Punctured: It’s not not about the bike

Why sometimes it is worth just getting your wallet out and investing in a new ride

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Of course it’s about the bike. Only some kind of drug-addled maniac would say it wasn’t about the bike. Because here’s the truth: you can buy speed. I don’t mean amphetamines (other drugs are available), which you probably already know is for sale as obviously you’re a drug-addled maniac. I mean actual velocity.

Buying a flashier bike can make you faster. A new bike can make you a more talented rider. Yes it can.

I know, I know. This is not what people say on the forums. Or in the muddy cafes. This is not what people etch into the skulls of their enemies and fling angrily into the sun. YOU DON’T NEED A NEW BIKE TO GO FAST ARRRGHH. I OVERTOOK SOME MOOK ON A MORE EXPENSIVE BIKE PROVING MY CHEAPER SUPERIORITY ARRRRGHH. ALL THE GEAR NO IDEAARRRGHHHHHHHH.

But, as well reasoned and not at all based on insecurity as these people’s arguments are, they’re as wrong as Marilyn Manson knocking at your door at midnight with three rubber gloves and a kilo of minced beef.

Of course, if your new and expensive bike has inferior geometry, sizing and componentry, it won’t make you faster at all. It will just make you poorer, and sadder, and uglier, and you’ll lose your job and your marriage and get so desperate you’ll go on that doomed blag as the getaway driver after all, and get shot in the kidneys by a guard, and look at what you’ve done. Look at the blood. All the gear and no idea was right! Look at what you’ve done.

Maybe a bit short and steep, but the wheel size was on point:

A bit short and steep, maybe, but the wheel size was on point…

But very, very few new bikes are actually worse than those of a few years ago, despite what the naysayers would like you to believe. If you buy something up-to-date in the right size now, something with slightly bigger (marketing-sized) wheels, it’ll probably be more capable than your old bike with its silly little unfashionable ones. It’ll be faster.

Is that because of the wheels? Is it because it’s made of carbon nanotubes, virtual pivots and vapid acronyms? Not really. It’s because at the same time – slowly – mountain bikes are getting more mountain bike-shaped. Choose well (there may be some kind of website with reviews on it somewhere) and a newer bike will make you faster. It’s totally about the bike.

It’s all. A-bout. The bike.

You know you want to…:

You know you want to…

Here’s how that works. A stable, predictable bike inspires confidence. The more confident you are, the more you relax. And the the more you relax, the better you ride.

Modern bikes, with increasingly long front centres, shorter stems, wider cockpits, slacker head angles and bigger wheels, are more stable and predictable on loose, steep surfaces. You know… where we ride them. They climb really well too.

Stay in this positive feedback loop and you’ll crash less, have more fun, build your skills and boost your talents. So your flashy new bike WILL make you a better rider.

Sweat-wicking hairshirts

Of course, not everybody learns this way. Some people don’t need extra confidence. Some people – think rally legend Colin McRae, or motorcycle legend Kevin Schwantz – learn by going well over the line, crashing their brains out, then dialling it back a little.

Is that your approach? Then you may already be a legend! Certainly there’s a hairshirt-wearing contingent who believe you should ride (and crash) a sketchy, wayward hardtail until – once your time is served – you’re finally allowed onto something that handles. The logic is impeccable.

“And once you’ve learned to disarm them, we’ll give you the tools!”:

“And once you’ve learned to disarm them, we’ll give you the tools!”

Perhaps it even works, because I’ve never met one of these believers, not even one, who thought they weren’t already eligible for the better bike.

Personally, I’m not so into crashing, and that’s why I’ve bought, with my own money, a new bike. Which I’ll obviously crash anyway, on account of gravity and ineptitude, but because it’s 650b they’ll at least be better and more modern crashes.

Fair enough, I’m a journalist so my money is dirty money, money that rolls in from The Bike Industry in giant bales, squeezed into 55-gallon carbon drums, in return for me pretending that highly-developed new things are good. But it’s still mine. I earned it.

Buy a new bike. There’s another barrel. Buy a dropper post. And there’s another.

And it’s all in somalian shillings, the currency of kings:

And it’s all in Somalian shillings, the currency of kings…

Actually, my fancy new bike isn’t carbon, isn’t fat or plus-sized, and isn’t even that expensive. But it is new. And because of that its frame truly fits six-foot me properly. It doesn’t tuck the front axle somewhere behind my backside every time I tip it into a corner, and it’s wildly better than both my old too-short, too-tall 29er and my (previously beloved) 26er.

The improvement in handling is confidence-inspiring enough that it will make me a faster, better rider. Eventually. It’s all about the bike. I confidently predict my ascension to godlike status will come sometime before the sun expands to destroy the Earth.

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And if that’s not worth the outlay, what is?