|After being in the bike biz since 1980, this was a hard question to funnel into one solid answer, but I have to say that the mountain bike market really took a tumble after the UCI took over the racing program here in the USA. I'm sure there were other contributing factors that accelerated its demise, but the UCI had a lot to do with it.|
I recall all the incredible World Cup downhill events that we had through North America, large crowds, great outside sponsors like Chevy Trucks, SoBe drinks, Volvo, Volkswagen, etc. Sure, the market took a bit of a dip in overall popularity here, but without any large and officially sanctioned races happening, with the exception of Windham in NY, racing and the overall market really took a hit. For local racers wanting to someday be part of the World Cup downhill circuit, moving to Europe is the only option, and that alone makes it very difficult for our young juniors and first year pros to accomplish it. I have a junior development racing program with Incycle and these kids dream of being the next Aaron Gwin, but the caliber of events and depth of World Cup style tracks are mainly in Europe. Geographically, this makes getting your feet wet and honing your skills very difficult, and attending the amazingly LAME Sea Otter Classic won't get you closer to being a UCI DH contender.
Maybe it's time for some of the large bike manufacturers to get together and equally fund a new high-quality racing program similar to the iXS DH Series in Europe. Maybe then the UCI might realize that the USA has an equal right to have more WC racing here.
The market is here, the riders are keen, we have amazing locations, the mountain bike was invented here, so whats the deal, UCI?
|To say that this is a mistake is tough, as I like to think that we learn from experiences, but my nod for the biggest mistake is the lack of a unified set of industry standards.|
Typically, as an industry grows, trends are established and things become more streamlined. This brings prices down, makes products easier for consumers to understand, and brings stability to an industry. Especially in the past few years, the only ''standard'' in the bike biz seems to be change. Admittedly, in an industry founded on individuality, change pushes the evolution towards better gear, which makes the riding more fun. However, disorganized change can be crippling. With three (primary) wheel sizes, endless axle combinations, rim widths, cassette interfaces, bar diameters, head tubes, etc, it's a lot to keep up with.
This is especially true for independent bicycle dealers who are expected to stock parts and service riders who could have any number of combinations of the above. For new riders looking to get into the sport, it's daunting. From a product design perspective, it's a challenge in that tooling costs alone have risen, not to mention the added cost of overhead. Want to make a simple wheelset for trail use? Prepare to produce, stock, and service a minimum of six variations, not including cassette drivers and rotor compatibility. All of this adds cost, as well as complexity, neither of which helps. Hey, at least it keeps it interesting, right?
|My view is a racing one, and it's about the fragmentation of racing. Events like Sea Otter, while not having optimal courses for enduro, cross-country, downhill or slalom, at least gets the entire cycling family together. This is needed for the sport and the industry to grow. Splitting all the sports up and getting away from big World Cup triple-events and big festivals with racing has slowed progression in every regard. There is strength in numbers, and the larger multi-discipline events are what spawned growth.|
Let's get all of mountain biking back as much as we can and stop splitting up race series across the globe.
|It was the early nineties and mountain bikes were on fire, and ESPN and the X Games were hot to show the world. Riders were making big money and endorsements were rolling in. I was on the board of trustees at NORBA and we did something totally wrong - we cheaped out! The courses we used were whatever we found, ranching roads, hiking trails, and nothing really fun to ride or to watch someone ride on. And the television production was the lowest bidder takes all. The shows were boring and a big failure. The advertisers ran! NORBA was dead.|
I am so grateful for the new courses, riders and contests! I knew there was an outrageous sport in there!
|From a racer's perspective, I'd have to say that putting cross-country in the Olympics was the single biggest mistake that has been made in mountain biking.|
Once that happened, the dynamic of the sport changed. The cross-country racers became the focus for the governing bodies and the gravity athletes became the stepchildren. Before this happened, teams had both cross-country and downhill racers traveling and staying together, and it was a family of racers. We weren't defined for what category we raced, we were just mountain bike racers.
The separation between the categories confused corporate sponsorship and ended financial relationships that we have yet to regain twenty years later.
|The biggest mistake in our industry has been our cynicism (unfortunately, I am one of the worst offenders). We are too cynical to come together in a serious way to tackle issue like trail advocacy, parts standardization, safety standards, legislation, etc, so we just continue to work independently and mostly counter-productively as if we are all secret NSA organizations that are protecting our respective turf.|
|I cried when Gwin won that World Cup race without a chain. Cried like some giant, man-baby, it was so beautiful. I can't get enough of racing... Hell, it's why I named my first daughter ''John Tomac''. That might make her dating life awkward, but we all have our crosses to bear. Yep, love me some racing, but I also believe the bike industry's biggest mistake was to sink so much money into professional racing for so many years and, relatively speaking, so little money into trail advocacy and development. How many companies had team managers, masseurs, fancy big rigs, World Cup teams and national series squads? Now, how many companies fielded full-time advocacy directors? I can count them on one hand - that's downright shitty.|
Racing is inspiring, but all the shiny trophies in the world did nothing to grow our trail systems or increase access to the many places we still can't ride. If Julien Absalon wins his seventh World Cup Overall title this year, will it actually make mountain biking any better for you?
We're in a better, more balanced, place these days. I see things like the Bell Built grant program and I know we're on the right track. Still, we need to increase our investment in the one thing that actually makes riding better for riders - trails.
|Burn me at the stake, but the greatest shortcoming of the sport has been its religious adherence to the belief that professional competition is its ultimate expression, and in the same breath, that television coverage is somehow going to be our great salvation.|
History is my witness. Every time our sport has enjoyed a massive growth, it has come from grassroots riders. Every time an aspect of our sport has plummeted, it occurred shortly after it was reorganized into a professional venue and amateur riders were excluded from participation. Every time a lifestyle sport has been produced for television, it blows out the flame. The X Games burn through ''extreme sports'' faster than San Diego sailors burn through toilet paper after a weekend in Tijuana. Red Bull only needs one fatality to go poof and leave the FMB holding an empty bag. And, the Olympics? Name the cross-country winners since Atlanta and in BMX without naming Anne Caro. Who got second place at the last three Rampages?
Amateur racing survives, of course, but the lifeline has been cut. Cross-country, downhill, 24-hour events, trans-alpine, freeride and bikepark were massively popular and massively attended - right up until the moment that they were ripped from the hands of average riders and turned into pro-only venues. It's a bitter pill to swallow for those who believed they were part of a movement only to be locked out of the game and sidelined as spectators. Before you start wrapping sticks with linen and dipping them into kerosene, I recognize that professional racing and freeride competition has its place within the body of the sport, but only as an appendage. It never has been, nor ever can be, the heart and soul of mountain biking.
Racing itself is not the issue here, and Strava is evidence enough that there is a racer in almost every one of us. Mountain biking, however, is a lifestyle sport and as riders we need to perceive ourselves as being part of the whole.
|That's an easy one. The worst mistake in the history of mountain biking is the industry's recent obsession with ''growing the sport.''|
In industry circles it's taken as gospel truth that more consumers is always better. ''A rising tide floats all boats,'' they say, and that logic has been used to justify any and all efforts to attract new mountain bike consumers, no matter how marginal these consumers may be, and no matter how disinterested they may be in the actual act of mountain biking.
''If we can attract new riders, we can finally do XYZ policy initiative,'' they say. With ''new riders'' apparently being the self-evident solution for everything from slow revenue-growth at your favourite bike brand, to race support, to trail access problems in your riding community. Obviously the reason XYZ bike brand had to cut your favourite rider off the downhill team is because they didn't sell enough SLX-equipped hardtails. The reason you can't have a new jump trail at your local riding area is because there aren't enough green-level beginner loops. ''If only we could attract more new riders, then we could finally do [fill in the blank with your preferred pipe dream].''
Mountain biking is a beautiful thing. It's also an inherently dangerous activity, but it rewards you in proportion to the risks you take. Point down the hill and you go fast. Let off the brakes and you go faster. The less you brake in turns, the more speed you carry out. Want to catch some air? You'll have to leave the ground first. Risk is as essential to the sport as wheels or handlebars. If you don't want to skin your knee, get lost, get hypothermia or bonk from time to time, you never want to risk wearing a cast for a few weeks, and you want your trails smoothly groomed, straight with good sight lines, well-marked and not too fast or pointed downhill, maybe you should take up jogging or spin class instead of mountain biking.
And yet these are exactly the sort of marginal consumers that bicycle manufacturers, trail builders, and bike parks are drooling for the chance to ''bring into the sport.'' I have no problem with more people riding bikes, and I don't even have a problem with growing the sport. But the idea of lowering the bar or dumbing down mountain biking to make it more appealing to marginal consumers who could just as soon be in Zumba class? It's insulting, it's offensive, and it's counter-productive.
Mountain biking is amazing. It's so much fun that it's basically ruined my life. From my first trip to Whistler I was hooked, and despite countless crashes, flat tires, wrong turns, rainy days, concussions, broken bones, surgeries, and more losing race results than I'd care to remember, I keep coming back to mountain bikes, and I probably will for the rest of my life. And hey, no one had to dumb it down for me to get hooked. Let's sell that idea instead. Let's sell mountain biking as its real self instead of some spoon fed, bite-sized harmless fitness/healthy outdoor lifestyle-based shadow of itself. And guess what? If you don't want to skin your knee, there are lots of other healthy outdoor lifestyle sports out there for you, like rollerblading, geocaching, or frisbee golf.
Lets market our sport honestly so we can attract like-minded individuals instead of trying to trick disinterested potential consumers into a slower, safer, dumber version of ''Mountain Bike Lite.'' Maybe if we do that we can enjoy riding with passionate, knowledgeable, dedicated lifelong consumers instead of weaving through mobs of weekend warrior working dads trying out a new alternative to spin class. And out of those two demographics, bonus points if you can guess who gives more money back to the industry.
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