In Praise of… Common Sense

By Brice Minnigh
Photo by Dan Barham

Common sense: most of us think we have it in spades. Common sense is generally perceived as the ability to use one's experiences—both past and present—to guide choices and actions. Using the information we gather with our senses, we start to develop common sense at a very young age, with trial and error dictating our future courses of action. All it takes is one touch of a hot stove for one to realize that, in the future, it is not a good idea to touch
something that is dangerously high in temperature.

In theory at least, this same type of experiential learning should translate into the world of mountain biking, but in reality most of us continually defy common sense. We crash in rock gardens and on greasy roots, and rather
than concluding that it is a bad idea to ride our bikes over these obstacles at high speeds, we get back up and do it all over again. And most of the general public thinks this type of behavior is counter-evolutionary, if not downright
imbecilic. The common man-in-the-street might have a point, but it doesn't seem like any of us give a damn.

Within our own mountain-biking community, however, we have a drastic disparity in levels of common sense—and this can become apparent from observing basic behaviors such as general trail etiquette to bigger decisions like whether or not to hit a jump blind.

Take, for example, the question of how to properly ride past another rider who is going the opposite direction down the same trail. While the old-school guideline dictates that climbers have priority over descenders in such situations, this general rule of thumb is often taken to ridiculous extremes, with climbers insisting on taking up the entire trail even when it is clearly wide
enough for both riders to pass each other without brushing elbows or clipping bars. Many of the Bike staff take issue with this type of blind rule-following, as it invariably leads to the interruption of a fun descent for no compelling reason—apart from thoughtless obediance to an archaic edict
that invokes mountain biking's past more than its present realities.

In this case of climbing versus descending priority, one could just as easily argue that the descender should always have priority, as he is no doubt going at a higher speed and therefore has marginally less control over his bike than the climber, who usually will only need to put a foot down to stop and move to the side. In such cases, this would allow the descender to enjoy the downhill fruits of his previous climbing labor without any unnecessary delays, while the climber can simply restart the arduous task of ascending the trail.

Regardless of whether we are rule-followers or not, most riders routinely ignore certain aspects of gravity and inertia, trying to work these forces to our advantage while knowing that it might not work out the way we hope it will. And that's exactly the way we like it.