The thing about Iron Crotch Kung Fu that may not be immediately apparent—at least not the first time you see a master invite attackers to kick his testicles—is this: While Iron Crotch is truly impressive, it is also largely pointless.
If given the choice to either:
(A) Have my privates pummeled for years until they no longer hurt; OR
(B) Learn to avoid
having my privates pummeled,
I'd always go with option B.
I can't help but suspect that not being kicked in the baby-maker would be smarter, less painful, and would free up my schedule to savor the little things in life, like not bleeding from my eye sockets.
The question of whether or not to subject yourself to unnecessary abuse invariably reminds me of the question of whether or not to ride a fully-rigid mountain bike. Make no mistake, intentionally abstaining from the benefits of bicycle suspension is as pointless as inviting strangers to kick you in the crotch.
Allow me to elaborate on the obvious for a moment....
There is a school of thought, which holds that suspension forks and/or rear suspension are the bane of all things good about mountain biking. True, it's not a school with a hell of a lot of pupils in it—certainly not here on Pinkbike.com—but it does exist and it does have its adherents. Case in point, Eben Weiss (a.k.a "The Bike Snob") recently penned a piece for outsideonline.com titled, Bicycle Suspension is Evil
. For the record, the column in question is funny, well written and thoroughly worth reading. And I couldn't disagree with it more.
At its core, The Bike Snob's essential argument boils down to this: Bicycle suspension is unneccessary. Moreover, rigid bikes are actually better.
An angel just died because I typed that.
Alright then, let's get on with this...BACK IN THE DAY....
I'm familiar with the whole "Suspension in unnecessary" argument...mainly because I used to make it all the time myself. Let's take a step back in time. It's 1990, I'm bald by choice and suspension forks are starting to show up at the local bike shop. I am furious about this development. I'd been riding mountain bikes for half a decade at that point and my friends and I had gotten on just fine without those ugly, heavy, spongy things spearheading our rides and stinking up the joint. Were we not rad? Did we not already shred?
In retrospect, the answer was "no", but we thought it was "yes" and the idea of some uninvited motorcycle guys bringing "shocks" to the sport made us see red.
You were just a hack if you couldn't ride rigid. Simple as that. We were sure of it. And even if you weren't actually using a suspension fork as a crutch for your decidedly-shit skills, that fork would just numb the whole ride. You'd lose contact with the very thing you were riding!
I was confident suspension sucked. Mainly because I'd never actually ridden any.
I'd never been a dirt-bike disciple, so the magic of squish had always eluded me. I was a Fausto Coppi-worshipping roadie who'd transitioned to dirt... To me, suspension was just the squeaky whatchamacallits that kept our family station wagon from careening off the highway as my father punished the wood-paneled Country Squire
for what it had done to his manhood. A combination of poverty and willful ignorance kept me off the suspension train until 1997, when I became an editor at a mountain bike magazine. Now I had to ride the stuff and...aw, crap...it turned out suspension was actually kind of awesome.
Here's what suspension does for you: It helps you ride faster and with more control on trails that were previously way above your pay grade. Sure, you can clean ugly rock gardens on a rigid bike and, yes, there's a particular gritty satisfaction to be gained by doing so aboard the best technology 1870 had to offer, but you know what's even better? Riding that same rock garden twice as fast, with style, confidence, and a big grin on your face.
Modern suspension makes the simple act of riding a mountain bike a zillion times more fun than humping along, awkwardly, at octogenarian speeds. A zillion, you ask? Yes. A zillion. It's been scientifically proven, so just chill for a second and focus on that other word—Fun. Riding a bike is supposed to be fun. Okay, sure, sometimes riding a bike is actually what happens when your driver's license is revoked or you earn a living by towing a pedicab full of musk-ox dung through the jungles of Laos. If you're reading this, however, it's probably safe to assume you ride a bike because it's fun. You remember the concept of fun? It's that thing that's the polar opposite of sitting in line for three hours at the DMV or filing your taxes or getting a root canal sans novocaine. Who the hell doesn't like fun? Who doesn't like speed? Who doesn't like it when those two things get together, have hot monkey sex and make little fast-and-fun babies?
Sure, you can
turn mountain biking into some kind of drawn-out, grim-faced, rolling sadism fest. Go ahead and make it harder, make it rougher, make it a kinetic feat of strength...but arguing that riding slower and jerkier is a better, or somehow purer, form of mountain biking is akin to arguing that using a hammer to pound nails is cheating when you can just as soon drive those same nails through a block of wood with your forehead.
Is suspension necessary to mountain biking? It is not. I concede the point. Plenty of riders, fast and skilled ones included, ride with nary an inch of squish on board. Fair play to them. But arguing that suspension is unnecessary is to miss the point entirely. Suspension makes riding trails more fun and since most of us don't ride bikes out of some bottomless need to suffer, suspension wins out over going fully rigid every single time. Wait, you've bolted on a fork or gone full suspension and suddenly none of your local trails pose any real challenge to you? You can always
up the ante with your riding. Ride further. Ride faster. Ride other trails that you previously thought were completely unrideable. There is always room to grow and become a better rider. Suspension can help you do that....And for the Record, Technology is Awesome
The second argument The Bike Snob makes for renouncing suspension is that rigid mountain bikes are, at their core, better than their suspended cousins. To quote The Snob, “On all but the most technical terrain, a rigid bike is perfectly serviceable, and indeed in the vast majority of situations a typical cyclist is likely to encounter, it's actually preferable.”
There was a time when I agreed with that sentiment. A time when the world crawled with all manner of misbegotten, web-toed, sway-backed, buck-toothed proto-full-suspension monstrosities. I remember those years well—I made a living of riding and testing the things. The Klein Mantra? The Gary Fisher Joshua? The K2 Proflex Animal? We were awash in heavy, flexy, bobbing piles of crap. And, yeah, during the mid-90s you could certainly argue that a rigid bike at least did what it did consistently without the horrid, bucking, stinkbugging surprises.
But that was then and this is now. Hell, it’s been well more than a decade since we bid adieu to the profoundly shitty full-suspension bikes that The Snob is talking about here.
Case in point: As I type these words, I’m looking at a Devinci Spartan. The test bike sitting in the corner of my office proves just how ridiculously capable suspension bikes have become. The Spartan is a model that doesn’t even pretend to be well-rounded. This is a brawny, slack beast of an enduro machine that's tailor made to save your ass on the rowdiest descents imaginable, yet I’d still choose the new-age gravity machine over a rigid bike when it comes to scaling big climbs on anything other than glass-smooth trails.
While all suspension bikes exhibit some degree of suspension squat, a well-designed suspension bike provides the kind of traction and control a rigid bike could only dream of. To that end, I’ve cleaned root-laden climbs aboard the Spartan that have humbled me for years. Try the same thing on a rigid bike and I’d be pushing the bike up the mountain instead.
Creating light, stiff and efficient full-suspension bikes took time. But we got there…years and years ago. To now abstain from technological innovation simply because the first stabs at suspension greatness sorta sucked, is a bit like saying you refuse to visit the hospital when you break your leg today because, a hundred years ago, doctors tried to cure cancer with leeches.
So, can you rip around on a fully rigid bike? Of course you can. Plenty of us spent years doing precisely that. But to paraphrase famed anthropologist, Christopher Julius Rock III, Just because some shit can be done, doesn't mean it is to be done. Yes, you can swear off suspension. You can also learn to gargle hot coals, sleep on a bed of nails and smash your genitalia with bricks...it doesn't mean you should actually do any of the above. That'd just be pointless.