Is mountain biking all about the yahoo adrenaline rush? Or is there more to it than that?
Have you ever found yourself in a perpetual argument with a child? You know the argument. The one where every answer you give elicits a response of ‘why?’
“Can I have some lollies?”
“Because they’re bad for you.”
“Because they have lots of sugar.”
And so the argument continues for what feels like eternity, until you give in and buy the damn lollies. I found myself in one of these arguments recently, only it was about mountain biking and not lollies. The strange thing was, it was with myself.
After flying down one of my favourite descents and perfectly clearing every jump, turn and rock, I was on cloud nine, buzzing and thinking ‘this is awesome’. That is, until the little child in my brain asked ‘why?’ Nice one, brain… way to ruin the moment by plunging me into a philosophical thought bubble about why we ride and what the rewards are.
On first thought, I’d say I ride for the adrenaline rush. But, in reality, it’s so much more than this. Like many, I love the thought of heading into the hills and exploring. Rides don’t have to be adrenaline-fuelled and full of excitement for me to have an awesome time. Often, the feeling of freedom and the simplicity of a two-wheeled journey is more than enough.
For most, this subtler appreciation starts in the younger years. As a kid, you’d head out and explore your neighbourhood and beyond, aboard your bike. During that era of homework and parental dependence, a bike was the ultimate ticket to freedom. If you had two wheels, you needn’t rely on mum and dad for transport. You were suddenly in control of your destination, with the only limiting factor being the amount of daylight available.
Fast forward a few decades and the liberating aspect of riding still persists – even if you can’t experience its freeing simplicity near as much as you’d like to, because of to the non-stop, hectic modern existence we call ‘life’.
CHASING THE LURE
Laura Stigger in Cyprus. PICTURE CREDIT: Mirja Geh/Red Bull Content Pool.
Another major reason a lot of people love riding is the rewards gained. In a sport as dynamic as mountain biking, these come many and varied: a sense of achievement, improvements in fitness, bragging rights, Strava KOM/QOMs, competition results, maybe even prize money. Just to name a few.
Motivation, training, effort and even luck all play a part in reaping these rewards. In years gone by, I’d spend countless hours at dirt jumps and BMX tracks, lured in by bragging rights and a sense of achievement. I’d throw caution to the wind and ignore the risks, jumping bigger and further as my skills improved.
Recently, I went back to an old stomping ground and tried to relive the days of old, with very limited success! My skills were still there, but my brain was in a different space. A child, wife, full-time job, mortgage and many other commitments were all at risk if I botched it. The rewards just weren’t worth it. They no longer outweighed the risk for me.
RISK VERSUS REWARD
Paul Basagoitia during the Red Bull Rampage Finals in 2014. PICTURE CREDIT:Dean Treml/Red Bull Content Pool.
It’s a classic battle faced by riders the world over. Is it worth hitting that jump, riding that line without brakes, or hopping those roots?
Even for the best of the best, this conundrum can wreak havoc. In 2015, Paul Basagoitia suffered a horrendous crash and fractured his T12 vertebrae while participating in the Red Bull Rampage, a premier freeride event known for its huge jumps, drops and gaps. He’s been living with paralysis from the crash ever since.
In the days and weeks following Basagoitia’s crash, fellow riders, media and fans weighed up the risks and rewards of the event, and demanded change. And in Rampage events since 2015, both the level of risk and amount of reward have been modified.
Every ride has the potential for huge risk. With bikes capable of incredibly high speeds, riders wearing comparatively limited protection, and all manner of obstacles and conditions to deal with, the risk level can be sky-high.
Thankfully, the human instinct for self-preservation is usually enough to control this risk. But occasionally we can overdo it in playing it safe, with the little voice inside our heads dreaming up a risk level far higher than the actual one.
Succumbing to this voice can leave you feeling dejected and beaten, but at such times it’s good to remember you did indeed get home safely. Besides, the challenge you bowed down to isn’t going anywhere, so perhaps you can reap your desired reward in different conditions and with extra practice.
The beauty of mountain biking lies in its variety – from disciplines and bike types, to locations, conditions, and even the very reasons why we ride. It’s different for everyone, and ever-changing. Whatever rewards impel you to ride, you’re bound to have a blast chasing them.
READ MORE ABOUT MOUNTAIN BIKING