Going downhill fast is fun. But if the only way you can manage to shred the descents is to literally cut corners, that doesn’t make you a monster on Strava or a winner by any stretch. It makes you a douchebag.
The rising popularity of enduro is the best thing to happen to mountain biking in ages. The bikes are incredibly capable and forgiving when pointed downhill yet still remarkably spry when it comes time to pedal. More importantly, there’s less emphasis on reducing weight and more focus on having fun, and rider skill levels everywhere are increasing exponentially.
Naturally, better bikes lead to faster riding and there’s no shortage of YouTube videos to show off the talents of the properly skilled. As has always been the case with big leaps in bike technology, though, such baked-in proficiency can also make up for a lack of skill if you’re feeling lazy. Whereas once you descended like a bag of anvils, now you can descend like a bag of anvils cozily strapped down in the bed of a monster truck and just hang on.
The easy way, and the best way
There are lots of ways to get down a mountain quickly, particularly when there are lots of twists and turns to contend with. The best way – and arguably, the most impressive – is to figure out how to navigate the trail with a combination of speed and finesse without straying off the beaten path. The easy way is to ignore the various twists and turns that lay before you and just straight-line everything.
Much as I love the effect that enduro has had on bikes, it unfortunately also seems to be inadvertently cultivating poor behavior on the trail. Unlike traditional downhill or cross-country events, enduro courses are almost impossible to complete tape off; they just cover too much ground in too short a time to make comprehensive marking practical. As a result, some riders are taking increasingly liberal line choices to save time and with placings, prizes and sometimes money on the line, it’s all too easy to follow in someone else’s footsteps.
Left behind afterward is plenty of trail damage and the bruised spirits of riders who maybe didn’t do as well on paper but mostly stuck to the straight-and-narrow.
Rider etiquette has always varied on and off the racecourse but sadly, this behavior is now spilling over on to public trails. Sorry to pick on you again, guys, but Strava has basically turned every ride into a race, and too many riders are forgetting that public trails aren’t meant to be rallied like that. Corners that had been tight singletrack for years suddenly have meters-wide entries as riders try to carry more and more speed. Sweeping series of switchbacks have B-lines hurtling straight down the fall line. Rock sections that were once considered requisite challenges now have burned-in paths that avoid them altogether.
Skirting the rules
I’ve certainly noticed a lot more of these cheater lines on trails here in Colorado recently but it’s hardly a local phenomenon.
“I don't even know where to start when it comes to cutting corners but bottom line, I think it's super lame, especially for the non-racer types,” said a friend who lives and rides in the Bay Area of California. “Why would you even think about cutting corners while out on a bike ride? If you want to be faster, work on your skills and carry more speed through those corners.”
“Enduro racers are the biggest culprits, especially the ones who deliberately go looking for gaps in the organizers taping job and find ways to completely straightline corners,” he continued. “I've experience this firsthand after an enduro race was held on a few of my local trails where I've been riding for years. The next weekend I returned to find a plethora of new shortcut lines. I know many say that it's the organizer’s responsibility to completely tape the course if they don't want racers cutting corners but I don't need tape to show me where the trail is. Race organizers put tape to guide racers in the right direction and it should be obvious that they intended them to follow the defined trail.”
So yes, you might think to yourself, ‘hey, I’m still within the course tape’, or ‘it’s not like I stuck a needle in my arm’. You might not technically be cheating but blatant disregard for a prescribed trail is just another form of skirting the rules in my book. Go ahead and be as proud as you want of that killer time but if you avoided parts of the trail in doing so, should it even count?
Shaving a few seconds simply isn’t worth making those kinds of compromises, particularly on public trails. Whatever happened to riding with integrity? I don’t care where the course tape is – or if there isn’t any at all. We all know where the trail is, and we all have a responsibility to actually ride on it.
I already deal with plenty of fellow cyclists out on the road who do the rest of us a disservice by ignoring traffic laws and generally riding like entitled asshats. If you don’t mind, then, I’d rather not see that sort of idiocy out on the trail, too.