If you ride an expensive, up-to-date bike then somebody, somewhere — possibly the owner of an older, less-expensive bike — will have explained why you don’t need it. These people have all manner of passive-aggressive speeches about fashion, marketing and having ‘all the gear and no idea’ with which to make their point. Having ridden all kinds of new test bikes, around all kinds of places, I’ve heard quite a few of them.
But I just had a superb ride on a new bike that was better than it could have been on any ageing bike with a triple chainset and bar ends — or rather the kind of bike that I’m reliably informed is "all you need."
The plunging, twisting trails were fantastic in that special way that leaves you with folders of mental snapshots and six-second repeating mind-Vines; sensations that repeat on you in leaner times like the best bacon sandwiches. Despite the wellspring of fun that were the brilliant trails and topography — things you can theoretically access on any bike — the ride wouldn’t have been the same on an older, cheaper bike. This ride was a triumph of nature and consumerism.
Why? Well, for a start, the dropper post, which cost over £250, helped me ride better. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is stop at the top of a tricky bit, think about the obstacle and have to adjust the saddle in order to deal with it — all while trying not to get psyched out by that obstacle and the potential for disaster it represented. Stare too long at the abyss, with its flailing rocks and clawing death turns, and the abyss stares into you. A dropper post makes it easier to just get on and ride, which is something naysayers seem obsessed with and somehow see it as an argument not to have nice things.
Then there’s suspension. Quality damping brings poise, control, and gives tyres an easier time, which means more grip and fewer crashes. And I like having more grip and fewer crashes. Yes, you could ride those wild trails on something with less sophisticated suspension, or even none at all, but would I have enjoyed the same flowing moments of joy if I’d been fighting the bike or going slower? Nope. I’m not saying it couldn’t still be fun, but it’d be more of a fight than a dance.
Perhaps most important of all is that my current frame fits me. Consider this: in 2004, I bought a Specialized Enduro, it was the start of several years of fun, of somersaulting over the bars and being told by strangers that my 132mm-travel ride – with its 69.5° head angle (in the slack setting!), 17mm rims, 90mm stem and 640mm bars — was too much bike.
Specialized didn’t measure reach then, but the Enduro’s effective top tube was 584mm. My current bike (a Bird Aeris) is 640mm, despite a seat tube that’s six-degrees more upright, and its wheelbase is more than 11cm longer. This fits me. To get the same size frame in 2004 I would have had to buy an extra small model… although an XS Aeris would still be 5.5cm longer.
So while I could still be riding that Enduro (or, say, a nearly identical Giant Trance from 2013) instead of spending money on today’s improved models, I wouldn’t be getting any of the benefits of a bike that a) fits my body and b) is happy to be slung down loose, steep tracks instead of slinging me down them.
This isn’t to say everyone has to drop over eight grand on the latest carbon wonder from Santa Cruz or Ibis. Very few people can afford those. Even I can’t, despite being a journo and therefore corrupt (I spent it all on a golden super-yacht. It sank). But if you want to just get on and ride, you’re best served by a bike that will let you, and given that the last few years have brought bigger changes than the 20 years preceding them, that means buying a fairly new bike, which is going to cost.
Of course, if you that can’t afford to do that you might prefer to argue that progress is bogus. For instance, I like to tell Porsche 911 GT3 RS owners that my one-litre Kia Picanto is, in fact, all the car they need. They tend to look bored and accelerate away. It’s almost as if they think my personal spending power has no effect on the cars they choose to drive.
Then again, in our post-truth world, who cares about facts? So let’s end by embracing a more popular truth: you really don’t need an expensive bike. I’m a reasonable man (I’ll use excessive force on anyone who says otherwise), so let’s see this through to the bitter end…
You don’t need an expensive modern bike. Spending £2,000 is ridiculous. So is spending £500. You actually don’t need a mountain bike at all. You could walk, in cheap shoes, which work fine. Actually, just go barefoot. You really don’t need much of anything.
So yes we should all only ride what we need, the bare minimum of bike, and it shouldn’t cost more than anybody else can afford — and that is nothing at all. Sorted.
I’m glad we’ve ended this on a sensible note.