Like many sports, mountain biking has a lot of things that are held to be truths, usually ones handed down like precious scripture from the wise elders. The only problem with that is that a lot of them aren't true. Our Jon takes aim at five he things are rubbish.
1. The bike doesn't matter
This one is often knocked out by people looking to do down a fellow rider that's had the temerity to go and get themselves a new bike, often because they'd really like to have one too.
Envy aside, I've ridden bloody hundreds of the things and I've got to say that the bike very much does matter. That bloke who said it doesn't is a liar and a cheat. A good bike is much more fun than a rubbish one, so it makes sense to have a good one, all other things being equal.
Of course, a bike is better than no bike at all, but then that's obvious, isn't it?
2. Riding a hardtail will teach you skills
This is most usually trotted out by someone who first started riding back when the suspension fork was just a twinkle in Paul Turner's eye, as they sneer at modern full-suspension bikes for being 'skill compensators' or some such.
Well, while it's true that some techniques such as the manual and pumping through trails are easier to feel when you're getting them right without the filter of suspension, the idea that just because you're riding a hardtail means that you're going to become a more skilled rider than someone who isn't is laughable.
For a start, skill is all about how much a rider can master the essentials of body positioning and balancing, along with reading the trail and the bike's reaction to it. In many ways, a hardtail is far less forgiving should you get it wrong and while a full sus bike might let you get away with poor technique more often when you're learning, you'll still need to master certain skills regardless.
Anyway, trying to think about how you're weighting the tyres and how much you need to brake is usually much harder when you're getting your eyeballs rattled about in your skull and your ankles whacked through the cranks because you thought the suspension would make it too easy for you.
3. Short and steep bikes are better for beginners
I once compared the geometry of a leading brand's top cross-country race hardtail to that of their entry-level hardtail range. Oddly enough, it was almost exactly the same, except for the beginner's bike had a slightly lower bottom bracket and a marginally taller headtube; the bike made for extremely skilled pros who wanted lightning fast handling for race conditions was pretty much the same shape as the one made for people brand new to the sport.
That's a bit like getting learner drivers to take their test in an F1 car instead of a small hatchback or trainee pilots taking their first flight in a supersonic fighter jet instead of a lumbering old Cessna. There's the potential for things to go just fine, there's also the potential for things to go wrong, very quickly.
Just as you'd prefer a friendly waggy puppy over a crazed, starving and methamphetamine-addicted wolf as your first pet, doesn't it make more sense for beginner's bikes to have calm, stable geometry that's liable to let them get away with a mistake instead of tearing their head off? That means beginner's bikes should look more like trail bikes than cross-country race bikes - yet most of them don't.
4. You should upgrade to clipless pedals as fast as possible
When I first started riding, it used to be that as soon as you'd managed to stay upright on 50% of a descent or more, it was quickly time to switch to a set of clipless pedals from whatever horrible plastic flat things had come with the bike, because that's what proper mountain bikers used for riding cross-country - and pretty much everything else apart from dirt jumping.
That does rather add another steep learning curve to a sport that has a pretty steep learning curve already, so it's nice that there's now a growing acceptance that it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, there's no doubt that a clipless pedal is always going to be much more efficient, but if Sam Hill can sprint his way to an Enduro World Series victory on a set of flat pedals, it's definitely possible to make it round your local loop on them without dying of exhaustion.
I'm not saying flat pedals are better - in many ways they aren't - but don't feel railroaded into attaching your feet to the bike as soon as you can. Become comfortable and confident with some half-decent flats first, then make the move to clips if you want to. I've seen too many people have their confidence crushed as they struggle to clip in on techy sections and end up tripodding an entire trail or ending up tangled up in their bikes after relatively small stacks that could have been avoided if they hadn't felt the need to clip in so soon.
5. You need to spend a lot of money to get a good mountain bike
Okay, so this one very much depends on your definition of 'a lot', but one of my favourite bikes of last year was the Whyte 605, which is a quid under £700 and in the scheme of things, a pretty affordable bike. Okay, that's still a thousand cans of coke, but it's more likely to prevent you getting obese that making it a surefire certainty. There's also the Voodoo Bizango that can be found for a bit above £500 as well as many other perfectly capable, durable and enjoyable machines you can find without making your credit card combust.
Anyway, my point is that despite riding loads of very fancy bikes - some that cost ten times what that Whyte costs - every ride I had on it left me with a great big grin on my face. Did it dispatch technical descents with as much ease as a fancy full susser? No. Did it let me speed up and down hills with little effort? Again, no. Would all the components on it survive being battered day-in, day-out as well as those that cost as much as the entire bike alone? Probably not.
What it did do was tick pretty much every box a mountain bike should do in terms of handling, performance and fun. That means that, unless you want to, you probably don't need to spend any more. I'm not saying more expensive bikes are pointless - they offer a whole other load of benefits - I'm just saying that if you want to experience essential thrills of riding a mountain bike then it'll hit the spot. Supermarket cava isn't vintage Champagne, but it'll give you a pretty good idea what the experience is about.
Got any more to add to the list? Strongly disagree with any on here? Do let me know in the comments below...
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