I hate bikes. All they do is get in the way of biking.
DIRT ISSUE 132 | FEBRUARY 2013
Words by Seb Kemp. Illustration by Jon Gregory
It’s obvious that you love bikes – you can’t go without yapping on about them. But why not make it more transparent that what you actually love is biking. Riding bikes and bikes are two utterly different things and right now the chasm’y division is so vast sometimes that I wonder if we are going to eat our own heads eventually.
The preoccupation with letters and numbers that seems to characterize mountain biking feeds the opportunity for mistaken mistruth and marketed confusion to take hold. The talking half–life of bikes is spectacular. Not spectacular like a sunset view where you sit quietly and absorb yourself within it, but spectacular like a silent stadium of misspelt banners.
Rather than talking about our experiences, most mountain bikers prefer to talk about the value they have prescribed to parts and pieces. Indeed, these precious metals are worth more than the value of materials and labour in them. Not more because of the synthesized value of the brand, the symbolism, the signage stamped onto it. I say more in the value of the experiences it enables.
Yes, mountain bikes are incredible machines that make us superhuman. With them we can travel farther, faster, and more efficiently. Engineers and designers have worked hard to apply the science of materials, physics, mechanics and manufacturing to these contraptions. In thirty short years these machines have taken us from a simple existence of grease burning down Marin County to pedalling over all the mountains. Now we ride everywhere, from Champery to Zion, with a quick pit stop in Olympic Essex somewhere in–between.
Yes, mountain bikes are amazing pieces of ingenuity but they aren’t solar panels, Mars rovers, or the gift of life. They are toys. They are the tools of the recreationalist, selfish modes of escape perhaps. They aren’t worth that much really. We might spend thousands of pounds acquiring them, and thousands hours more debating them on faceless portals, but they are still nothing. Please remember this. This is essential for us all to keep a grip on what is relevant. They don’t kill people and they won’t save them either. Just enjoy the outdoors – take a break from the arguing and dial–up dialogue about the nano particle structure of one inanimate object over another, the weight of one versus the other, and the placebo performance of a component.
There’s a fact and a fiction in mountain biking. Numbers are facts, but they aren’t the truth of bikes. Riding a bike tells you the only information that matters and the only reality that is accurate. Too much favour has been placed in the literal, when really this is an imaginary value. The bicycle is a means, the ends being the enjoyment of bicycling. The choice is ours, to value the experience over the explanation.
We all too often put the cart before the horse, selling the artefact’s artifice rather than the ability it endows us with. Selling the life that the act of cycling can give someone hands them the opportunity to explore and experience. We could sell that special thing that has entrapped us but instead we sell them the thingamajig.
Too often we fail to ponder the experience biking offers. What about the texture you feel through your handlebars and pedals when you blow apart that loamy berm, or the crisp feel of riding on a frosty morning? The texture of the dirt that you can feel without touching it.
The emotions that explode over you when you hear your tyres scratching for grip over rock and chunder; the gentle kiss of dirt on your legs; the white hot blood throughout your skin the moment before falling; the smell of moist dirt and cedar; or the taste of that piece of dirt that flicked up into your mouth.
This is not just a sport we partake in, it is a full sensual experience, a lifestyle, a way of life, and (even) a reason for being. Somewhere along the line mountain biking overlooked the poems of experience and got caught up in the rhetoric of engineers, destined to be numbers, suspension curves and technology.
It’s not just the media or industry who are to blame, it is each of us who fetishize component consumerism, whether it be at home, among friends or on user driven means of miscommunication. We have bought into the concept of conspicuous consumption at all levels of life, and bikes are just another outlet for purchase and procuring. From the very ground up we should promote the esoteric sensations of mountain biking and the reasons for doing it that go beyond the clichés. I’m not advocating the fall of a capitalist motive for our global community – we are too long gone for that to work – but rather that we remember why we buy and sell in the first place. The value isn’t in the item but rather the profit in the act.