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‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear

26" of Fun

‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear

In 5 years time we all will be riding a 29″ bike. This is not by choice but a simple and unfortunate matter of economics and market choice.

To think I’m a ‘hater’ of the big wheel is probably an accurate description especially when my opinion is not based upon experience. The nausea in the bike industry builds up inside when I hear wheel sizes being the next ‘best thing’, the MTB media, especially journos bark on about how much time you can save on section of track, how smooth the ride is, and how the bike feels slower but you’re actually going faster. In one word, ‘poppycock’.

15 years ago mountain bike tracks were a lot different, and the terrain in which the bikes traveled on differed too. V-brakes were a revelation, more than 53 mm of fork travel was confined to the Sunn-Chippie race team and handle bars were lucky to measure anything more than 650mm. I’m not going to discuss the evolution of DH World Cup tracks here, but the tracks we the common people rode, i.e. you, me, your mates and your older sister, bridleways, farm tracks (like Owen’s Mad Track in North Yorks), 4×4 tracks and the odd bit of homegrown single-track was run of the mill especially when your only means of stopping was in the strength of your fingers. As time went on so did advances in bike technology, hydraulic damping was developed, geometry was looked at closely and disc brakes became the norm. A notable progression in bike technology was being noted, and the way in which previous ‘exclusive’ technology became available on much cheaper bikes meant that the playing field was beginning to get leveled.

The days before Superman II

The transfer of seeking to ride technically harder tracks could be subconscious or it was a deliberate move by riders seeking to push limits, but no doubt the ability to hit bumps harder and to leave braking later was attributed to having a bike that didn’t feel like it was going to implode as soon as the tempo increased. The tracks we build and look at riding on a daily basis are subject to the bikes we ride, I wouldn’t look at a DH bike on a track with intense climbs on it, nor would I expect to perform at Val Di Sol on a XC hardtail. Our ability to ride bikes on difficult terrain at higher speeds, through compressions, rooty off-camber corners and square-edged rock gardens is attributed to the development of mountain bikes through out the last 20 years.

26″ of Fun

With a dwindling world economy especially in the leisure classes of the Western World and a saturated market, bike manufactures needed something else to boost their shareholders wallets? It was a realisation to encourage the emergence of a secondary bike industry already in a marginalised market. “We can sell the same amount if we tweak the market, imagine selling the same bike, the same components twice…a whole range of new tyres, wheels, frames and forks…” Cue the birth of 29″ wheels. All of a sudden a new market within the industry emerges and the profits begin to flourish.

Two Gates in a Field.

Giant Cycles 2013 in Australasia import and distribution program is one of the most cynical catalogues I’ve read in recent memory, only one 26″ bike that’s not a DH bike. No longer do I have a choice of what bike I can ride, I’m being marginalised the outer reaches of what I want to ride and how I want to ride them. Did I ever need more of an excuse not to ride a Giant? Will the Big-S; Scott and others head in this direction too? I hope not, but hope does nothing to exonerate market forces.
The terrain may seemingly flatten out on big wheels, but no doubt in a few years time we’d be wanting more challenging terrain, where line choice is not a simple matter of the size of your wheel’s radius.

However, the media-slaves, which only groom the hype and further poor science, will no doubt prove me wrong with metaphysical data. See the following clip:

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It seems that rational thought was temporarily suspended and replaced with opinions that were grounded through a mixture of dog vomit and cat piss. When will we see the MTB media actually start testing and reviewing on a more scientific basis, rather than the supposed ‘feel’ and then back this ‘feel’ with ‘bad science’? The lapdog journo industry have access to testing bikes that only a few of us dream of owning, yet after extinguishing the smoke and smashing the mirrors, the tests reveal nothing, a void that has been being left gaping open more times than Bella Donna’s fridge door. The ivory towers of reviewing bikes needs to be demolished. How many times have we ridden our own bikes down the same track and all of a sudden it ‘felt’ faster? Has anything changed? Which way is the wind blowing? What did you eat the night before? Have you paid your bills? Did you receive a work bonus? Did you just recover from an injury? All these things no doubt enter our minds when riding, and in many ways we try and leave modern life’s bullshit behind but invariably it catches up with us in one way or another. Take a look at how the pro’s perform, if we were all riding equal, and all capable of 100% accuracy and having a race track dialed then there would be no competition, just a bunch of people on a mountain side that can get to the bottom in the same time. Saying that a 29″ bike is faster than a downhill bike on a down hill section of a trail is nonsense. Was it a scientific test? Did they use the same rider, leaving at the same point, with no wind, no other exterior influences? Or did they use two different riders, leaving at different points, with variable wind conditions and many other exterior influences? Please don’t insult my intelligence.

Does 29″ really give you that much of an advantage? Such an advantage that 29″ bikes are now winning races? No. Was there a top 25 29″ bike in the downhill world cup this year? No. Was there a winning 29″ on a euro-enduro round last season? No. Riding courses where bike handling skills and psychology is prime to top competition there is yet again another void staring right back at us, the advantage that the media has us believing that big wheels are faster are not coming true. The magazines drape the pages with corpses of advertising, and when the results are played out in the real world there is nothing to see. The begging question comes to light, if I bought a 29″ bike would I then be more competitive? Quite possibly yes, maybe I’d nudge closer to the podium, but no doubt the riders that I nudged to get there would be forced into the 29″ bandwagon. If everyone is riding the same wheel size the advantage becomes zero, and we are back to where we started, a bike industry selling us dreams impossible to yield, and another empty wallet.

Even if Aaron Gwin let it slip that he has been testing a different wheel size recently, what difference will that make to a man who has won more World Cups in a two seasons than anyone on the current circuit? Maybe his pay cheque may fatten again with the increased sales in another bike market.

Without the progression in MTB’s we would be riding mediocre tracks in mediocre environments. When all of us are riding 29ers we will be longing for the technical hit, and then suddenly trails will again change. In one hand the emergence of bikes that travel faster over terrain will become more apparent, and in the other hand there will be the trail builders, shovel swingers, course designers and youths in the wood longing to slow you down so line choice, body position is crucial to speed.

3 Man Train – Queenstown

3 Man Train – Queenstown

As the Northern Hemisphere’s season starts to become wet and cold and the days shorter, below the equator the opposite is happening. The sun is setting at 8 at night, the evenings no longer have a chill in the air and with some much needed time away from the worlds most active seismic City (unofficial scientific fact no. 1) the Skyline gondola in Queenstown seemed too good an opportunity to pay a visit, and with many similarities to Sheffield in the mates rates and the riding scene….it’s hard to refuse.

Bin busy….?

Bin busy….?

Putting any contributions on the webpage recently hasn’t really been my priority, I’ve had a few things going on, working in a very seismically active city, the back country trails covered in snow….and most recently….this is Zelia, she’s my new life…and being a Dad right now is fucking awesome….2028 Womens DH World Champ. G

Motivated by Snakes

Motivated by Snakes

I’ve been in Christchurch since March 10th, and New Zealand since December 18th, and my home, Sheffield feels like a long way away. I miss the Peak, I miss my mates, I miss Wharny, I miss all of the thisisheffield crew, I miss my family, I miss Bragazzi sandwiches, I miss the open moorland and the quirkiness of loam against shin, I miss getting sweaty in a nightclub watching my favourite DJ, I miss watching in awe my favourite bands, I miss riding to a mates house and chatting shit, I miss the hills and tram network of the city, I miss bluebells in the woods, I miss hating mainstream politics, I miss that awkward right hander on NEMBA, I miss wet summers and warm winters, I miss cramming into a van and emerging somewhere new, I miss the banter of riding on a bad day, I miss the banter of riding on a good day, I miss the sweat and leg-ache of pushing a DH bike uphill…..imisssheffield.co.uk.

But like someone mentioned to me once whilst I was lamenting about being back in Sheffield “How can you tell if a plane is full of Brits? You can still hear the whining after the engines have stopped!”. New Zealand is pretty special, especially for riders, epic backcountry singletrack or urban-esque Super D or council funded mountain bike parks. Life is full of distractions, too many at times, work, television, religion, food, film, news, fashion, culture all seek or so it seems to takes us somewhere else, somewhere more exciting, but a reality check is needed, and something I make a conscious effort in doing. Our culture dictates we have to wait for a future, save and earn, pray and heaven, plan and travel, vote and submit, work hard and holiday. Something is missing, our imaginations run dry and life becomes mundane, and we look for a way out, we miss experiences, we miss finding out our limits, our expectations and our boundaries. Our existence is what we make it, it will never be elsewhere, no matter how many films we watch we won’t be in them. We have our noses pushed against the windows of commerce and told ‘this is life’, but to be honest I don’t accept such thought and such practices, I want life, I don’t just want a slice of life, I want the whole fucking bakery.

I find it hard to stop myself missing Sheffield, but when I have access to such riding like the ‘Anaconda’ in such beautiful settings it makes my ‘missing‘ a whole lot easier….

Gee

Justin has left the building….

Justin has left the building….

Justin has left the building, just like Elvis, and by the time you read this he’ll be with his rightful owner Mr Rob Stokes. The love affair between Justin and I was never in a vacuum, we we’re free, and he showed me some great times, the gleaming shaft of the air shock, the sound of the forks compressing when riding hard and the firm but forgiving saddle that slid between my legs.

Just being able to ride a bike anywhere at anytime is something I’d forgotten but Justin rekindled that for me. I always felt anxious when riding DH on my own, rather than relaxing into the riding I felt like I was on edge, and enjoyment came only later when riding with friends. Maybe Justin was my friend, someone to hold my hand when things get out of the ordinary and guide me out of the rough into the serene embrace of stability and competence.

For a further insight, here are some of favourite intimate moments with Justin:

Riding him for the first time in the Sheffield Dual Series. Where Rob handed him over to me, then flying over to New Zealand.

Competing in the Wellington Super D race – 13th in Masters after suffering for a week with a bad head cold and leaving the track down a bank after clipping the wrong side of a root. Pedalling so hard into the finish I thought my head was going to explode.

The primo Alpine singletrack of the Craigieburn Forest Park. Alpine Beech forest is something of a New Zealand trademark, the smell and the feel of the loamy wet soil under tyre, where any corner makes you feel like a hero.

Riding the Queen Charlotte Track in a storm with my partner Jen, 71km of singletrack through the Marlborough Sounds. Any ride that starts with a boat journey is a guaranteed epic.

Being in Nelson with my mate Lilly (the girl shreds hard) up in the Coppermines and then riding on the following day in the Hira forest on life-affirming trails.

Not staying on the bike on a long gravelly left-hander and getting cellulitis in my knee and having a dose of Entonox gas on New Years Eve. Not as dramatic as Sam Hill’s World Champs crash, but definitely on a par.

The giant podocarps of Whirinaki Forest Park, a forest described by David Bellamy as ‘one of the great forests of the world’. Nuff said.

Getting up at 4.30am on Christmas Day and ascending Ben Lomond above Queenstown and then riding on pristine soil and tracks back down into the town in time for a feed and a flat white well before lunch.

Discovering the joys of commuting back home from work….

Justin has been a great addition to my life, but now he has gone I realise I don’t miss him – he’ll live on and travel to the world’s best riding, he enhanced my life and was never a hindrance, but I had to make room in my heart for another addition to my life…..but more on that soon…..

My current commute home….

My current commute home….

I’m currently working in the Port Hills in Christchurch, New Zealand. My work takes me all over the place, and seemingly the world (though Canada would be a welcome addition to the list!), and as a result I arrived in Christchurch a few weeks after the February 22nd earthquake to remedy the loose rocks that surround many parts of the city.

It’s not often I get the chance to ride home from my work place, normally the confides of a power plant or a some equally inhuman environment don’t lend themselves to an area of amazing singletrack….

Many of the tracks in the Port Hills are still closed due to the huge amount of rockfall, and as of yet there are no signs of them being re-opened anytime soon…..

This track, Anaconda, is a Port Hills classic, fast and flowing with amazing views, and this is my current ride home….enjoy!

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