Seb Kemp is not a Racist
It’s that time of the year when suddenly week day rides are interrupted by talk of pre-riding courses and weekends are disrupted by friends being unable to ride because there are beeps to listen to, tape to follow and result sheets to be absorbed by.
It’s that time of the year when you’ll be asked if you’re racing at the weekend, and if you say no then you’ll be asked why. Why? Because I don’t care about racing that much, nor do I need to do it to justify why I ride.
Before I go on, let me be clear; I’m a nerd when the racing involves World Cup or EWS viewing. I also totally see how some people become so utterly infatuated by racing that it consumes all of their soul. I’m not against racing, it has a place – a kinda important place – in the mountain bike world. But it’s not the be all and end all for everyone. The following is simply an attempt to illuminate some people about why other people don’t hold racing in the same regard as they do. In brief, let’s revisit why racing is understood to be the pinnacle of mountain biking.
Some people appear to ride as a means to an end, the end being the upcoming race. What about the means being the end? Each ride is why I ride. There’s no motive other than to ride and be present in the moment to enjoy it. It’s not like there’s another reason further down the line, like the ride is just practice for something more, something else.
I ride because of the excitement, the thrill, the challenge, scaring myself, testing myself, getting outdoors, seeing things I wouldn’t have otherwise, being with friends, sharing moments, stepping out of the ordinary to do something extraordinary. There’s no practicing for that. There’s just doing it.
Dear old (young) Charlie Sponsel, the robot calculator who we’ve put in charge of counting our sins, recently wrote a piece about how every rider should race and if they don’t then they are a lesser species of rider.
While I agree with Charlie that we should all learn to ride better and that wiggling around in the air or in loamy turns is simply the unnecessary mating dance of denim clad young men trying to lure other denim clad young men, I don’t necessarily agree that racing is the be all and end all.
This provocation of the Robot seems to be an explicit expression of the underlying narrative of mountain biking that is perpetuated by advertisers, marketers, some photogs (who make their living from covering racing), race organizers, and racists. The latent message is that racing is the pinnacle and the essence of mountain biking; nothing else is truly biking.
Maybe it is, maybe I’m doing it wrong. Maybe I should reschedule my weekends and rearrange my casual rides as either pre-rides, training rides, scouting rides, recovery rides, interval sessions or fundamental core skills exercises.
I get it. Racing can teach you things that you won’t ever learn if you just take it easy; dealing with the crushing defeats, the highs of glory, but also maybe time management, discipline, focus, setting intentions, making a game plan, oh, and going fast – yeah, because you can only ever go fast if you’re racing. But there are things you won’t learn if you’re only focused on chasing the tapeworm, flinching at the beeps and studying time. There are experiences that racing forces you to pass up and moments that you’d have to overtake without noticing. I’m not sure if I can fully proclaim that last statement to be true precisely because I couldn’t let racing become my everything. I do know my life, my riding life, hasn’t been wasted simply because I don’t race that much (if a race is an event and not just an angry start and a results list then I’ll usually sign up).
So, is racing, mountain biking and is mountain biking, racing? I’d agree with the former but the latter? That would require a few more qualifiers.
Can you be a REAL(!) mountain biker without being a racer?