Mountain Biking Can't Get Better Than This...

Words Cam McRae
Photos Various
Date Jun 24, 2019

I’ve thought we’d arrived at mountain biking’s zenith – peak awesomeness – many times in the past. Sometimes my local trails tipped me over the edge; access, intensity, creativity, variety or some combination thereof, and sometimes it’s been a confluence of advances in bike design and execution. And sometimes it was both, as it is now, but back to that later.

What amazes me during these peaks, brief moments that are knocked off the podium soon after, is that the pleasure mountain biking brings me seems to grow. Two sizes in fact, like the Grinch’s heart. And then it happens again. It keeps getting better. It’s not a linear line (nor linearly progressive - as Santa Cruz would say) but the trend continues, or rather it continues to continue, upward over time.

There are pauses, due to injury or time off the bike for some other reason. And sometimes I have a few ‘bad’ rides in a row that temper my joy temporarily, but before long I’m back on the monorail to excitement, pleasure and camaraderie that is riding bikes on trails with friends.

Cam 3.jpg

If you aren't a racer, feeling like you are getting better is all that matters. Photo - Johan Hjord

There are probably many ways to explain this unusual phenomenon. I used to play a lot of basketball and I'm quite sure I enjoyed it most when I was at the peak of my meager powers, both in terms of skill and physical ability. That’s not the case with mountain biking. Or so it would appear. Drops to flat of over 6 feet used to be part of most rides as well as other North Shore oddities like skinnies way off the deck. I absolutely didn’t ride all of those features back then but of the ones I did ride, I absolutely wouldn’t ride most of them now. And I even used to race occasionally, both dh and XC, and sometimes not feel terrible about my results. And yet those best of times have been replaced.


Gains are hard to come by these days but they are more rewarding. Photo - Paris Gore

At 53 years of age my physical abilities are receding, or so you would think. And yet I think I corner better, ride steeps more proficiently and I’m generally smoother on most terrain than when I was younger. In the last week I’ve ridden several features I was too scared to tackle previously (a long slab, a tricky rock roll and even a skinny with some exposure). At least from my point of view, which I’ll come back to, this feels like another personal high water mark.* It’s possible you are coming to one of the conclusions I’ve come to recently.

*a large proviso; my climbing ability has intermittently declined precipitously in recent years for reasons that remain unclear. On the other hand for the first time ever I cleaned Bookwus, a somewhat challenging tech trail on Fromme


As age creeps upward, riding smarter becomes very important. Or so I've heard. Photo - Gary Perkin

Better Bikes Make You Better

Bikes have become vastly better and this in part has stalled age-related decline. The confluence of ‘new standards’ many of us railed against, often justifiably, have actually turned out pretty well, and those changes along with the recent developments in geometry (that Chris Porter nailed long ago) have turned bikes into magical conveyances of astounding capability. We ride things today on medium travel bikes with single crown forks, faster and in more control than we did on downhill bikes 10 years ago.

There are obvious elements like larger wheels, lighter and stiffer frames and dropper posts, but virtually every other critical component has improved as well. Disc brakes are much more powerful and reliable and suspension is moving at a rapid pace as well. Drivetrains are miles ahead of even five years ago. And in use brakes rarely boil over these days, just as forks and shocks almost never begin to feel wooden part way through a long downhill. And tires… The list goes on.


You can get better at any time and when you do riding becomes even more fun. Photo - Sterling Lorence

The Raddest Trails

In our little corner of the world, trails have been evolving at a similar pace. Not everyone is happy with every development of course; there are those who mourn the loss of janky switchbacks, rickety bridges and uphill landings. And I continue to enjoy technical trails with old school features, but overall trails have become a little less nasty.

Cornering is starting to become a thing on the Shore and the few jumps we have are sometimes even built with transitions – much easier on older bones. For better or worse, and sometimes both, trails are more suited to bikes that can move faster. Digger, who is possibly the best and most influential trail builder there is, used to purposely build sections of trail in a manner that would slow riders down.

And then there is maintenance and building. Our local association, the nsmbA, has made leaps in bounds in terms of the ability to maintain and improve existing trails and build the occasional new line. Options abound and quality is at an all time high, thanks to the labour and dedication of a large and skilled group of paid and volunteer trail builders.


Mountain of Youth

All of these factors together mean that by many measures mountain biking for me is better than it’s ever been, including the most important one; how much better riding makes my life. And with the changes in bikes and trails moving faster than the decay of my body, I often feel like I’m riding better than ever. And that feeling is reality for those of us who don't race. My only velocity-based frame of reference is riding with my buddies, and I'm doing no worse against most of them* as they go through the same process.

*except my buddy James. He got an extra helping of something that has made him leap ahead on most days.

Trending on NSMB


+7 dtimms Cam McRae grcgrc Carlos Matutes Dan Meister Absolut-M
Rob Gretchen  - June 24, 2019, 6:17 a.m.

Great article.. as someone past the half-century mark I share your sentiment... ride on!!


+12 dtimms Cam McRae grcgrc Carlos Matutes Tremeer023 pedalhound Dan fartymarty Doug M. legbacon Meister Absolut-M
Vik Banerjee  - June 24, 2019, 6:37 a.m.

Life long cyclist here and 30 year MTBer. I'm definitely at Peak MTB right now.

1. I moved someplace I can ride year round.

2. Bikes are more reliable so I'm riding more and thinking about my bike less.

3. At 50 my fitness is still good enough to get me up and down interesting technical features.

4. Because I can ride year round my skills are at an all time high and that's probably helping me stay effective on the trails as I get older.

5. Since I know my days of MTBing are limited and there has less time ahead on the MTB than there is behind I'm really appreciating every opportunity to ride.

6. My delusions of winning the WC DH or EWS or Olympic MTB gold have faded away and I am just happy to get around a corner smoothly carrying my speed or land a small drop cleanly.

7. I'm at the end of my career path and more focused on friends, family and fun than I was when I was younger.

The only way this ^^^ will get better is by working less so I can ride more and travel to more cool mountain bike locations. That's my next goal!


+1 meloroast
Skooks  - June 26, 2019, 3:16 p.m.

Great list Vik! One thing to add that keeps me going is riding with people younger/better than me. Trying to keep up (and sometimes even stay ahead) is a great motivator and has definitely made me a faster/better rider. I introduced a lot of my crew to mountain biking, and it's very satisfying to see them excel at it. 

Great article Cam, and one I can relate to at almost 59. I especially like the bit about riding smarter as you age.


+5 dtimms Cam McRae Carlos Matutes Dan fartymarty
Kos  - June 24, 2019, 6:44 a.m.

Awesome way to start a Monday.

Thanks, Cam!


+5 Carlos Matutes Dan Cam McRae Allen Lloyd meloroast
dtimms  - June 24, 2019, 6:49 a.m.

I hit 40 this year and have really focused on my diet and overall fitness. It is nice to be rolling into middle aged in the best shape of my life. Bikes are truly amazing! I got back on a hardtail last year (modern geo) and it is amazing how different angles and a good fork truly change what these bikes can do. Still ride a squishy for the old school trails and longer rides. It really is a good time we live in.


+2 Cam McRae Carlos Matutes
fartymarty  - June 24, 2019, 7:09 a.m.

I'm 45 in a month and can agree with a lot of what is said above.  I'm coming up to 30 year on a mtb and like Vik live somewhere I can ride all year round with trails reasonly close to home.  In addition my commute to the office involves a little offroad (or a lot if I take the scenic route).  

Another key to riding all year round has been night riding which helps keep the skills and and fitness up over winter.

Here's hoping to still be riding at 80!!!


dorkweed  - June 24, 2019, 7:31 a.m.

I had this exact feeling yesterday when out for a ride. Bikes, tires(!), suspension, geometry, it's all so much better now, and I think I'm at/near peak at 46... It's awesome...


+6 Cam McRae Carlos Matutes Dan fartymarty Ac meloroast
OldManBike  - June 24, 2019, 9:13 a.m.

Only in my late 40s so I've got no idea what this old guy is raving on about.

+8 OldManBike dtimms grcgrc Carlos Matutes Chad K cxfahrer Ac Cr4w
Cam McRae  - June 24, 2019, 9:16 a.m.

Sorry - can you speak up please? I'm a little hard of hearing these days.


+4 Cooper Quinn Carlos Matutes fartymarty Ac
AlanB  - June 24, 2019, 11:14 a.m.

Sigh. Kids these days...


+1 Cam McRae
Bagheera  - June 25, 2019, 8:54 a.m.

Same thing here, only just turned 40, all this old man talk is a real downer ;)
Great read, as usual, Cam, keep 'em coming.
Sometimes when I ride my 29er-carbon-long-travel long/slack jadajada-superbike down a rail, I ask myself: Do I really enjoy riding more than 26 years ago on my first "real" bike I'd saved all my money for (even had a suspension fork!)? No. Do I still enjoy it as much, does it still make my heart sing/my soul spread it's wings/whatever corny image you chose? Damn straight. Yes, the bike makes me safer, it's more comfortable, way more reliable and may even make me slightly faster. But bliss comes from riding, not from the bike. And yes, I admit I'd have a hard time going back to my first ride (would still buy one if I'd find one in good condition) and a lot of the trails I ride now would be almost impossible on an early-90s sled (unless you're Wade SImmons or Tippie).


+10 grcgrc Carlos Matutes pedalhound fartymarty JVP Cam McRae Geof Harries Absolut-M Niels meloroast
Andy Eunson  - June 24, 2019, 9:21 a.m.

True words that apply to me at 61. A word of advice to other aging riders, the things we do like working at a desk all day, driving too much and even just riding can lead to poor posture and overuse issues. Get a trainer to assess your strengths and weaknesses and go to a gym to achieve better body balance. It has helped me a lot.


+6 AlanB Cooper Quinn Carlos Matutes Todd Hellinga Andy Eunson JVP
earle.b  - June 24, 2019, 9:56 a.m.

Don't forget it's not just the builders that make the trails awesome. There is a boat load of work that goes on behind the scenes in front of a computer screen that makes it possible for all that trail work. 

Regarding the climbing...have you thought about hitting the gym on the off season? You start hitting a routine of dead lifts and squats and you'll be climbing faster and more efficient than you did 20 years ago.

+2 Andy Eunson meloroast
Cam McRae  - June 24, 2019, 9:43 p.m.

I was actually referring to the behind the scenes people when I said this; "Our local association, the nsmbA, has made leaps in bounds in terms of the ability to maintain and improve existing trails and build the occasional new line." Obviously I should have made that more clear. The folks who run the show get little credit but they are also in the trenches doing admirable and essential work. 

I have done many things. And I've done lots of training and my body is close to as strong as it's ever been. I can get up technical sections that I couldn't in the past - as long as they are short. It's an unpredictable periodic issue that seems to be systemic. One day I'll be fine - or maybe a week even - and then I'll be absolute crap to the point that I can't climb stairs without getting winded. Many tests, intrusive and otherwise, over several years but Docs remain stumped. And naturopaths etc. I haven't given up and have been trying some things (Wim Hof and yoga every day religiously for example) and try to make the best of where I am. It could certainly be much worse and I do my best to keep that perspective.


+2 Cooper Quinn Carlos Matutes
AlanB  - June 24, 2019, 11:16 a.m.

Congrats on cleaning Bookwus. Well done! I rode it yesterday and, being officially old, I decided to walk a couple of sections. Maybe if I wore the same armour as when I was younger?

Cam McRae  - June 24, 2019, 9:43 p.m.

Thanks Alan!

Seeing you roll Big Stupid on your 60th birthday was pretty inspiring! I haven't done that one for a long time.


+3 Carlos Matutes Cam McRae meloroast
grcgrc  - June 24, 2019, 11:30 a.m.

As someone who has another decade on you and only gets to ride intermittently at best, I have to say that I am still enjoying this sport as much as I did when I first started "back in the day". Thank you for a wonderful look at the place in life many of us are inhabiting.

Keep rolling.


+2 Cam McRae meloroast
Wile_E.  - June 24, 2019, 3:49 p.m.

Love the article, Cam.  I suffer from being old and new.  I started riding 5 years ago at age 48.  I regretted getting into mountain biking as late as I did and often wondered what kind of rider I'd be if I started riding in my 20's... then I watched things like The Moment and I'm glad I waited until trails and bikes would afford me a recreation that wouldn't kill me.   

Maybe it's the age, and not that you've aged, but I too find joy in the incremental improvements, the moments where it all comes together, and the humbling reminders usually shortly after that I have many more incremental improvements to go in my riding career.

It's nice to reflect with other riders finding joy without having to ride like I'm training for Rampage.

Cam McRae  - June 24, 2019, 9:44 p.m.

Well said Wile_E! And thanks!


+2 Cam McRae meloroast
Shrockie  - June 24, 2019, 4:32 p.m.

Just hit 49 and been riding MTBs for 30 years.. bikes have been evolving faster than we age, so we are doing more burly riding than we did in our 20's it's amazing.. I'm not ready for an e-bike yet, but when I'm struggling to get out and chase my kid up a hill (I'll be 60 when he hits 14) , they'll be there for me to keep up with him.  Yay Bike Technology! Riding keeps getting better every year.


+1 Cam McRae
Hugo Williamson  - June 25, 2019, 2:46 a.m.

63 yo, all the sports I enjoy (MTB, windsurfing, snowboarding) were not invented when I was 30, however all have been made more enjoyable with the improved tech. Biking is so much improved with these big travel trail bikes, as they don't rattle arthritic joints as much, but are still light enough to pedal back up the hill.


+3 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman Allen Lloyd
blaklabl  - June 25, 2019, 10:04 a.m.

At 44 years old and 32 years of being obsessed with MTB (and honestly more bikes than I can remember), I also feel like I am riding better, smarter and more frequently.  The bikes are better than ever, and being a lifelong hardtail guy I am completely smitten with my carbon Fuse at the moment.

A few years ago we were lucky enough to finally buy a home that I can ride to my local trail system from my driveway, without having to load up a car or bike rack.  This has made the biggest difference in my riding frequency for obvious reasons.  I do however get very myopic and have been riding there pretty much exclusively for the past couple years (and a lot of the same 20 mile loop), and over the last couple of months I have decided I need to get back out and ride more, different trails to keep the stoke alive.  

I live within an hour and a half to Sedona, just a touch further to Flagstaff, and right here in the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix) we have plenty of variety.  I think my other area to focus is finding some riding buddies - I have always been a loner when riding and I think having a small group to spend some time with would help me get out to more different locations would be helpful.  It doesn't help that I don't use Facebook, and our local MTBR regional forum has pretty much dried up.


+1 Cam McRae
Greg Bly  - June 25, 2019, 12:15 p.m.

I am 50 something .  Give me powerful reliable brakes and a working suspension. I still use my Marz 55 RC3 ti fork. I dont notice a difference between 26 and 27.5 wheels . im just not that in tune with my bike i guess. I would be happy with 26 or 27.5 wheels . One day i will purchase a frame that uses 27.5 wheels. The trails i love, the old school gnar is still there mind you the iconic wooden stunts are rapidly disappearing that sucks balls!

Nothing has changed since i started riding over 20 years ago. OK i dont miss V brakes or 50 pound bikes. I ride what I have and have a blast every ride. 

Modern bikes are more of a crutch for poor riding skills than an asset.  I rode Cypress gnar the other week and thought this would be much more fun on a hard tail !  Did the trails get mellow or did our mind set change how we view the trails?  Rode Pre Reaper, SGS   , Slippery Canoe . Fun trails a few moments of gnar with plenty of wood. 

I think If I did not ride I would a grumpy(er) old man.

+2 Absolut-M meloroast
Cam McRae  - June 25, 2019, 1:24 p.m.

Interesting Greg. Why do you think modern bikes are "more of a crutch for poor riding skills than an asset?" Are you talking about things like better tires, disc brakes, dropper posts and improved suspension?  And are you suggesting that someone with skills - let's use Wade Simmons for example - would be able to ride a trail on Cypress just as fast and in as much control on a bike from 20 years ago?

I'm also curious about what bike you ride. And what others you have tried. I'm absolutely not saying you can't have fun on an older bike, and I occasionally saddle up my 1996 Dekerf, but the bikes I ride today are much more than crutches; they complement my skills and the advantages they provide are even more pronounced for riders with superior skills. 

It's interesting how perspectives can be so divergent!


Greg Bly  - June 27, 2019, 4:19 p.m.

Yt Capra . Cannondale dont remember model , Carbon patrol.  The bikes feel dead I dont feel the bike reacting to the terrain .Things get strange when I do fast chunky trails.  I am not a big fan of flow trails.  Think Upper crippler. Small wheels and plush suspension feel great on this trail.

im riding a 2006 Devinci frantic with a Fox CTD air shock. Saint drive train. Eight speeds 11/40 cluster. 65 degree HTA.  weighs 34 pounds . I built up a 29 pound carbon Santa Nomad with a Durolux fork. My frantic feels like a mini DH bike the Nomad rode like a XC bike. I sold the Nomad. 

Wade could kill it on a fully rigid fat bike down cypress .If you have his talent the bike is not all that important. The last bike i saw him on probably weighed about 40 to 50 pounds.  

lets say that I dont see any significant improvments in bikes in the last 15 years.

+1 meloroast
Cam McRae  - June 27, 2019, 10:50 p.m.

"lets say that I dont see any significant improvments in bikes in the last 15 years."

While you are absolutely entitled to your opinion, I think this means you don't have access to the right information. The bikes I have currently help me ride Crippler (and similar trails) better than ever before. And I don't think that's me. 

And while Wade could certainly kill it on other bikes, he kills it faster, harder and in more control on his newest bikes - and spends a lot of his time on e-bikes. I can almost guarantee you he would agree.


Greg Bly  - June 29, 2019, 2:23 p.m.

15 years ago we had the Horste link , oil damped coil or air sprung  shocks and forks, hydraulic disk brakes.  All of the pieces of the puzzle were there. By 2006 the process of refinement gave us the Specialized Enduro frames . I bought a large and put a 160 mil. fork up front and ditched the DHX shock.  I still have the bike. Again I must be insensitive to details but I dont find issues with the puny 1/18 steer tube or the 68 degree HTA . Juicy sevens stop just fine.  

How many people are primarily concerned with speed? Im not I am very much into comfort , joy. Modern platform makes it very easy for someone with moderate skills or no skills ride a 170 mil travel full sus  bike and have fun. Thats what has changed and its a good change.  Sells many bikes.

Waki the crazy but insightful guy on PB has a quote. How  successful you ride the trail is 80 percent rider ten percent bike ten percent luck.  Your state of mind is your best tool for negotiating a tricky trail.  Yes its my opinion ,  and my opinion will not sell alot of bikes .  

When I mention open bath forks the only valid argument is weight.  People get quite emotional about the subject. if i make the off handish comment that a 40 pound DH bike performs  the same as a 35 pound bike I am instantly scoffed at. 

Lets guess that Wades bike weight 40 pounds. Why is he riding that bike? because its fun.


+3 Cam McRae Pete Roggeman meloroast
flowrider  - June 25, 2019, 1:02 p.m.

Great article. I just turned 50 this year and I think my join date here was 2002! We were laughing about this on the weekend when we were riding up Old Buck to ride Corkscrew, Pangor, Pingu, the the new Empress Bypass. the last time I rode this was almost 10 years ago and it was great. The bike is now 20lbs lighter and the ride up was great considering back in the day we only ever shuttled Seymour. 

Riding for us now is so much more social. We still ride as fast as we can but it's just fun to get out with the same crew over the last 20+ years.


Esteban  - June 25, 2019, 9:38 p.m.

"Drivetrains are miles ahead of even five years ago."

You're talking SRAM. Excluding the bleeding edge obviously, 5 year old Shimano drivetrains perform almost as smoothly and trouble-free as today's—particularly on the low to mid level range.

+2 Andy Eunson Absolut-M
Cam McRae  - June 26, 2019, 11:04 a.m.

There are a couple of things there. Five years ago on Shimano, if you were riding somewhere with steep singletrack climbs, you were on a double. That means dropping chains guaranteed. And I mean regularly if you are an aggressive rider. I almost never drop Eagle chains. 

Beyond that the longevity of Eagle drivetrains, at least GX and up, is beyond anything we have seen before. They last for ages without needing much attention. So with wide range, chain security and durability make me stand by my statement. 

Also the new Shimano stuff seems to be excellent.


Allen Lloyd  - July 1, 2019, 11:04 a.m.

2 years ago I moved to Helena Montana and my riding abilities have come back to where they were 20 years ago.  If you love riding, but have to drive more than 20 minutes to trails do yourself a favor and move.  Downsize and ride more, it is the key to happiness.  

My other advice is get a modern hardtail, they ride amazingly well and remind me why I started riding in the first place.  Sure I am faster (on most trails) on my full squish, but I have less fun 90% of the time.  There is nothing like keeping up with a rider 20 years younger on a 5 inch travel bike going DH while riding a hardtail.  

1 more tid bit, never stop learning new skills.  I tried trials riding and being able to hop onto and over stuff is so much fun.  It isn't the easiest thing to learn, but you can do it in low risk ways and it makes riding so much fun.


+1 meloroast
Dan  - July 3, 2019, 12:04 p.m.

The sentiment of this post really resonates with me, and it's been stuck in my head all week. It feels like our sport is really at its peak (and I don't see any end in sight.) I've been riding mountain bikes since the late 80s, having been aboard all manner of designs and competed in a variety of disciplines. There has been so much positive change, both from the standpoint of bikes and their components, the breadth of great bikes available, to popular acceptance of bikes in our Western culture, to advocacy and its natural outcome - trailbuilding and bike-specific travel destinations*. It's really striking and uplifting. 

One little nerdy bit I thought I'd share that seems to pertain here: I have a graph in my mind that I dreamed up a few years ago. It relates to Cam's statement about improved personal riding performance as time progresses. Imagine a bell curve but skewed left. I imagine how the graph represents how our average speed** on a bike likely increases pretty quickly early in our riding careers and perhaps hits a zenith at some point (as it does for me) when we're our risk-taking behavior is at a max/life responsibilities are at a min. I imagine that the line of the graph tapers off gradually (avg speed decreases) as years go on. But in my mind, there are upticks in this graph after the high point as it moves to the right and those are - for me - related to breakthroughs in specific bike features or tech. For example, full-suspension bikes, even at their crudest in the early 00s, permitted me to ride a lot faster than my double triangle Stumpy S-Works with its 72' HA and 74' SA. Then came along slacker geo and more fork travel, such as on my Rocky Pipeline. A little faster still on my RM7...then onto a Banshee Scream, and a Cannondale Gemini. Then faster-forwarding quite a bit: I put a KS dropper post on my trail bike and riding changed yet again. Then I hopped from 26" wheels of my SB66 to a Remedy 29. Now I am on a 170/150 travel Slash. Like Cam, I feel I am cornering faster than ever, climbing reasonably well, and handling the steep terrain of Western Washington at least as well as I ever was. 

Halfway through my 42nd lap around the sun, I'm eager for the next breakthrough! How 'bout you?


* There are obviously several other phenomena in our sport like the beast that is Social Media, widespread access to streamable competitions from around the globe, democratization in tech to permit small builders to compete with more-established brands, just to name a few.

**Just to choose a measurable factor for the purpose of this example. One might also select race results, or days ridden per year, or % time spent on black diamond trails.


+1 Cam McRae
meloroast  - March 7, 2021, 11:09 a.m.

Going through the article archive and really appreciate this post! I started mtb at 40 just wanting to try something was mtb or snowboarding. So glad I picked the former! 

I was in good shape but mtb and trail running (also started at same time) have me at possibly the best shape of my life at 47yo (along w some strength training). The main issues I find are nagging injuries that take longer to heal (also cause I'm lazy and hate stretching and rolling).

The other thing that's helped me immensely is meeting and riding with more advanced Mudbunnies, trail building and just learning as much as I can. Last year specifically was pivotal in my progress cause I got a new bike (SC Hightower) and just rode more in general, both solo and specifically with new/more skilled people. Sessioning features I swore I would never even attempt, then successfully clearing them has opened up the world for me on many levels.     

Late last year I moved to the North Shore to decrease my commutes from East Van. So so so glad I did. I hope more ladies continue or even start well into their 40s/50s cause I hear the age excuse waaaaay too often. I may not ride like a 20yo but I don't have to to have fun and challenge myself. There are plenty of ways to ride the shore and a little walking never killed anyone!


Please log in to leave a comment.