Seb Kemp is not a Racist

Words Seb Kemp
Photos Kaz Yamamura
Date May 5, 2015

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.

“Because you can only ever go fast if you’re racing.”

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.

SebKemp_GTSensorX_NSMB_KazYamamura-12

Getting low for the camera, not the clock.

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?

 

Comments

nick-harewood
0
Nick Harewood  - May 8, 2015, 10:48 a.m.

In chocolatefoot parlance… 'meh', really. I ride, I race. Entering a race acts as additional motivation to get out on the bike when the weather isn't so great or encourages me to make time to ride rather than thinking 'aaargh, too much work to do'. I'm approaching 40, and I hate gyms, which means riding is my only chance at keeping the gut at bay so having the additional incentive to do that extra 10km, climb another couple hills and session that descent another couple times before heading home is a good thing.

I'm not going to win, but if I've paid £50 to enter a race and another £100 on accommodation and diesel - I want to do the best I can, so getting a couple more rides in as 'training' all contributes to reducing the excuses for a crap result. I'm never going to win - there are ex-world cup racers in almost any Masters category enduro start list in the UK, it's about doing as well as I can and comparing myself against the other guys, and making the most of the bike that i justified spending as much on as my car.

Most of my riding buddies don't enter races but it doesn't mean they don't race in their own way. Whether against each other or the random dude ahead on the trail… who doesn't? Some used to do races when they were in their youth but doing it every weekend sucked the fun out of it, and now it's anathema to them. So yeah, for me, and 80% of the pack racing is just another facet to this amazing thing called mountain biking, and some of us just want to do all of the things because why not?

Reply

anok
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anok  - May 7, 2015, 12:54 p.m.

Why does anyone care if I race or don't race??? Its all about having fun and if you are a competitive person who has to race to have fun then go for it. Personally I have more fun riding with friends and egging each other on to try things. I always feel great after riding and personally I don't want to ruin that with worrying about racing.

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yyc
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YYC  - May 7, 2015, 11:54 a.m.

Competition breeds innovation and improvement (gear, technical skills, fitness and sales). Racing is part of competition - so is Strava, challenging each other in the bike park or calling shotgun for the ride home. Replace each reference of 'racing' in this article with 'competition' and Seb nails it.

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rvoi
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rvoi  - May 7, 2015, 8:38 a.m.

Seb IS fast so he can ask this question… it would mean much less coming from a back of the pack citizen racer.

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mark-karlstrand
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Mark Karlstrand  - May 6, 2015, 8:44 p.m.

When I started riding MTB I didn't even know they had races. I ride to have fun period. Gravity racing (DH, DS, etc) seems like a lot of standing around waiting to ride which doesn't seem like fun to me. I think I'd like to "race" an event like the BC Bike Race or an Enduro because there is no way I'd be able to do that much riding unless it was organized for me.

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johnny-smoke
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Johnny Smoke  - May 6, 2015, 8:12 p.m.

"Will race for beer…"

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el_jefe
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el_jefe  - May 7, 2015, 7:39 a.m.

Will ride for beer

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Faction
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Derp  - May 7, 2015, 8:54 a.m.

will ride under the influence <--

Reply

johnny-smoke
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Johnny Smoke  - May 8, 2015, 8:40 a.m.

I almost always ride WITH beer, but if you're buying, I'll race. I'll also just ride if you're buying. Or just sit around and talk about riding. Or beer.

Reply

bavaria-20
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Bavaria 2.0  - May 6, 2015, 7:11 p.m.

I think the point Charlie has made regarding racing is that the skills developed on the DH race course have a more positive benefit to rider ability than just heading out with the bros for a weekend of huck-for-a-camera- and-a-buck aspiring Coastal Crew riders and videos out there. And that if more riders spent some time competing and developing their riding abilities while in competition with themselves and their peers they would end up enjoying a higher quality recreational riding experience do to this improvement in bike handling skills and they would look a hell of a lot more dialed in their free- huck videos.

That being said, I don't think this a one or the other fish OR steak argument, because surf AND turf is always on the menu.

And, racing IS fun! Just ask Seb!

Your articles are always a good read and a positive, thought provoking contribution to the MTB community. Thanks.

Reply

scott-blackstar
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Scott Blackstar  - May 6, 2015, 9:11 a.m.

The soul of mountain biking is not the competition against others, its the flow through nature and the exhilarating challenge of the trail.

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colin-mccarthy
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Colin McCarthy  - May 6, 2015, 3:05 p.m.

That's what slow people say - A Racist

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andy-eunson
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Andy Eunson  - May 6, 2015, 8:08 a.m.

I've done a ton of road, XC and cross racing in my life. Probably started 400 or so events. No question that people push themselves harder racing. Racing improves the breed. But there is completion too without any event. People try and catch others out there, outdo friends or even themselves.

Enduro is good because that form of racing is breeding bikes and parts that are more in keeping with how most people ride. Current XC racing at the WC level though is breeding bikes few people want. Having pits with spare parts breeds equipment too light for general use.

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greg@thewebsource.ca
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Greg Bergen  - May 6, 2015, 8:06 a.m.

I use the TOM as a fitness goal. I race dh to hang with my kid. But I ride usually 3 or 4 days a week and I race about 4 or 5 days a year. Most of the reason I ride is to enjoy the forest and time with friends. I like to take it all in and look up occasionally.

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Faction
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Derp  - May 6, 2015, 6:58 a.m.

Racing isn't for everyone, but it is the be all, end all of mountain biking. I mean that not as in "I am better than you because I race", no, it means from racing comes a skill set that carries with you through life. Skill in riding a bike, skill in learning humility because there will always be someone faster than you. Not to mention, advancements in mountain bike technology comes directly from racing. Those advancements arise out of a need to go faster and be more efficient, not because some product manager told us we need them.

Reply

shane-bracken
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Shane Bracken  - May 6, 2015, 7:41 a.m.

29+, 650b+? Not all innovations are done to win races. Actually I have no idea why the + thing was invented, but I have also never ridden a fatbike. So I might be of the unenlightened type. I raced thru college, and racing is what got me super into riding, before that I was just a casual rider. I don't really race anymore but racing was always alot of fun. We just cared how we did against our friends. My best man in my wedding and I met, because every race, we were within seconds of each other on the DH tracks. So there's that…the feeling of togetherness and the vibe around the pits and campfires at evening. Plus I think that is where Pixiebike racing was invented….

Reply

Faction
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Derp  - May 6, 2015, 7:56 a.m.

29+ and 65+ are not advancements in technology designed to make us faster or more efficient. I wouldn't call them innovations either. Those were born out of an idea to create a new segment, not by a means to cross the finish line any faster. Think more along the lines of disc brakes, suspension, tires, and geometry, to name a few. When I refer to racing, I am speaking of downhill racing, but any racing would fit I suppose. You can have your opinions about racing, but like in any 'sport', competition is the pinnacle of advancement in technology and athletic skills. It doesn't matter if you like to compete or not, it is what it is.

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taprider
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taprider  - May 6, 2015, 3:40 p.m.

the fat bike thing came about to win the Iditabike
the + size may be faster for bikepacking races such as the Arizona Trail Race: however, I think 26+ would be faster than 27+ or 29+

Reply

GladePlayboy
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Rob Gretchen  - May 6, 2015, 6:22 a.m.

I've done a few races and while its cool to get the adrenaline up and test yourself against the clock it hardly defines me as a mountain biker. Such a small part of the scene, really…

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dea1276
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Dea1276  - May 6, 2015, 5:57 a.m.

Yeah its not like we would want a hobby as expensive as mountain biking to be fun…

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slimshady76
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Luix  - May 6, 2015, 4:28 a.m.

So we should turn into Spartans, or those pesky soldiers from Heinlein's Space Troopers? If we're not part of the racing scene, we're not worthy of calling ourselves mountain bikers (or bikers at all)?

I get it, The Robot gets part of his self-awareness from playing agent provocateur, but to me it doesn't make it. Not at all.

I ride because a lot of reasons, and while you can have a huge ego boost from standing on a podium, you can measure yourself up against your friends -or any other human being riding a bike, or a bear- in any trail, at any time. I just choose not to do it at all.

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michael
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Michael  - May 5, 2015, 11:17 p.m.

Seb, grow up man turn off the trendy plaid you look like a fucking grom, go register. Keep up the good reads though!

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0
Mic  - May 6, 2015, 2:24 a.m.

Who f**king cares about what he is wearing? Punkrock.

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team-robot
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TEAM ROBOT  - May 9, 2015, 5:21 p.m.

I think Seb looks really nice in that flannel.

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