By Sal Ruibal
Last week I wrote about riding a road bike on mountain bike trails. Now it seems that bike world has flipped over into some kind of Bizarro World: UCI World Cup Mountain Bike racing without mountains.
The people who control international bike racing live and work in Switzerland, which is basically a bunch of mountains in the middle of Europe. Everywhere you look, there are big peaks and goats climbing them. There are also a few churches here and there.
So when the UCI bureaucrats were thinking about revamping our beloved sport of mountain biking, they decided to drop the “mountain” part and replace it with churches and other big, old buildings on hills in cities.
The much-maligned ‘short track’ discipline, which was like riding in circles at your local gravel pit, has been replaced with the Eliminator, which sounds cool and gnarly and extreme, but is really a screwed-up excuse for doing what most non-bikers hate about bikers: riding like crazy idiots down and up urban stairs, sidewalks and narrow one-way streets while consuming cans of Red Bull.
On paper it must have sounded OK to the good burghers of Basel, since they wouldn’t have to get their patent leather loafers scuffed at an actual mountain site, but the Swiss overlords and their $10,000 precise-to-a-nanosecond watches spent about 25 Euros on a shabby start-gate system that had been previously used as an exit gate at Tin-Tin World in Paris.
If this were swimming instead of cycling, they would have the competitors racing at a water park, sliding down big plastic tubes with snorkels in their mouths. Horse jumping? The equestrian events would be on a merry-go-round.
People who wear expensive neckties are responsible for most of the woes in this world, so I believe that these Swiss cheese-holers never saw “Klunkerz” or even read anything about the origins of mountain biking.
I know it’s hard for many readers to believe that there was a time when marijuana was not available as a side dish at Arby’s, but trust me. Before mountain bikes were ever officially raced, they were designed and hand-built in the 1970s and used by pot growers in Northern California to escape capture by law enforcement officials raiding covert cannabis gardens.
There has long been a connection between riding like hell down a mountain trail on a bike while fleeing the police and almost zero connection with riding up and down cobblestones and curbs in Ouest Fonduevia.
Perhaps it is an idea lost in translation: We call them mountain bikes or MTBs. The Euro UCI calls them VTTs or velos tout terrain or “all-terrain bikes.”
That’s a pretty big umbrella but that’s why the UCI is always getting wet. There are holes big enough to justify racing on any damn terrain they want, including velodromes, soccer fields, circus tents, frozen lakes, secret CIA terrorist prisons, anywhere.
To me, it is pretty simple. Cross-country mountain bike racing should be done on dirt trails with significant climbing and descending sections peppered with natural obstacles at a speed and distance that will make you puke at the finish. It should be no shorter than 45 minutes and no longer than three weeks. Ride whatever bike you have and don’t be ashamed about it.
Enduros, downhill, etc., should also be run on natural terrain with obstacles appropriate to the event and skill-level of the participants.
And if you are really a stickler for historical details, fire one up at the start, but don’t expect the cops to come chasing after you.