Too much of what the average person sees in the media about mountain biking portrays the super fit, dripping with sweat, in their Spandex-accentuated buns of steel; or the pro young bucks, flying off cliffs, with their Red Bull-infused nerves of steel.
And even mountain bike bloggers like me contribute to the problem.
Several of the comments in the Facebook discussion thread I started (publicly viewable) referred directly or indirectly to the image they have of mountain biking that discourages many people from trying it.
For example, Myrna Mibus wrote:
I’d say all of the above plus add “little room for non hard core riders” as a factor, too. There is room for the recreational mtn biker, as I have discovered, but I think the image many cyclists portray makes people feel unwelcome. For someone new, lack of information on where to ride is also a factor. There’s also a feeling that you “need” an expensive bike and equipment to ride, especially if you want to keep up with the gang. Actually, I think it’s the keeping up with the gang thing that keeps people away quite a bit in all areas of bicycling. That and the feeling that there is no place for riders who aren’t competitive/go fast types.
We need to figure out how to make mountain biking accessible and attractive to more than white males of a certain age. Mountain biking isn’t necessarily what the general public perceives it to be. Changing those perceptions is the first step to widening our rider base to its full potential.
Here’s the biggie – Do potential beginners (of every age, race and gender) even know these [beginner trails] exist? Or do they see the picture above/below and the media showing the advanced features and Red Bull series and Griz and X and XX at Leb?
I met and had coffee with fellow MORC member Chris Awe yesterday. I wanted to chat with him because A) he’s the only one in the Twin Cities area who’s completed Level 1 and 2 of the IMBA Instructor Certification Program (ICP); and B) he posted this comment in the MORC Forum about the image of mountain biking:
… mountain biking is glorified in two ways. First, on TV. Picture the great trail from the last summer Olympics. That would have been a great ride! Fuel TV. I love watching those huge drops down the side of a mountain and nothing but 20 feet of air between the ground and a rider. Glory and gore make great TV. Riding a trail safely, skillfully and looking at the beauty of nature around just doesn’t make it past the editing room floor.
Second, Us. Yes, our stories of fantastic drops, huge log piles, insurmountable rock gardens, and blood laden wipeouts tend to dominate our mountain biking conversations. Much like the “one that got away” stories that any angler worth his salt tells.
Why would anyone that has a conservative demeanor want to take on this terrifying sport?
But what should mountain biking be to someone that wants to go out and enjoy the forest yet fears leaving their life giving blood all over the trail? It should be the exact opposite of what the media portrays and the stories we all tell.
We with experience would find that ride quite boring. It should be a lesson on the basic skills. A slow, controlled ride with several stop to check out how everyone is doing. Your leader should not be jumping, hopping, dropping or doing anything “wicked cool”. They should be doing EXACTLY what the least skilled rider is capable of, whether that be just you and a friend or a group tour. I know, this is boring for you, but this ride isn’t about you, is it?
A beginner mountain bike ride should be safe, easy, fun and educational. And it should be crystal clear to any new rider, whether they are 10, 30 or 60 that a ride is what you make of it. Not what TV tells us what it is or the brutal stories we share.
So, if you have senior friends that are intrigued, they would definitely benefit from a reassuring conversation about the beginner trails, the great smell of the forest. The slow ride that won’t tax aching joints. And definitely, no tails about how you went “endo”…
Yes, I’m an offender. Examples from this blog abound and my ego wants me to link to some of those posts. I’m not taking a vow of abstinence but it’s pretty clear that we need more videos and photos of people with a variety of average body types, riding mountain bikes on gentle rolling trails, some wearing plain old shorts, t-shirts and tennis shoes, with an occasional scene of riders stopping to smell the roses.
The Silicon Valley Mountain Bikers (an IMBA chapter) just published this new 2-minute video that seems to convey XC mountain biking in a way that seems more attractive to beginners. Maybe we need whole websites that reflect this type of mountain biking.
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So do it. Get it through your Thick Skull.