversation, punctuality at pre-ride meeting places and the frequency of things like bike maintenance (or lack of) disrupting the ride for everyone else.

Still, the vocal nature of anti-Strava arguments makes sticking up for the phenomenon a difficult position to take. But I feel compelled to write about some of Strava’s pleasant surprises – useful additions to my riding experiences that I might not have discovered had I only listened to the hype.

Firstly, I like that Strava only points out nice things about the rides you log: personal achievements, top three performances, and cumulative distances and times for the week.

If Strava has nothing good to say, it says nothing at all. Negative interpretations are up to you.

I also like the fact that the program keeps a log of your performance on regular rides. Seeing if you’re improving on a favourite hill climb, commute to work, or a fun, skilful singletrack loop is undeniably motivating. Meanwhile, looking back at the type of riding you were doing last time you were ‘feeling fit’ is helpful too.

Meanwhile, the program also tracks the kilometres ridden on different bikes, which takes the questioning out of debates on usage vs wear and tear. (My local bike shop are well sick of me saying I’ve hardly ridden when it’s time for a new chain.)

Thanks to Strava I learned how much quicker I would have been had I ridden a road bike to the top of the Col du Galibier in France. It’s nice to fantasise sometimes.

The social aspect is interesting too. If you ‘follow’ a few people, you get a different sense of the places and distances your friends are exploring. It’s not always as much, as hard or as varied as you think.

My Garmin and I went on a popular Sydney road ride recently. It’s called the ‘Three Gorges’ as the highlights are three stunning climbs that follow three exciting descents. One of them involves a ferry.

On both rides, a month apart, I struggled until I couldn’t see straight, wished I could ride as fast as the people in front of me, felt like lying on the grass after climb number one, and ate a double egg roll before climb number three.

Strava told me later that despite having a nearly identical ‘I think I’m about to die’ heart rate average on both attempts, I reached the top of each climb about a minute faster than a month before.

I could have checked my watch at the top and bottom of the road the way people have for years to learn this. But I didn’t. I plugged in. And I was really glad I did.

I also enjoy what Strava has highlighted to me as a female in this sport.

Having collected an embarrassing number of ‘QOMs’ simply because no one else of my gender has uploaded a ride from a particular section of trail, I find topping a ‘leaderboard’ somewhat overrated. Not to mention the number of riders I know who could blitz the same sections with their eyes closed and their pedals missing.

One unexpected pick-me-up from sandbagging segments is the number of notifications I get when someone’s smashed my time. I find I get really excited knowing how many chicks are riding bikes and riding them well. The female riding community, while small, is growing a much faster rate than most people think.

When I scroll through pages to see how many women are using a particular trail network I get more excited still. It’s much more heartening than looking at the number of women lining up at the start line for a race. Also, as a female, this gives you perspective on your own abilities that you rarely get on the trails or at an event.

When we head out on a ride, we’re after certain types of experiences. And there are many factors that go into making that experience what it is. I find the mass of information that Strava neatly catalogues helps me to reflect on these things in some pleasantly surprising ways.

As far as all the negatives it brings out in people, maybe it’s our own behaviour we should look at. In instances like these, Strava’s just acting as a scapegoat. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise of all.

Standing still doesn’t win you segments. But sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate the moment.

 

 

The Soapbox: Strava’s Pleasant Surprises

We at Flow always welcome diverse opinions.  Flow regular, Kath Bicknell, took the time to shine light on a different view from Jared Rando on the subject of Strava.
It’s a fair bet that if the road goes upward you’ll learn about a leaderboard when you get home.

Strava brings out the worst in some people. The online documentation of times over terrain it collects has people quite animated about the negative impacts of turning every ride into a race (link to Rando’s).

And fair enough. As virtual sprint points are layered over favourite trails this can certainly disrupt the social character a lot of us seek on the rides we enjoy.

But don’t blame a computer program for your own behaviour, or that of those around you. The actions and attitudes Strava exaggerates start with the riders who use it.

Many users who are unfashionably competitive about segment performance are well aware of their behaviour. Some don’t care, some choose to self-police; they only take the Garmin out sometimes, wait months between uploading rides, or save segment chasing antics for solo sessions (on a time trail bike when the wind is right). Some just keep those competitive thoughts quietly to themselves.

As pro-Strava behaviour becomes normalised on the trails I see it becoming another way individuals filter the people they enjoy riding with. In this respect, it’s not much different to groups of riding mates evolving over a shared sensibility on other topics. These include the length, duration and skill level of the ride, flow and interest factor of conversation, punctuality at pre-ride meeting places and the frequency of things like bike maintenance (or lack of) disrupting the ride for everyone else.

Still, the vocal nature of anti-Strava arguments makes sticking up for the phenomenon a difficult position to take. But I feel compelled to write about some of Strava’s pleasant surprises – useful additions to my riding experiences that I might not have discovered had I only listened to the hype.

Firstly, I like that Strava only points out nice things about the rides you log: personal achievements, top three performances, and cumulative distances and times for the week.

If Strava has nothing good to say, it says nothing at all. Negative interpretations are up to you.

I also like the fact that the program keeps a log of your performance on regular rides. Seeing if you’re improving on a favourite hill climb, commute to work, or a fun, skilful singletrack loop is undeniably motivating. Meanwhile, looking back at the type of riding you were doing last time you were ‘feeling fit’ is helpful too.

Meanwhile, the program also tracks the kilometres ridden on different bikes, which takes the questioning out of debates on usage vs wear and tear. (My local bike shop are well sick of me saying I’ve hardly ridden when it’s time for a new chain.)

Thanks to Strava I learned how much quicker I would have been had I ridden a road bike to the top of the Col du Galibier in France. It’s nice to fantasise sometimes.

The social aspect is interesting too. If you ‘follow’ a few people, you get a different sense of the places and distances your friends are exploring. It’s not always as much, as hard or as varied as you think.

My Garmin and I went on a popular Sydney road ride recently. It’s called the ‘Three Gorges’ as the highlights are three stunning climbs that follow three exciting descents. One of them involves a ferry.

On both rides, a month apart, I struggled until I couldn’t see straight, wished I could ride as fast as the people in front of me, felt like lying on the grass after climb number one, and ate a double egg roll before climb number three.

Strava told me later that despite having a nearly identical ‘I think I’m about to die’ heart rate average on both attempts, I reached the top of each climb about a minute faster than a month before.

I could have checked my watch at the top and bottom of the road the way people have for years to learn this. But I didn’t. I plugged in. And I was really glad I did.

I also enjoy what Strava has highlighted to me as a female in this sport.

Having collected an embarrassing number of ‘QOMs’ simply because no one else of my gender has uploaded a ride from a particular section of trail, I find topping a ‘leaderboard’ somewhat overrated. Not to mention the number of riders I know who could blitz the same sections with their eyes closed and their pedals missing.

One unexpected pick-me-up from sandbagging segments is the number of notifications I get when someone’s smashed my time. I find I get really excited knowing how many chicks are riding bikes and riding them well. The female riding community, while small, is growing a much faster rate than most people think.

When I scroll through pages to see how many women are using a particular trail network I get more excited still. It’s much more heartening than looking at the number of women lining up at the start line for a race. Also, as a female, this gives you perspective on your own abilities that you rarely get on the trails or at an event.

When we head out on a ride, we’re after certain types of experiences. And there are many factors that go into making that experience what it is. I find the mass of information that Strava neatly catalogues helps me to reflect on these things in some pleasantly surprising ways.

As far as all the negatives it brings out in people, maybe it’s our own behaviour we should look at. In instances like these, Strava’s just acting as a scapegoat. Maybe that’s the biggest surprise of all.

Standing still doesn’t win you segments. But sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate the moment.

 

 

The Soapbox: Loving The Fitness You Have

‘Want to go trail riding on Saturday?’ – ‘Yeh! For sure!’

‘Want to hit up some beach hills on Tuesday?’ – ‘Count me in!’

‘Race you to the pie shop?’ – ‘You’re on!’

‘Sleep in tomorrow?’ – ‘Sounds like a plan.’

While shabby days on the bike happen to all of us, it bums me out how frequently some riders are down on their fitness instead of glowing about it. These riders are so focussed on the merits of being fitter, they don’t reflect on their current form.

Personally I’m stoked when the level of fitness I have is enough to say yes to almost anything my riding mates throw at me.

What I love most about ‘yes to anything’ fitness is it doesn’t matter if you’re tired, flogged, fresh or even particularly fast. It’s about enjoying every ride, for what it is, hopefully with an infectious giggle at the end of a particularly excellent trail. If you choose your rides well, this will be most of them.

Of course, key to being able to say yes to anything is having mates who ask the right questions. An assemblage of fellow trail buddies whose rides make you glow with enthusiasm rather than look anxiously toward the horizon, or wear your brakes out as you fight to reduce the waiting time at the bottom of each descent.

Friends who push you just outside your comfort zone in the effort stakes make you accidentally fit. Meanwhile, those who challenge you to practice your skills in the singletrack give your legs and heart some time to rest.

The right rides offer the recovery and interval benefits of a basic training program (if you’re that way minded), but can make you laugh out loud and get you reasonably quick on the bike as a by-product of hanging out.

In the spirit of good health, a few yeses to fine dining, early nights and enjoying other off-bike fun will also keep your riding highs on track.

Why so many cyclists spend precious riding time complaining about form is beyond me. By waiting for the day where you ride out of your skin, you run the risk of missing all the good days that lead up to it. Not just good days on the bike, but good days on the bike with friends.

Ride days that consist of more yeses than nos and enough stamina to mostly keep up? Sounds like awesome fun to me!

‘Up that climb again so we can ride the sweetest descent in the world one more time?’ – ‘Let’s go!’ Come to think of it, I think saying yes to moments like this is why I feel fitter than I’ve ever been.

Enjoy the ride.

The Soapbox: My Past Life

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?

10 Stupid Trends In Mountain Biking- Past, Present And Future

There’s no doubt that the mountain bike world loves a good trend. Mountain biking is such a tech driven industry and trends come and go as we move from the greatest thing to the next greatest thing to the next greatest thing.

As mountain bikers, we love it. Anything that makes us go faster and our riding easier is pushed to the limit and then quickly dumped when the next bit of technology comes around.

More often than not, it starts with the racers and then progresses from there. You see, racers are odd creatures who think that if something works, then more is better. If more is better, then even more is better again and if you do more than all your competitors, then you will definitely beat them.

This brings us to the first stupid trend which didn’t help anyone beat anyone if you ask me-

1. Super low bars (past).

This first started with the DH crowd and came in at the same time as super wide bars. It got to the point where people thought that flat bars were a good idea for DH bikes. Flat bars have no place on a DH bike and if you tell me that your flat bars are better on your DH bike, then good for you.

But it’s not limited to DH racers anymore. 29ers have brought with them a whole new realm of bar set up ridiculousness, and I’m seeing it more and more, and to me it’s definitely not cool-

2. Negative 25 degree rise stems (present).

This one really makes me mad. If you really feel the need to have your bars 10cm lower than your top tube, then I’d suggest you are on the wrong bike. This is by far the dumbest looking bike setup trend I’ve ever seen and yes, it’s a trend because in 3 years, everyone who is doing this is going to realize they look like idiots, their bikes handle like crap and it will come to an end. I hope.

Fortunately though, some of these extreme trends have already come to an end and here’s a list of some of my favourite, stupid trends of mountain biking’s history books, some of which (unfortunately) are still with us-

3. 24” wheels (past).

That’s right, before everyone convinced that 26” wheels were too small, people were convinced that they were too LARGE. Give me a break.

4. Biopace Chainrings (past, present, future?)

Yep, round chainrings are a dumb idea. Let’s make them oval and wobbly. Shimano figured out it was a bad idea two decades ago but some still persist and chances are someone ten years from now will tell me that their oval shapes chainrings are the best thing since 29” wheels.

5. Narrow Bars (past).

Like 24” wheels, before our bars were too narrow, they were too wide. This stuck more with the early Dirt Jump / Skate Park crowd of mountain biking and was a carry-over from BMX. Just think about all that wasted aluminium from cut down bars.

It could have gone into something cool like…….

6. Remote Shock Lockouts (Past, Present).

Do you really need that much shit on your handlebars? Thankfully this one is on the way out. After all, it’s really not that far to reach the top of your forks or your rear shock. I saw a guy the other day with a front and rear shock lockout and a remote dropper lever all on his bars, and about 3kg of cables connecting it all.

7. Bar Ends (Past).

Bar ends were kind of cool. Only mountain bikers would think of attaching more handlebars to their handlebars.

8. 3” Tyres (Past).

Remember the Nokian Gazzaloddi? That was ridiculous. Still not as ridiculous as those stupid Pugsley bikes though.

I’ll save the last two to try and pick some future trends. Things that don’t seem out of place now, but will in the future. I know I’m going to cop some flak for this but I’m just calling it as I see it-

9. 29” Wheels.

Yes, I said it. I like 29ers, I own and regularly ride them and I like them. But, I think that 5 years from now, we will be riding a different size wheel. That’s all I have to say about that.

And finally, the last spot on the list goes to, the one and only…….

10. Strava.

Gotta love Strava, but I have covered that before.

The Soapbox: Please Take The Time to Learn

This photo has been doing the rounds on Facebook today and I thought it was perfect timing to add my bit.

As an ambassador and frequent user of Stromlo Forest Park I see this time and time again.  Corners being cut, straight lines appearing everywhere, obstacles being avoided, and trails being altered.  Normally I just report it to the park managers to fix but today I thought I would weigh in on the debate.

To me this is wrong. Wrong for two main reasons: the environmental impact and the impact it has on the trails for other users.

Let’s have a look at the environmental impact side first.  Mountain biking does cause an impact to the environment.  However, over the past 10 or so years trail builders and land owners have learnt and developed techniques to help minimise that impact and make our riding more sustainable.  Good trail design takes into account water flow, erosion control, and species and habitat protection – amongst others.  Yes, you can argue that some of the trails you have seen don’t adhere to these standards but over time we will find more and more sustainable trail building occurring.  It’s a win-win for the sport.

However, when someone goes and alters the trail to suit their own needs all this is thrown out the window.  Lets just look at the example picture.  First off a tree has been trimmed substantially.  That tree could have been a protected species and could have been a home for local fauna. Secondly, the new track has opened up a literal flood gate for water to flow less-obstructed down the hill.  The previous unaltered scene would have acted as a natural diversion for water and thus helping to reduce erosion on the trail.

Now to the effect it has on the trail experience for others.  Good mountain bike trails and locations have riding to suit all manner of skill types. Stromlo Forest Park is a good example of where you can progress your skills through riding the many varied trails and obstacles.  It’s this progression of skills that is a key element of the sport and has always been part of the roots and soul of mountain biking.

Put simply, changing the trail to suit your skills is selfish. I understand that hitting the deck isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, so if a part of trail is beyond your ability, walk it. Or even better, take the time out of your ride to learn the skills to ride it.  I feel no happier and more at peace with life than when I have overcome that fear and hit that jump, trail, line, obstacle for the first time.  That is what progressing your skills will do. You may crash, you may get hurt, but your riding and your experience will ultimately be better for it.

If you come up to an obstacle and mess it up, go back and try it again. If it’s beyond you, there are plenty of people out there to teach you the skills to ride it, or stick the trails more suited to your skill level until you’ve progressed. Changing the trails to suit you is not the answer, and taking the time to learn to ride an obstacle will ultimately benefit you and the rest of the riding community.

 

The Soapbox: The First Things I Do To All My New Bikes

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!  You just got a new bike! Sweet, I just got a new bike too!  (It’s true; I just got a 29er Trance).

Chances are you are stoked and ready to hit the trail… but… just how ready is that bike when you wheel it out of the shop? The truth is, not all that ready if you ask me.

I’ve been pretty lucky to get fresh bikes on a fairly consistent basis over the last decade, but before I hit the trail, I generally spend a minimum of three hours working on it before I deem it ready to go.

The modern mountain bike is an insanely adjustable, technical piece of equipment and any suspension bike you buy has the ability to adapt to riders of vastly different sizes, weights and riding styles. Chances are that if you get the set up wrong, that fresh new whip you’ve been drooling over for the last 6 months is going to feel like the proverbial bucket of shit- despite what all the glowing reviews say.

There’s also the personal aspect of setting up a bike to suit your riding style and preferences. So, with my background as a pro DH racer, here’s the minimum of what I do to all my bikes before they even leave the workshop on that maiden voyage-

1-     Grease the BB threads, headset and hubs.

Most pre built bikes come with minimal grease in these areas. Add some grease and you won’t have to do it later. With Shimano BB’s I generally space the drive side cup in closer to give a better chain-line if it’s possible. I also cut down the steerer tube to get rid of any excess spacers.

Lube it up as they may not have in the factory.

2-     Shorter stem, wider (riser) bars and grips of choice.

This is a personal choice but you won’t find me running a stem any longer than 80mm or bars narrower than 740mm on any of my bikes. For me, carbon bars are out- too much flex and I’m happy to carry the extra weight.

Riding position is key, so work out what you like and make those changes to all our bikes.

3-     Tubeless tyres.

With the exception of my downhill and jump bikes, if it isn’t tubeless, I make it tubeless.  I’m a huge fan of the “ghetto” tubeless setup which involves a 20” tube, some electrical tape and sealant. I have a bit of a history with this, and I’ve tried other options but I keep going back to this if I don’t have tubeless wheels.

You would have to be insane to still be using tubes.

4-     Suspension setup.

I always set up my suspension before I set my saddle position. I could write a book (or at least a really thick pamphlet) about suspension setup so all I’m going to say here is that if you know nothing about suspension, find someone who does. If the shop you are buying your bike from can’t help you, find another shop!

It’s complicated but important and worth getting right.

5-     Saddle position, lever position, bar height, bar roll, tyre pressure.

I spend a good amount of time making these final touches and I’m probably overly pedantic about it. That said, fit is everything and a professional bike fit is the best option for rookies at this stage. I also check my tyre pressures every time before I ride.

A few more minor adjustments and I’m ready for the trail.

Now, I’m sure that for most people reading this, all these steps might seem pretty logical but all it takes is a quick look around the local trail head and it amazes me just how many riders don’t take the time to set up their bikes properly or to suit their riding styles.

In an ideal world, any bike shop you drop a few grand at should do all this, and more, without kicking up too much of a fuss. I think it’s crazy that people would rather save $100 and overlook these crucial aspects of bike setup and with this in mind, sometimes the best deal isn’t the cheapest.

As human beings we are all unique and individual and I believe our bikes should reflect this. After all, chances are you’d hate how my bike is set up!

Any other tips or ideas? Post below!

The Soapbox: The Magic of Flat Pedals

Flatties…

I still remember my first ‘good’ flat pedals; a set of blue DMR V8s that I moved from bike to bike, not caring that the axles were bent. I’d pull them open and squirt fresh grease into them all the time, I bought longer pins to give me more grip (and to take off more skin from my shins), I was stoked how they matched the frame colour of my hardtail. I wonder where they went…?

I learnt an awful lot on those pedals too. They supported my feet as I built my skills over a good few years, before I ultimately began running clipless pedals. I still ride flatties occasionally – not on trail rides, but sometimes on the downhill bike, and my dirt jump bike of course runs flats too.

Looking back, I’m exceptionally glad I spent all those years on flat pedals.

Flat pedals teach you a lot of things that many people miss out in in their headlong rush to be a ‘proper’ mountain biker and clip in.

  1. Confidence; this is probably the biggest one in my mind. When you know you can eject from the bike completely at your whim, without the risk of your feet staying locked into the pedals, your confidence is much higher. You’re willing to try lines, corner harder, tackle tricky climbs, or do jumps, because you know you can bail out if it starts to head south. Consequently, your horizons are broader and you start to learn how far you can push it, and just what you and your bike are capable of. You realise the boundaries aren’t as tight as you might have thought.
  2. Smoothness; flat pedals make you smoother. If you’re not smooth on flat pedals, your feet aren’t going to stay put. I don’t care how grippy your shoes are, if you plough through a rock garden without learning how to use your body and legs to soak up the bike bucking underneath you, your feet are going to get bounced off.
  3. Lifting the bike; rather than simply hoiking the bike up with your feet clipped in, flat pedals teach you how to use your whole body properly to get the bike into the air. You learn to hop higher, further and more safely (with less chance of accidentally yanking a foot out of your pedal) if you’re riding flat pedals.
  4. Scars; flat pedals leave good scars all up and down your shin. As I look down at the craters the pins left in my skin, each little divot is a reminder not just of a mistake I’ve made, but a ride I’ve been on. And even if it hurt at the time, it’s a good memory now.

Recently, a few of my riding mates have returned to flat pedals for trail riding. And as I watch them rail a corner with their foot out, or clown around doing some trials moves on the rocks without fear of toppling over in a slow motion crash, I start to wonder if I can find those old blue DMRs somewhere…

Chris Kovarik has spent his entire career racing on flat pedals.

 

The Soapbox: This Is Why I Hate Strava

When Strava first came out, I thought it was the most incredible thing ever. It just seemed absolutely incredible what it could do and how it worked.  Now, I’m not so sure about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Strava, so let me try to explain.

It’s not all hate but there is a time and a place for Strava.

As a training and statistical tool, Strava is absolutely fantastic and yes, I have a Strava account and do use it occasionally. For gauging improvements in your riding, there is no better tool- but here’s my problem with it; every time I go riding, I want to escape. I want to get in that zone where nothing else matters and my brain switches off. That right there is the best part of riding.

Competition changes that. The last thing I want in the back of my mind when I’m riding is where I’m going to rank on the next trail I hit, or how fast I can do a climb. And yet, I see it more and more; riders going out with the sole purpose of getting that KOM, or adding more metres climbed to their yearly total, or impressing their friends by being the #6 ranked rider in the 45 – 46 year old, 78kg – 81kg recumbent class…….

Whatever happened to riding for fun? If you’re going for a group ride with a bunch of friends to have a good time, does it really matter how far you rode, or where you ranked? Give me a break.

Don’t tell me how many metres you’ve climbed this year, or how far you’ve ridden. I absolutely don’t give a shit. If you want to race someone, go to a race and line up against everyone else. Don’t go out for a “ride” and hit the same trail three times because you’re trying to get a KOM. That’s not riding. And it’s also not racing. It’s just dumb.

Technology is changing our lives more and more every day, but I don’t want it to change how much I enjoy riding my bike. If you really do enjoy turning every ride into a race, then good for you. You’re probably the same guy who understands merging in traffic as a no holds barred race to the death.

I say, lets save racing for the races and enjoy riding our bikes. Please use Strava in moderation and don’t get too carried away. Let’s enjoy riding for what it’s supposed to be.

Get stoked (or upset) at the trails – not the small screen of your phone.

The Soapbox: The 5 Best Things That Happened To My Mountain Bike

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for 20 years now and during that time, the bikes have changed immensely. These days, when I hit the trail, I tend to take a lot of things for granted, but looking back, there’s been some things along the way that have changed not just how I ride, but my whole experience on the bike.

Most of these things have made my bike faster, and some have made it more reliable, but all of them have had such a hugely positively effect, I couldn’t imagine riding without them.

So, next time you go for a ride, take a look down and be thankful that there’s a whole bunch of guys out there, who are smarter and have better foresight than us, and have made our riding life that much more enjoyable.

Here’s my list:

1-     Rear Suspension

Seems pretty obvious really, but there was a time when the majority of the riding community thought rear suspension was “just a fad”. Thanks to the downhill racers seeing the benefits early on, and some incredible refinements along the way, full suspension bikes are now the norm for the average trail rider out there. Thank God for that.

2-     Lock On Grips

As a DH guy, these were life changing. No more wires or glue and changing handlebars became as easy as changing a tube. They seemed a little odd at first but installing and riding on the first pair was all it took to be converted.

3-     Disc brakes

You could probably put disc brakes in the same category as full suspension. Some thought it was just a fad and others thought they would be too complicated to ever catch on. Well, the downhill guys were the first to see the light and the rest followed. If it weren’t for disc brakes, I’m sure that after 10 years of pro downhill racing, I’d be lying in a ditch somewhere, wishing I could have slowed down just that little bit quicker.

4-     Tubeless Tyres

I really thought this was a ridiculous idea at first. And then I tried them on my trail bike and have never looked back. For my DH, 4X, Slalom race bikes and my jump bike though, they never really worked as it was just too easy to roll off a tyre at speed. But, for my trail bike it was awesome. Faster and less flats. These days, the thought of going out for a trail ride with tubes in my tyres makes me shudder.

5-     2 Piece Cranks

Seems odd to make the list really, but 10 years ago, it was cranks and bottom brackets that always seemed like the achilles heel of my bikes. Anyone who’s ever set up a chain guide with the old style square taper BBs and then snapped their cranks or bottom bracket not long after will know where I’m coming from. Fortunately, oversized axles, bigger bearings and strong crank arms have made my riding life a hell of a lot easier (and safer). In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I snapped a crank or BB.

Now, I’m off to touch some wood, go for a ride and really appreciate what I’m riding.

 

The Soapbox: Imagine If Everything Stayed The Same

Remember the Walkman? We all thought it was pretty fine too…

We now have three wheel sizes for mountain bikes; 650B, 29ers and (for the time being) 26” too. When 650B first appeared, predictably, there was a wave of outcry: ‘Why do we need another wheel size?’. ‘We don’t want another standard.’ ‘It’s marketing driven hype.’ ‘They are just looking for ways to make us buy new bikes.’

The time has come to cut the hysteria. 650B is here and it’s a good thing. It’s evolution and it’s improvement. Let’s look at a few basic truths.

 

We don’t always know what’s best for us.

We like what we’re accustomed to, but that does not necessarily mean it’s the best solution. For years we’ve adored the 26” wheel, even for cross country racing. We swore by its handling, its acceleration, its strength. Take a look around now at any World Cup cross country race, do you see many 26” wheels?

I can point you to countless reviews and opinion pieces that dismissed suspension, disc brakes, 9-speed, and 10-speed as unnecessary. Sure, our bikes ‘work’, but so did the horse and cart.

Innovation, by necessity, often needs to be industry driven.

The criticism that 650B is industry-driven rings hollow too. For one, people have been running 650B bikes for a long, long time – it’s not a new wheel size.

More importantly, most of these big developments NEED to be industry driven. Yes, there are some innovations and developments that can be driven by consumers, namely the small modifications we make to our bikes that eventually become mainstream (for instance, running single chain ring drivetrains or wider bars).

But when it comes to the bigger developments, the legions of engineers, designers and product managers out there are in a far better, and more informed position than Joe Punter on the trail, to put positive innovations into place.

Take, for example, the 142x12mm rear axle, an innovation that has greatly improved frame design. How the hell was that meant to be consumer driven? Did you hear many folk standing about on the trail demanding a bolt through axle arrangement for their rear axle? No – we were happy pissing about with flexy quick release skewers. But when the clever engineers at Syntace came up with a better option, we adopted it wholeheartedly and our bikes are better as a result.

We could point to countless other examples, but you get the idea; we consumers simply can’t drive innovation in general, as we lack the skills, vision or manufacturing capacity to implement it.

Bullshit does not sell.

Finally, and this is where consumers play a big role, bullshit does not sell. Bike companies and component manufactures do not produce crap any more – the era of flip-flop Shimano shifters or plastic SRAM derailleurs is gone.

As consumers, we can communicate with each other in ways never possible before. If something sucks, your mates, their mates, and everybody in your social network will know about it no time.

Products very, very rarely make it to market without a serious amount of research to back up the benefits they offer. 650B is the same; frame designers and engineers with brains that dwarf our own know that they can create bikes that we will benefit from with the utilisation of this new wheel size.

 

So there you have it. And remember – no one is going to force you onto this wheel size. In this age of infinite choice and online retail you can bet your bottom dollar there will continue to be a supply of 26” bikes and parts ’till long after your old frame has bitten the dust.

Just imagine if we were stuck with these. Innovation has moved mountain biking forward, and will continue to do so. Some things will suck, some won’t, and at the end of the day we’re all better off.

The Soapbox: Why Dopers Suck

Jared Rando racing back in ’04. The end of the MTB heyday?
You think the whole Lance doping saga is just about Lance and road cycling? Think again. The domino effect has far reaching implications than that and there are many. many other reasons why dopers suck.

Dopers suck. Everyone agrees with that. But as a pro athlete, dopers suck even more. In fact, in the wise words of Beavis and Butthead, I’d go so far as to say; “dopers suck more than anything that has ever sucked before”.

I was once told that you need to ask “why” five times before you get to the root of any problem. With the whole Lance Armstrong affair coming out recently (and everything else that goes with it), I was recently reminded of a time by another ex-pro athlete of why dopers suck once again.

He reminded me to look back in time to the 2004 / 2005 pro MTB scene. For the previous five years it had been our lives as pro racers- and all of a sudden, it started to die…

Why? Because a whole bunch of sponsors of the series and teams were pulling their money from MTB to road.

Why? Because road racing had all of a sudden become really popular in the US and everyone was going out and buying road bikes.

Why? Because some guy named Lance Armstrong was winning everything and had an incredible story to go with it.

Why? Because he was a cheat and a dirty cheat at that.

Why? I don’t know why. That’s what pisses me off.

I will never understand why someone could cheat and feel that they deserve the rewards that come with it. Every time someone who cheats beats anyone else in the field, that person is denying the rightful winner or those who finish behind them that ever so slightly better result- and everything that goes with it.

And it’s not just about winning and glory. When you are racing for a living it is costing people money. In my mind you might as well be stealing from your fellow competitor’s wallet.

What’s the difference between first place and second place prize money? What’s the difference between 5th and 6th place incentives from your team? What’s the long term financial difference of not having a huge title attached to your name for the rest of your career? Add that up over 7 years. It could be, and was, a lot.

Imagine looking back on your career and realizing that your best ever finish, a 4th place should have been a podium finish or your second place finish should have been a win. Imagine being denied the once in a lifetime opportunity of standing at the top of a podium – or on a podium.

The truth is that the effects of cheating go well beyond what most of us could imagine and for everyone who gets caught, I’m sure there are three other guys who get away with it too.

Hopefully, the future of cycling is cleaner and brighter. Given what’s gone down over the past six months, I can only hope that something good comes out of all this. However, given the widespread and long reaching effects of doping, don’t expect me, or any other current or ex pro athlete to show too much sympathy for these guys. Dopers suck.

 

After retiring from a 10 year long professional downhill racing career in 2010 , Jared now splits his time between helping progress Stromlo Foerst Park, coaching the Australian Downhill Team and representing Giant Bicycles as a brand ambassador. Based in Canberra, you’re just as likely to find him holding a fishing rod and a beer as you would complaining that Strava is ruining the heart and soul of riding.

The Soapbox: Two Little Words – ‘Road Trip’

I remember lying in bed on Christmas morning, back when I was a kid. I would lie there in the dark for what seemed like hours, until I thought I would explode, until I heard the words ‘Santa’s been!’ It was unbelievable how those two little words could make me feel like my insides were going to burst in excitement.

Fast-forward to middle-aged life. Now I have another two little words that invoke the same excitement: ‘Road trip!’

Road trips are like Christmas all over again. Early mornings as you’re too excited to sleep.

These days, instead of being yelled out by my old man, already half cut from drinking all the beer we’d left out for Santa, those two little words of joy come via SMS or email.

Despite being many years older, the excitement is still the same, and I go off like a fat kid in a lolly shop. Though these days I don’t wet my pants. Well, not usually, anyway.

Road trips are awesome for so many reasons. If there is anything better than going away with mates and knowing that for the immediate future your biggest headache will be finding the next cool bit of trail, let me know.

Road tripping gives you the chance to get away from normal life and all those usual chores, the grocery shopping, and the chaos of playing taxi to your kid’s Under 8 soccer team. That normality is replaced with shredding awesome singletrack and other, equally ‘onerous’ tasks – like finding the best pub for dinner. (Of course, you have to check out a few to ensure you find the right one.)

Food you don’t have to cook yourself always seems to taste different.

Being stuck in a car with a bunch of mates for a couple of hours would normally be as much fun as a One Direction concert, but put some bikes in the back and the boys can’t pile in quick enough.

There is one road trip myth, however, that I would like to dispel. I’m sure you have heard it: ‘What happens on the road stays on the road.’ This is not actually true.

That saying should go: ‘What happens on the road will be put on Facebook.’

After all, we all have a moral obligation to tell everyone we know about those times when our mates make gooses of themselves.

On a recent road trip 160mm all-mountain rigs were our weapons of choice. A group of us were out riding a trail that was littered with massive granite boulder roll-ins. A couple of the guys baulked at the top of one of these awesome boulders.

‘No, I’m not going down there. I don’t want to crash the Covert,’ one said.

His mate on a Mojo had to jump out of the way to let through an elderly lady who dropped in on a battered old GT I drive. She looked like a retired kindergarten teacher, but she smashed that rockgarden like Sam Hill.

The next day, we encountered a steep roll-in down a rainforest embankment. The two lads sporting egg on their face from the previous day hesitated at the top.

At the end of the day a road trip is more than fun, it’s about the riding and friendships.

One of the boys who had already dropped in pulled out his phone and called out from the bottom. ‘Hang on lads, I’ll just give the nice old lady from yesterday a call to see if she can show you how to ride it.’

I’m pretty sure that story’s still getting likes on Facebook.

You also discover things about your mates on road trips.

On one trip I shared a cabin with a mate, only to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of someone revving a chainsaw. After a few seconds I realised I wasn’t listening to some crazed lumberjack on the loose, but my roommate snoring louder than I ever thought possible. Ear plugs were no match. My mate’s snores were loud enough to shake our bunk beds!

Not only do you have to share a room with a chainsaw but you also have to deal with dirty clothes that aren’t yours.

The next night, I shared with a different guy to escape the Chainsaw. My new cabin buddie was a big tough downhiller who reckoned he was hard as nails. When I went for a shower that night, I was stunned to see he had a smorgasbord of beauty products laid out, including a fluffy – and very pretty – loofah.

When I had finished my ablutions, I came out and said, ‘Nice loofah, Trev. I’d never used one before so I thought I’d give it a try.

‘I can honestly say my balls have never felt so clean and fresh.’

He blew up like a roadie out of razor blades and told me it was a dog act. But he had it all wrong, I told him, it would have been a dog act if I’d waited ‘til he’d used it.

Yep, when the car’s packed and we finally hit the motorway, it takes me straight back to childhood. I feel my veins pumping with that same juvenile excitement, that impatient anticipation for the unknown. The classic elements of a good mountain biking roadie – escape and discovery – take me to a different world and add to that growing treasure trove of stories and friendships. And all these good things, initiated by those two little words, are my grown-up equivalent to Christmas.

The end of a road trip is always the worst. Packing, cleaning and knowing you’re returning to “normal” life.