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Tuesday’s Can O’Wasps: Progression over style

In this weeks Can O’Wasps Morgan Hampton talks about dirt jumping-tricks versus style.

Progression over style

“Oh butt, nice bike like. ‘Ow much it cost? Can you do a backflip?” How many times have you heard some dirty little chav ask you this, or something along those lines? It’s a question to which I usually respond with something flippant “Yeah. Press X, Down, Circle, L2”

In fairness to the dole-scum offspring they’re not to blame for expecting every rider to be able to do a plethora of circus tricks at the drop of a hat. Modern riding, specifically that concerning tricks/stunts/showing off, is progressing at such a fast rate, that when coupled with the proliferation of media coverage, that it’s easy for a non-rider to assume that everyone on a bike can do all that fancy trickery. In fact, it’s hardly assumed anymore, it’s downright expected of you. And woe betide you if you can’t. Any admission that you don’t do tricks is often met with a barrage of comments about how you resemble common poultry, or more confusingly, the female reproductive organ.

Then you’ll be regaled with tales of how their mate can do a “double loop the loop no legger”, and he rides a crap bike with “no espenshun”. When they’ve finished with the abuse they’ll show you how amazing their bike handling skills are by doing a first gear, 10,000 rpm, and stem-hump wheelie.

Maybe I’m being bitter here. Bugger that, there’s no maybe. I’m downright pissed off that some riders have no fear when it comes to trying stuff. That some have a natural talent that allows them to pull tricks clean first try. That some make it look like they weren’t even bothered trying it, while I’m busy filling my boxers with fear-fuelled brown stuff just contemplating having a go. I can appreciate and accept that OK; sometimes I just ain’t that good. It hurts having it ground into you again and again, but I can quite happily appreciate when someone does something good. I appreciate it more if it looks good too. Fear’s a bitch, and it sometimes feels like I married her.

What really grinds my gears is the multitude of riders (mainly younger kids) who assume they’re better than me, because they can do stuff I can’t. Very well you can do a no foot can; I can do a no foot can’t time and time again. However, I can land with all my limbs still on the bike, nosed into the landing, only the roll of tyres and the buzz of freehub making a noise. Whereas you can only land with one foot on the pedals, back wheel first about three inches behind the lip of the landing, chain beating away on your chainstay, bearings sounding like a tin of rocks in a washing machine.
Style is something that for a lot of people does not come easily. I was chuffed to see photos of myself pulling near flat tables, until my more stylish mates pointed out that my knees where so far apart it looked like I was giving birth to my bike. I’ve had to really work on keeping the bow leggers at bay, and it isn’t easy because I table the opposite way to my lead foot. I’m getting there. Style is something that needs to be worked on, and is hard work. Style is something that isn’t considered as important as progression.

Watching the Vienna Air King earlier the other week I noticed that while a lot of riders where going round and round and upside down, a lot of them where slamming their back wheels into the landings, or putting in quick bitch cranks between sets. I’m not trying to insult any of the riders at all. They’re all better than me for sure, and I’m sure that on their home trails they’re more stylish than the Red Carpet at the Oscars, but it would seem that style is becoming less important at high level competition. Progression is the key to winning now. I’m sorry, but no matter how difficult Pilgrim’s X-up frontflip was, it didn’t look particularly nice. I’m sure he’ll get it dialled in and be busting them mid set, smooth as silk next year, but that’s exactly my point here: progression at the sacrifice of style.

I remember that the UK King of Dirt had an award for the most stylish rider, and was often given to the rider who did the least number of tricks, but looked the smoothest by far. At the Redhill KOD last year I enquired why a rider didn’t go through to the finals, despite going higher and more contorted than a lot of the competition. It was because he was landing sideways a lot, landing with feet off pedals, bitch cranking between sets. Oh, and because his bike sounded like shit because he couldn’t be bothered to maintain it, but could happily ensure he looked the “scene” part.

And therein lies the problem. The media (especially the internet) demand that riders be able to do pretty much all tricks all the time. I ride a bike, Pilgrim rides a bike, and therefore I should be able to do what he does. For younger and more impressionable riders, if they can’t do the latest acrobatic tricks then they’re ripe for ridicule. Especially if they’ve spent all their time and money stealing their sister’s jeans and buying a cap with a peak so broad it resembles a dining table, rather than keeping their bike correctly maintained. Older riders will realise that it just ain’t gunna happen, and they’ll be happy being able to throw down the odd X-up or whip when they feel like it. At least older riders can hide behind the excuse of injury/job/mortgage if they’re called out. Kids don’t have to worry about a steady income, and they have this infuriating talent to bleed a bit but not break. That sounds very wrong… sorry.
I’m never going to change the world to make me the best rider, nor am I ever going to conquer my fears and start busting super-flips everywhere. But I hope I can persuade just some riders that being good doesn’t mean that you can land somewhere in the vicinity of your bike when it comes down. Nor does it mean that riding away legs splayed, balls trapped between tyre and saddle counts as a trick being pulled. A good tuck no hander means that your hands come off the grips and are thrown as far away from the bars as possible, getting them back on before the bike lands . It does not mean you get your hands off but leave your fingertips on, while your back wheel rolls down the landing.

Trickless Morgan Hampton over the booter

Being good means looking good, no matter how easy or difficult the move you just did was. I’d rather see a smooth table than a ragged untidy tailwhip anyday.

Morgan.

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