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.

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 – 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: 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 Addicted to Buying MTB Gear?

See if you recognise any of the following scenarios…

Scenario: I spend hours a week on bike sites, looking for bargains, reading reviews and scouring forums. I follow bike sites on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to more than one MTB magazine. I take at least two hours of reading and researching reviews before buying anything.

Scenario 2: I rationalise purchasing mountain biking gear based on price (for example, owning at least five bike jerseys because they were on special when you bought them). In other words, I convince myself that buying things that I don’t need (when they’re on special) is actually a really good idea because I’m actually saving money (and that’s how I justify it to myself, my girlfriend/wife, boyfriend/husband)!

Scenario 3: I spend hours talking about my purchases with my mountain biking mates. Mostly this just makes me feel worse because I end up second-guessing my decisions, but I make myself feel better by justifying my purchases.

Any or all of these: chances are you’re a tad addicted to buying mountain bike gear…

It’s only a disorder when it starts to impair your life substantially – for example, if you were to bankrupt yourself by buying a lot of expensive bikes, get fired from your job for spending all your time on review sites.

OK, let’s explore this a bit. First, it’s not really an addiction. Addiction implies a physiological dependency on a chemical, or on the chemicals released as the result of a behaviour (like gambling, eating, or sex). Technically, it is possible to become dependent on shopping/buying, but it’s only a disorder when it starts to impair your life substantially – for example, if you were to bankrupt yourself by buying a lot of expensive bikes, get fired from your job for spending all your time on review sites, or be dumped by your partner because all you do is talk about mountain biking gear.

That’s not to say it can’t be a problem at less than disorder levels. It really comes down to benefit versus cost. If you end up spending a large proportion of your time and money reading about, commenting on, and buying mountain biking gear, and that gets in the way of genuinely important things (like riding your bike, having a relationship, or working) then it’s most definitely a problem – in real terms (not in your head) in these sort of scenarios, the costs certainly outweigh the benefits. And when your girlfriend or wife, boyfriend or husband (not to mention your non-mountain biking friends and workmates) gets completely sick of hearing yet another in-depth analysis of the benefits of 29″ wheels over 650B, or why a 1×11 drivetrain is superior to 2×10, you’re probably not doing yourself any favours on the sustainable relationship front.

If mountain biking is your thing, you’re much better off cultivating the time to be able to get out and ride

And the benefits? Well, it’s certainly handy to have a good idea of what’s going on in the world of mountain biking and gear developments, it’s nice to be able to have up-to-date gear and, even more interestingly, it’s useful to learn how to service your own bike, and to purchase some good tools and materials to keep your bike running well. And yes, learning about and mastering each of these things will take a fair bit of your time. But sport-specific knowledge and workshop skills are only useful in the context of actually being able to ride. If mountain biking is your thing, you’re much better off cultivating the time to be able to get out and ride (or training when you can’t) rather than rationalising a lot of time and money wasting to satisfy an urge. At its very best, satisfaction of urges to buy stuff, read another review, or get involved in another online forum debate, is only a proxy for riding: the satisfaction you get from it simply won’t last.

So, by all means keep up to date, and buy yourself a treat from time to time – but remember: riding is about riding, not reading about it or buying bling*.

 

Do I have a problem?

Read through the following list and give yourself a score of 1 to 5 for each statement (1 for never, 2 for sometimes/maybe, 3 for usually, 4 for often, 5 for always). Add up your final score and then have a look at the scoring range below.

  • 1) I spend 2 or more hours a week on the internet researching or buying mountain biking gear.
  • 2) I spend 5 or more hours a week on the internet researching or buying gear.
  • 3) I spend more than $100 a month on gear.
  • 4) I spend more than $250 a month on gear.
  • 5) My girlfriend/wife, boyfriend/husband switches off as soon as I start talking about mountain biking gear.
  • 6) My friends or work colleagues have stopped talking to me because I’m always talking about mountain biking.
  • 7) I know everything about the latest mountain biking gear, trends, race formats, bikes, components, etc.
  • 8) I subscribe to two or more mountain bike magazines.
  • 9) I follow more than two mountain biking sites on social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.).
  • 10) I check my favourite mountain biking websites (e.g., Chain Reaction) for specials at least two or more times a week.
  • 11) I subscribe to email notifications from more than one online mountain biking store, and always tend to click through on deals when they come through.
  • 12) My bike is heavily modified from when I bought it (e.g., carbon components, custom parts, bling parts).
  • 13) I own at least two or more of: bike shorts, bike gloves, riding jerseys.
  • 14) I own two or more bikes.
  • 15) I own five or more bikes.
  • 16) I own two or more of: helmets, headcams, goggles/sunglasses (MTB specific), hydration packs.
  • 17) My garage/workshop/spare room is full of bikes and, or bike gear.
  • 18) I’ve set up my own bike workshop and own enough tools to do at least my own basic maintenance (e.g., changing brake pads, bleeding brakes, changing chain, etc.)
  • 19) I own two or more of the following specialised workshop equipment: air compressor, workshop stand, wheel truing stand, dish stick, spoke tensioner, headset press, etc.
  • 20) I feel weird (e.g., grumpy, distracted, frustrated, anxious) when I can’t easily access bike gear info (e.g., when I’m on holiday or don’t have internet access).

Scores:

20-30: No problem, either I’m really chill about gear, or I just don’t care.

30-40: It’s OK, I can quit any time – I don’t have a problem.

40-50: OK, maybe I’m a little preoccupied, but it’s not causing any problems.

50-60: I’m really interested in bikes and gear but it’s a healthy obsession.

60-70: I’m more than a little obsessed, it’s starting to irritate the people around me, but I’ve no idea why!

70-80: Biking is my life, I know everything about what’s going on, have pretty much all the latest gear, but it’s under control – my partner hasn’t left me yet.

80-90: I would read this, but it would get in the way of abusing other people on Rotorburn.

90-100: I used to have a girlfriend/wife, boyfriend/husband, but she/he got in the way of my biking needs, and they had to go…

 

*Irony alert – yes I’m aware that I just wrote an entire article about getting out and riding when I could have been 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).

 

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: 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.

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!


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.

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 8.34.16 AM

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?

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!


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.

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!


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: 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: 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.

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!


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.

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.

 

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

 


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.

Web_Feature_Trail_how_to-3

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.

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 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.

 

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.

 

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.

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?

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 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: 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.