I've always felt uncomfortable at the hibernation our sport seems to take in Summer. In my opinion this represents the overbearing influence Canada has on our sport. Websites are filled with rumors of the season to come or video recaps of the past year, a certain (Canadian) website is still churning out Rampage content in January! Yet despite this the world of Downhill still carries on strongly with the likes of the southern hemisphere holding their national series and plenty of other small race series across the world. Now I love summer as much as the next rider, a dry trail, long heady evening rides and a barbeque to finish it off, days don't get better than that, but that shouldn't detract from the wide variety of riding that Winter has to offer. Our sport originates from Californian hippies who would probably do worse on a drugs test than the combined '99 Tour, all they wanted was to get loose, do something a bit dangerous and have fun. What is stopping you taking their lead and going and having a spin in the mud and snow? What has happened is a Canadian homogenisation of the bike scene. Smooth, bike park trails, with jumps that riders are able to style out without fear of danger or big, one off stunts are becoming what defines Downhill. Any riding beyond these realms is considered old fashioned, if you're not literally destroying a berm, you're not riding it properly.
I find it strange that the epicentre of our sport, by which I mean mainly Whistler, is a place that is only capable of hosting it for half the year. I really do feel this is reflected in the riding too. Stevie Smith is the only Downhiller of real repute to come out of Canada, but yet we flock there in droves every year to supposedly find the best trails in the world. Contrast this to Britain, we are another country with access to fantastic and varied scenery. On top of this we have the possibility of riding all year round and a large presence on the World Cup scene yet we are largely ignored by cycling tourists. I just don't feel that Whistler is representative. It's monotonous and doesn't explore the more adventurous, outgoing angle our sport can offer. I think the prime example of this is the allergy people seem to have to breaking bumps, yes they're annoying and they give arm pump like nothing else but in my mind Downhill is all about tackling the most technical terrain possible and those who excel will be able to tackle it the fastest. I still feel that mother nature should dictate some of the formation of these tracks. The fact that a team has to be employed to smooth out the braking bumps all year round at Whistler just shows that they are removing a natural part of our sport and that reducing the trails to glorified BMX tracks. Braking bumps and bikes go hand in hand, if you're capable of still railing a turn after successfully negotiating them, then I would say you're closer to the essence of Downhill than anyone at a bike park could attain. There can be something satisfying about conquering a track that's not just designed to offer cheap adrenaline rushes to the masses, something a bit more rugged and un-preened can challenge you in ways a 30 ft tabletop just never will.
I'm well aware that Canada is an amazing place to ride, it's certainly on my bucket list, especially Whistler. I just hope that the idolisation of bike park culture over traditional trail design is not a sign of the future of Downhill. Canada's domination of the freeride scene I'm sure is in no small part due to their phenomenal bikeparks, but for Downhill riding inspiration we really need look no further than our own shores. Our pedigree in racing, and variety of tracks and terrain is phenomenal, I know there is a yearning for lift accessed trails but in my experience they only lead to a culture of cruising down trails waiting for the big jumps. A push up forces you to squeeze every last bit of fun out of a trail, it encourages you to session sections and improve skills and, perhaps more than anything, the social aspect of this British rite of passage creates a unique scene which breeds race success. So whilst I believe Canada has so much to offer for the world of mountain biking, I don't believe we should be so short sighted as to revere it as a holy grail, lest we lose sight of what natural promise is here on our doorstep.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
So, Aaron Gwin's at the centre of controversy again. In replacing Sam Hill at Specialized he has spawned a rumour mill of speculation. I've read accusations of contract breaking, threats of legal action and even that the move may be connected to the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. To be honest we may never know the true ins and outs surrounding Gwin's departure. I believe one thing for certain though, his motive will have been purely financial. This will not sit well with many people, who believe our sport to have some sort of idealised core of purity. That our heroes, who risk life and limb week in, week out do it only for enjoyment, that they wouldn't get sucked in by capitalist agendas. Unfortunately, I think this is probably the time to accept the unavoidable fact that the DH World Cup we all love, is above all, a way to sell us bikes and make money.