One Thing I Don’t Understand About Downhill MTB

2012 Norco DH, Freeride, Trail, XC and 29er mo...
2012 Norco DH mountain bike (Photo credit: BikeRumor.com)

When you watch downhill, the world cup’s in particular where the courses tend to be the most technical and hard on the bikes, you often see guys losing a chain, having it jam or even break completely. It makes you wonder why they even run gears at all and don’t just go for a single-speed set-up.

The riders could try different gear ratios in practice and settle on one for the race. There don’t tend to be many pedalling sections in most courses anyway so you probably won’t lose much time even if you slightly miscalculate your gear. Plus, who has time to change gears when you’re hurtling down a mountainside trying desperately just to keep hold of the handlebars for 3 or so minutes?

By the time you actually find the right gear on your cassette you’re likely out of the pedal section and back into the technical parts or flat out downhill where your best bet is to tuck in tight and hold on.

This is true of FMB riders as well. It’s a gravity based sport so even though there are some pedalling sections in some courses, generally you don’t have to do much of it if you stay on course. I get why some tracks work better for short travel full suspension bikes instead of the generally preferred hard-tails but I can’t really ever see a situation where you would benefit from running gears. One brake is also probably enough for most FMB courses, but of course, not in downhill where you need two of the best brakes money can buy.

But to summarise, I want to see single-speeds in downhill racing. The bikes would be simpler, more durable and more beautiful too. If it’s not allowed in the technical rules currently, change it UCI.

Dear British Cycling Public

No offence to these people who at least have in common with me the love of cycling, but what are you doing wearing those ugly safety vests in the middle of the day? I’m honestly baffled by this phenomenon when I see so many people doing it around town and across the whole nation.

It’s not that I don’t want people to feel safe while they’re out on their bikes on our dangerous roads. It’s just I want to see more people riding, and I think a lot will be put off if they think that they have to dress this way to ride. It’s not cool, in fact it’s completely uncool. It’s not like I would care if people wore them when they went out walking. It wouldn’t make people think twice about walking in future. Cycling is different because it’s optional. I want people to think yeah that looks cool, I want to go and buy a bike now, not be put off by things like this.

Like I’ve said, I want people to feel safe on their bikes, and there is a time and a place for hi-vis clothing. You can get sleeker cycling jackets that do the same thing, but aren’t dorky vests. The other thing to note: they’re designed for wearing at night. To be honest, even at night you don’t need these things. I have a helmet with some reflective stickers on the back of it. They’re not obtrusive in daylight but they help at night. I have lights which I can attach to my handlebars and my bag to shine behind me. My pannier has a reflective patch on it. I have reflectors on my spokes, pedals and the seatpost to help as well. Unless I’m going out into unlit country roads at night, these things combined are going to keep me safe. No one can convince me that I’ll ever need a fluorescent yellow vest.

I’m certainly not that into fashion. I like to look good and occasionally make style statements of sorts like everyone else, but that’s really as far as it goes. However, it doesn’t take a genius to think of ways to stay visible during the day while still keeping your dignity. Wear bright clothes if you feel safer that way. If you’re a girl, a yellow dress for example. If you’re a guy, a bright T-shirt or whatever. Why not just buy a brightly coloured bike to begin with. A white bike will get you noticed for sure. Having said this, even if you wore completely black clothing, a black helmet and had a black bike I still doubt any driver with half decent vision is going to miss you in broad daylight. I mean black does contrast with the background when it’s daytime.

But my despair at the great cycling public doesn’t end with those yellow vests. I think it’s fair to say that 90% or more of the bikes I see out on the roads, are cheap, nasty and ugly looking pieces of junk. The good quality bikes I see are usually very old and battered. I mean yes, I do see some nice bikes out, but they’re very few and far between. When I do see one, I love the conversations that happen when I’m waiting at the train crossing and another rider comes up to me. I say “hey nice bike” and they say the same back to me. Then we have a great conversation about our rides, and it’s fun. You would never lean out of your car and say to the driver next to you “Nice car! Where did you get it?” and them replying with anything other than “You what mate?” before pressing the up button on their driver side window.

When you’re a cyclist, a proper cyclist with a proper bike, not a rusty piece of shit, you’re instantly a part of a huge community. I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s nice when someone coming the other direction nods and smiles at you, or when they compliment you on your bike and the customisations you’ve done to it. When people say to me “£300, that’s a lot for a push bike isn’t it?” the reality of the enormity of the task of educating people about cycling is hits me once again, and you think, am I ever going to stop seeing these junk bikes everywhere I go?

People keep saying that the huge success of GB in the Tour de France, World Championships and Olympic games on both the road and track will lead to massive increases in the number of people taking up cycling. Personally I’m not sure if I believe that. I just feel like the difference between sport and commuting / leisure riding on our congested roads is just too great. A lot of drivers don’t associate them at all and will see cyclists on the road as a nuisance even if they love professional cycling. I really hope that it does make a massive difference, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

As much as it’s kind of cool that it’s an exclusive club right now, I wouldn’t mind a bit if we increased the membership dramatically in the coming years. It’s about time. There are many other subjects to touch on, like helmets and whether they should be mandatory among other things, but I’ll have to come back to those another time.

Personal Green Transportation, what are the options?

This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently. I don’t own a car and I don’t intend to any time soon but I do want an alternative to walking or taking the bus around.

The obvious answer would be to cycle. And while that was my initial thought, road / pavement cycling laws aren’t clearly defined from what I can tell, and generally speaking, I’d prefer to be away from traffic especially since the area around where I live always has heavy traffic. The stress of not knowing what’s behind you along with the petrol fumes really add up to make it a very un-enticing proposition.

That’s a shame because when I used to cycle to school and college for around 6 years when I was younger I really enjoyed it, and I’ve always had a love of mountain biking and extreme sports so it is disappointing that the local council don’t seem to be too worried about making permanent cycle lanes in order to make cyclists feel safe and get more people out there on bikes and getting fitter.

Once you get past bikes, the only real viable alternative that I can think of is inline skating. Skating is an interesting subject law wise. From what I understand, skaters aren’t classified as either a pedestrian or a road user. This means that technically they should be able to skate on the pavement as long as they are mindful of pedestrians and are courteous. Similarly, on an empty road it should be legal to skate along it while being very careful to watch for cars and bikes / cyclists.

While they aren’t as fast as a bike, they do provide an excellent workout and of course are a lot of fun too as well as being considerably faster than walking and comparable to jogging or running at a medium to fast pace, depending on the surface and effort being put in of course.

Not only that, but generally speaking there’s a lot less that can go wrong with a good pair of skates than a bike with all its brakes and puncture vulnerable tires, not to mention bikes are big and you most likely won’t be able to keep an eye on it all the time in which case theft or damage is a possibility. Skates can go in a bag to be replaced by shoes when you need to switch.

Aside from these options, there’s always things like skateboards but they aren’t very practical at all for anything other than tricks.

If you want to bring electrical based devices into the fray as well, then hybrid bikes are surely going to catch on in the near future and if they can store energy from braking or simply the wheels spinning in order to generate extra power for the battery, then that could be an excellent choice moving forward.

Unfortunately, things akin to Segways will most likely stay as a novelty and for police forces in city centres. They just look too ridiculous and too hard to control for the majority of people to get behind. Plus, Segways aren’t necessarily green depending on where they power used to charge them up comes from.

Maybe sometime in the future we might even see intelligent hybrid skates which store energy to give you a small boost in performance when you don’t have to slow down for a significant distance, or possibly cause lights to glow on the skate itself to improve night time visibility. There are lots of possibilities for the future of personal transportation and as technology continues to advance, we’ll certainly see these new advances applied to tried and tested products like bikes or skates.

Will people swap cars for Segways?

The answer to this question is almost certainly no in most cases. Often cars are the best option for when you need to carry people and things around. Then there is also the problem for people who live out in rural areas where the battery life of a segway and it’s range on one charge just aren’t feasable for daily living.

So with that said, is there a place for these more friendly forms of transportation? Of course. There are plenty of advantages to these bikes / scooters for people who live within a short distance of a town or city centre. They also serve a use even if you would just like a mode of transport to go biking or having some fun with at forest off road trails. The segway XT is designed especially for this purpose, as are many motor equipped mountain bikes.

I also think these modes of transport will suit people who currently use bus services to get from A to B in their town / city. If you live within a mile or so of your work for example this would be a great solution to many people, eliminating various car ownership costs, not to mention lower the chance of being caught in traffic jams.

Obviously the cost is a great advantage but another advantage for me personally in the bike is that there’s no lessons required to use it as long as you know how to ride a bike, plus unlike a segway, the costs are significantly less and you’re far more likely to go unnoticed. As much as I like segways, it’s hardly true of a two wheeled scooter which you lean around to steer.

While many people will say it doesn’t eliminate the problem to the environment due to the fact that it uses electricity, which is produced mostly by burning fossil fuels and therefore still adding to the problem. However, although this is true, unlike greenhouse gas emissions which can’t ever be a good thing, electricity will be generated in environmentally friendly ways in the future more so than at present which is a great thing. I welcome wholehearedly the building of more off-shore wind farms and of course solar power, not to mention water. I see both these sources as being a great opportunity for everyone to save generate their own power in the years to come. I hope we will start to see more rooftop mounted wind turbines and solar panels as time goes on.

So essentially what I’m saying is that I think bikes, segways and especially electric motor assisted bikes are among the many solutions that will be the future of personal transportation. Well, at least until something else gets invented.