Dedication — that’s what you need. If you’re reading this in the UK, you’ll instantly recognise this valuable advice from the credits of a much-loved children’s programme. And if you’re in the US, it’s the song your president hums as he heads back to the golf course, a beautiful hit song about mountain biking he totally wrote, sang and produced. How do I know? By wiretapping microwaves that turn into cameras.
And so it struck me, mid-week at Bike Park Wales while escaping the spiral-eyed frothworld of the War on Reality for a few sweet, sweet hours, just how dedicated, passionate and downright hardcore mountain bikers really are. It’s a sport you really have to put your heart and soul into. Then you kind of squish those to one side and put your wallet in as well.
Ours is a pretty unnecessary sport. There are so many ways to keep fit, get out in the fresh air and injure yourself that don’t require such huge investments of time, money and energy. Runners can just slip into some excitingly-shaped multicoloured trainers and jog on, for instance. Footballers only need a few grand for this year’s branded footballing clothes, some footballing shoes (they stop below the ankle so they’re not boots, OK?) and a bouncy ball. And people who go to the gym just need Instagram.
Even roadies can simply slip on the lycra, clack over to the front door and ride away from their houses, or apartments, or battery farms or wherever it is they make roadies now. Lightweights, all of them.
Midweek and the wintery Bike Park Wales was buzzing with bikers who’d taken days off work, packed up their cars with bikes, tubes, track pumps, body armour, backpacks, helmets, pasties, energy drinks and radness, and driven hours from civilisation to arrive perilously close to Merthyr Tydfil.
For BPW there’s then the day pass fee and, if you’re using it, the uplift fee — both are well worth it for this hugely impressive place, of course, but it’s a further outlay nevertheless. You have to really want to do this.
Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a forest or can reach one by pedalling from your door, mountain biking is a logistical nightmare that only ends as the hard work — spinning to the cloud-curtained top of a soggy hill — finally begins. In fact, there’s so much stuff to buy/arrange you almost need ‘logistics solutions’ to get there. Or as they used to be called, lorries.
Or vans. I was further struck by how many BPW visitors had vans. Some must have had them anyway or be using work vans, but the proportion of vans to cars was so high I realised that people must be choosing their vehicles based on a bicycle habit.
I suppose I should have known, as that’s what I did. I got myself a VW Transporter because bikes go in whole and it’s a changing room/bedroom/coffee lounge/workshop all in one.
VWs aren’t cheap, so it’s quite an investment to base on a love of pushbikes. Pushbikes that fit in most car boots if you pull a couple of quick releases.
Sure, I can rationalise a van now by its usefulness for wife-pleasing camping, for non-wife-pleasing motorcycle buying and of course, for the reversing the bodies of my enemies up to cliff edges and handbraking them out over the sea. But really I got it so I could drive to far-off places and sleep with my mountain bike. Not in a perverted way! No, I’m very gentle.
Maybe shaping large parts of your life around sport doesn’t sound odd to you. Maybe you’re a naturally sporty type who’s always invested time and cash in outdoor pursuits. Maybe, god forbid, you’re a morning person. Get away from me. You make me sick. But I was not sporty as a yoof, unless doing sweet jumps on my Raleigh Burner down by the railway station counts, and organised sport left me cold.
In fact, I enjoyed the colds I got playing rugby at school more than the rugby itself. Realising that sport wasn’t for me — and that to schools and newsrooms, ‘sport’ means balls and/or teams — I retired from PE at 15 and never did it again. As my increasingly angry teachers were forced to admit, there is no I in team.
My point, which I’m tumbling towards like a Raleigh Burner clipping an abandoned fridge, is that my longstanding disinterest in getting tired in cold, wet places for health reasons only makes the dedication of the riders around me stand out more. All you guys and girls are more hardcore than you realise. If you’re out there doing it, I admire you.
This isn’t to say I stand around admiring myself for doing it too — jaw set, eyes on the horizon and the wind tussling my hair. I’m just a bit surprised to find myself out there. Years ago I sat in a freezing Cwmcarn car park waiting for sunrise so I could ride (I had no lights) and suffered an almost acid-level flashback to my anti-sport schooldays. What would my PE teachers think if they could see me now? Of course I’ll never know. They’re all in the sea.
Obviously there’s a reason for the passion and dedication mountain biking inspires. It’s as simple as the preparation for it is complicated: mountain biking has everything. It’s thrilling, rejuvenating, challenging, pointless, pure, chaotic, mesmerising and indispensable. It’s sublime in a way that so many other sports can simply never encompass.
Plenty of other disciplines get more attention, more money and more razzmatazz, but as I’ve already said: it turns out they’re all balls.