In Praise of…Primitive Lines

By Mike Ferrention
Photo by Jordan Manley

Charles C. Mann’s book, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, details the impact of the discovery of the Americas on the rest of the world. It lays out in fascinating detail the social, political and physical connections that were forged between the disparate parts of the globe and how they went on to shape the world that we know today. Mann refers to this new, interconnected world brought about by what is known as The Columbian exchange as The Homogenocene.

Mountain biking is experiencing a homogenocene of its own. Reaping the harvest of political validity after decades of struggle, riders are finally getting some say in how trails are designed and built, and are now riding all over the world on a growing network of trails designed by and for mountain bikers. They are riding trails that are built with a key consideration
being the path of a rolling wheel. They are built, to batter an overused word some more, with flow. By and large, this is something worth celebrating.

But then again, there is something, well, homogenous, at work in the homogenocene. A flowy trail in the French Alps will be much like a flowy trail in the California Sierra, which will be not a whole lot different than a flowy trail in the Southern Alps of New Zealand—more or less.

Rustic diversity, the tactile challenge that comes with trying to stuff a pair of rolling wheels down a twisty piece of dirt that never had wheels in mind when it became a trail, gets shunted to the side as new trails are crafted that reward momentum and are tailored to ease the wheel’s passage. Fine, but…

What about the steep, steep, steep death-courting slippery limestone fear that you find clinging to the sides of cliffs at the north end of Lake Garda? What about the aching hard-won beauty of the Scottish Highlands? Or the gritstone and peat bog of the Yorkshire Dales? What about all those secret
slabs of granite chunk hidden throughout the Sierra Nevada? What about Gooseberry Mesa?

What about trails made by druids 3,000 years ago; trails made by gold miners; trails made by smugglers; trails made by native hunters; trails made by animals; trails that go nowhere; trails that make you curse with rage because they are so tight and steep it is an accomplishment to ju st stay upright and moving forward; trails that above all else do not flow? What about all those thousands upon thousands of miles of trail that know nothing of berms or sculpted jump faces?

What about those trails? Those incredibly diverse, patently local trails that already cover most of this planet? They rule. That’s what. They are why people started riding mountain bikes in the first place. And they are what flavor this sport

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