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Choice has Spoiled us Mountain Bikers

There are too many choices and options for us mountain bikers out there these days. Words by Seb Kemp and Illustration by Jon Gregory.

Taken from Moto issue 144, February 2014

I’m going to put it out there: there’s way too much choice, and I for one am overwhelmed by it. Every which way I turn there’s too much choosing demanded of me. Life is a series of consumer questions all requiring an answer. There’s not a single part of modern life that isn’t wrapped up and packaged in a confusion of selections.

Life is a grocery store stacked full of a bewildering multitude of options, all needing a decision. There’s a dozen different types of bread, fifty types of cheese, a hundred different cereals, more pre–packaged meat on display than there is outside the kebab house on a Friday night. When you eventually figure out which exact basket of shopping defines who you are and what precisely matches your wants, needs and desires you still might question the selections.

That little voice hisses at you, ‘Are you sure this is the cheese that you want people to see you eating? Remember, you have that big picnic lunch with your fiancée’s parents at the weekend and you don’t want them thinking you are some hippy crackpot because you bought an organic, free range Stilton that was hand milked by silk glove wearing Buddhist monks on a community garden in Gloucestershire… do you? I think a plain Cheddar might be more suitable for the occasion’.

I become paralysed by choice. It’s not liberating at all. We are told that we are free to consume, manufacturing and manipulating our sense of self and identity using the infinite paint palate of whatever we want and whatever minute little niche within a niche is invented for our consumptive requirements. It might be easier to be the person we want to be through our consumption of stuff, but then what if we don’t know who we are? Which brings me to mountain bikes.

It’s said that variety is the spice of life, and so mountain biking must the all–you–can–eat buffet curry house of cycling. Bikes are no longer bikes, they are traps. Every manufacturer has a bemusing range of bikes, in 10 millimetre travel increments, each model available in various colours, various wheel sizes and with various component choices. It’s no longer about choosing which brand you like, or even what sort of mountain biking you tend to gravitate towards, or what’s your price point. Instead you try to find the bike that complements you.

I have no idea whether this bike is better than that bike because it’s slightly different but sort of the same. And I don’t want to make the wrong choice because I’ll always be wondering, ‘what if I chose that Other One? Or even the Other–other One or the Other–other–other One?’ Not many riders I know are entirely happy with their bike. Sure, part of that is proliferated by the hyper–speed creation of new and newer–new gizmos, making yesterdays choices look daft in the face of tomorrow’s revelations, sucked in to a tornado of consumerist lust, but really it’s because we never can tell whether we made the absolutely perfect and right choice. We are forever seized by buyer’s remorse because the bike that is pretty much like the one we want might be just a tiny, tiny bit better after all.

I think choice has spoiled us. Fifteen years ago there weren’t many trails to choose from. If you had a handful of barely rideable trails that included at least some good sections of singletrack and with minimal chance of being shot by a farmer, thumped by a rambler or heckled by doggers, then you were sorted. Nowadays there’re so many good riding spots that people are taking it for granted. Which is why there’s so many backseat trail builders moaning about how they don’t like the gradient of the grade reversals at one trail centre compared to the trails over the hill. Some people don’t know they are born.

Then on the trail there’s a glut of decisions to be made: Do I need another click of low–speed compression? Should I keep my jacket on or wear the light–shell? It looks like rain in the forecast, should I put my other tyres on when I get home? Is this chainring small enough, yet big enough? Should I post this Instagram of me riding now or when I get back? What hashtags shall I use? Maybe I’ll try a blue bike next time. Or maybe black is more me.

There’s too little time in our lives to be endlessly curating the minutiae of our lives and identity. Mountain biking was always an escape. Two choices: to ride or not. That simple equation still exists but now there’s a heap of extra noise to navigate. Not that much of it really matters. Really, as long as there’re two wheels and a bit of free time then that will do.

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