What Is It With Some Mountain Bike Riders Today?!

What is it with some mountain bikers these days? In the early days of mountain bike riding only intrepid people who were self-reliant and had a sense of adventure got into mountain biking. Now people full of fear are entering the sport (and we are trying helping them overcome those fears) and after a year or so of riding they are changing the sport. They are trying to make the trails easier to ride, “All trails should be able to be ridden by all riders.”, was posted on one of our facebook posts this spring. Another rider wrote, “if the trail has advanced features (like roots and rocks) it should be signed and have a “squirrel catcher (mtb speak for a tough move that only someone skilled enough to ride the trail can do, keeping the “squirrels” from venturing further) ” on all entrances to the trail so only experts ride it.” He went on to say, “in reality all trails should have easier go-around options on the tough sections”. What on earth makes someone feel this way?!  Many of these trails are 20-50 years old and they are way out in the woods. Who exactly is going to spend their days fixing these trails that aren’t broken? How do you make a go-around when there if a cliff going up on one side of you and cliff going down on the other?  You know what we called those trails in 1993 while riding on our fully rigid mountain bikes? “Trails”, we didn’t call them beginner, intermediate or expert, we just called them trails. You know what we did if we got to a section we could not ride? We tried it once or twice and if we failed to clear it we simply walked over it and then continued our ride. We called these sections “challenges” or “hike a bikes” they were simply part of being out on a narrow trail 10-500 miles from town. We didn’t get angry at the trail when we couldn’t make something, we didn’t call our local trail sanitizers and say, “please come make a go-around for the rock on Seven Bridges trail” and have them come out and take every “challenge” out of the trail. We laughed, yelled or screamed but we were smart enough to get off and walk before putting ourselves in danger (and sometimes our egos were bigger than our skills and we got hurt, mountain biking can be dangerous when you exceed your skill level!) we used “common sense”. Sometimes we even turned around, “that trail is too tough!” was heard more than once. Then a friend would ride it and tell us how great it was and we would give it another try.

Again, we love helping riders improve and some of our students are much better riders and racers than we are and some aren’t as good, who cares, it isn’t a contest, it is mountain biking. Doesn’t “mountain biking” make you think of nature while “road biking” conjures up images of pavement? Is nature safe and manicured or is nature harsh and rough?  Believe me famous mountain biking destinations like, Moab, Bootleg Canyon, Durango, Sedona, Squamish and Whistler are harsh and rough in places.  Doesn’t “mountain biking” sound tougher than “road biking”? Are mountains smooth and soft or jagged and gnarly? Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweet beginner trails that are being built. Many of them flow so well even “expert riders” enjoy them. Keep building sweet beginner trails, they help grow the sport and get more people riding “mountain bikes”. Even people who formerly thought mountain biking was dangerous and not for them are starting to ride. This is great, except, mountain biking is dangerous, it involves riding a bike in the mountains (remember, mountain are jagged and gnarly)! Many trails, especially older and harder to reach trails are not manicured, they are wild. All mountain bikers can ride these trails just the less skilled are going to walk many sections. At that point they can choose to not ride that trail again or challenge themselves to improve, not dumb down the trail! I would love to be able to score a goal playing ice hockey but they are not going to make the hockey goals as big as soccer goals so I can do it! They are going to make me earn my goal scoring skills, the same way they did, with good coaching and lots of deliberate practice! Heck, I might even feel good about myself. I might feel like I faced a challenge and overcame it! Aren’t growth, learning and pushing your personal limits things that make you feel good? Ski racers didn’t dumb down the slopes, they educated themselves, trained hard and they actually ice down their race courses to make them harder! There are still beginner trails for their fans, foes, friends and family but there are trails them too!

When did we get so soft? We meaning the “US”, have you ever ridden in Canada? In Quebec and British Colombia the local trails are so hard many pro cross country racers from the US could not ride them. You know what they call these super hard trails in Canada, “trails”. They rode some of these trails 20 years ago on hardtails and they ride them now on their full-suspension bikes. Some trails were built more recently and are even harder, designed to challenge riders on their “cheater” 4-6” travel bikes.  In Canada (like in the US in the early 1990s) they know some sections are harder than others so they walk the hard sections until they learn to ride them. That is part of mountain biking.

Get out and ride and challenge yourself to improve!

 

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44 replies
  1. Ozzie says:

    Great piece. Well said. I’m starting to ride again after several years off. I ride with a very strong group of guys who I can keep up with on the intermediate stuff but they lose me on the more challenging terrain. They are always pushing me and encouraging me and I’m getting stronger with every ride. If I have tough ride with them, I often find myself going back to the same trail on my own between our rides to try it again and improve. Don’t change a thing about trails. Keep ‘em challenging and keep challenging yourselves. I’m having a blast riding again. My only regret is that I took so much time off. I forgot how much I love it.

    Reply
  2. Anthea says:

    Great post! I’m a new mountain biker, I’ll admit. I work hard at my skills, I put 110% of myself into being a better rider every day and I know the only way to do it is to learn how to do it right, from the start. Whenever I come across an obstacle on a trail I evaluate how I “feel” about it. The dialogue in my head goes something like this…

    Is this going to make me see my ass in a way I don’t want to right now? No, I can take the risk. Then I do my level best to conquer that obstacle even if it means I come off my rigid entry level mountain bike (I’m paying down a sweet Pivot!). Is the answer “Yes”? I will see my sweet ass…. then I get off my bike and I walk OVER the obstacle, down it or up it with the resolve that I will try again, next time.

    Every time I ride I get better and stronger. With 100% certainty I can tell you that eventually, and lately sooner than before, I manage to conquer obstacles or techniques that I thought I couldn’t before. It just takes practice, practice, practice and some know-how. First of all, there has to be a willingness to learn and to do it the hard way, because there is no easy way to learn to mountain bike. There just isn’t. It’s all hard work, but oh so rewarding at the end of the day. I love it.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Anthea,

      Nothing wrong at all with being a new mountain biker, welcome to the sport! Hopefully this didn’t sound like I was picking on new mountain bikers as that was not my intention. I’m all getting more people into this great sport and I was new mountain biker once! As a matter of fact I still try to look at the sport with a beginners mind so I can continue learning, improving my riding and our coaching. As a matter of fact I look for coaching all the time, always asking questions, taking classes and pushing myself.

      Create your best ride yet,

      Gene

      Reply
  3. Don says:

    Great post Gene! How can you get better if you don’t challenge yourself? Seems like too much of our society is looking to make everything too easy.

    Reply
  4. ffelix says:

    I’m not sure it’s the newbies driving this obnoxious trend.

    Riders these days are just a different animal. They like to go fast and not have to stop for anything. Even in Moab, land of the impossible obstacle, the Enduro idiots are busily widening and softening the Whole Enchilada so that they don’t have to squeeze between boulders that are too close together.

    Mt. biking has just become motocross without the moto. It’s really sad and pathetic.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Darn, just wrote a long reply to you Felix and it disappeared. Anyway you are right there are a lot of people responsible for this. Your motocross analogy is odd though as motocross is hard as heck and the tracks I used to ride keep getting harder (why I stopped riding them!).

      Reply
  5. Matt says:

    Is this really a thing now? Make all the trails easy so we can ride them?
    There is a term for this, I call it “road biking.”

    Matt

    Reply
  6. Alexander says:

    Excellent post Gene!!! Couldn’t agree more. This mentality is actually destroying the sport in parts of Northern California, where I live. Many trails now have had forest service or park rangers destroy excellent obstacles that took many hard-working volunteers a long time to build. There were months .. sometimes years .. of love and dedication given .. given so others could enjoy and challenge themselves .. now obliterated in a single afternoon because some kid broke a bone and the parents think that the whole world should be padded and sanitized for our every experience. I remember in my early days having taking 2 weeks off riding because a challenge ended up scraping tons of skin off.

    These days I’m a lot smarter about it .. and I know when to back off. And to make things better, the industry has come up with excellent padding options .. you can now cover every inch of your body in enough gear that missing a landing doesn’t necessitate the nasty consequences it used to. Two thumbs up, Gene!

    Reply
  7. CM says:

    Wow. I am really surprised at the riders who share the sentiment that all trails should be rideable to all. Part of the satisfaction of riding is being able to conquer tough sections and becoming a better rider. When we ride as a group, we often challenge each other on tough sections. There are many sections on many trails that I cannot ride, but it does’t keep me from riding them.

    If tough trails should be made easy, does that mean roads and bike paths should have obstacles built in for the rights of the better riders?

    Reply
  8. John-Erik Koslosky says:

    All tough stretches and obstacles already have a go-around option: It’s called your feet. If you can’t make it over, get off your bike and hoof it. It’s worked since the dawn of mountain biking.

    Reply
  9. Steve H says:

    You know, when I first started I was one of those guys who complained about how hard things were. Particularly one spot on my favorite local track, but you know what? I cleared that spot once and from then on I had a whole new perspective on this sport. Now I look for challenges like that, they inspire me.
    As you said in issue 80 of the news letter, its “like an addiction”
    Thank you Sir for the continued encouragement.

    KEEP PEDALING!

    Reply
  10. Jim manhart says:

    Well said! I have had to walk and in some cases carry my bike over some fantastic trails. Life is not a resting place but a testing place.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Jim, I am going to steal your quote, “Life is not a resting place but a testing place.”! Love it!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  11. Scott Ford says:

    Yeah I’ve seen this too. When we recently got a new mountain bike park in our neck of the woods, folks are showing up with their beach cruisers, then getting offended when some riders recommend they not take those on the trail. I’ve heard them ask why we can’t make the trails work for any type of bike or rider. I mentioned to one (with a smile) that if they were the type person who likes to try to hammer nails in with a screwdriver, then they should go ahead and ride that bike. Its about the right tool for the job, and then working to gain the skill to use it. I’m no pro, and I’m not too proud to hike my butt over an obstacle that will hand my butt to me. I just file it away and go try to get good enough to take a shot at it. Great piece Gene, thanks for airing out the subject!

    Reply
  12. Dennis says:

    I’d like to know more about why some mountain bikers want to dumb down the trails. I either don’t ride a trail I’m not ready for or walk/go around the sections that are too technical for me. I know that either I’ll master the skills to do that technical section or simply let it go. It’s not that big a deal to me. I certainly don’t modify any trails to suit me. I take them or leave them as-is.

    Reply
  13. Alexis says:

    Well said Gene!
    Mountain biking isn’t something you can candy-coat. We all choose to do it because we love it, and we are willing to take the inherent risks involved because that is what it is all about!
    We have a group of ladies who ride Thursday eve’s, and we are all of us on different skill levels. We will sometimes choose an easier trail for when a fresh faced newbie joins us for the first time, so they can build their confidence and get a feel for things. But every trail has obstacles, and we don’t apologize for it. We just tell the new ladies to go at their own pace, and if they are afraid to try a section or an obstacle to walk their bike over it. There is almost always a few who do so. And nearly every time we ride, we will do a section or two over and over if need be, helping and coaching, until the person who needs the practice feels confident that they’ve ‘gotten it’. We never make anyone feel bad about needing the time to learn and grow in this wonderful sport we all love, but we won’t pamper anyone. The challenge is part of the enjoyment. The success we feel after accomplishing something difficult keeps us out there working to accomplish more and more. We all want one another to have a good time, and to us, that means learning and growing so everyone can feel encouraged and accomplished. It doesn’t mean going out and riding around a big old lawn track. We aren’t out there to chitchat, tho we do sometimes when we’re not out of breath, lol. We’re out there to ride, first and foremost. You can pad yourself against every danger in life, if you so choose. Make it all easy as pie. But then you can never say you were actually living your life.

    Thanks Gene, and BetterRide, for all you do. We love you!

    Reply
  14. Amanda says:

    Gene,

    I couldn’t help but share this article as just the other day, on one of my favorite, most technical trails here in the Wasatch, I discovered that someone has softened the lines and moved rocks around in a rock garden that was harder than world-cup level… In fact, it eats most people alive and, with the sheer drop on one side into a rushing river full of granite boulders, if it doesn’t eat you alive, it’ll cripple most people with fear. It’s one of the best training tools I’ve ever used to improve my riding and I absolutely hated it the first time I came upon it… And the second, and the third, and the fourth! Unfortunately, someone less inclined to improvement tried to sanitize this 100-yard hellfest and changed the entrance, the middle section AND the exit. I was livid and began angrily throwing rocks back into their previous spots, muttering under my breathe about trail butchers and this new breed of mountain bikers.

    However, I don’t think it was a beginner mountain biker who changed the trail. There are many folks here in Utah that feel as though ‘technical’ slows them down. As a racer, I abhor this thought — I feel as though technical features will actually HELP one’s speed eventually as they become acclimated to intense sections. The person (or persons) who manipulated this line knew what they were doing enough to make a flat, straight line out of semi-straight rocks. They knew to pack the gaps with smaller rocks to keep the larger boulders from moving. What I’m getting at is that new riders aren’t the only ones doing it — older, more experienced riders are sanitizing trails and the reason is beyond me. Are they getting scared? Is the fear of being hurt stronger than the drive to excel and improve one’s skills?

    What hurts the most about this ‘building’ going on is that mountain biking, and mountain biking alone, gave me skills and a new courage that saved my life, and not because of easy trails or the ‘go around’s. It taught me not to try and change the problem, but change myself and figure out a solution. It taught me to conquer my fears, keep my chin up and believe in myself and my rapidly-expanding skills. It gave me a ‘can do’ and a ‘will do’ attitude — and not just on the bike, but in my life. I saw myself differently the first time I made it through that beloved, awful, straight-from-hell rock garden… And right behind a local WC racer, too. I saw myself as capable. And I began bringing other people to the rock garden chapel that changed my life.

    I know this is an insanely long comment. However, it’s more a plea than anything else. If there are people who are reading this who believe that sanitizing and dumbing down trails is perfectly okay, please hear me: STOP. You’re crippling our sport and our communities. You’re enabling weakness and cowardice. If you can’t ride it, either hike it or go somewhere else before you change our trails. Everything is doable, you just have to keep working at it. Don’t give up, and don’t ‘fix’ what isn’t broken. Please. For the sake of your own skills and everyone else. Please stop.

    A.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hey Amanda,

      Good point! A lot of experienced riders are doing this too, just to save their ego. Sad.

      Thanks,

      Gene

      Reply
  15. Double D says:

    Amen! If anyone has an issue with this then sign up for a better ride clinic and learn how to be safe and have fun riding those “trails”.

    Reply
  16. Mike Power says:

    Great article Gene! I bought my first mtb–fully rigid–in 1992. I love trails. I love crazy rowdy stuff on trails. Can I ride it all? Maybe. Do I? Not always. I like to rip and roll and have fun, but I still have my instinct of self preservation. I love the comment above about having a go around on all obstacles: your feet! I walk stuff that scares me. I pull off to the side and watch people lay down lines. Then I get out there and get after it. Sometimes it takes a few tries before I clear a whole trail, but I keep going back for more! Long live the rowdy trail! Beginner trails are great for getting new people into mountain biking–and new riders is just joy all around. But let trails be. Build them hard. Challenge us, the riders, to get stronger, better, more confident. Thanks for all you do, Gene!

    Reply
  17. Dan says:

    I’ve been mountain biking for over twenty years now; it’s sad to think that there are people who want everything to be rideable. I can think of one spot on the McKenzie River Trail that has had a case of beer riding on it ever since we first tried it but my buddies and I have not been able to conquer it. Doesn’t keep us from trying, even though we don’t heal as fast as we used to. We’ve always held to the philosophy that “if you’re not hiking, you’re not mountain biking.” If you’re riding trails where you can ride everything you need to expand your horizons: you cannot get better without getting out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself. Personally, I like to try something that scares the crap out of me every once in a while. I don’t always make it the first (or second) time but it’s made me a much better rider.

    Reply
  18. Dru says:

    Well said all,
    I have thought this same thing ever since my first NORBA National 20 years ago. I couldn’t believe how easy these trails were compared to my local training spots. For years, my ride was either a success of failure depending on cleaning a particular rock garden or step up.
    Having lived on both west and east coasts as well as in the Midwest, it is easy to see where trails have been sanitized for the masses and the true challenges have been flattened or trail has been cut around. It is becoming harder and harder to find truly fun and challenging trails. Sure I enjoy the race track fast west coast trails but I need some technical to level the playing field these days.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Me too Dru! Anyone can go fast on a smooth trail, old guys like me need some tech so we can keep up with the fitter, younger riders!

      Reply
  19. Tom says:

    Gene, thank you for the great treatise on trail “improvement”. I’ve been mtb riding for over 20 years and I’m still not a great rider. But I do enjoy the challenge of cleaning a “conundrum”. It sometimes takes me a couple of years to figure out the right line or technique to ride a technical section of trail.

    Please, riders, follow Gene’s advice and leave the trails as they are and strive to improve your skills to ride them better.

    Tom

    Reply
  20. ed jack says:

    good read! very important stuff. this is why I wont alow a local slant to my riding. dumbing down trails is wrong. if it is built new and there is a bybass that is one thing but even parks have different skill level trails. all riders should NOT be able to ride all trails and to think so is socialism and in some cases communism….

    Reply
  21. Jim says:

    Enjoyed the read! Although I’m not a mountain biker I think you article could apply to almost anything these days. Seems that in every aspect of life we are being told that no one should fail, so there are attempts to “dumb” everything down so that non one fails. We see this in schools, sports, etc. If there are on challenges then how does anyone get better? You don’t learn from your successes near as much from your failures!

    Thanks for the article and perspective on life!

    Reply
  22. Chris says:

    Many of our local trails are being dumbed down under the guise of creating sustainable trails. Creek crossings are now bridges with safety railings…steep fall line drops and climbs are now gentle rollers and comfortable contouring…skinny off camber descents are now wide machine groomed bench cuts…rocks and roots have all but disappeared. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for a sustainable trail system, but that doesn’t mean they all have to be wide buffed race trails…just sayin’.

    Reply
  23. Bryan says:

    As somonee mentioned above, I don’t think it’s necessarily the beginners doing it. I know motocross guys that have taken up MTBing. They like to go fast and straight, but often lack the skill or desire to maneuver around obstacles. They figure “If I can’t ride this, nobody can- so I’ll fix it”.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Bryan,

      Thanks for your comment and great point. Racers and Strava racers can do this too, after the “Whole Enchilada” enduro race in Moab I could not believe the amount of little “cut” lines that were made to straighten out fun corners on the trail. Cornering is the most fun aspect of mountain biking! Hate see those fun turns being straightened out.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  24. Gillian G says:

    Wow,

    I feel really lucky–I’ve been mountain biking since 1994. Started out on a hard tail in Colorado and had bad crash that landed me in the hospital my first day out on my new mountain bike. Shortly after, I moved to Tucson Arizona, where I did indeed start up my long relationship with mountain biking again, in terrain that scared the bejezus out of me. I remember sitting on my bike at the top of a trail, strewn with loose rocks and boulders, wondering if I could do it. I think I went down the first time riding my brakes the whole way while praying to the trail gods that I didn’t kill myself. About a month later, I was riding down that trail like the devil was nipping at my heals.
    Now, I live in Cumberland BC, where I’m fortunate to have some of the most demanding trails I’ve ever ridden practically in my back yard. I had taken a break from mountain biking for about 5 years after my son was born, and started up again here shortly after we moved here. To get to most of the trails here–you must ride up. And up, and up some more. The trails are twisty, rooty, and rocky. My first day up in the mountains on those trails, I wanted to cry. Oh I was so out of shape for those climbs…Also, there are features up here that scare the Fox MTB shorts off of me. I’m talking about elevated brides no wider than the trail, many going over bolder strewn ravines. What? I didn’t encounter these EVER in Arizona!

    My first two weeks of riding with the ladies group ride here, I walked over every bridge. A year and a half later, I STILL don’t like those bridges, but I ride over at least half of them. However, I do like those A frames–go figure!

    Point being, I don’t know why I love this sport the way I do. I am not the most advanced technical rider though I am improving all the time, and I’m fast on the fast stuff. I don’t know if I’ll ever get over my fear of those bridges, but I’m not going to wage a campaign to make them safer. I would be PISSED if people dumbed down my home town trails, and plenty of them make me nervous. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Cheers,

    Thanks for your article!

    Reply
      • Gillian G says:

        Hi again,

        I just wanted to point out–that bravery isn’t the absence of fear, it’s being afraid but doing it anyway. That’s the difference between Intrepid people and timid people. I’m scared frequently out there on my bike. I try not to let it stop me from trying– if not at the time, at the very least I’ll vow to try another day.

        Cheers.

        Reply

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