A very testing week. In the good sense of the word.
Monday was spent guiding Sam from Singular Cycles around some of my favourite Hebden Bridge trails. I took the opportunity to get some miles in on a 120mm travel full-sus Cannondale RZ One Twenty (or however the Hell you’re meant to say it).
The ride had supposed to be “XC” in nature. Not “All Mountain” or “Trail”. I actually have no problem with the increasing niche-ification of mountain biking. I’m not a retro-grouch or aging “wasn’t like this back in the day” cynic who raises their eyebrows whenever such a phrase is used. Neither do I go for the “hey, it’s all riding maan” ethos. I think the increasing nomenclature of mountain biking can be very useful.
Yes, it’s clearly useful for the cycling media and industry for selling magazines and products but so what? It’s also useful for sorting out expectations and intentions. No one wants to buy a bike that doesn’t suit their riding. No one wants to turn up on a ride with an inappropriate bike (although this can be fun every now and then). So Monday’s ride was to be an “XC” ride.
The thing is, I’m never really sure what “XC” means. For a term so established it can mean vastly different things to different people. One person’s “XC” is another person’s “All Mountain”, is another person’s “touring”, is another person’s “racing”. Quite often “XC” is used to damn with faint praise. Quite often it’s just plain derogatory.
In the end, for Monday’s ride I basically ignored the “XC” tag and just tried to show Sam some the trails that best express the riding to be had around Hebden Bridge. Both of us got off on a few bits (up and down). Neither of us was on a bike that dealt with every different thing that was thrown at it. But neither of us was that bothered.
And I guess that’s the thing. If you’re not bothered then you probably don’t need all these new niche names. It’s only when you’re really bothered about your riding that the new niches can be useful. Those folks who don’t like or need the niches shouldn’t be so sneery towards those folks who do. If we didn’t have people who were bothered about their riding, we wouldn’t have mountain bikes in the first place.
If you don’t like the buzzwords that the bike industry/media use, then why not make up your own within your riding group? For example, on Wednesday I had a ride planned with a friend. We basically break our riding into two niches: “techy” and “pedally”! On a “techy” ride, big forks and big tyres will be best. On a “pedally” ride, a lighter bike with less-draggy tyres will be much nicer.
Wednesday’s ride was allocated the “pedally” description. Both myself and my friend were bothered. We didn’t want a slackers ride. We wanted to make as much of the opportunity, and the super-buff ground conditions, as possible.
As it happened I took the Cannondale out again – a test bike that I willingly take out on personal “fun” rides is a rare thing indeed. For a bike that’s supposed to be the “Marathon” version, the RZ One Twenty is a much more capable bike than that implies.
Contrastingly, last week I finished writing up a review of another bike. This is promoted as the company’s “XC” bike that sits between their “XC race” bike and their “All Mountain” rig. And sit there it does, most explicitly. It was one of the best, mile-munching, map-crossing, Cross Country mountain bikes that I’ve ridden. But no more than that. It couldn’t be tweaked into a race bike, nor a “techy” All Mountain machine. It’s impressive that the designers have hit the desired nail on the desired head so accurately. Yet, if it was my money I’d want it to do something a little bit more than just what it says on the tin.