What percentage of your performance and riding skills would you attribute to your abilities and what percentage would you bestow onto your bike?
"It's the rider, not the bike." It would be hard to count the number of times that I have heard or read that sentence in the context of mountain biking, but the truth is that the bike may play a lot larger role in our riding performance than many riders would be willing to admit. Aaron Gwin's recent fall from glory underscores that, at least in the rarefied air of pro DH competition, a different bike can have a dramatic effect on an athlete's performance.
Aaron Gwin's debut on Specialized at Fort William did not go as expected. The facial expressions on the Fox team mirror Gwin's as they discuss options in the pits. Mike Kazimer photo
Well, in real life, who cares about the loss or gain of three seconds on a shuttle run? Fair enough, but take that point to the outer margins for the sake of argument - leave your big bike home and shuttle some DH on your 120mm XC/trailbike and then report the results. Sure, top riders can rip DH runs on a 29er hardtail, but it ain't the same game, even for them. In fact, there is a widespread notion that a long-travel bike makes the terrain too easy for the average rider and that every good bike-handler should be sentenced to a year on a hardtail to learn true mountain bike skills. I think that is pretty funny, like forcing someone to eat at MacDonalds for a year to learn how to chew bad food before taking them to appreciate a good restaurant. The point is, if there is a broad consensus among mountain bikers that more suspension and slacker geometry equate to easier bike-handling, then there is an equally large margin of riders who agree that bike does make a sizable difference to their riding abilities.
Chromag Hardtails in action in the Pacific Northwest are strong evidence that a good rider can live happily without rear suspension - and a good argument, for some, that it may be the rider and not the bike. Watch the video:
Testing bikes for a living has afforded me the chance to put the bike-versus-rider theory to task. Few get the opportunity to ride as many different models in the same category, in addition to a variety of bikes from all the realms within the world we call mountain biking. I'd say the percentages are 50/50. I've traded bikes mid-way though rides and watched a mid-pack regular thrash the entire group. I've fallen apart on trail rides, wrestling with an ill-handling bike and then returned the next day on a different mount to ace the entire trail. I've ridden DH bikes for a month, and when I switched back to my five-inch trailbike, spider-manned into the rocks at mach speed on the first technical descent. Evidently I thought I was the reason - certainly not the Giant Glory or the Intense EVO that I had been testing - for my enhanced technical skills. The bike matters.
Thomas Genon rocking the 2012 Joyride at Whistler. Fraser Britton photo
Thomas Vanderham at the Rampage. Margus Riga photo
Arguably, there are thousands of park riders who reap the benefits of long-travel DH bikes - ripping descents and launching stunts that would not not be possible on lesser bikes, given their existing skillsets. Many of those rippers have never ventured into the gravity realm on anything other than a big bike. Consider how much the bike has improved in the past ten years, and then chart the development of riding skills. Both graphs have similar curves - with the glaring exception of Freestyle riders and their hardware. There is no dirt in the air, so jump design and rider skills play the key roles in that genre. Watch the Red Bull Rampage, though, where most of the trails are real and the terrain is sketchy, and you'll see a marked difference in the role that the bike plays in the freestyle equation. Would we be riding at the present level without the enabling improvements that the bike has lent us? I highly doubt it, but that is my opinion. Pinkbike posted this poll because we wanted yours.
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