Run what you brung

There is a certain attitude that seems to get lost in racing. It’s that your gear has anything to do with what makes you a racer. The short answer it doesn’t.

It can be intimidating getting up to line with your competition being on the newest rendition of the Santa Cruz Bronson and decked out in the newest line of Troy Lee Design gear, but the reality is that the industry is built like a fashion week in Milan.

Gear and bikes change so quick that within a few years your bike feels like it’s obsolete, and what people offer you for a rig with just two seasons of Sierra Nevada silt and granite on Craigslist sets that feeling in concrete.

For me it started when full suspension XC bikes started showing up in world cup scene. I always like having a full suspension bike but was told early on that the weight added and bobbing suspension would cost too much energy at a high level of racing. Until Filip Meirhaeghe won the World Championship on his full suspension S-Works.

It’s not that there weren’t any other full suspension bikes that have won World Cup races, Roland Green’s Fuel was one, but for those who are on the hunt for the latest and greatest, there isn’t any thing like rainbows and a new S-Works badge to get their tent pitched.

With full suspension XC bikes and their trail counterparts on the rise. It was time for a new battle to begin. A battle that continues today for the only apparent reason that we just need something to fight about or we would likely just find that we all enjoy bikes, and that just isn’t an acceptable place for the sport to be.

With the new battle raging between the 26 and 29 inch wheels. I had a talk with guys at American Classic wheels in 2007 at Interbike and they informed me that the 27.5 was coming and it would destroy the argument. I thought it was crazy but he was right.

Even now the wheel wars aren’t over, just at a kind of stalemate with 29ers and 27.5 not really showing any true dominance and mullet bikes coming back into the fold since their disappearance from the scene, except for maybe the random Specialized Big Hit that has survived more DH runs than Steve Peat.

You couldn’t kill it if you tried.
2003 Specialized Big Hit

The wheelsize battle isn’t limited to just enduro and downhill bikes battling it out. Dual slalom is in the same battle. Sticking with a lighter more maneuverable 26″ wheel or going 27.5 for burly jumps and faster rolling. The Sea Otter classic, probably the last large venue for amateur racers to shine in a dual slalom event, used to have a tight technical course built for a purpose. This however became tamed for the popularity of making it an enduro stage. That meant that last years winner of the course was a 27.5″ Santa Cruz 5010. With pump track racing becoming the new battle grounds for tight, tight technical bikes like dirt jumpers, will we see more slalom courses become adapted to trail bikes or do they go the opposite and get tight and technical like the past?

Top: Sea Otter Dual Slalom
Bottom: Pump Track World Championships

A few other changes that make racer insecure about their race rigs that happened at light speed were the material race. From steel to aluminum was the first step. Then when Carbon had finally become strong enough to endure as a worthy successor, aluminum became second and steel became a fad that your bicycle touring friend on his single speed would have. This is a dumb thing that has no basis other than how stiff and how light is your bike and in an honest opinion, all of the bikes are so good now that the one or two pounds difference between the best won’t make a difference in the course of a full race. The amount of travel on your bike. Right now the trend of mountain biking is to have an extra inch of travel more than you need, then when someone steps off their enduro rig and onto a trail bike, its the shocking narrative about how much more they enjoyed it. Know your trails not the trend. You can ride just about any trail on any bike, maybe not the best, but if you ride flow trails and then take your trail bike to a bike park once a year, its going to be a blast. If you have a near 7″ enduro bike all year at your flow trails then your going to be squishier than you need to be, just about all the time.

With bottom bracket changes, boost hub widths, 35mm bar diameter, slacker head angle, steeper seat angle, wider tires, more gears, and electric motors how can you be expected to keep up with trends. It’s easy, don’t. Bikes are so good that you can shred on just about anything. Race on anything. You will get tons of respect for just showing up on your bike no matter what it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t drool or keep up to date on technology. That’s how you know what to get when you finally want to upgrade your bike or finally decided to spend the money you saved for a house on a new race rig. In the mean time racing is about the bike your on, at the trail your racing, against the people you want to beat and if you beat them on a 10 year old aluminum hardtail with a 3″ sid on the front, the victory tastes that much sweeter.

Attitudes over results

There is no overstating winning a big championship or a prestigious race, but in today’s world it’s just as important to have a personality to match.

Watching the career of Cedric Gracia has seen him in the mix of the top gravity racers since the time of the big bikes, but he has never had a completely dominant season. As a matter of fact he has never won a World Championship but it wasn’t due to lack of skill. He won the Redbull Rampage and numerous other one off events. Still with this he has always had the support of factory teams and now rides with the support of die hard sponsors.

What set Cedric Gracia apart? I had the pleasure of meeting him at a New World Disorder release in Las Vegas and it was clear from the start. In the midst of freeride royalty with all the heavy drinking of many types of the cheapest beers a high end Las Vegas lounge would cringe at supplying, Cedric was dawning 4 beers and flowing around the party with ease. A huge smile on his face, and not so much talking but listening to everyone, with laughs, smiles and a stoked demeanor.

It’s not just at some party but to match his hyper smooth style of riding comes just a guy who enjoys riding his bike. His attitude is just of joy and general sillyness at the race.

As a privateer, he is a character to look to for inspiration. A figure who never takes himself too seriously or makes a race seem like it wasn’t meant to be enjoyed. Sponsors like racers who people like. Even if they don’t win. With competition being so high and the world of media changed to a focus on social media content, having a fun attitude is worth more than being a champion.