Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fan Mail for "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?"

I wrote "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them" over twenty years ago now: it was originally published in the February 1993 issue of Bicycle Guide, then the coolest bike magazine in the USA. That article has been on this blog since it went live in 2007, and still generates comments and emails direct to me. This first email came in today, proving, once again, that the writer didn't really read what I wrote. (Boiled down simply, I wrote: What most people call "mountain biking" doesn't require a mountain bike. Likewise, as our ego-bruised writer states, and as I wrote, real "mountain biking" does generally require a mountain bike.):

You sir, are the most ignorant ass hat I have encountered on the internet and single-handedly represent everything that makes road cyclists come off as self righteous douchebags. Just because your idea of mountain biking is a chicken shit ride down a sandy road doesn't mean that road bikes are appropriate or even safe to recommend for most mountain bikers. Virtually every mountain bike ride I take involves some sort of terrain or impact that would disintegrate my Foil faster than you can say something stupid. The idea that the 30 foot doubles or jagged rock gardens that can be conquered at speed on my M9 could even be ridden on a fully rigid road bike is nothing more than your lack of perspective at what is being done on mountain bikes, your hubris at your own skills, and the tremendous ignorance and arrogance that would allow you to post this stupidity online for all to see. - TB, 12-3-13

Adding extra irony is that TB's Facebook background photo shows him on a road bike, even though, in his own words, apparently everyone who rides a road bike is a "self righteous douchebag."

OK, since I'm writing this post, I'm going to take the time to post the emails I've received over the years about my article, so here you go, in chronological order, completely unedited:

I really hate the way you dis mountain bikes. I dispise road bikes they are very    (no extremely) primitive. I ride a full suspension ATB. I wouldnt ride anything else. Do you have a problem with technologie????? - RP, 5-10-98



You're funny!

Come to Phoenix and ride our rocky, sandy, harsh trails on your road bike so we can laugh at you.  You said in your article that you might only need an mtb for something like Slickrock trail.  Slickrock trail is a freakin' sidewalk compared to my nearest trail; which I RIDE to on m full suspension GT with 2.35 tires.

I started riding on an unsuspended Cannondale in 1986.  Trails that were impossible for me then are cake now.  Believe me I'm thinking for myself.  No marketing hype is going to snatch $2000 from my pocket for a new bike.  I checked them out, rode it and decided the comfort and control advantages of suspension were worth the investment.  I wouldn't go back to riding a hardtail let alone take a road bike on the trail.

Have fun riding cuz after all that is what it is about.
- MC, 12-9-98


Are you the same Chris Kostman that wrote "Mountain Bikes: Who Needs Them?" back in 1993?  That great article had a dramatic effect on my cycling, and all I can say is "thanks you!"

At the time that article came out I was starting to ride off road with an old road bike and loving it.  When I read your piece, I couldn't believe any mainstream mag would print it, and the tips really helped. because of that piece I really went all out, and eventually god rid of my mtb's all together (I won't be riding the Iditabike any time soon). Now I just own one road/bike for everything - and my bike handling skills and the types of terrain I can cover on it have grown exponentially. Your piece really snapped me out of the money-draining, must-have-the-latest-hi-tech-gizmo thing. As I recall there were some pretty amusing letters that followed that piece - along with that great follow up article you wrote (in the BOB mag?). - GK, 5-13-99


Dear Mr. Kostman,

I chanced across your self-defense rebuttal about mountain bikes.  I'm not a biker myself, but I want to pat you on the back for standing up for yourself.  It is truly sad when ignorant people beat up on another person's ideas which they do not understand.

When you speak from experience and others complain by theory, I'll believe the guy with experience every time. Like you said, if you're biking on a road, then use a road bike. If a person is biking across broken rocks and fallen trees, THEN get a (highly mortgaged) mountain bike.

I'm too old to bike now. I did grow up in the country and rode a "road" bike to school from grades four through eight. Did own a baby "hog" (Harley) for a short time.

Mr. Kostman, you seem to be doing all the right things. Head forward. Don't spend too much time "throwing rocks" at the complaining dummies. Maybe, issue some open challenges, some "put up or shut up" dares: my bike and my skills against whatever you think you've got. Get witnesses, too.

To a winner from CM, 9-14-00


I couldn't agree more, when I was a kid we built trail bikes from 19'" frames and had no gears, one speed, one brake, street tires, and modified short stick handle bars, and I'll bet those bike would smoke any mountain bike on the market today, even without alloys, they weighted nothing, we could pull almost any incline, and fly down any hills at crazy speeds without worry of blowing shocks,,, shocks....? I like to feel the ground. Love the article, bet it pissed off everybody...... lol EK, 5-10-01


Great article about "Mountain Bikes- Who needs them?," though I just came across it in August 2001.  Have you written any updates? 

I'm sure that all of your views have stayed fairly firm, though I'd wonder if you, like me, have embraced more suspension as you get any older? Granted I don't have the skills to set records on 24 hours/ distance races, but for the intermediate/advanced rider who has hit 30 years old and would like to take the shock out of drops, washboards, roots, etc. have you looked to more comfort as you have gotten older?

I don't intend this to be a topic for another article, but I'd like to see your views on the advances in technology/weight loss for some of these 21lb. full suspension bikes and if anything has changed with age. Thanks,
EV, 8-21-01


I have been relieved of my job at the local bike shop for 'being too roadie.' I am living in a fairly pavementless area on the northern shore of lake superior, where I ride forest roads and trails on my rb-1 or my steel bianchi cyclocross bike.  When I feel like pavement riding I usually grab my old Bianchi Pista. - CJ, 5-22-02


I think you have a serious attitude problem and feel sad that you have so much anger towards a truly wonderful pursuit. Perhaps a bit of therapy or a change in ethnicity might make you a happier and less critical soul. Have a nice day. - Y, 7-30-02


Chris Kostman invented under-biking, first in Bicycle Guide on an RB-1 and, later, in the '94 Bstone catalog. I singletrack my Romulus because Chris told me it was possible. - JB, 4-21-04


It occurs to me I need to thank you for writing all those years ago about riding road bikes on unpaved surfaces. Inspired by your writings, I've developed a love of dirt and gravel road travel on my Mercian fixed-gear. - RF, 5-3-04


That link was a jumping off point for a bunch of weekend reading in the Way subdirectory of your web space.  Much great stuff, thank you.

One Nit:  You say "trust me when I say I'm just an Average Joe, not a Superman."

Ahem.  someone who will go out for 125 rides with two bottles of water and a energy bar?

Someone who will do the triple iron-man thing in France?  Someone who races RAAM as a 20 year old?

Helllooooo!! Reality knocking! "Average" is not an accurate adjective.

Now, if I complete the Cascade 1200 this June - less than two years after my first century ride, less than three years after ending 20 years of sedentary living with becoming a bike commuter - I'll stand up as your "Average Joe".  Until then you need to find another "average" stand in.

Done with the nit.

Thanks for the training advice on the site.  I'm applying it.
- MR, 2-29-05


Hey Chris... Its nice to hear from the author himself. What I meant by flushing it out more, is that you tell us to develop skills so good that technology becomes meaningless. You don't dig further and tell us how to maneuver a skinny tire through 2" of sand. You take the approach of "Go for it!". Which is great, but takes a giant leap of faith for someone who isn't accustomed to the idea.

I'm willing to take my 23mm up and down a nearby fireroad, but I also have trails near me which require creek crossing (will hitting an unseen rock produce a pinch flat faster than a knobbie), or sand patches, or wide singletrack with deep ruts from the knobbies before us.

It seems you gave birth to the idea of US cyclocross, early!  Last month, I was planning on quelching my bike desire by building up a go-fast, a tourer, a singlespeed/fixte, a grocery getter, a you name it. Then, I realized, I could do all of this with a change of wheels. Specialized bikes are for specialized people. If all I did was tour, I think I'd want to get a tall touring frame for myself (I'm 6'6"). But, if all I did was MTB, I don't think a tall tourer would work for the agility needed of some trails.  Perhaps I'm mistaken, I'm still new.  :)

Anyway, I've got my eyes on the surly cross-check and acquiring a couple set of wheels.   I look forward to experimenting with different options. Thanks for writing your article!
- DB, 2-28-05


Thanks to you also for your efforts over the last 15+ years. I was really psyched on you and the B-stone boys rallying XOs in the dirt when I was in college and on your lightning rod "road-bikes-on-the-dirt" article. There was a whole crew of us at that time in North Georgia riding beat old 700c roadies on these great epic dirt loops, some of us on tubs. Anyway, it was a big influence on me. After a short trip into MTB style equipment in the late 90's (still rigid onespeeding with cantis), I ride nothing but skinnies in the dirt (35s). Later on pal, MC, 3-9-05


Well, if the photos on your site are an indication of the kind of "trails" you ride, then no, you don't need a mountain bike. Come on out to the Rockies and see how long your wheels last.

Beautiful rides, by the way. They remind me of my commute. I'd take my Atlantis on them.
- HCH, 9-5-05


Anyone who is seriously into mountain biking, knows that training on a road bike in addition to trail riding, is the key to mountain biking success. In other words, to be good on a mountain bike, especially where endurance events are concerned, spending more time on the road bike than the mountain bike is often necessary.

I would not, however, designate one as "better than" the other, they are just "different". Which many people will not hear in their rush to "defend" since becoming defensive is a normal reaction in human nature, when people perceive that their beliefs are being questioned or attacked. There is a definite place in any cyclists arsenal for a mountain bike. I sure wouldn't take my carbon Cinelli with flyweight carbon fork up any mountain bike trail, and the mountain bike allows us to ride where the road bike doesn't, but for pure conditioning, the road bike is essential as AN ADDITION, not as a replacement.

Here is an interesting fact I discovered quite by accident. When riding El Moro a few times I used to see people hiking with poles, and asked them what they were training for. They replied "Whitney". OK, well I'd planned to do the Whitney hike before meeting those people, went forward after my encounters with the pole hikers, and did the hike solo, without any sort of "hiking training" whatsoever. I pretty much aced it up and back in less than 13 hours, since it is not really hiking, but more like stair climbing, two steps at a time. Much like the leg movements we make when cycling, and using the same muscles. I never once trained by hiking, and I am quite sure, as I passed all those people with hiking poles on the trail, that all of my road and mountain biking prior to doing the Whitney hike, was the key to my success.

Why polarize people with the idea that "my ride is better than your ride"? Each bike has its own function, the applications are simply different, not better or worse. - BM, 3-30-10


I was amused in Chris's article re "mountain bikes." During the early '60's I was known, to the Oakland East Bay Regional Park Service, as that crazy "Mountain-man": IF I couldn't ride it (over the terrain) I carried it. Me and my trusty English-made traditional 10 speed!! There wasn't a fire road or mountain trail that ever slowed me down. If it was there ... I traversed it. On another note, six years ago, I encountered an hysterical mountain-biker: he was riding DOWN a trail that only a mountain goat would ever attempt ....... of course ........ I was going UP:)  It seems that he felt that his $7,000 mountain bike (I bought my first house for less than that) would take him, safely, anywhere. Wrong! But for this old guy (me), he and his $7,000 "magic carpet" would have ended at the bottom of a jagged rock filled ravine. I saved him and his trusty steed from total carnage. I did everything to put him back together except wash his "dirty laundry":)) I remember this well because I still have two torn rotators that, periodically refreshes my gallantry:) Ah, yes: $7,000 for a luxury ride to near total destruction. I may not be able to enjoy the trails any longer but at least I don't have to worry about saving some nut ass pedaling a $7,000 hype. My old ten speed had Dunlop Road Speed radial tires with heavy-duty inner tube. I rode this bike thousands of miles ...... NEVER had a flat!!!

So, my enfashionados/demons: reread Chris's old article re: 'Any bike Anywhere' .... get real and save yourself some $$. By the way ..... I ride, daily, 30 miles of 'Alpine Pass' mode, on my $3000 Star Trac recumbent stationary bike:)) But, if any of you, out there, with an old "clunker" AND a healthy pair of gams ....... I'll gladly trade you ....... just kidding. I wouldn't ask that of anyone. In the meantime ..... I'll just peddle my ancient hulk to no-where. And .... I'll be happy in knowing that I'm still able to grunt, huff, pant .... AND complain:)) The signature of a true jock.

The worst incident with my old 10 speed was when I was tooling down College Ave. in Berkeley, California ..... some IDIOT opened his, parked, car door in front of me. I had no choice but to grab the door frame. My bike ended in some shrubs. I got a big grass stain on my posterior. The car?: popped windshield, broken door hinge, and a smashed hood where this 250 pound muscled cyclist bounced from the hood onto a lush green lawn. The driver?: wet pants .... as I read him the riot act!!!!!!!!!!!! You guys have been there so you know how good it is to ride the trails and away from two tons of steel with a loose nut behind the wheel!!!

Yours in the sport of friendly humor along with just plain common sense.
- AA, 3-3--10

Over this winter I think I will finally scan and post all the letters to the editor which were sent to Bicycle Guide back in 1993, many of which were very supportive from those who "got" what I was saying, while others were just hilarious. That 1993 article is truly the gift that keeps on giving, when I consider how it still evokes knee-jerk responses from people whose identity is tied up in the width of their bike's tyres, along with positive, friendly emails from those who got my point and appreciate the adventurous way of life.
Meanwhile, enjoy the ride, everyone. Life is short!


Johnny said...

The first and my favorite article to have read from you, Mr. Kostman. I still have my full suspension mountain bike for when I want to hit a trail with log crossings and rock gardens, but I'm not afraid to take my old ten speeds for some gravel grinding or flat singletrack riding after reading your experiences. Though in all honesty, if I came across an RB-1 or a nice steel bike like that in my size I would restore it and race it in the local crits here.

Unknown said...

Seems that we all agree that mountain bikes have there place. I have one for exploring the Santa Barbara back country. Longer rides in the mix of single track, and steep, shale roads are (for me) better ridden with an MTB. That said, my most fun rides are on fire/dirt roads with my drop bar bikes and 700x28-35 tires. If more folks who read the article actually understood what it is offering, they too might find that this style of riding is incredibly fun and rewarding.