Housed in a single level, nearly windowless red brick warehouse, from the outside Pig Iron Sports didn't typically merit a second glance from the Connecticut suburbanites that drove by each day. But for me, an eager teenager with a full blown mountain bike addiction, this was my heaven at the tail end of the 1990s. It was my refuge from the awkwardness of high school, a place where I could easily pass the time lusting over the latest shiny rides from the likes of Fat Chance, Ibis, Spooky, Independent Fabrications – the top frame builders of the day. One afternoon, I walked in to see an Ibis Bow Ti
frame hanging in one corner of the shop. I'd never seen anything like it – in my mind, this incredible titanium creation that could somehow deliver 5” of rear travel without the use of pivots was on par with a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, mountain biking's version of an exotic supercar. And then there was the price - $4,000 for the frame alone. That put it so far out of my price range that I didn't even need to worry about how I was going to get the money to afford it. I wasn't, end of story. But that didn't stop me from dreaming, and even when I began working at the shop (my endless pestering finally paid off), I'd still occasionally take a few minutes out of my day just to stare at that mind-bending titanium sculpture.
The funny thing is, after looking at the Bow Ti's price tag, customers would say the same things back then (nearly 20 years ago) as they do now when faced with what seem to be exorbitant prices for a bike or component. “That's ridiculous. I could buy a --- for that much money.” Or the classic, “Mountain biking's getting too expensive.” An interesting mix of emotions are generated by not being able to afford a product that, at least according to the ad copy, will make your mountain biking experience even better. There's a twinge of jealousy, a pang of disappointment, and a bit of anger. Not being able to afford the latest and greatest can even generate feelings of “How dare they – I deserve to be able to ride that bike.” What sets off some of these emotions is that for many, the highest end mountain bikes are almost
within reach. $10,000 for a bike is huge sum of money, but it's much closer to being attainable when compared to the automotive world, where car prices can reach the millions, and the vast majority of people will never, ever even get the chance to take one for a test drive. The prices of those sports cars are so far in the stratosphere that they're somehow a little less likely to raise the hackles of readers perusing a review or kicking tires at a dealership – they're purely fantasy items, not a carrot on a string that dangles tantalizingly close.
It's fun to dream about having the latest and greatest technology, but it shouldn't affect whether you have a good time on the trails.
However, with those top-of-the-line mountain bikes, there's an good chance someone in your town has one, which makes it easier to get wrapped up in jealousy, especially when neighbor Jim brings home his new carbon steed. For chrissakes, he barely knows how to wheelie. But does it really matter? Absolutely not. It's a matter of perspective, and getting angry or bitter isn't going to accomplish anything. Spewing and sputtering because you can't afford the highest level components won't help anyone, except maybe your doctor's bank account when he charges you for treating the ulcer you gave yourself. Remember, a few seasons from now, the high end technology that was once unattainable will make its way to more reasonable pricepoints, and you won't need to rob a bank or take out a second mortgage to enjoy it.
As fun as it is to drool over the latest shiny bits, it's the actual act of riding that's important, putting wheels to dirt and pedaling off into the woods in search of sublime singletrack. The elegant simplicity of a bicycle is part of its allure, and while highly refined suspension, hydraulic disc brakes and exotic frame materials certainly have their place, some of my best mountain biking memories took place aboard a cheap aluminum hardtail I cobbled together for next to nothing from parts pillaged from the scrap bin of the shop I was working at. I rode that bike, V-brakes and all, everywhere from Fruita's swoopy high desert singletrack to the wet, loamy and rooty trails of the Pacific Northwest. Would I have been happier aboard a fancier bike? I doubt it, and I certainly didn't waste any time pondering that question while I was aboard that inexpensive steed.
At the end of the day, actually riding is what matters the most – get out there and play in the dirt, do some skids, hit some jumps, but above all, have fun. And if you can convince some friends to join you on your ride, all the better. That's why we do this silly sport, right? There aren't too many other activities in the world that can consistently deliver such a high number of smiles and high fives. So forget about money, carbon, head angles, gear inches, and whatever else is floating around in your skull, and get pedalling.