We've all been in arguments that, regardless of whether we were right or wrong, we knew we wouldn't ever be able to win. Maybe you spent fifteen minutes trying to convince the cop that his radar gun surely has to be malfunctioning; maybe you know about the lizard people, that the earth isn't actually round, and that all of the answers lie just beyond the ice wall; maybe you're of the opinion that dinosaurs are so obviously a hoax. I mean, since when do lizards turn into birds, right? You see, we'll all argue to the death about something or other that we think we're right about even though we're most definitely, positively, unquestionably wrong. And what about me? Maybe I'm convinced that berms are dumb.
Whoah, hold on on just a minute right there, you're probably thinking: how can anyone say that berms, those sculpted mounds of soil that manage to make every rider feel like a gifted pro, are "dumb"?
Yeah, I know full-well that I'm in the minority on this one, likely a lonely opinion out of a few hundred thousand mountain bikers who feel the opposite as I do, and that's okay. It's not like I truly despise berms; those arching piles of dirt never did anything untoward to me, and I'm sure they've saved my ass more times than I know about. But do we really need berms on nearly every
single corner that we go around? I love ice cream, too, but my teeth will fall out and I'll get diabetes if I put down a pail of the stuff every single day. However, eating a bowl or two per week won't send my blood sugar levels into the red zone, and I'll appreciate that frozen goodness even more because I'm not downing a pound of it each day. I might want to, yes, but I won't. I don't think.
Now, I'm not a doctor, but I will concede that berms probably won't give me diabetes, but when there are enough of them that they don't feel all that special anymore or, worse yet, they begin to take away from a trail's original identity, I start to get a bit unenthusiastic about what should be one of the most smile-inducing features on a trail.
Berms can be face-meltingly fun, but they can't be the damn solution for any corner that presents a challenge, can they? Crazy as it may sound, I don't think that the answer is to simply build a banked wall of dirt, no matter how much fun said walls of dirt can be.
I'll happily admit that pulling Gs through a massive berm is a sensation unlike any other, one of invincibility that makes you feel as if you could do no wrong. But that's part of the problem: you can almost do no wrong when you're sailing through a berm. That perfectly angled pile of dirt is doing the work for you, and that's quite an amazing thing in the right place and at the right time, but it shouldn't be every damn place and time, should it? No, of course not.
If nearly every corner had a berm on it, they'd be like what Tinder is to meeting potential partners: often a near meaningless encounter that, while sometimes fun, doesn't stand the test of time. Much like Tinder, or whatever dating app you might have on your phone, berms make it easy to feel like you have more skill (or charm, in the case of dating) than you actually possess. You can see what's coming, the line you need to use, and you probably know the likely outcome as well, which is often a slam dunk of sorts, be it railing through that berm or, well, whatever you consider a Tinder slam dunk to be. It's easy, and almost anyone with some common sense and one iota of skill or charm can pull it off.
To me, a rooty, loose, or off-camber and completely unaided corner, when ridden well, makes carving that Tinder-inspired berm seem not so special. The former is digging deep for the courage and charm to take the risk and ask out your crush face to face; the latter is, at least to me, sending a cheesy pick-up line you saw on Instagram to ten Tinder matches at once in the hope that one of them is feeling lonely enough to reply to you. Both have their place, of course, but which one is going to mean more to you at the end of the day? Actually, don't answer that.
I know that a berm can be exactly what's required for a particular section of trail; you can carry some much-needed speed through a corner that might otherwise not work, especially if there's a move afterward that requires a good head of steam. That speed shouldn't always be easy to find, however, and that's what a berm does: they make it easy for the very large majority of riders to fly through a corner much faster than if it wasn't there to support them. And that's great, but sometimes it isn't.
It takes a decent amount of skill to ride a mountain bike well, something that usually only comes after investing a lot of time, effort, and sometimes flesh. Those three things buy you the ability to go faster, and usually with less effort, especially when it comes to the riders who have the know-how to rail through a tricky corner unassisted by a berm. But install a berm through the same corner and there's a good chance that any rider with some courage will be able to go through it at a similar rate of speed, skill be damned. I know that mountain biking isn't all about being better than other people, especially your friends, but let's not kid ourselves here: most of us are competitive beasts who sometimes (not all the times) want to leave our riding buddies in the dust.
I know that I can't win this argument and that berms are a hell of a lot of fun no matter where they are or how many there are, but I also believe that they're used far too often. It's one thing when your flowy jump trail is full of banked corners that make sense, but an entirely different situation when a tricky corner, one that rewards a rider who rides it well, is berm-ified so that everyone can ride it well. We mountain bikes need to embrace the challenge of the flat corner, whether it's technical or not and depend on our skills rather than a banked pile of dirt to get us through.
Hell, at least I'm not trying to convince you that the lizard people are ruling over us or that the earth is flat, right? Although I might have better luck with those arguments than trying to persuade people to build fewer berms, an opinion that I can't shake despite knowing that I'm most definitely, positively, unquestionably wrong.