Freeride Mountain Biking isn’t a new term. Freeride has always been associated with riding in mountainous, tough terrain in a way that emphasised style. These days, it’s being used a bit more interchangeably as there is a new trick based series called the FMB World Tour. This series is a structured one with various levels of competitions, with different levels of riders, from amateurs to the top level pros. While I’ve watched some events in this series and they’re undoubtedly cool, I’m left wondering how we got to this point, and what exactly differentiates this form of freestyle mountain biking from traditional BMX dirt jumping.
For people who follow cycling like I do and have an interest in almost every form of riding, the best way to describe it is to say it’s essentially what Four Cross is to BMX Racing but instead to BMX dirt jumping. It’s not so smooth, clean and perfect like BMX has always been.
The tricks are very similar. Almost everything you can do in BMX is done in this sport, just with larger bikes, larger wheels and disc brakes. You can even do tail-whips and bar spins, but they’re achieved in a very low tech way. While you can fit the bikes with a gyro or just ride them brakeless as BMX riders do, in FMB most riders simply run a longer and more flexible brake cable than usual and just let it wrap around the head tube as you ride. It’s a very caveman like approach and it certainly adds to the feeling I get of this sport being something of a gimmick, but it does the job.
I was wondering for a while why a lot of these guys are riding this style now. Does it have something to do with the X-Games dropping BMX Dirt? Did some of the riders in FMB not make the cut in BMX and this is a kind of second rate sport? I certainly don’t think the latter is true but there could be an element of truth in the fact that BMX dirt may be going out of style a bit. BMX in recent years seems to be moving more towards sealed surfaces. Technical street riding is more popular than ever and because BMX bikes need smooth surfaces to work their best, most woodland where dirt tracks are created are easier to ride on larger bikes with bigger wheels. This change is also reflected at X-Games, where BMX Street has been divided up into two distinct varieties. Park which is full of big ramps and transitions, and street which comprises more rails and smaller boxes, and encourages more realistic street riding.
I think another reason for the rise of FMB is the bikes themselves. They’re now strong enough to withstand the punishment of this type of riding, especially the wheels, where in the past BMX and it’s strong 20 inch wheels dominated the trick riding scene. While some riders do still ride gears, full suspension and two brakes, the majority now ride a dirt jump geometry hard-tail with a rear brake only, and a fairly stiff front suspension to go along with a singlespeed BMX style drive-train, complete with small chain-ring. Because of this, the bikes are so reliable that they can take a pounding and not have problems as you would have traditionally had with a mountain bike. You get a more comfortable bike to ride and don’t lose much of the strength and durability of a BMX.
I think that when you look at the sport and the bikes, it makes sense that dirt jumping is going down this road. The bikes are far more comfortable and faster to ride with larger wheels, frames and a bit of give in the front end with short travel forks to take a bit of the sting out of hard landings.
I’m definitely now a fan and I’ll be checking out some contests on red bull tv when they’re on, and I’m hoping the sport gains enough traction to maybe get a spot on the programmes of the Dew Tour or maybe even the X-Games. I don’t think either are beyond the realm of possibility in the next few years.