Mountain Biking Skills

If you are good enough it doesn’t matter…

by Robb Sutton

As I was scrolling through the usual mountain biking Facebook groups the other morning, I noticed a trend. We talk a lot about gear and what is “the best”. Yes I get the irony of bringing this up on a mountain biking gear review site but I think it is safe to say that it is just part of the sport.

There is nothing wrong with that.

I enjoy geeking out on mountain biking gear as much as the next rider. The only thing better than new bike day is getting that new bike dirty. Mountain bikes and the gear that surrounds the sport has made giant technological leaps over the years to the point that most of the bikes from the 80’s and 90’s almost seem unridable now.

Some people can get really passionate about what they consider “the best” to the point that it can sometimes cause some pretty heated debates online. But that makes me think of two key points that I really think get lost in today’s online debates.

  1. Everything is SO GOOD now that you really can’t go wrong.
  2. If you are good enough…none of it matters…

It’s true. It used to be that entry level bikes were horrible in comparison with their higher end counterparts. There was a big technology gap between the two and that was very apparent on the trail. Fast forward to today and that gap has never been narrower.

Yes…you will have stiffer components, better suspension and possibly lighter weight. But…if you rode back in the day and knew the difference between a RockShox Quadra 5 and a Judy SL…the current gap between a 35 and a Lyrik almost seems like nothing.

If you are good enough…none of it matters…

We used to do a group road ride back in the day. I would usually show up on whatever bike I was reviewing. One day, I showed up on a top end Specialized Tarmac. Not only did that bike look fast. It was fast. It was also crazy expensive.

We started off with the A group that day. I normally could ride at the front and push the B group but there are some pretty quick guys locally so I would usually just stay in the pack of the A and try not to get dropped. Every now and then some of the A’s would “slum it for the day” and go with the B’s which just made for one big A group (sometimes we would end up passing the original A group) but that is a story for another day.

There was one rider that would come out pretty frequently and it was always fun to watch people size him up for the first time that didn’t know him. Why? Because he was riding a $200 Walmart road bike.

He would typically stick in the pack for awhile and just hang out. When it was his turn to pull…you knew it. The average pace went up significantly. Just when you thought your legs were going to completely fall of…he would pull off the front of the pack and he made it look so casual. Every now and then on the climbs someone would get an ego and think they could take him in their matching kit. He would toy with them for awhile and then just drop them like they were standing still.

I don’t want this to sound like he was being an ass at all. He wasn’t. He was a very quiet and extremely nice guy. He could just ride the wheels off of any bike he was riding that day. It became a game to the rest of us to see who would be “that guy” that day that got his ego checked at the door while riding a bike worth as much as a car.

It’s no different in mountain biking

I have seen the same thing in mountain biking. If you have the skills, the gear seems to mean a whole lot less than it does to us mere mortals. So while we obsess about changing out our fork to get “more small bump sensitivity”, they barely notice. Maybe it is better form that allows better riders to get more out of the same equipment. Or maybe increased skill overcomes shortcomings in lower end bikes and components.

Whatever it is…the better you are at riding a mountain bike…the less you stress over the little changes in the equipment. Unless you are just a gear head and that is ok too.

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