The Mountain Bike Life

Our sport is awash in an Enduro-pandemic. This singular marketing buzzword has recently fueled a dramatic rise in the cost of mountain bike equipment and the rate of obsolescence is staggering.

It’s one thing to consider what’s on the figurative horizon, another entirely to actually BE on the horizon.

New Geometry. New wheel sizes. New paradigms of what we are meant to think mountain biking is. Faster and faster the industry is pushing to sell more stuff and this is the engine that drives innovation. Years ago races were won and lost in the power sections and the climbs and the market reflected what the riders wanted. Fast, stiff, bikes that pedaled and climbed well and were feathery light. XC bikes were built like road bikes and the race courses started to look a lot like gravelly road courses and were unapologetically lame. I once won a race like that on my cyclocross bike. The organizers were not amused.

DH was pure DH. No concessions were made for pedaling, climbing, or weight. 50lb bikes were not uncommon. Chainrings threatened to exceed the radii of their cranksets.

The weight weenies who spend all their time on road bikes training for races on miserable XC bikes carried by freakish VO2-maxes who crush the pack on the fireroad but stack up in the first technical section are not an accurate depiction of what mountain biking is really about. Nor are the pure descenders as the best of them tend to be so concerned with tire pressure and shock pressure and head tube angles and shaving milliseconds that despite appearances to the contrary are really the same as the Roadies in Disguise. In short, the Pure Racers are not the mountain biking public. Take another example of a Pure Racer, the Triathlete. I’ll apologize in advance because I’ll likely get a nasty-gram or two but Triathletes have no souls. They have no particular passion for swimming, running, or cycling. They love clocks and time. A bike is just a meaningless tool. A means to an end. Triathletes give me the shivers.
I digress.

Splinter Cells

It took years for the industry to wake up and realize that these were essentially fringe groups. Outliers whose developmental input is important but may not represent the type of riding that the general consumer is actually out there riding. It was really a question of nomenclature. Of stereotyping. We needed better nouns to describe the something-in-the-middle that the market failed to capture. In a relatively short time the mountain bike world exploded with new genres. Magazine buyers editions couldn’t print fast enough. XC, XC-Race, Trail, All-Mountain, All-mountain hardtails, Dirt Jumpers, Freeride, 4x, Downhill. 26Ers, 29ers, 650b, 27.5, Single Speed. 9spd, 10spd, 1x11spd. Bike Companies struggled to fill in the holes in their respective marketing quivers and component specs. The public was awash in decisions trying to figure out which bike they needed to ride.

Yes, those flowers are Enduro too. (A. Beckloff on Two Elks)

10 years ago the idea of a 6-inch travel bike as a general purpose daily rider was fringe, at best. Designs were too inefficient and heavy to be serious contenders. It seemed like too tough a pill to swallow, too far a gulf to cross to make such a machine marketable. It took more than just more travel to make them mainstream. Most of the changes were incremental: Head tubes slackened, Top tubes lengthed, stems that used to start at 100mm and increase from there are now half that size. Axles and Bottom Brackets increased in diameter. Rims and tires and bars widened. Seat tubes are currently steepening. And all the while bikes have been getting lighter, stiffer, more controllable.

Back to the Beginning

However, the idea that this Enduro business is some new genre, new technology, or new type of riding is a little offensive. The above mentioned innovations are individually significant but I think that this enduro madness is just the most recent marketing hysteria to describe this narrow snapshot in cycling history.  The big picture view is that this sport has always been progressive. This is nothing new. The whole mountain biking idea was hatched as a way to push boundaries, explore more, go further, go faster, go bigger. The Gary Fishers and Joe Breezes and Jacquie Phelans were every bit as “enduro” on their storied Pearl Pass rides and ripping down Repack in the late 1970’s on Schwinn Excelsiors and Klunkers as anyone who has jumped on this bandwagon almost 40 years later.

Gratuitous shot of the Author draining some Guinesses with Jacquie Phelan. The Original Enduro Queen. The image isn’t blurry. That’s just how things look after a dozen pints in an Irish pub.


Too Much To Endure-O

Personally, I’m sick of hearing the word “enduro” slathered all over every freaking bike, component, accessory and rider. It’s become a little much for me, when really it seems that this enduro thing is what we’ve been since the beginning. The marketing departments have latched on to this buzzword as though it alone is responsible for the recapitalization of the entire market, when really marketing has just caught up with what was really out there all along. We’ve been riding. For 40 years we’ve been riding and pushing. A darwinian survival-of-the-fittest game sifting out the things that break, fail, or hinder our riding experience.
As tumultuous as this may sometimes be, and my own pet peeves aside, the net effect is pure. Bicycles and riding are on a high-speed evolutionary path pushing forward toward some ultimate eschatological destiny of a bicycle that does everything perfectly. A bicycle of unobtainium, one that climbs like an XC racer and descends like a DH demon, is indestructible, and weighs nothing.

Fitch contemplates where we’ll go from here.

For now at least, we are Enduro. Or really, Enduro is us. We listened to this band long before they were cool. Next year the marketing geniuses will coin some other term that means exactly the same thing and we’ll all be rushing to buy the new “hybrid” grips or “gravit-allo” bearings or whatever-they’ll-call it. Personally, it doesn’t matter what they call it, as long as the journey continues. As long as forward progress is made and whatever widgets or tweaks or designs that shake out from this evolutionary process help me do this mountain biking thing better. We’ll take what works and throw the rest away. Just like always.

DIY Bike Work Stand - No More Excuses for Not Wrenching on Your Rig

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