Are You Judging Me?

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Nov 9, 2015

Hey Dave,

Is being a mountain biker synonymous with being an environmentalist? It seems that many mountain bikers want it to seem as though this is the case. If it isn’t the case, should it be?

And most importantly, the burning question: is pow an environmentally sensitive practice?

Concerned about the Environment

Dear Cate:

I spent a bit of time the other morning watching the free preview of Unreal that was available online today from a number of sources. It left me with my head in my hands, wondering where things went wrong. If you still think this sport has anything to do with environmentalism, please watch this video. You may come back with a different question for me.

Uncle Dave

Dear Uncle Dave,

Not all that long ago I was at the top of a trail here on the shore and two small groups of riders came up just after me. There was a little chit chat going on between them about bikes, and a couple of the guys started talking about how my handlebar had too much rise, and wasn’t wide enough. What struck me, aside from how weird it was to have my bike reviewed in front of me like I wasn’t there, was how much pressure there is to conform to the norms of mountain biking. I mean these guys were easily over 40, possibly 50, and they’re unable to withstand these pressures themselves, let alone avoid applying it to others (age is no barrier they say…). My question is to you as a reviewer- How do you avoid getting into that trap yourself when giving advice to others about buying their own bike? I presume you and most reviewers have decent bikes and almost exclusively ride with others who do also. How do you think that affects your perspective? In particular when someone has a really tight budget, how good are you and others at identifying aspects of the contemporary mountain bike that are luxuries? Things that might be really important if you’re trying to win a race, but ultimately might decrease the enjoyment of riding only fractionally in the kind of way that could be considered the kind of compromise that many people make, in many aspects of their lives in general. I don’t want to be unfair to you or other reviewers, these judgements might be hard for anyone to make, and impossible for the two bozos I mentioned above.

Approaching the Fatigue Limit

Dear AFL:

I went for a ride the other week with Cam and Pete. They made a point to engage with nearly every person we encountered. They smiled. Said hello. Asked them how their day was going. It seemed really strange. It was almost like they chose to talk to these people. I was really confused by the whole spectacle.

I thought about it, and I realized this was nothing more than a deviously brilliant plan. By aggressively engaging in small talk and niceties, they pre-empted all the terrible little gear discussions mountain bikers seem to insist on. Or maybe they’re just not assholes?

Now, it’s not like I’m bombing down trails, steam-rolling through people and throwing middle fingers. It’s just that I generally hate most trailside conversations because they always degenerate into questions and comments about gear and I never seem to have a satisfactory answer or level of interest. It leaves me wishing that we were capable of conversing with one another without having to talk about the expensive shit dangling between our legs.

Moving along, I’ve often wondered why it was that people get so weird in their late 20’s. A guy you’ve known for years as a relatively normal human being, seemingly overnight, turns into a pantsless basement dweller who is in a dozen fantasy leagues and never leaves his house because he’s too busy monitoring his progress on his computer. Or all of a sudden somebody starts devoting most of their time and spare income into creating scale models of civil war battles. Where does this come from?

My theory is that the peer pressure cooker that is High School is so strong, it beats the individuality out of us and it takes at least ten years for us to recover. It’s only by our late 20’s that our true personalities and interests come out with any sort of strength. And once that veil is lifted, and once you realize that there’s nobody left to judge you, the brakes are off and freaky shit is the result.

Unfortunately, any large collections of people quickly cause us to revert back to this high school like state of being. Mountain biking used to be a tremendously individualized sport, filled with the kind of people that shied away from the high school cliques and popular recreational options. But as the popularity increased, and as we got congregation points like the Whistler Bike Park, that individuality got stamped out and the peer pressure took hold again. We’re left with trailside judgements and conversations about handlebar rise and width.

I wrote an article a month or two back that tried to address some of your questions about reviews. It wasn’t very successful, but it did generate some interesting discussion. Critical items for some were nice-to-haves for others. One mans “cheap” was another’s unattainable object. As reviewers, we all make assumptions and reviews are clouded with our biases. I would imagine the same holds true for the readers.


  • Other mountain bikers are always going to judge your bike and want to talk about it with you. Most of them have nothing else to talk about.
  • The judgment and pressure to conform is only going to get worse.
  • It’s hard enough to form your own opinions of things most of the time. It’s nearly impossible to figure out how this might play out via somebody else’s realities.

Uncle Dave



Congratulations, AFL, you win an snapback and some of our wool blend socks. For the rest of you who are interested, you can actually buy these hats now for the first time. Check them out here.

Have you judged or been judged?


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Naveed Nasir  - Nov. 11, 2015, 4:41 a.m.

Here's my take on this topic; Once upon a time mountain biking was such an incredibly niche pursuit. Its cultural values could be instantly identified and harnessed. Over time this niche sport started to grow and attracted people who had their own 'unique' take on the sport. They were from all walks of life, liberal, conservative, but on the whole affluent. The reason why we are so often up in arms is because of change and how it frightens us. The so called 'soul' of the sport to some degree remains, but it's been irrevocably changed. This phenomenon is not strictly limited to mountain biking.


Ted Roome  - Nov. 11, 2015, 2:55 p.m.



Ted Roome  - Nov. 10, 2015, 1:19 p.m.

1. When I started I riding i took most of my gear cues from my friends. It ended up being a mistake as I often bought parts that were wrong for me. I'm a big guy and over time learned that wider bars, 4 piston brakes, single ring were the way to go. Not having the typical BMI of a typical mountain biker taught me that everyone is different. Therefor it always surprises me when I get approached by people who assume I need their advice.

2. I sometimes wonder if the increase in elitist attitudes in mountain biking corresponds in any way to the decreased popularity of golf.


Bagheera  - Nov. 10, 2015, 11:55 a.m.

What else would you talk about at a trailhead? I don't know if the riders I run into are interested in discussing Faroese literature (and the lack of translattions into languages more than a few hundred people actually understand), the differences between the baroque and the classical minuet or the state of our school system or something. Weather, trail conditions and gear are usually safe bets.
That being said, I never slag someone's ride until they're out of earshot - and even then usually only when it's some over-blinged wondermachine - and I do my best (which some days isn't very good) to be nice to people.


Cr4w  - Nov. 10, 2015, 12:09 p.m.

If someone has some really peculiar gear I will certainly ask them about it. I love hearing about the process of figuring out how he/she divined that some weirdo thing that turned out to be the perfect solution. Otherwise I stick to a standard greeting and ask them what they rode and how it was (always good to get beta on adjacent trails).


Nat Brown  - Nov. 10, 2015, 1:03 p.m.

Approaching the Fatigue Limit here: I imagine you'd have liked to talk to me that day. I'd just cobbled together a hardtail so that I had something to put a child seat on for around town, but I took it up to 7th for shits and giggles. It had the bracket for the child seat clearly visible but somehow they picked my old high rise monkey bar for their discussion. Maybe they just didn't notice, but that's not the point and I concede my letter wasn't well written. These two guys ambled over from where they put their bikes, stood no more than 10 feet away from me standing next to this bike and proceeded to talk to each other like they were looking at an exhibit in a zoo. They followed that discussion up with a virtual pissing contest over which one of them knew Chaz Romalis better. It was kind of like they knew how to communicate, but didn't know how to think, and was quite funny really.


Wig  - Nov. 11, 2015, 11:41 a.m.

Laughs, great input. I have volunteered on Leopard recently and every type of MTB I can think of came down the trail. Also in in Whistler I see guys shredding on seriously crappy bikes -- sometimes its a little scary.


Luix  - Nov. 10, 2015, 5:01 a.m.

Funny, I always talk to other (previously unknown) riders almost praising them. Maybe it has to do a little with my inferiority complex, maybe it has to do with the fact I strongly believe in that old saying, "I've never met someone so stupid as not to be able to learn something from him". As I grow older, I realize there are less and less things I would truly discuss or antagonize over with strangers, merely because most of the people wouldn't really hear your reasons to support this or that. They like to be part of the choir, and to hear the preaching.


jared  - Nov. 10, 2015, 4:25 a.m.

"Peer pressure cooker" paragraph was excellent writing, I both LOL'd and was enlightened


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