Gateway Drugs For Kids

Words Seb Kemp
Date Jul 1, 2015

It was a red Scott that I later spray painted green and yellow using rattle cans inside my best friend, Chris Tucker’s, shed. It was a cheap way of imitating the jaw-dropping Klein paint jobs of the day and I even had some stickers made up using the school’s die-cut machine. I renamed the bike the Funky Chicken to let everyone know how foul this fowl was.

That bike was bought for me by my parents, I think for 600 pounds (I can’t find where the pound sterling character is hidden on my laptop. I feel robbed.), which was a huge amount of money for them. I nagged and pleaded and bargained with them to buy me that bike. In the end they relented with the proviso that it was to be my sole Christmas present that year. It was also to be my sole birthday present the next year and probably for a lot longer after that. I also had to find a job to supplement the monthly amount they would pay towards the bike each month until it was paid off.

cheddar-challenge_1600

Seb rides the Funky Chicken in the Cheddar Challenge, sometime in the last millenium,

I was more than happy with these terms because I was going to have my very own mountain bike. I’d discovered what mountain biking was (or at least what it was to a 14 year old in the mid-nineties: toeclips, muddy fields and Hans Rey) that summer and it had changed my life. I can confidently say that because twenty years later I’m still chasing the feeling I had during that first ride and that quest has lead me to travel around the world because of bicycles. It’s provided a non-stop, daily focus, my closest circle of friends and even my livelihood.

That bike became an extension of me; I daydreamed about riding it when I wasn’t on it and I’d spend any moment I couldn’t be riding it thinking of how I wanted to customize it and trick it out. The paint job wasn’t the first thing I did – that happened after a year or so of bumps and bruises being applied to the original paintwork – but eventually everything on that bike was upgraded as I saved up the necessary money, found bargains and made trades. By that time I was working at the local shop where I’d bought the bike – Bikes ’n’ Bits in Wells, Somerset, owned and managed by Andrew Chamberlain.

No matter what the bike ended up looking like, it was still ultimately a simple steel hardtail frame that was relatively affordable. I say relatively because it was a big expense to my parents but their investment has resulted in me finding my passion and a means for expressing myself, as well as not being an overweight, binge drinking, friday night fighter. It might have also distracted me from getting a good steady career, starting a family and owning a nice house, but let’s focus on the positive.

When I started writing this article I was sure that the average cost of mountain biking had risen to a point where only the rich kids could arrive and the truly desperate could survive. But then I started to look around and there are some good entry-level bikes at reasonable prices. Many brands have a range of well- priced, nicely specced bikes starting at prices that are relatively close to what my parent’s forked out 21 years ago, except the bikes are even better. The quality of those bikes of twenty years ago don’t hold a candle to what we have now – brakes that do actually slow you down so you can do more than creep along the trail, suspension forks that aren’t just a few heavy tubes full of Christmas cracker-quality engineering, tires that do stay on the rim, come in a myriad of different tread patterns, compounds, and sizess and sidewall thicknesses, etc…headsets that last, cranks that don’t always creak, bars that have good bend to them but won’t bend or break if you actually use your bike as it was intended for and frames can take a regular beating without showing signs of abuse – but has all this development meant the basic cost of a basic bike that won’t kill you if you take it off-road has escalated beyond the means of a wider audience of people?

precept

It’s even yellow like the funky chicken. Using an inflation calculator we learned that £600 in 1994 would be equivalent to roughly £1100 today. This Kona Precept retails for £1099 in the U.K. and it’s got dual suspension (Rock Shox fore and Fastrac aft), Hydraulic brakes by Tektro and it even comes with pedals! A happy coincidence is that we tested the slightly pricier Precept DL (£1399) recently so you can check that out here. 

 

A few weeks ago I questioned whether it was a good thing if mountain biking attracts new wealth at the cost of Average Joe being able to afford to keep up with the arms race-style escalation of shopping cart bills. The comments were an interesting battlefield with some people commenting that anyone that can’t afford it should just stop complaining and get a better job so they can pay for the better bikes. Yes, that’s a simple answer (also simplistic and a facile one at that) but what about the people that can’t just suck it up and work harder, like the kids? I don’t know what kind of jobs that kids are expected to be doing that they can afford to buy their way into mountain biking these days; the oil patch is shrinking, drugs are being sold by licensed retailers and Tinder has made sex free and readily available – and parents are being stretched more than ever.

The examples of entry level bikes that’ll you see in this article all start at around the $1300 mark, which is pretty damn good for a decent steel or aluminium frame with hydraulic disc brakes, a suspension fork, branded tires and a solid drivetrain. These bikes are bloody great but should we consider that perhaps $1300 is still a lot of money for parents or kids to invest to get into mountain biking? More so, the 600 pound steel- framed, fully rigid, 21-speed bike I started on wasn’t that different to the bikes the pros were riding back in that era, but today’s and entry-level bike bares very little relation to the bikes we all really want to be riding. I do believe many of us could and should still be riding hardtails and I doubt someone who starts on a rigid frame will be unable to actually enjoy the act of mountain biking, but once they’re hooked then the cost of upgrading climbs very, very steeply. Mountain biking compared to other youthful sports and activities – BMX, skateboarding, video games – is still damn expensive. It’s a significant commitment to buy into which could drastically reduce mountain biking’s capacity to attract new riders.

Is it perhaps time to put a bit more focus towards accessibility of mountain biking? I’m not blind, there are a lot of kids getting into biking at a very young age now, often urged on by their parents who are keen to share their own passion for bicycles with their offspring. As a result there’s not just groms shredding harder than Hans Rey in his prime but there’s sprogs doing things on bicycles that were not even possible twenty years ago. I would put a lot of this down to the access to the facilities, like bike parks, skills centers, and trail networks as much as I would because of the awesome bikes they can ride, if they or their families can afford them. Let’s keep an eye on the development of entry-level bikes that allow more people to access mountain biking and keep kids from a wide range of economic and demographic backgrounds because because otherwise mountain biking might just become a little too much like yachting or skiing. Or perhaps that’s precisely what it does need.


Do entry level products in mountain biking make it accessible to people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds – or are we indulging in a pursuit of the rich?

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Comments

t_w
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T_W  - July 4, 2015, 7:02 a.m.

Expensive sport to get into but the key is to not succumb to gear-itis and just be happy spending more time riding what you've got! I see so many new riders on $7k wonder bikes wearing a matching Enduro-Kit who can barely ride the paved sidewalks we're calling "trails" now let alone something remotely technical. There's plenty of great used bikes out there that would keep any rider happy for years to come. If a new rider takes the time to learn to do their own repairs and maintenance a bike can be ridden for years and years without a big cash influx.

Here's my affordable formula for new and experienced riders alike: scour buy/sell ads for a used bike in great shape without much saddle time on it going for a good price, snag it, ride it, maintain it for a few years and sell it to a new rider who will get many more years of enjoyment from the bike when you're done with it.

I bought my current bike for a fraction of what it retailed for the year prior, have ridden thousands upon thousands of km's of singletrack all over the western half of North America on it and when I sell it after 3 seasons of use I'll probably only lose $600 on my initial purchase price plus the cost of a set of tires and drivetrain. Averaged out over 3 years, riding a very-nice- but-not-brand-new bike will have cost me less than $300 a year or around $25/month and I'll get the bulk of my purchase price back to buy another used bike and do it all over again. Maybe it's easy for me to be happy with last years gear because when I started riding 19 years ago v-brakes were just hitting the market and a DH fork had 80mm elastomer travel but really, last years technology is far better than what most riders will ever appreciate.

At the end of the day if you follow this kind of logic mountain biking is actually pretty affordable when compared to having your kids play hockey or take up ski-racing. I've spent ten times more on ski passes and ripped gore- tex over the years only to wait for snow that never arrives.

Reply

benz
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BenZ  - July 3, 2015, 7:29 p.m.

As a teen who's getting into the sport of mountain biking, I find all this incredibly interesting and applicable to my own progression. My first 'real' mountain bike was a stretch for me and had a similar birthday plus christmas plus allowance deal rolled in with it, but that bike has opened up more doors for me. Now, I'm lucky enough to ride for a local race team that has made acquiring new rigs much easier, and I'm able to support my hobby by working a summer job.

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jamie-hamilton
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Jamie Hamilton  - July 2, 2015, 6:22 p.m.

Once again great article Seb, you-da-man! Yes MTB is & has become a technology driven sport where one aspect is the high price of some of the gear. If you look at the elite riders in our sport, I would wager that given the lowest spec bike, they would still probably kick our butts. Thus raising the point that it's the rider not always the bike. Passion for riding a two wheeled transportation device fast & with skill is where it starts from. As kids that's as simple & as deep as it gets. Why as adults do we get soooo distracted by marketing, hype & bettering our mates toys? Lets get back to the " Run what ya brung " ethos & hopefully we'll all be better, happier & more content riders… And people for that matter.

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mark-karlstrand
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Mark Karlstrand  - July 1, 2015, 9:03 p.m.

Excellent article Seb, this is a topic I find on my mind more and more (especially as my kids grow closer and closer to MTB size). One bright spot of the transition away from 26″ bikes (and even 29ers to some extent) is that folks can snatch up killer bikes second hand for pennies on the dollar. That of course is likely a situation that won't repeat itself so it only helps ease entry for a relatively short period of time. As a challenge to myself a couple years back I bought a full rigid steel SS with V brakes on CL for $250 (which was a killer deal). I wanted to prove to myself that I didn't need to buy the $10K super bike I really wanted to have fun riding. I found that on all but the full on gnar I had a blast on that bike. I still want the super bike and I'll likely buy it before too long but I don't need it to have fun riding and neither do any of the kids interested in getting out there. Now how to I convince my kids they don't need a super bike if I get one:P

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NickB
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nick bitar  - July 1, 2015, 5:18 p.m.

I like your point that it's good to learn on a hardtail. So who is making well priced 'Trail' steel or alloy hardtail? All the cheap hardtails I see are full on XC race replica's, steep and agressive. I wouldn't want to learn on one of those!

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extraspecialandbitter
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ExtraSpecialandBitter  - July 3, 2015, 9:17 a.m.

A "slack" head tube angle used to be 70 degrees… back in the day

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zombo
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Zombo  - July 1, 2015, 12:04 p.m.

$1300 is still a lot of money for a sem-crappy full susser that the kid will still outgrow. Kids should be learning on bmx bikes and then graduating to dj/slopestyle. This way they can be rippers for a while and then graduate to a full suspension old-man trail bike once they get slow and lazy like I have.

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nat-brown
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Nat Brown  - July 1, 2015, 11:27 a.m.

Really good topic for people to discuss and think about. In the big picture, of course MTB is for rich folks. Even without going to that extent, it should be reasonably obvious to any thoughtful person that a significant proportion of people in almost all westernised nations would find MTB beyond their means. So, I think articles like this are important and props to NSMB for publishing it, and Seb for writing it. By publicising these quality entry-level bikes, we can increase the number of less fortunate folks riding, and increase diversity on the trails. We all benefit from the latter.

Anyone who makes sweeping statements that people of little means should just get a better job to get into biking has a poor concept of economics, is unaware of their own privilege, or has some deficit in empathy.

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andy-eunson
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Andy Eunson  - July 1, 2015, 9:18 a.m.

You certainly get more bike for the money these days. When we had only 50 mm travel forks the damping mechanism, if there was one was pretty rudimentary. And we burned through some parts pretty fast. Remember those tires with what felt like 100 durometer? Rims that the brakes wore out? I would go through four rims a year back in the rim brake era. That's the other side of the coin.

Skiing has huge costs not just for gear and lift passes but coaching fees are often massive. And when FIS change the rules for ski dimmensions kids can't buy last years skis from another racer because the skis aren't legal for FIS races anymore.

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kb
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KB  - July 1, 2015, 7:39 a.m.

Your parents should have bought you some shorts too.

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slimshady76
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Luix  - July 1, 2015, 5 a.m.

I commented this exact issue in a recent article here in NSMB, I believe it was a piece from Cam. The price slope gets steeper once you want to climb from the lowest step, and given the amount of progression kids are having nowadays it would be hard for them to (properly) maintain a bike of a certain quality. I recall I put out the dilemma of buying an expensive bike (for a kid), busting his ass working and spending three grand or more to have components which would resist the beating only to find every time something breaks/wears out it takes a fair amount of money to replace it, or getting an entry level model, knowing you will have to replace/upgrade cheaper parts more often.

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