Coffee Talk Tuesday - Road Cycling and Mountain Biking parting ways?


Photo from MTBR

Remember when Mountain Biking was King in the USA? I'd say that was in the mid nineties with names like John Tomac, Ned Overend and Julie Furtado. A time when "the race" was the cross country event. The bikes had little or no suspension and even some like Tomac even used dropped style handlebars adopted from his road cycling years. Transition between road and Mountain bike wasn't that big or at least as big as it is today.

[Time Warp late July 2013 Winter Park Colorado to the Colorado Freeride Festival and Enduro World Championships]
Great event with hundreds if not thousand(s) of spectators watching riders perform aerobatic stunts and jumps on their bikes that now make the once was amazing back flip on the movie Rad seem lame. Then the Enduro event, one that is so extreme that rider must wear more than just a helmet for protection and some will say the event lacks in actual pedaling time. Either way, this event is not for the light hearted, skill, strength and wits are needed. If Marty and Doc could have taken the Delorean up to 88mph in 1993 to 20 years later in Winter Park they would be amazed by what they would have seen, at how much the sport has changed from it's original roots


Rider upside down at Slopestyle course WP
Photo Credit: Sportif Images

First off, are these changes to the mechanics of the sport (the actual bike) and the events spectators are attracted to like the crazy event like the Slope Style where riders are more stunt riders with precision of a gymnast than one of a great VO2 the past cross country riders had, is all this a move in the wrong direction?

Before anyone goes off the handle, I don't think the sport of cross country mountain bike riding or racing is falling off, if anything it too is rising. But mountain biking at one time was a sport filled with cross-over roadies or the alternative sport to road cycling but today's mountain biking is diverging away from it's roots at a much much faster rate than road cycling is. Negative? I believe no but interesting to see where the sport was 20 years ago and wonder what the next 20 years not just to mountain biking may bring but to cycling as a whole. What will be next, will we have a bike commuting boom or a recreational touring boom like that of Holland and Germany. Will more states adopt our recreational like culture with cycling?

I don't know but after attending the Colorado Free Festival I'm am pleased at where we have come in the last 20 years and am excited for the next 20 to come. And you?

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8 Comments

Cross Country is a participatory sport - not spectator friendly

I am super excited the Enduro discipline is drawing spectators and I anticipate it will continue to grow in the USA. I believe Enduro will replace traditional Downhill racing as a format where both Gravity, All-Mountain and XC based cyclist can compete - I see several 'retired' XC racers performing very well at the new Enduro races. I do not see traditional Downhill racing as a sustainable event with consumer participation limited to lift access terrain / ski resorts.

Cross Country is NOT a spectator sport. Attempts thru the '90's utilizing multiple laps at the base of ski resorts nearly killed Cross Country entirely. These races were simply not fun, still did not draw spectators & courses deteriorated at a rapid rate (aka: Park City's moon dust).

Cross Country is a participatory sport - like Boston or New York Marathons - where much larger 'participatory' fields enter the event as a bucket-list challenge to first finish, and secondly compare their achievement to the Pros over the exact course/challenge.

Point-to-Point Cross Country races are flourishing with nearly immediate sell-out to field limits: Laramie Enduro, Park City Point-to-Point, Gunnison Growler, etc. They also completely lack spectator viewing beyond a few family & friends providing support at aid-stations. The first goal is to finish the event - sometimes this is a great adventure in itself for these events exceeding 4-6 hours even for the Pro's. In the '90's, Winter Park's "King of the Rockies" Tipperary Creek XC was one of the largest fields for CORPS - even as one of the last events of the season & only 26 miles of P-2-P racing at around 2 hours for the Pro's.

Just my 2 cents opinion racing Cross Country over the past 18 years.

Enduro is partially to all

Enduro is partially to all about endurance. It's similar to rallye motor racing. You have to ride between the transitions, and there is considerably more pedalling / short climb sections integral to the courses themselves. Additionally a "stage" can be a 20-30 minute affair, similar to what we think of as "super-D" in the U.S., only more so.

You also must use the same bike for all the stages, so if you have a technical downhill stage and a singletrack stage that requires a lot more pedaling / climbing, then you're going to have to split the difference and use a bike that works for both. 6 inch travel "trail" bikes are the norm, not a full-on DH bike.

If you think DH is going to

If you think DH is going to be replaced by Enduro, you have completely ignored the most progressive side of mountain biking. DH is driving the innovation you see today with bike park style trails (flow trails) spreading into the woods and out of the resort. Just because you don't own a DH bike (and you should), doesn't mean it's going away.

DH will be the driver for the majority of MTB marketing and events (Rampage) for the next 3-5 years.

As for enduro...who can afford $200 for a SINGLE race? I'll take that money and race "enduro" for free with my friends, on better trails. This is what enduro can't justify - sure there is a clock and a winner, but all too soon riders will understand the idea that they are just paying someone to do what they've been doing for years - riding mountain bikes.

For me, I'm really mourning

For me, I'm really mourning the loss of the mid 90's mountain biking scene. I'm a huge fan of traditional XC mountain bike races and that time period was certainly it's peak in Colorado. I loved the 1.5-3 hour xc race and enjoy short track races as well. WIth the loss of Mountain States Cup, these races are getting harder to find. I'm not really drawn to downhill events, especially ones requiring 7 inch travel bikes and full pads. Being on the bike for 6+ hours at endurance events is fun, but not every week. This summer, I've been drifting back to road racing more often (can't belive I admitted that!)

for what it's worth I am

for what it's worth I am right there with you. I'm too old and cowardly and lack the skills for enduro racing, and I miss the wealth of XC style events I did fifteen years ago. Marathon racing is fun and I look forward to the Firecracker 50 every year, but I don't have as much time to devote to training for 6+ hour XC races as I'd like. And they're really not my strong suit.

Short track is awesome though and I am loving the CU change of venues to Valmont Park.

both ways

I see both MTB riders giving up dirt to try road racing and road racers taking time out of the road season to do some MTB. I'm not sure if the flow is greater in either direction. There are a ton of MTB guys that do local road group rides but are definitely weary of jumping into a crit because of perceived danger.