Changing interests with a changing sport
My interest in cycling (and the cycling scene at large) is finding itself treading the tempestuous waves of change, desperately trying to stay afloat. A recent flood of changes in the market, trends, and tech has made the simple sport that I fell in love with 15 years ago nearly unrecognizable. I’m confounded as I peddle on, negotiating the onslaught of trends and “innovations” that the industry hurls at us. From the wind tunnel tested futuristic road bikes borrowing technology from the aerospace industry with their electronic, motor-driven shifters, to the long travel enduro-bro bike park senders, to the bikepacking hipsters skidding their way through social media- the movers and shakers of cycling (myself included) have pushed themselves to the outer brinks of various extremes in order to find that untarnished bliss of riding a bike.
Long has the engine of road cycling’s development been fueled by the single-minded desire of achieving 1% leads in aerodynamics and efficiency. In the past, I obsessed over weight and where some carbon-based something or another scored on some made up "stiffness index". Sixteen-year-old Todd found himself pouring over archaic, glossy-paged publications with large photos filled with cleverly placed products used by my idolized heroic hardmen. My equipment choices were based on what the Euro pros were wearing and using, mostly in part to my naiveté toward the concept of contractual obligations. I strived to fine tune my gear and my body. As a veteran slinger of cycling stoke at your local bike shop, I found myself succumbing to the same mantra that ensures I have a paycheck- The more money you spend, the more fun you have. I realized then it all had to go.
My attention has shifted gradually towards the mountain bike. The mountain bike to me was a vessel for backcountry exploration in all its knobby tire, rock hopping, rut railing glory. I may have been naive for thinking this side of cycling was the blue-collar, everyman's way into bikes, for full suspension mountain bikes are way more costly and time intensive than I possibly could have imagined. While I appreciate certain California-coast based brands focusing more on the “fun factor” versus flat-out speed, I find myself exasperated in today’s saturated MTB market. There are too many wheel sizes, too many bike configurations, too many distractions.
This all pales in comparison to my perplexity over bikepacking's social media driven rise. I am amazed at how glamorous certain ultra-romanticized media personalities have inaccurately portrayed the dirtbag life of bike packing to be. After spending the last two years voluntarily sleeping in the dirt with other like-minded bike bums, I have come to realize that not even this obscure, misguided offshoot of cycling is without its share of snobbery. Nothing about bike-packing is original. Cycling’s legendary pioneers of this vagrant niche have been doing this for years. It was disheartening to find yet another subculture being over-marketed and devalued.
In today’s culture of aggressive consumerism, there has only been one constant in my years on the bike. People. I have been blessed in finding myself so fully immersed in such an accepting, inclusive culture. I have been the beneficiary of the knowledge of others, lucky enough to have others to help grow my passion and I relish any opportunity to share it with others. I have cultivated friends for life while pilling on endless base miles. I have developed deep connections and forged levels of trust while negotiating mechanicals, surviving nature’s extremes, miles from home, where each other’s positivity solely illuminated the light at the end of the tunnel. Rides with friends are a large part of what prompts me to saddle up, the life-giving breath of fresh air when the passion is all but asphyxiated.
It’s been interesting to watch road racings’ decline while gran fondo and gravel events that focus on sharing experiences are exploding in attendance. There’s one such ride this weekend that I’m thrilled to be a part of. It’s not a race (unless you want it to be). It doesn’t matter what bike you’re on, there will be rigs as diverse as the person who is on it. A ride where what you wear doesn’t matter, nobody cares what logo you have on your jersey. Whether you purposely want to hang out with me in the back, or involuntarily find yourself there- Let’s party. The world is a messy place, but not while we’re in the saddle.
Bikes are tight.