BTCEB Blog No 29 “More Better”

I had a good ride this weekend. Somehow the forces of good had been able to convince the county of Marin it was okay to open up some new singletrack trails to mountain bikes.

The group I road with was a diverse group with an eclectic collection of bikes. One bike was old enough to collect social security, another bike was so new that many of it’s parts hand been seen by the general riding public. Still another bike was comprised of parts so modified it is more like the ending sequence to the movie “Akira” – only less disturbing. There was also a one off custom frame and fork sporting some parts left over from the previous decade. Then there was my bike which rested somewhere in the middle of the collection. Some older parts, some newer stuff, some modified, some stock; a three legged dog of a bike really a little rough around the edges but you love it any way.

But if there is one word that can be used to sum up the last decade of mountain bike development it has to be the word “more”; more gears, more suspension travel, more wheels (especially with the introduction of 650b, 29” and the 26 x 3.7 tires from Surly) and more lighter (with the explosion of carbon fiber being used in almost every component used on high end performance oriented road and mountain bikes).

I’m for change. The bike I ride today is considerably different than the first mountain bike I rode back in the mid eighties. While there is a certain amount of charm and artistry that went into earlier mountain bikes I wouldn’t want a bike from, say, 1985 to be my one and only trail bike. Perhaps I had gotten soft, spoiled even, especially with the advent of disc brakes, extra low bail out gears, and high traction low weight tires. Although I had a bike that used Mafac cantilevers and a chainstay mounted roller cam wouldn’t want to rely on them while trying to do a fast, tricky decent through Soquel Demonstration Forest.

In the interest of full disclosure, however, I still harbor a secret lust for a Petaluma made Salsa Ala Carte with WTB dirt drops. Heck, I’d even settle for a Santa Cruz made  Bontrager albeit with some reservations.

Even though the operative word “more” had been the guiding principal for the bike industry during the last couple of years there’s two “mores” I’d like to see more of, 1) more trail access, 2) more time to ride.  The first of the two “mores” may be more difficult to achieve than the latter.

State and local and federal governments are feeling the pinch due to the economic meltdown so it’s a good bet that a lot of their efforts are currently focused purely on survival vs. expansion of trail networks. If a park isn’t able to have a functional toilet then the chances of them being able to allocate money to trail expansion is probably pretty low.  Obviously advocacy groups and volunteers can do a tremendous amount to help with construction, repair, and maintenance but those efforts can only extend so far if land use officials have an antagonistic attitude towards mountain bikes… or if money dries up.

Until recently I had a lot of free time on my hands. Involuntarily I assure you. While I had plenty of time to ride I didn’t have any money for such fundamental things as transportation, bike maintenance or insurance. While there are trails that I can access from my house their lure begins to wane with repetition. Deferred bike maintenance is kind of a drag. There’s nothing quite like hopping a on a bike that you don’t trust a hundred percent. While I can life with a minor squeak or groan I simply lace the patience to ride a bike with poor shifting or brakes.

Personally, I think insurance is an overlooked area in the bicycle world. I don’t simply mean either renters or homeowner’s insurance that may help out in case your bike involuntarily leaves your presence I mean health insurance.

Back in the Stone Age when I tried my hand at mountain bike racing a coworker of mine, a former pro who used to race in Europe, was shocked to fine out that I was racing without health insurance. Being both young and naive I blew him off as being overly concerned about my health and wellbeing. That is until I had to pay thousands of dollars out of my own pocket for an air ambulance and a visit to the emergency room.

Once again I am employed and even though full time employment does impede some of my ride time I welcome the promise of a steady paycheck and health insurance.

“More” isn’t always good. But that doesn’t mean “more” is always bad either.  I think how beneficial that increased amount of a given quantity is purely circumstantial. While we can agree that “more” single track is a good thing but I’m afraid the jury is still out on ten speed mountain bike cassettes. But I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll probably be wrong again.

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