Is there a growing rift in mountain biking these days? To me it sure seems so. Let me tell you why I feel this way and you can draw your own conclusion and decide if it is a good or bad thing.
First off there are many debates right now about what is right and wrong, good and bad. Some of them are more personal preference and some have a underlying crack that adds to the rift. You will always have the debates against hard tail and full suspension, less now then a few years ago and you will always have the odd ball rider that wants to stay traditional and that's cool. Then there is flats vs. clips this is still a personal preference but I think it is a little fuel to the fire in the rift of mtb. The last "preference" is a really big crack leading to the rift, IMO, and that is the 26 vs. 29 debate. I think they both have benefits but a bike set up can really tell you about the rider.
Let me explain first the rift. I feel there is a rift between mountain bikers and dirt roadies, people riding off road on mountain bikes but not really mountain bikers. You ask how can that be, they are mountain bikers then aren't they? Well no, 90 percent of dirt roadies are on 29ers, with long stems, narrow bars, probably the lightest bike they can afford, counting every gram (weight wienie), narrow tires with a not so aggressive tread. When they go for a ride the are going purely for exercise and not because they have a passion for mountain biking but a passion for fitness, they will most definitely be in lycra and sporting a water bottle cage on their bike and definitely rocking clips, if you ask them why they ride clips over flats they will answer as it is so falsely ingrained in their mind that it gives you more power, more efficiency, better climbing ability and they are able to ride more technical stuff since they can lift their rear end better and pull through the top of their pedal stroke.
All of which are unsubstantiated reasons for doing so, a good rider can do all of that and more with out locking their feet to the clips and pulling on your pedals doesn't add any more power or allow you to climb or pedal better actually it is tell tale sign of a horrible pedal stroke and is being used as a crutch to cover bad skills and technique and will also lead to over use injuries in your hips, knees and ankles. Don't believe me, leave me a message and we will go ride next spring and I will show you!
Also when they are riding they are trying to avoid as many of the obstacles they can, weaving all over the trail missing rocks and taking obscure lines through the rock garden because they can't handle their bike or avoiding them all together by taking a ride around. You will often hear the dirt roadies complaining in the parking lot about the rock gardens or obstacles. I actually had a guy once complain to me that he hated riding Lebanon because the "idiots that built this place just throw the rocks all over the place in dumb spots and he breaks a derailleur every time he comes out." You know what I told that guy, don't ride here then because there aren't enough rocks and it's not technical enough and I should have told him to learn to ride his bike. Yep you guessed it he fit the bill that I described about to a tee.
Well what is a real mountain biker then? Not a dirt roadie, well it would be someone that has a passion for the sport and the outdoors. They enjoy challenging themselves through physical and mental challenges. They like to push the limit of their bike and them self by trying to ride the most technical trails that their abilities will allow. Their main point for a ride is to have fun not to get as many miles as they can or work on their lactic/cardio thresh hold, unless they are training for a race. The biggest and most evident way would be look at the rider, do they have a serious look on their face or a big smile? A mountain biker will have a big smile on their face. No real mountain biker will ever not have a smile on their face, as a real mountain biker is happy anytime they are on their mountain bike. While a dirt roadie will have a serious look on their face because they are training or exercising not "riding." Mountain bikers are out to thrash the trail, slam through a rock garden, make that climb rip that down hill and clean that obstacle that has avoided them for so long. They aren't worried about how many miles or how many laps or how long they are riding that day. They will stop and hit that jump or try to ride that skinny for 15mins if that is what it takes to clean it.
I'm not sure if it is a good or bad thing. The good is that with the abundance of easy to medium level trails mountain biking is growing and more people are trying it and more bike shops are stocking mountain bikes but at the same time is that good? Should we simplify, dumb down and sanitize our trails and sports so shaved legged roadies can hop on a fat tired bike and ride them as fast as they can pedal with out any skills? I would have to question that. I personally don't feel so. I think there should be these trails so we don't scare new people away but at the same time we need to have an equal amount of technical trails that the real mountain bikers can go out and push themselves to the next level!
I don't have anything against people riding 29ers or wearing lycra or set up their bike differently then I do. I think people should ride what makes them happy, wear what they like and ride the set up that is most comfortable to them. Am I against people riding differently then me or having a different style then me? NO, no way.
Am I against people pushing for lamer, smoother, less technical trails? Hell yes, learn to ride your bike or go back to your road bike or grab cross bike and do a cross race or a gravel road ride but don't think you are a mountain biker because you ride a 29er in your road kit on the smoothest mountain bike single track you can find and call yourself a mountain biker, if that's what you want, go for it but call yourself what you are a dirt roadie or fire road rider...
Also don't hold an xc race and paint the rocks and roots a bright color or run the race mostly on a grass walking/ski path or fire road. That is not mountain biking that is dirt road racing!
You can draw your own conclusion but those are my opinions and if you want to have a good time and a relaxed fun ride, hit me up and I'll show you what it's all about and don't think I'm some slouch on the pedals, I'll hold my own and pass you when shit gets tech!
Keep it real!