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Is Mountainbiking the New Surfing?

Words by Ali Todd

Surfing. Here’s a working definition from Urban Dictionary, a website I suggest you avoid looking at unless either you think your mind has already seen all the innuendoes possible, or if you’re just really desperate for an introduction to an article. So here goes:

A religion to many people. It takes over their lives so all they care about is how close they are to a beach, they check the surf reports every half hour to see wave status, and the only money they ever spend is for gas to get to the beach…and surfboards. Surfing takes lots of time but is very fulfilling and many people believe they are closer to God while riding an amazing wave.

Surfing. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a thing the city crowd hitch onto, driving their VW Campers (classic, of course, but restored by someone else at their expense) out to the beach on the weekend. They’ve got all the latest stuff, but it’s just a fashion statement really. Then there are the beach bums, slumming it in the back of a car/ van cuddling their old (but treasured) boards, not caring about appearance a bit. People get very protective over secret spots. And yes, for some people it’s almost like a religion.

So are the two sports alike and could mountainbiking be the new surfing?

Let’s compare:

Yepp

So bikes. Lifestyle box? Tick. People wear their Troy Lee Designs hoodies to the pub, and convert the backs of their vans to provide a trail centre touring machine. Countless numbers of kids dream of being on the trails instead of in biology. People will define themselves as ‘mountainbikers’, and commit time and effort to it in the bucket load. For evidence of this, watch someone’s reaction to having their bike stolen. It may not be new, expensive or amazing, but it means a lot. A relationship is formed. It’s a friend, in an odd kind of way.

Fashionable pastime latched onto by the mid-life-crisis-guy who doesn’t like Porsches. Tick. Ok, stereotype there, but you know what I mean. It’s not the weekly trip from London to Cornwall in VW Campers though, it’s the weekly trip to the trail centre with either the pointless 4×4 or the Vito Sport. Because the “Sport” makes a difference. Back to it though – I did see a guy out recently, unloading his suspiciously shiny Giant XC bike (carbon 29er hardtail, I think) from his BMW X5, and proceed to pedal off round the loop in jeans, a t-shirt and a cardigan. Incredible.

Beach Bums. Tick, except they’re Bikey Pikeys. I’m currently on a mission to buy a van and convert the back into something I can live in on a very tight budget, and become one of the above BPs this summer. It definitely exists – especially when you consider that for a lot of these guys, their bikes are worth more than their cars and everything else they own combined.

Secret spots, and over-protectiveness: also tick. I love digging trails, even where I shouldn’t. Just show me some good natural terrain and I’ll be off. It might not be as bad as the surfers with the almost feral tactics in preventing people from finding “their” cove, but hey. It’s going to go that way though. One GPS loop or a Strava-too-far and you’re stuffed.

Religion-like approach. Final tick. I may have calmed down a bit in my old age [Editor’s note: Ali is about 6 years old], but it amazes me how excited people can get over bikes sometimes, until I remember that it was only a few years ago when I was the same. Devotion isn’t a strong enough word for this. It’s absolute commitment.

Nope

Is it the same though? Really? Surfing has built up a cult-like following over the years. Everyone, no matter how strong their interest level, is aware of the lifestyle side of surfing, and it’s just… cool. I suppose that’s it. It’s fashionable: brands like Animal or Quicksilver roam the streets, and everyone knows where they come from. However good you are on a bike, you’ll still come down the hill covered in mud, dressed in (usually) unflattering baggy shorts and ill-fitted jerseys, rather than wetsuits. It’s much easier to look attractive in the latter.

The office boys aren’t as common, either. Bikes are still quite a ‘grass-roots’ thing, and Fort William is further from London than Devon. As above, it’s not quite as glamorous, and maybe it’s seen as an enthusiasts’ sport, rather than something you’d want to dabble in. On the beach bums point, bikes are also playing catch-up. The trouble is that they’re expensive things, and they like breaking on you, so they require money…

Religion. I think we all know surfing has got that one as well, purely because it’s got such a massive following. We may have people who are just as committed, but the sheer volume of wave maniacs is overwhelming…

Conclusion

Here’s the crunch point then. Bikes are incredibly popular with a huge (and ever-increasing) number of people, but we just can’t match the flood (excuse the pun) of surfers. There’s a core of committed riders, there’s the dabbling fringe, there’s the lifestyle, and there’s the possessiveness over secret spots… But will we be a nation of mountainbikers in twenty years? Will Endura be the new Animal?

WHAT DO YOU THINK, DUDE?

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