Tech or Skill?

I wonder where the line is between the bike and the rider. Two years ago this month, I decided to try mountain biking. I had a bike – a 1985 fully-rigid Ross that I had bought new and had never ridden much. It surprised me how many comments that bike garnered on the trails, never having thought much about how mtbs had advanced technically.

I beat the shit out of myself on the Ross for a few months, never being quite sure whether my lack of ability or the bike’s shortcomings were more at fault for the bruise that had become my body. Before long, I bought a more modern bike, an entry-level hardtail with 650b mid-fat tires.

Immediately, I was riding better. Obviously, the bike made a difference, but in the time since, my skills have definitely improved. As I’ve gotten better, I’ve started to recognize my new bike’s shortcomings. For one, it has an exceptionally long wheelbase. That smooths out the bumps, but makes the bike less nimble and the chainring more vulnerable. On descents, there’s more up and down motion from the back than there would be with rear suspension, and more than once my center of gravity has risen higher than I’d like. On climbs, it can be hard to get far enough forward to keep the front wheel down. And the top bar is too high, making emergency dismounts harder than I’d like.

So, once again I find myself with new bike thoughts. Would I ride better on a full-squish bike with a shorter wheelbase? Probably.

But then, how much of that would be me and how much the bike? The point is for me to become a better cyclist, right? And fully mastering my hardtail is a way to do that.

But I could have said that about the Ross, too.

As my friend Dave likes to say, different questions yield different answers. So, is the point to become a better cyclist or to have fun?

I might be bike shopping this winter.


About swampyankeecyclist

I'm Andy Engel, just a middle-aged, middle-class guy from Roxbury, Connecticut. I've been married to my best friend since 1988, and we have two grown sons. I like riding bikes, and my biggest accomplishment is the 180K D2R2. I own 5 bikes but my go-to rides are a 2016 GT Grade gravel and commuter bike and a 2016 Specialized 650b hardtail mountain bike. Additionally, I have a 2000-something carbon-fiber Orbea road bike, a 1990-something Specialized Sirrus that's my old dirt and commuter bike and which now serves as a spare and a trainer bike, and a 1985 Ross Mount Hood MTB. All but the 650b have Brooks saddles. I work from home now, but used to commute 32 miles round trip to work by bike year round. I was a carpenter and still love building things, but regular paychecks, insurance, and vacation time lured me into journalism. I've written a couple of books on carpentry, and I've been an editor at Fine Homebuilding, Fine Woodworking, and Professional Deck Builder magazines. Currently, I manage construction events at the JLC Live and Remodeling Show trade shows. Additionally, my wife and I run Transylvania Guest House, an Airbnb. Find us on Instagram. Come stay with us and I'll show you some great cycling.
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