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.