CX’s growing success is Mountain Biking’s failure.
07 Apr 2023
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Originally I was going to sit here and bash out a piece about my bewilderment of the growing CX (cyclocross) craze here in Australia. As with most things, somewhere in the dark during one of my morning rides I had one of those epiphany things and realised I was looking at it all the wrong way.
I won’t deny that seeing my IG feed filled with pics of guys who are clearly ‘dedicated followers of (road) fashion’ (yes that’s a line from a Kinks’ song), trolling up somewhat gravelly dirt roads on their CX bikes all rather amusing – even more so when I see pics of them riding trails clearly best ridden on a mountain bike proper. Maybe I’m having more of a snigger in the way I snigger at the hipsters turning up at my local roasters, beards resplendent to be seen. But while I do and probably will continue to have my little snigger, I actually get why people are heading to CX, or ‘cross’, to get a bit of a dirt fix.
Maybe it’s an age thing, 31 years riding a bike ‘properly’ this year, but the truth is I am starting to see CX as a lighthouse of brutal honesty, what mountain biking once was, while I am increasingly seeing MTBing as a load of hyper bullshit. A bike ultimately is just a tool to undertake what is the interesting bit, the riding. Standing around, or sitting as is the case for many, talking about your bike is not riding, it’s talking (I also think in many ways CX is even more honest than road riding, which has also been seen speedily heading headlong down the road of hype).
Gaulzetti Cabrón, simple and clean. It will be as fast in five years as it is now…and it’s orange too!
So why the sudden change of mind? Maybe it’s not so much a change but more of a realisation, one where CX and hence CX bikes are defined and hence ultimately ‘capped’; it becomes not about the bike pretty quickly and everything about the rider. Sure there are carbon forks and ‘stuff’ now, and yes discs have found their way in (a good thing in my mind) but apart from that, they are what they are and look to be just that for a long time. Anyone can buy one, new or second hand, ride it for years, replace the odd part here and there and it will, in general, be as good in five years as it is now; and in almost a backward hop, if you don’t like some of the drivetrain tech, you can even ditch it for a more simple solution! At its heart, CX is about the act of ‘YOU’ riding against a course and/or others, not getting hung up on whatever new rubbish an industry is trying to cram down your already overfull gullet, or that the guy next to you is going to smash you because he’s got the biggest wheels or most tuned suspension.
Another way to look at it is that CX nicely defines the term ‘shut up and ride’, and the guy or gal that’s the fastest, fittest and most skilled will be out the front; technically it’s pretty much even playing field.
Now in contrast, mountain biking has become infatuated with an endless stream of marketing hype, the what you need NOW! to do this or that, and in turn has actually forgotten about the riding part. Oh! You’re not a mountainbiker, mountain bikers ride ‘ENDURO’ and there’s a whole line of new, specially dedicated bikes and kit for that you know, mostly in the colour blue… WTF? The list goes on of course, everything from frames to what underwear you do or don’t wear but the sum of it is you hear more noise from the mountain biking world talking about the gear, instead of actually riding it; and from what I’ve seen, all that talking does not actually make you much of a rider.
And this of course does not even touch on just what ‘being’ a mountain biker actually means these days. Fat bikes, ENDURO!, DH, DS, XC, Freeriding, Trail Riding, Couch Riding, riders wearing baggies can’t be XC riders, Freeriders don’t wear Lycra, XC riders are just roadies, and… if you don’t have this wheel size, you can’t ride that, yadda yadda, bla, bla, bla. Honestly, if you sit down and pay any amount of attention to it, and after you get over the initial bewildering confusion, you soon realise that the mountain bike world has become no better than a bunch a teenage boys trash talking. Attractive image, yea?
Made in late 2011, it’s already a dinosaur. ‘Small wheels’, welded metal, sharp geometry, I might as well be pissing out the window in the mountain bike world, regardless of how well it rides.
Lastly, how the ‘industry’ depicts mountain biking as a form of riding, and has done so for some time, does not help. I can’t remember the last time I saw a series of riding images I could actually relate to. Most of what I see is unattainable to all but the most elite, titanium pin riddled strata of riders. If I wanted to ride motocross, I’d by a motocross bike, surely? In contrast anyone can go ride a CX course (or a road course). They might do it badly, slowly, or probably even both but they can do it. In other words you can go do what you see and not kill yourself in the process. There’s a lot to be said of that simple notion, not only for attracting new comers but also keeping the inspiration burning in those already doing it.
So back to the title of this article. I wonder if the increasing attraction to CX these days is because mountain biking simply fails to captivate a more ‘mature’, discerning audience like it once did? The distraction of mostly pointless ‘marketing and market share tech’ and ‘style factions’ is not an enticing world to any outsider (or even a jaded insider for that matter). After over 30 years, mountain biking has failed to mature to the point that it has stability or direction, becoming more than ever a bunch of kids just playing in the dirt. So if you come from the road world and want a fling in the dirt, hanging out with the pimply kids on the corner just aint going to float your boat. In other words, where cycling as a whole has continued to mature and move on, mountain biking is that awkward dude who still talks the same nonsense he was talking when he was 15… but he’s now 40.
Riding a bike in the dirt should not be an acne driven exercise in cornflake packet rocket science, so trying to work out what type bike to buy, what wheel size to run, what suspension is best, what clothing to wear etc. etc. etc. is generally just more effort than many already experienced riders want to put up with. CX offers one wheel size, one style of bike and now the possibly two brake options. That’s it. Now shut up and ride… and get dirty in the process.
I get it now…
Footnote: Don’t get me wrong here, while the mountain bike world is ‘teenage’ at best, a similar argument can be mounted for a large swage of the road world as well… I am starting to see CX as a great equaliser in cycling.
Copyright 2023 Gerard Thomas. All rights reserved.
I've run mtb events, distributed some legendary brands, ran my own cycling clothing brand, designed bikes and was a GM and head designer for a famous but sadly now extinct mtb marquee; and after 20 odd years I decided riding bikes was more fun than working with them.
Over that time though, I wrote (and some wrote for me) a lot of stuff about bikes, on blogs and the like. Some was good, some, well... not so much. Rather than loose it all when I shut everything down once and for all, I have kept some of my favourite, and more popular pieces here for... prosperity?
I also am working on new pieces as well...