Every time I get on my bike, I'm thankful. Not for the time and ability to ride—those don't go unappreciated, but honestly, I could use more of both. What I'm generally thinking about is how relieved I am that I'm on a bike that rides so well.
I didn't discover mountain biking until my early 20s—a burned-out journalist seeking respite in the woods—so I never truly had to suffer through our sport's growing pains. Although I've certainly experienced awkward geometry, too-short bars and too-long stems, narrow rims and wimpy tires, I'm blissfully ignorant of most of mountain biking's worst historic ailments. I almost don't deserve to be pedaling bikes that are nearly slack enough for the World Cup downhill circuit but also climb like a scared cat scaling a tree, because I haven't lived through enough of the uncomfortable stuff.
Instead, I reap the rewards from so much of the trial and error and experimentation that came before my mountain bike awakening. That's the beauty of progression—we're all paying the price now for someone else's future perfection.
One of the greatest examples of this dynamic in our industry is Josh Bender and his effect on the world of freeride. When photographer Reuben Krabbe and writer Matt Coté pitched us a feature on current-day Bender, we could hardly sign off fast enough. While Bender was a polarizing figure in the height of his popularity—many questioned whether he had any actual talent, labeling him as merely a crazed stunt man with a death wish—it's undeniable that he pushed the limits of what was possible on a bike far beyond any other rider before him. And in the process, he helped establish freeride as a legitimate discipline. He holed up in his desert hovel and hucked off cliffs in Virgin, Utah, well before Rampage transformed those same cliffs into a venue for the world's gnarliest freeride competition. In fact, he's the reason Rampage exists at all—he led organizers to the location and built some of the sketchiest early lines, having envisioned Rampage years before it became reality.
Bender is a husband and a father now, far removed from his daredevil past, living in an isolated pocket of northern California, where he and his family practice a mellow, minimalistic lifestyle, but he still grapples with his legacy. And he's still fascinating, as Coté and Krabbe document in their feature on Bender in the June issue: "The Last of My Kind.”
Bender's exploits, no matter how reckless, undoubtedly opened the door for freeride to progress to a point where today, a crew can travel to the farthest reaches of earth to scout and ride untracked lines down big mountains with a powerhouse like Red Bull Media House funding the entire three-week trip. This was the case for the upcoming film, "North of Nightfall," and Blake Jorgenson's photo essay, "Freeze Dried,” offers a glimpse into the surreal Arctic landscape the crew encountered on this once-in-a-lifetime trip, which can also be found in this issue.
As they prepared to drop into the steepest and most consequential lines of their lives last summer, the group of some of today's biggest freeride stars may have been worlds away from Bender's final cliff drop, but perhaps they too gave a silent nod to those who came before.
Evolution is nothing new to us. Maybe it’s our bikes, our heroes or our trails, but nothing stays the same for long. And when change does come, we can usually trust it will be better than what preceded it, no matter how attached we might have been. After all, those things we got attached to were new and unknown once too. But what about when something sacred is threatened? Something we thought would be eternal? Something as vital and constant as our local bike shops? That’s a question gear editor Travis Engel takes on in this issue’s new gear department, In Deep. “The New Economy” explores what consumer-direct bike sales is doing to the retail landscape. Through statistics, interviews, and some compelling parallels with the taxi industry, we hope to get you thinking about what this particular evolution will mean for our community.
You will notice that there is no bike review in this issue. But fear not, as a companion to “The New Economy,” Ryan Palmer reviewed the $2,400 Canyon Spectral, a bike that would cost you at least another grand if not for Canyon’s consumer-direct model. By sheer luck, Palmer encounters one of the potential pitfalls of ordering a bike online without test riding it first and documents the process of finding a solution with Canyon’s help. That online review is nearly twice the length of a review we might bring you in print, and with three times the pretty pictures. Bike Test will be back next month, but Palmer’s Spectral review is a perfect example of an evolution that’s for the better. If we were resistant to change, we’d be in the wrong industry.