TCI Friday

Somewhere in the big bucket of drafts I keep, unfinished ideas, started and abandoned works of great genius, there is a long (way too long) exploration of why so many of the humans who ride bicycles have shifted their attention from road biking to pedaling the self-same vehicle on less smooth terrain. Call it a trend. A movement? Maybe.

And there are various reasons.

My pet theory, the one I’m most attached to and likely to ignore contrary evidence of, is what I call “The Animating Principle” theory, and it hold that, at any given time in the cycloverse, there is an animating principle, an exciting idea, that moves through the minds of keen cyclists and spurs them to consider trying something new.

For example, in the 1980s, mountain bikes showed up in forms and quantities that suggested a new genre not only existed, but that those of us who did not participate might be missing out. Or, think of the gravitational pull of the late ’90s (and the rider whose name must not be spoken) that got people kitted up and turned out on too-fast (and too stiff) road bikes. These were the “Animating Principles” of the day, and currently we are living through a time when the “gravel” bike and the full-suspension 29er are the shiniest, brightest ideas on the floor at the shop.

And yes, there are rational reasons underlying the principle. So many roadies, tired of the anxiety caused by errant and intransigent drivers, have adopted the gravel bike as an alternative. Kids who used to rush into BMX, are now taking up mountain biking. It’s a way to ride with friends, ride with parents. It’s accessible and fun in a way that road biking is not (for kids).

So there are real drivers (no pun) of the current trend that are cultural, but there are also practical factors. The group ride has become an impracticable ritual in the time of infectious disease. The races have all been canceled.

And thus you see #savetherimbrake appended to Instagram posts that might formerly have been the most exciting bike you’d seen that day. Such are the death spasms of the waning velo zeitgeist.

I’m being simplistic, which is why my draft exploration of this subject has grown so long and cumbersome and remains in the old word bucket, but you get my point(s).

This week’s TCIF asks, have you heard the pull of the dirt? If so, what flavor dirt do you like best? And if the rim brake (yes, I blithely ignored disc-road bikes as a category) is in real danger, do you think YOU will keep a rim-brake bike? What does the future of that bike, that used to sit so comfortably on the top of the heap, look like now?

Join the conversation
  1. TominAlbany says

    Way back in the mid-’90s when I was pushing (and pulling) 30, a summer intern that reported to me learned I was a roadie and got me into Mtn Biking. That was the first time the dirt called. And I kept at it for about 8-10 years until I got married and had kids and driving to the trails seemed more wasteful of my time than just hopping on the road bike from home. I’d managed to get to Moab, Tahoe, Pittsfield, MA, Northeast Arizona, Durango, Boulder, Monarch Pass in that period of time. Road biking was a calling but MTB was an adventure. I’m still mostly a roadie but… (there’s always one of those, eh?) I recently (2 years ago) bought a used CX bike that’ll fit 40-somethings and so I’ve been playing at dirt again but, the meager connectedness of my options means a lot of driving again. Ugh… Also it has Avid 5 mechanical disks and I just can’t keep them from rubbing. Double ugh…

    That said, my 2001 trek fuel with v-brakes still runs ok. And there have been more trails created locally which means I can get there without it costing too much time so, I have gone playing there. But, tightly wound, town park systems lose newness after a bit and I long for the all-day or at least all afternoon adventures with epic views I used to enjoy. (Missing those friends as well!)

    So, I get on my rim brake, 1998 Serotta Titanium and ride around. I’ll ride some dirt and gravel on those 25s but I’m tentative. I’m older. Healing time is longer. (I know you know…) I’ve gone revisiting some old haunts and hills and have slowly expanded outward as my fitness returns. And, I strongly feel that you don’t replace a road bike like that. It’s beautiful and it will never fail. So, I replace parts and try to keep the rims and pads in good shape.

    But, I may kit up the CX bike with a bag or two and go exploring for days at a time – in the future that is…

  2. Jeff vdD says

    CX. Fat bike. Then gravel. Minus an MTB dabble or two, CX was my entry to dirt. If you’re slow (Cat 4 for Life) but still want to compete, CX is the place to do it–you’re never really dropped and on your own.

    My MTB dabbles turned into fat biking. While I’ve still got a heavy hardtail 29er hanging froma hook in the basement, it’s my fat bike that gets my heart reving, snow or not. Fat bikes make great trail bikes right up until reaching terrain that’s more technical than I want to be riding anyway. And unlike CX (and road back when I used to do road), I don’t have to pin my heart rate to keep up with (or sometimes not) the group.

    Gravel is equal to CX in my heart–but two very different types of dirt adventure. The range of terrain my gravel bike eats up (sometimes overbiked, sometimes underbiked, often rightbiked) continues to amaze me. And like MTB/fat biking, I’m rarely on my limit.

  3. Dan Murphy says

    It’s just something different.

    I was in my mid-30s in the late 80’s when I bought my first mtb, a Bridgestone MB-3, and it opened up a whole new world. I was hooked. I did road rides during the week for fitness, and did long mtb rides on the weekends for serious fun. Always on the lookout for new trails, and even entered an occasional race as a Vet Sport, finishing in the middle of the pack and always coming out of it with a story. Getting lost, carrying the bike thru whatever mess you ended up in, and doing it with your buds was a blast. Nothing like this happened on road rides.

    Around 2000, I found myself gravitating to the road again, and the mtb took a back seat. Not sure why, but I think I tired of riding the same trails over and over. I bought a Merlin in ’97 and loved doing longer road rides again, going to different places and challenging myself.

    Around 2010, the lure of dirt roads grabbed me and I bought a used IF cross bike w/ canti. Cool, something different again. D2R2 was close by and I just loved riding on tree-covered roads with little or no traffic. Aesthetically, these are just gorgeous rides, and I would hit the easier local mtb trails, too. Hey, I didn’t have to drive to the trails anymore, and honestly, I didn’t want to beat the crap out of myself crashing on roots and granite. Easier and not-so-easy trails were a blast on a ‘cross bike with 40mm tires.

    Alert readers may have already done the math and figured out that I’m no kid now. At 66, I love riding both the road and dirt on the same bike, just different wheels. My ’03 Santa Cruz Superlight has barely been touched. Even my road rides are very different from the rides I did 30 years ago in that there are roads I just won’t ride now and much prefer the road with broken pavement to the smooth road with traffic. My tires are wider and my rides are *ahem* slower.

    Rim brakes? No more. The Seven Evergreen I bought in ’16 is the only bike I ride now, switching wheels when wanted. Discs just work and are an excellent solution for those who want to use 40mm+ tires. If someone wanted to try out gravel riding right now, they could get a very nice rim brake ‘cross bike for almost nothing. Not a bad way to do it.

  4. Hautacam says

    All my bikes have rim brakes. And tubes in the tires. You are welcome to come visit the museum in my garage. As a kid I too rode my Stingray around the parks and down the alleys and backstreets. As a teen, I started on dirt in the mid 80s just as mtbs became a thing. In college I turned roadie after LeMond won the Tour. I raced mtbs (slowly) in the Cactus Cup years after college. As a fortysomething I jumped on the cx bandwagon in the early 00’s. So dirt has always been a thing for me.

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