I’ve been mountain biking for a while. Not as long as some people whom I know but longer than a fair number others whom I do. During the time I’ve been mountain biking I’ve seen a good number of changes and while some of these changes have been positive, others have been less so.
The plus side is a good number of the off the shelf bikes are remarkably sophisticated pieces of machinery. Riders now have a wider range of options than almost any other time in history. Hard tails, soft tails, long travel full sus bikes, aluminum, carbon, titanium, steel, 26” wheels, 650b wheels, 29” wheels, bikes that run two sizes of wheels! It seems that there are ever growing niches for bikes that spring up every year.
Now, if whether or not these bikes are being simply being rushed to the market by product and brand managers simply create some marketing buzz or if they are responding to consumer demand is a matter of debate. I know which side of the issue I stand on and I’d best keep my mouth shut on the subject in fear of further isolating myself.
Another net positive I’ve seen is, at least here in the Bay Area, is a shift in the demographics of the people who are riding mountain bikes. When I was first getting into mountain biking it was overwhelmingly males and white, white, white.
Now, however, I see a lot more girls (don’t get hot under the collar I mean females under the age of eighteen) and people of color who are getting into the sport.
Over Mother’s Day weekend I went for a ride out in Marin to work off a particularly fatty brunch followed by an apple pie alamode. Take it from me apple pie with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream may be the second worst pre ride meal I think I’ve ever eaten; the first being an enormous pre ride breakfast consisting of huevos rancheros and chocolate doughnuts.
Even though my first couple of pedal strokes made me feel a little queasy overall I hadn’t felt stronger in months. Maybe it was all the sugar.
I felt myself surging over some familiar trails and after a while I began to run across some tell tale signs of being right on the six of some riders right in front of me. As I made my way through the haze of falling dust I could hear the sounds of tires fighting for traction and the sound of derailleurs shifting gears.
Gradually I caught up to the riders in front of me and I eventually caught then passed a small group of two then eventually found myself behind a group of three.
Each of these guys was on newer high-end full sus bikes and each of these guys displayed the signs of having spent a good amount of time in the saddle. They eased their bikes over technical sections with grace, and no one grabbed their brakes and skidded around the corners like a kid hopped up on Mountain Dew and Pop Rocks. Yup, these guys could ride.
Now what was kind of surprising were two of the guys were African American and one of the guys were Filipino. And while this was not a surprising mix of people to be riding together in the East Bay it was a surprisingly diverse group of riders for honky white Marin.
Several years ago I was doing some research for a piece I wanted to write concerning ethnic, gender and sexual diversity in mountain biking. Along the way I contacted several rider groups including IMBA, International Mountain Bicycling Association to see if they could help me.
When I spoke to one of the IMBA representatives I was a bit surprised by his response… they don’t keep demographic records of their members.
Demographic record keeping really is the life’s blood of non-profit organizations. It allows their fund raising division to accurately target their core contingents for fund raising and advocacy efforts. Without these records you might as well set wheelbarrows worth of money on fire in hopes of attracting attention.
As I spoke to the IMBA rep he said that I wasn’t the first reporter calling them asking for this information and he said, sadly, that he thought the sport was pretty lily white.
Not to wade into the deep end of politics but there has been grumbling in certain sectors of the political spectrum who have been quite alarmist in their how they talk about pending demographic shifts in California. But according to the US Census Bureau the shift in California’s ethnic make up has all ready happened.
In brief, that means the following:
According to the 2008 ACS Estimates California’s population is:
- 42.3% White (not including White Hispanic)
- 36.6% are Hispanic or Latino (of any race)
- 12.5% Asian
- 6.7% Black or African American
- 2.6% Multiracial
- 1.2% American Indian
And that’s going to that advocacy groups are going to have to reach out to a wider range of peoples than they had of in the past. That also means too that bike companies are going to have to change their approaches to advertising if they want to remain in business too.
Back to the ride the four of us made our way through the park until there was a fork in the trail. One of the guys decided he needed to take off and probably ended his ride at that point. In the mean time I wound up chatting with one of the other riders at the fork because along the way we had dropped another member of the group so we waited for him to catch up.
As the course of the conversation wove around the two other riders whom I had hooked up with were, indeed, brothers, Jason and Gerald. I asked them if they minded if I tagged along and they said that they didn’t mind.
We cranked our way up the hills and as we talked our experiences were more similar than not. One of the two brothers was also a mid pack racer back in the nineties and we also talked about the difficulties about balancing gear lust and ride times vs. familial and financial obligations.
After a fair amount of climbing we finally came to another fork in the trail. After stopping to catch our breaths our small cadre of riders regrouped but it was about at this point I could really feel the pie and ice cream slurry began to rumble around my stomach in a most disagreeable fashion.
Jason asked if I wanted to continue upwards but after all ready telling him a story concerning mountain biking and vomiting I didn’t feel like enacting a repeat performance of that spectacle.
We shook hands, said our good byes and the two brothers continued upwards while I made me way back to my starting point.
As I wove my way through a series of rock gardens and single track I thought of the changes that I had seen since I had started mountain biking and how, by large, they’ve been positive. But it got me thinking, the sport needs to be adaptive in order to survive. Just as few people are still riding bikes that may be technically outdated we also have to jettison outmoded ways of thinking about who is a mountain biker and who isn’t.