Years ago, when I was a boy, my mum used to get very annoyed with me when I came home with holes in my trousers. So much so that I used to attempt to wear shorts for as long as possible after the summer had ended. I usually manged until about Christmas, then it would simply be too cold.
Those holes were the hall mark of growing up as a proper 1980’s boy: I used to play football or rugby at lunch, scramble through the bushes and woods on the way home and my poor grey school trousers got a hammering.
Now thirty years later I have a whole new problem with my legs. The hall mark of a proper mountain biker has to be shins that look like they’ve been run through a cheese grater.
It seems like I can never go more than a couple of bike rides without smashing something into my legs. At night I ooze blood and my girlfriend’s sheets to her dismay mop up most of it!
It just goes with the territory and to me your not a proper mountain biker without cuts all over your legs.
Many manufacturers have tried to come out with shin guards, but lets face it whilst knee guards look somewhat cool, no one wants to rock shin guards. So, until someone sets the trend, my poor girlfriends sheets will just have to suffer.
The streets were dirty and filled with misery; some faces hollow, some with pain, others with the sorrow of what their life had become. As my friend and I waited for our wraps from one of the local street vendors a young woman, half naked was walking down the road, screeching, visibly tormented. Being entirely ignored, our vendor told us ‘she’s not even the worse’. It was around 10am on Wednesday morning and already on every street corner there were beggars asking for money: draped in colourless, inadequately fitting clothes. All this juxtaposed with Rolex watch shops, fancy new cars and tall, shiny office blocks. This was no third world country though, this was Portland, Oregon, USA, the land of the free.
What had this country come to I thought to myself, or was it always like this? Why didn’t anyone care about these people who they see and walk past everyday. Having grown up in a modest, socialist family I am a staunch supporter of egalitarianism and this was certainly no just way for people to live.
What has all this got to do with biking you may ask? Well, shortly after my encounter with the poor of Portland my friend and I went biking in Bend, Oregon. Within an hour of arriving, getting our passes and riding a couple of tracks I had a major dirt nap. I hit my face hard on the Mt Bachelor igneous rock: jagged, hard and unforgiving. My ear was torn to shreds, lacerated and by all accounts flapping around like a flag in the wind.
My friend insisted that I go to the hospital; my insurance would cover everything – as everyone knows America is not somewhere that you want to be paying for medical treatment. I was stunned when I phoned my insurance company, and they said that they would not pay and I would have to shell out for my consultation which would cost me at least $800, if not more.
Being a pragmatic person I decided that I’d sleep on it – literally. So we hit a local beer festival boasting 200 different ales and about 30 or 40 tastings later I felt brilliant.
The moral of the story though is that in truth I was alarmed at how easily it would be to lose everything in the USA. If I really needed medical treatment and couldn’t pay they’d charge me heavily, if you lose your job or find yourself in times of trouble there’s no safety net: it’s a worrying dilemma.
We bikers in NZ take it for granted that if we have an accident an ambulance/helicopter will pick us up or we’ll be able to recover at home and be funded through ACC – lets be thankful of that.
The last year and a half has been tough for me. Break-ups, pain, sorrow, joy and love, guilt, loss, loneliness and elation. I’ve had the continuum of emotions that could see me through a life time, and i’m still not through to the other side yet.
Throughout this time mountain biking has been both my best friend but also my greatest enemy. It’s supported me at my lowest ebb but also dragged me down into darkness and taken control of my consciousness. In one sense mountain biking is a metaphor for life: you go up and down, have setbacks, mechanicals, get lost, you plan, sometimes you don’t but somehow you keep moving forward.
When your feeling pain, loss, sorrow or anger there is nothing that compares to getting out and doing something you love. For me jumping on a bike and riding so hard that you leave you present state of mind and zone-out is just how I deal with stuff. I like to get to the point in physical exertion where my body can only afford the energy to carry out the basic functions of survival, pumping oxygen to my vital organs, leaving everything else unnecessary by the wayside.
In my darkest days mountain biking has been a survival tool, something I can depend on for pleasure no matter what’s happened to me. When i’m at my most confident it provides me with vitality, strength and motivation to carry out my day.
But mountain biking, like any pleasure, also has a more sinister side, which can, if your not careful destroy your life or at least exacerbate your problems. There’s a distinct dichotomy between light and dark as there is between healthy and unhealthy mountain biking activities.
In the last two years without me even knowing it I used mountain biking as way of self-medication. I spent hours, weeks, and months out on the bike or digging new tracks, willing away and ignoring my underlying problems. Someone once said you never see an unhappy mountain biker, and it’s true. Instead of dealing with my problems I went riding, when things got too much, I went riding. I convinced myself my partner was fine with me digging tracks every night till ten, because I felt good, and ‘I wasn’t going out drinking, or gambling’! It wasn’t OK and she wasn’t OK, I was neglecting her.
The lesson here is not that riding is bad, it’s inherently good. The lesson here is that there are too many people pretending that everything is OK. Believe me, there’s always room for life improvement. It’s easy to hide behind a screen of mountain biking, or anything else for that matter and ignore your mental health, neglect your loved ones, or pretend your partner is fine with you spending 40 hours on a bike every week.
When it comes down to it your mental health, your life, your loved ones are all more important than your bike, without them biking doesn’t exist. Don’t forget it or it’ll have disastrous consequences.
As soon as I decided to take my single speed for the 85Km Old Ghost Road trip in March 2017, I knew that I might live to regret the decision. As a mater of fact I did, but not because of the single speed, nor the distance.
The Old Ghost Road is probably one of the most memorable experiences you can have on a mountain bike. It has everything, scenery, techy, long, flowy descents, long climbs (if your in to that sort of thing). We were blessed with great weather for two days, which meant 30 degrees heat and sun. Built out of blood, sweat and hard work. It spans an entire mountain range and at it’s peak goes up to over 1400 meters.
The first day involved a 30K climb to Ghost Lake Hut. Perched on top of a mere 200 meter vertical cliff it offers bikers the most aesthetically pleasing, well facilitated rest for the night after a few hours of solid climbing.
Much to the absolute despair of three or four Aussies over for a weekend, staying in the hut, I lit the fire for the evening and the whole place turned into a furnace for the next 5 hours: I thought they’d be used to the heat.
The following day we set off downhill towards our next stop, Mokihinui Forks Hut. From Ghost Lake Hut it is essentially downhill, with a couple of long pinch climbs, the second one being the boneyard.
The downhill sections are like nothing you’ve ever ridden before, some technical, on exposed rock, that require close navigation, some through native forest, that are so long and flowy you forget yourself. Once you pop out into Stern Valley the landscape is that of an arid desert, unforgiving and desolate. The boneyard, a climb of a hundred meters or so, is at the end of the valley. So called the boneyard because in the 1929 Murchison earthquake and from subsequent jolts the whole mountainside has collapsed. The track winds its way around the debris, which includes boulders the size of houses. The signs, telling cyclists not to stop, consistently reminding you of how volatile the area is.
The legs were getting tired at this point, the single speed taking its toll. We caught up with the Aussies who had left some time before us. The next downhill, resembling the long flow one from before took us to the forks hut. At which point there was a conversation about whether this was our abode for the night, which is was, but we didn’t know that then. It said Forks Hut, not the Mokihinui Forks Hut, a subtle difference, which seems clear now, in hindsight.
We carried on, and on, and on, until we realised we had gone too far. A debate ensued which ended in us turning back on ourselves toward the forks hut, at which point a short while afterwards my crank literally cracked in half.
All seemed lost. We were about 10km out from the end. I jadedly pushed my bike out, freewheeling the downhill sections. Nick went ahead and booked us into Seddonville Hotel, one of two hotels in Seddonville, the other being The Rough and Tumble Bush Lodge.
The owner, who upon arriving we explained to that we had no money as we weren’t supposed to be out of the OGR until the next day, set us up with beers, a slap up meal (note to all veggies – spring rolls contain meat), a bed and breakfast in the morning.
A good sleep and $88 later we had accomplished the OGR, by crook or by hook. A time well spent and definitely worth it. Did I regret taking the single speed? I got a lot of qudos from the SS and it is mostly all ridable on it. My only regret is the Shimano crank failing. It now has a Raceface crank on it. enough said.
We all ride our local trails and think ‘damn I’m fast’ but if you compare yourself with the pros – you realise what these guys are capable of.
Seeing ‘Ratboy’ huck over one of the metal road barriers, seeing the Santa Cruz Crew hitting a hip jump blind and whipping it straight off. Makes you realise why these guys get paid for riding.
Cedric Gracia: Red Bull Rampage winner: knows how to get air
I was lucky enough to be riding behind a mere living legend on my way up to the top of Pol Hill. The first corner into ‘Car Parts’ Cedric Gracia effortlessly slide round it like he’d done it a thousand times. He is a gracious gentleman who was appreciative of our trails and the views that they offer (although rain hampered that to some degree), but when he’s in the presence of the group and when riding he has a twinkle in his eye and a skip in his step: the tale tale signs of a Red Bull Rampage winner.
Cedric Gracia once in-famously crashed and severed his femoral artery, whilst practicing for Megavalanche race in the Reunion Islands. He survived through his quick reactions to stem the bedding by grabbing hold of the ends of his artery and getting his mate to kneel on it whilst medical help arrived.
Enough said I was star struck and stoked to meet the man.
I have to say though, Wellington’s Groms are on their way up and were every bit as impressive to watch as the stars. Whilst everyone embarked on drinking beers at the pub, Ratboy set off with the young fellas for more riding up Mt Vic, so he must have been impressed too.
Pirates in the 17th century who committed acts of robbery or criminal violence at sea used have a phrase, “no prey, no pay”. It essentially meant that if you weren’t successful in a robbery or raid you wouldn’t get paid. It led to pirates going after bigger and more risky booty.
To many pirate trails, trails built without the express permission of the land owner, offer a reward far greater than anything else in mountain biking: harder, more technical lines, bigger drops all un-groomed and unadulterated.
The reality is to get better you need harder trails, something which is not always a priority among trail builders.
Sure there are valid reasons for and against pirate trails, but we shouldn’t get caught up in the petty arguments of a minority. The fact is we need people digging pirate trails. We need people telling us why they’re bad and we all need progress.
Without pirate trails and without folk riding them there would be no just cause to argue for tracks to be built in new areas.
So, I say, provocatively, It’s often better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission
Hard-tails have been in my blood since I was a boy, when they were a necessity rather than a nicety. My first proper bike was a 1990s Cro-mo Marin, I used to ride it up at the local mountain bike park PORC (Penshurst Off Road Cycling). Let’s face it anyone growing up in the 80’s rode one and at that time Marin and Kona ruled the roost.
Nearly thirty years later, I have a modest two bike arsenal in my small workshop/garage. One is a Yeti Superbike with all the bells and whistles and the other is my new On-One Dee Dar, the frame bought and imported from England for a grand total of $300, made up with a mish-mash of parts lying around.
Since I got it and built it up I have hardly been off its saddle. The Yeti largely being used for special occasions and the most demanding and gnarly descents.
Now, let me say first, hard tails definitely have their limits. You would not see me attempting to flat line a gnarly, rocky and rooty downhill track on the Dee-dar. My enduro bike is definitely the bike for those duties, not just for speed, but comfort and also control. However, for probably 80% of my riding the hard tail performance is outstanding.
It has great stability at speed and the head angle (about 65ish deg with my 160mm forks) and rider position given by the progressive geometry gives you a great amount of confidence on steep and fast tracks (hmm where can I find some of those in Wellington?).
In one review on factory Jackson the reviewer said that sometimes they actually sometimes forgot that they we’re even on a hardtail. I can concur, it happens on this machine, until you get off that is and realise your body feels like that of a 90 year old and the back wheel has more flat spots on it than the moon.
To that affect one problem with a hard tail that thinks it’s a fully is that I have just had to embellish the new stead with a heist 30mm wide back wheel as the DT swiss one I had on it died very quickly, with all the extra slamming the back wheel does on a hard tail. That’s my bad riding though.
Anyhow, the main criticism I have if there is one is the omission of ISCG tabs for chain devices. For a bike claiming to be a hard core hard tail, your going to need something to keep the chain on. Luckily I managed to squeeze one on that attaches to the down tube, so no loosing chains (although I still do sometimes on the knar).
With mountain biking on the rise in New Zealand there is a continuing debate over the environmental impact of trails and their riders, and whether this is a reason to not build more trails.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that in the grand scheme of things, the impact of mountain bikers and their trails is minor, but not completely insignificant. However, at the very least no more of an impact than walkers and hikers and their trails.
In essence, New Zealand and the world have much bigger problems than a few, well managed, mountain bike tracks. Therefore we should reject environmental impacts as a reason not to build trails. However, we should be thinking about how we minimise their impact. For example, not building trails through bird nesting environments, making sustainable trails that need minimal changes to the environment .
Below is my reasoning for this conclusion. Now to stress: being a researcher and for those out there with a research background, clearly this isn’t a full, every stone turned over master piece. This is meant to be a quick scan of the evidence to demonstrate the main trends. I am more than happy for the provision of contravening or agreeing evidence.
There’s two things to consider when investigating the impact of bikes and trails on the environment:
what is the relative impact of mountain biking on the environment compared with other human activities, and
what is the impact of mountain biking on the environment compared with other similar activities, such as walking or hiking and horse riding.
Mountain biking vs other human activities
Compared with other human activities (e.g. road building, car manufacturing) the effect of mountain biking on the environment is minor, (albeit not completely insignificant).
Human activities that affect the environment could be broadly categorised into the following:
Introductions and invasive species
Light pollution (that is the opposite of dark!)
So where does biking fit in and how does it compare with these other activities? Biking could fit into technology, introductions and invasive species, manufactured products and transport (war if you count our arguments with local residents).
Technology: clearly a lot of research goes into making our modern bikes so one could argue this has an impact on he environment, through energy use etc., whether that is anywhere near other research on automobiles, pharmaceuticals, technology we have no idea, but I would doubt if it is.
Introductions and invasive species: those (now generally bigger) wheels take tiny seeds and spread them around the place, but these could be good seeds (native plants) as much as bad. And in New Zealand alone the invasive species introduced and spreading like wildfire long before mountain bikes came along.
However, whilst in the grand scheme of things it is unlikely that mountain bike tread has a huge impact on distributing invasive species, it does seem to have some impact (but I stress here: no more than walkers or hikers). For example one study showed more invasive plants growing next to trails. Another study showed that mountain bikers (along with hikers too) do cause the spread of invasive species when the go off course (rather than use a formed track). which is one thing to bear in mind. So we should have caveats around this when we’re building trails.
Manufacturing: Interestingly there are 100 million bikes produced every year, compared with 42 million cars. That’s over three bikes produced every second, every year. Clearly there is a carbon footprint associated with the manufacturing of bikes, and that affects the environment, but probably not more than other manufactured goods. For example 20 billion shoes are made every year, or 634 per second!
In essence, we really should consider whether we really need that new seat post or whether the old one can be fixed, or if we can squeeze another year out of your bike (even if the wheels are the ‘wrong’ size.
Transport: the main use of bicycles and mountain bikes is for transport (whether that is for fun or necessity). Not withstanding the other factors mentioned above cycling itself as an activity has little impact on the environment i.e. there are no emissions from bikes. So at the very least once you have your bike, riding it around is carbon neutral.
Mountain biking Vs hiking
Now this is the interesting part. Opponents to mountain biking trails will often tell you that mountain bikers damage the environment, causes disruption to birds and insinuate that this is more so than walking or other activities. According to research this is not the case.
One of the best studies that looks at this is from Canada (a fine biking nation) and is a literature review of other studies. It’s called, Mountain Biking: A Review of the Ecological Effects, 2010.
Soil: Status: de-bunked
In all studies looked at in the Canadian literature review walking and horses had a greater impact on soil than riding. However the effects on soil of mountain biking were impacted on by how well the trails were made, their planning etc and when they were used (in wet whether the effects were worse as with all activities). So in this way, we can minimise the impact of trails on have environment by building well made, sustainable tracks.
Vegetation: Status: partially de-bunked.
Studies (in the Canadian review) found that with any activity where trails are built there is obviously going to be a loss of vegetation. With these trails there invasive and non-native plants were found in close proximity to these trails (no difference between types of activities). As for seeds being spread: see above!
Wildlife: partially de-bunked.
The main studies conclude that cycling is actually more silent than many other sports that use trails and put stress on wildlife. Specifically in New Zealand there is a debate about whether trails destroy habitats and scare/kill bird populations. Interestingly the chart below shows the main ways birds are killed by humans (or their pets). World wide 550 million birds are killed flying into windows! All the factors below will effect bird populations in NZ. Biking does not feature on the graph. It is likely that whilst clearing trees will effect birds somewhat it would not cause too much effect.
Interestingly though studies do show displacement of birds disturbances for wildlife where trails are built. but long terms effects have not been well studied. Incidences of direct mountain-bike caused wildlife mortality are rare. the conclusion, more study needs to be conducted.
So that concludes my brief look into the effects of biking on the environment. My conclusion? Biking definitely has some impact on the environment but probably no more than other activities such as hiking. Some impact can be mitigated against. In the grand scheme of things, the enjoyment and enhancement on life and health of riding outweighs the effects on the environment. When compared with other activities e.g. road building, urban developments, the impact is minor, if not insignificant.