Speaking on Style

Das Rant January 2018

Funny but true story: A couple decades back, full suspension was finally becoming practical enough to be a mainstay on most mid-level mountain bikes. Like most of the media, I was simply jazzed with this and sipped the Kool-Aid in earnest.

Jeeps, ATVs, let’s face it- off-roading and full suspension go hand in hand. I figured once this technology became affordable for the masses, there would be no looking back.

So you’d imagine my surprise when I discovered I was the only person in a ride with a full suspension ride several years after the fact. And it wasn’t a matter of cost either. I was surrounded by newer bikes and more expensive bikes, all of which lacked rear squish.

This was that watershed moment where I realized people weren’t “stuck” with hardtails just until technology became affordable enough to upgrade, many were in fact choosing to forego the comfort of a rear shock in favor of a rigid rear end.

These days this is pretty common knowledge. In fact, in the time since, the forward and backward trends of technology have been very apparent and well documented. Single speeds, rigids, fixies, the list goes on and on. But what’s important to realize is back then technology was constantly looking to the future/ moving forward.

The more cogs manufacturers were able to cram onto the drive-train, the better. Riders who didn’t upgrade to disc brakes from rim-stoppers were out of the loop. Steel bikes were antiques next to aluminum ones. Then later titanium. Everything newer was automatically something better. All you needed to know was how you were going to be able to afford the new tech being offered.

Then somewhere along the way a strange thing happened. Riders almost collectively realized they didn’t have to conform to any industry standards for the sake of conformity alone. In fact, many would discover they purposely wished to avoid the norms as doing so gave them and their rig character.

Suddenly a once singular industry found itself fragmenting again and again. Older frame materials were back in circulation right alongside the newest ones. Drive-trains between one and thirty gears cohabited regularly. Standards became laughable; axles, spacers, offsets. Wheel sizes multiplied like rabbits on Spanish fly.

We live in a time of literal mountain bike anarchy and that’s not a bad thing. Especially if you happen to manufacture bike parts. Free market is such where so long as there is a demand, there is nothing wrong with someone stepping up to fill it.

What I find most interesting about all of this is that the mountain bike has become a very viable extension of self. It is something so customizable (even at the factory level) that setup tells fellow members of the tribe a whole lot about your personality.

Who among us doesn’t, at a glance, say to themselves, “Oh a fat-biker”? Or, “This guy’s riding a single speed, this is going to be a painful conversation”?

I can speak pretty intelligently on this because, without even realizing it, I was the guy around here for a lot of years sorta marching against the currents. I was all about the 29er in an era when the 26” wheel was quite beloved. For a lot of years I, the guy who thought once the mountain bike shock became affordable enough to spec on mid-level bikes, rode a Salsa soft tail.

I’m not even sure what sect I belong to anymore. I know what I feel most comfortable on: a low travel 29er with a dual ring setup, I can’t be entirely sure what such a bike says about me as a person. Outdated perhaps?

I suppose there is no right or wrong when it comes to style. Which explains why I rock sideburns like Elvis, clothes like one of the Pep Boys and drink beer from tall cans.

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