There are some particular moments when "bike internet" turns into arena filled with trolls, geeks, nerds, regular hecklers and nameless prop snipers. Certain products, real life events or MTB personalities end up torn apart into tiniest pieces, then fought over until there are no bones left and all possible interpretations of a tiniest PR claim are made. There may be thoughtful comments, knowledge and experience based responses, but they all tend to drown in raw discourtesy, pseudo scientific assumptions and pseudo intellectual ejaculations. Whatever it is, controversial opinion seems irresistible to many of us and mess it creates, attracts even more people instead of repelling them. It makes me wonder, why is that so? Why do I get so fired up at times? In this article I try to present one of the mechanisms, that I believe, lays at the base of those terrible word fights and I will do it on example of one of the most controversial subjects of the bike-web: Electric engine assisted mountain bikes.
"At the heart of our mental lives, there seemed to be a striking contradiction - we seek out information and then act to destroy it. On the one hand, our sense organs have evolved to give us a marvellously detailed and accurate view of the outside world - we see the world in color, in 3D, in motion, texture, nonrandomness, embedded patterns and a great variety of other features. Likewise for hearing and smell. Together our sensory systems are organized to give us a detailed and accurate view of reality, exactly as we would expect if truth about the outside world helps us to navigate it more effectively. But once this information arrives in our brains, it is often distorted and biased to our conscious minds. We deny the truth to ourselves. We project onto others traits that are in fact true to ourselves - and then attack them! We repress painful memories, create completely false ones, rationalize immoral behavior, act repeatedly to boost positive self opinion, and show a suite of ego-defense mechanisms"
"The Folly of Fools: the Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life" Robert Trivers
Lately I tried a practice called "Shadow work". To clarify, ones "Shadow" is a Jungian metaphor for certain processes going on in our psyche, not some kind of supposedly existing spiritual entity! I am not ready to start a cult... not yet. The Shadow side of our personality is all those things we do not want to become or represent, that we reject, like: "gluten is bad", "abortion is unholy", "I would never ride a 29er!" Shadow is a carrier for things that we repress for being immoral and shameful, events from the past we want to forget, particularly from childhood and puberty. People around us, friends, parents, teachers, priests, talking heads on TV, pro riders are the biggest source of what feels as an exemplary moral behavior to us - it is the food for our moral horse. We may wish to think that we chose what to believe but most of it is imposed on us on both conscious and subconscious level, creating so cllad collective consciousness - a favorite book of arguments and the tool of torture of Freud'ssuper ego. Becoming aware of that psychic force, may be a necessary step to be aware how "shadow" fills our beliefs, distorts reality and consequently affects our decisions.
Psychologists point out that the prime signs of shadow program running in our heads are: feeling of anxiety, sometimes passion but most often: anger - all coped with getting on a high moral horse. Shadow requires an impulse, a boost to show up and get itself running, often a topic of high concern, something we are opinionated about and stand strong on one side of the argument. When summoned, Shadow blurs the perception of reality. We start making what is called psychological projections. It is like painting a picture of someone or something, dressing them up in our ideas of who he/she is, instead of who he really is and does, all based on selected traces of evidence. Think about it, how easy it is to paint on an empty canvas, to prejudge someone we don't know. It is important to point out that projections are not just about negative things, it works the same way with falling in love, off course, with a great help of adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, sometimes alcohol - "I think she is the one!" Shadow helps us to see what we want to see and ignore what doesn't fit the picture. The problem is that, the uncomfortable part isn't going anywhere, it gets pushed into our subconsciousness and sooner or later, it will show up in some form of anxiety. If we are to tame the monster we must dig deep and face it. There's a treasure to find though, we learn more about ourselves, become more self aware, come in terms with our feelings, decrease overall anxiety, heal unresolved wounds. As good as it sounds at first, we all know it on some level: when you dig inside you will find some nasty stuff. We might like to think about ourselves as people who will rise to the task in the face of apocalypse but notice that even in Hollywood movies, beside heroes, we find cowards, back stabbers and regular cannon meat.
Let me now present you with how may the Shadow work look like. Not so long ago I used to despise E-bikes, throwing opinions like:
Those bikes promote being lazy, they strip from incentive to exercise and excel in riding bikes, another waste created to earn money rather than cater to a particular need. Potential buyers are no handicapped people, those are lazy, fat bastards, not willing to train, to earn the turns, they are likely to hurt themselves on the way down and someone will have to come and get them with a helicopter wasting my tax money. Those bikes are illegal anyways, those are motorcycles, they should not be allowed on trails, because they will ruin them, unskillfully skidding with locked wheel on downs and increase erosion of uphill sections. Finally the electric engines and their batteries are horrible to the environment, no matter if delusional green-leftist hipster-hippies in my town believe that their owners just sold a car to change commuting habits to save the planet, instead of being just lazy cyclists. Lazy lazy lazy...
I wrote all that down and started analyzing it - what does it say about me? - First off, I realized that electric mountain bikes are not the issue, it is the unspecified group of people that was upsetting me. Why were they upsetting me? I never met one. Come on! Let's be realistic, a choice of a bicycle, normal or assisted, cannot represent the whole picture of a whole human being. So now, why is it that I don't like those people? Why do they appear to me as individuals stripped of morals and more importantly: not getting what the real mountain biking is about? The reality is, I am not as fit as I would like to be and I feel ashamed of it. I buy and try a lot of different things, so I am ashamed of being a sheep. I like to skid sometimes but I am ashamed of ruining the trails. I like taking risks, I ride alone often, sometimes without a phone, not telling where I am going - I would be extremely ashamed if something happened to me, so that rescue team would need to take me, and I would not be able to help my wife with our small kids. Ruining trails? - I am DEEPLY ashamed that I don't build trails, I may put some logs or branches away, but I wish I could build or at least maintain more. I ride illegal trails and I am at least a bit ashamed of doing it against the society. I don't give a damn about the law the system, and society? f*ck society!... something's wrong... am I arrogant?
Each of those things can and deserve to be taken apart into even smaller pieces, like buying things - why am I doing this? To experience how the new toy feels like, to enhance my riding experience, to feel fast, to be faster... faster than who? - at least a few people, I don't know... So I want to be recognized, stand out by riding faster > I want to be appreciated > I want to be loved. Then I want to be able to tell people that I have this toy, yes I want to be appreciated > to be loved. Why do I want to enhance my riding experience? Do I want to be happy? Do I know another way to boost experience? Yes - training - why don't I focus on it then? - Because... I am, I feel I am... lazy?
I don't want to praise electric mountain bikes, convince anyone to anything else but taking a moment of self reflection - I wrote most of this article before I tried one. I'd never buy one, but I did enjoy riding it immensely, it didn't feel any heavier in handling than a regular DH bike and hell it did motivate me to pedal like stupid to stay at high speed - shortly, it was super fun and only an ideology could stop me from admitting it. I want to point out that most of our worries, no matter if it is 275+, clipless pedals, electronic gears are completely unfounded. I guess the biggest fear people have with E-bikes is potential increase in trail erosion. In case of "legal" E-bikes, that is absolute bollocks. Let's take Trek Powerfly or Cube Stereo with 250W Bosch engines. They run only as pedal assist when you spin the cranks and cut the power off above 25km/h. They are actually easier on trail surface and roots of living trees than average XC-bike with semi slick tyre as they carry more speed thus have more grip. Aren't there hundreds of people on "analog" bikes riding disrespectfully? Isn't even the most respectfully used trail getting eroded and thus requiring maintenance? Just think of the brake bumps, millions of them appeared before e-bikes became a trend. Shuttling and lifts, anybody? Trails are destroyed by traffic and poor braking skills, and that has always been and always will be done on all sorts of bikes.
Please stop having trouble with people buying or liking E-bikes, Fat bikes or helmets with detachable chin guard, if only for the sake of your own sanity. You can't change their mind, you just simply can't - you are performing an act of helplessness in the face of something not fitting your belief system, knocking yourself around its tight walls like an angry wasp caught in a jar. They obviously ride those bikes for their own reasons. By watching people I work with, my family, my friends I realized that each life is a constellation of unique elements: happenings, conflicts, experiences, pursuits after certain intrinsic desires, making us who we are and do what we do. I guess nobody gets everything. I think e-bikes are the perfect scape goats. To many, they represent most of what is wrong with mountain biking these days, it is absolutely terrifying how easy we can dehumanize people basing on what they ride. Dreadful arguing, tossing tons of insults makes E-bikes become a strong point of reference, thanks to which, MTB Puritans can feel better about themselves and keep on being who they are. In this way, it is not those self-righteous inquisitors being weak, unskilled and ruining trails - It is the others! It is the witches! Burn the Witches to cleanse the sins of our sacred congregation! Well, having such point of reference, especially one that does not exist in reality, barely leads anywhere - sure, it adds some self confidence, but what we also need is to compare ourselves with someone real, ride with all sorts of people, preferably with someone better. It is harder to swallow because it forces us to be at least a bit more humble. So we may use the picture we paint for e-bikers, and try to work on being slightly better in each of the things we accuse them of.
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