It’s been a funny last few years. I’m not talking about my personal circumstances, but just our little world of bikes.
Riding a bike has always been a hobby for most people. As we develop as riders I think it’s fair to say that for a lot folk the bike becomes an extension of their personality. You have guys like Inness Graham who can take a bike worth £200 quid and make it look like he’s having the best time in the world, through to guys on £7000 carbon boost xl drop neon thingys for whom the sight of tree roots sparks a near prolapse. Yes I’m generalising. But it’s fine, we’re all different and enjoy different things.
What our humble steeds gives us is a chance to express ourselves through a different medium. Some people enjoy lycra, others hanging out at the dirt jumps with a joint and ghetto blaster, some like racing and some enjoy the internet.
The sport has widened, and the equipment has developed way beyond the £250 yellow Raleigh Max I did my first DH race on. I mean, can you imagine a kid doing a DH race on a £250 quid Raleigh in 2016?
Yet, we race the same tracks, use similar timing equipment and once the clock starts the bullshit stops.
DH couldn’t be in a better place really in terms of its marketing appeal yet with my rose tinted spectacles firmly on I miss the characters and depth of entries at regional and national races on the scene. They were always maxed out at 300 entries.
There were the Steve Barkers of this world, who could take home made bikes to World Cup top ten qualifying positions.
I mean, I recall the Red Bull 4 man night race at Innerleithen. It was well attended; I think Peaty was there too.
Barker was there, of course, with his Dad and bike maker Tom in their trusty Fiat motorhome, where the door was always open for a brew. Each pro had the latest tech lights on their bikes. You know, the “1 millions lumens in a light the size of your cheb end” kind of thing.
Before the first race, Tom unveiled something he’d been working on to me. Steve had a car battery strapped to the downtube of the Mr Big and a Hella Rally 1000 lamp strapped to his handlebars.
Nowadays it would be the kind of thing the Kiwis would make an edit about, and it would set the internet on fire. Yet, this was Steve and Tom, always ingenious in making things work with what they had, and Steve really was one of the most naturally gifted riders I ever rode with. It was quite the spectacle, and while it wasn’t a Cibie Super Oscar headlight that Ari Vatanen used to run, Steve didn’t need a BDA engine underneath him to light up Innerleithen that night.
He loved racing bikes. While he may not be a household name, or even have an Instagram account, Steve could teach 95% of riding participants a thing or two about bike skills. That time he turned up to Broomly Trails, said hello, and on his first run through, flipped the last double with Tom filming it, then went back to work at his garage.
People sniggered at the Mr Big till they saw it shifting on through the Sitka and down the slopes of World Cup tracks. When Steve qualified 10th at Alpe D’huez World Cup it was a highlight of my life.
They were heady days and what sparked this trip down memory lane was seeing Andrew Green’s custom Reynolds DH bike at the Aberfeldy SDA race. It’s easy to romanticise the past, but seeing a home made bike on track again was truly beautiful. Truly, all the big brand bikes are stunningly efficient these days, but our beloved hobby is about more than that. It’s easy to drool over the most expensive bikes, but don’t forget that they are only a tool for facilitating fun.
I’m not just rambling on here, or maybe I am. I don’t care. My point is , don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Don’t be a bike snob.
Remember why we started, all those nights hacking round building jumps out of old doors and pallets. No one gave a flying shit about the width of your rear axle back then and a Boost was a post ride treat, not an internet talking point. It was all about riding the nuts off whatever you were handed. It still is.
So next time you’re out Strava racing or catching that Instagram selfie, take note of the guy on the shit bike with gloves from 2001, 26” wheels and the maniacal grin.
He might just be having a better time than you.