Mountain Bikes Have Never Been More Capable. They make riding challenging terrain more fun and Safe!
So why is the dominant trend in mainstream trail design rolling, smooth, 4ft wide trails with zero features or personality?
On one hand it comes off as a humblebrag: "trails are too easy for me these days thanks to those darn millennials and their PC agenda". On the other, it seems to be suggesting that because today's expensive, high-end bikes make riding difficult trails easy, we should make the trails more technical to maintain a baseline of perceived difficulty, thus requiring cyclists to remain on the bleeding edge of tech in order to enjoy themselves. This is like saying we should starve public transit while letting our infrastructure go to shit and instead set policy that encourages people to drive around in oversized all-terrain vehicles.
Oh wait, that's what we're doing.
Granted, the "problem" is not really a problem around these parts. Here, it's rooty and rocky, and unless you rip all the trees and boulders out and bulldoze everything flat that's not going to change. If anything I encounter more and more built features designed to indulge people who ride around on bikes with lots of suspension and making videos of themselves with their iPhones.
What, ultimately, is the point of riding these overwrought cutting-edge mountain bikes if they're just making things "easier, safer, more fun"? Are the bikes and trails just supposed to keep getting proportionately burlier until we need to ride all-terrain recumbents that look like Mars rovers? It seems to me that the "ever-increasing firepower" approach to bikes is kind of silly (hence the gravel bike phenomenon) which is what I'm getting at.
At the same time, the bicycle industry seems to react in a roundabout way when it comes to riding off-road. Common wisdom holds that the gravel bike was a response to the limitations of the road bike, but wasn’t it just as much of a response to the limitations of all those over-suspended mountain bikes ill-suited to the long haul? Basically with gravel bikes and “road plus” and all the rest of it, we’ve just reinvented the rigid mountain bike and added drop bars—which is pretty much exactly what John Tomac was riding almost 30 years ago.
In light of this, doesn't it make sense to enjoy these rolling, smooth trails on simpler bicycles? Isn't the appearance of having "zero features or personality" a function of riding a bike that's designed to isolate the rider from any trail features or personality that might be present? Isn't it kind of silly we're now at the point where even your saddle has to telescope, and if you don't get to use that feature on a ride then it's because the trail is somehow featureless and devoid of personality?
Well, the answers are obviously yes, yes, and yes.
(Thanks to Bike Snob NYC and Bicycling Magazine for the inspiration)