Mountain biking isn't about shiny objects. It's about where those shiny objects take you, the adventures they facilitate, and the stories that result. There's a raw simplicity to it all – even the most elegant and meticulously crafted bikes are still designed to be ridden away from the concrete, to be pummeled and thrashed like pugilists, enduring round after round of use and abuse.
It's the sensations that matter; of speed, of tires spinning and clawing for traction, the moment of weightlessness that transpires just after leaving the lip of a jump - those are the reasons to ride. Not to impress or convert, but for yourself. Riding is good for the soul, and as long as you're rolling on two wheels, roosting around corners on a rigid singlespeed is
just as much fun as doing the same aboard a high-zoot carbon fiber wonderbike. The experiences, not the equipment are what really, truly matter, and the memories of splashing friends with a well timed wheelie through a mud puddle, or watching the sun dip behind the mountains just before racing down the final section of trail in the alpenglow will never go out of fashion, or need to be upgraded.
There's also an underlying grittiness to mountain biking that's easy to overlook, to gloss over with that lingering sunset imagery, but it's one of the things that originally drew me to the sport. The idea of exploring, of getting scratched, bruised and battered, away from the rules of home and school was hugely appealing to my 12-year-old self, and that appeal still remains. Just like how I'd rather go see a noisy punk show in a dingy dive bar than a watch a sugarcoated and over-processed pop concert in a stadium, I'll take a steep, muddy, rocky, chewed up trail over a smooth, manicured ribbon of singletrack any day.
The same sentiment applies to the bikes themselves - a well used bike, with grips perfectly worn to matched each hand's calloused contours, the crankarms polished smooth by countless muddy revolutions - that's a bike with a story, a story that's infinitely more interesting than that of the spotless bike with the little rubber spikes still protruding from the tires, the one that looks like it's never been anywhere more challenging than a gravel rec path. Bikes and bodies alike are meant to be used, to be pushed to their limits, part of a continuous experiment to find out what's around the next corner, and how quickly it can be reached.
That rawness is what has fueled my addiction for all these years – mountain biking isn't easy, which is why I can't get enough of it. The fact that there are no rules, that it's an anarchic activity free from whistle blowing referees, makes it all the better. Deep in the woods there are no speed limits or safety nets – your decisions belong to you, along with the consequences that come with them. Mountain biking is a constant a balancing act, a teetering on the edge of chaos and control that forces the brain to block out everything else except the moment at hand. Best of all, once I'm far enough away from the masses there's no one to judge my mismatched kit, my tire choice, how I hold onto the handlebars – it's just me and the squirrels, bears, and mountain lions, and they definitely don't give a f*ck about head angle or chainstay length. I ride for myself, and I wouldn't have it any other way.