Are you a triple fan? Do you like to hammer the granny? Or do you prefer the ease of 2x10; the sheer simplicity of 1x10 or are you an all-out hairy-chested singlespeeder? How about lycra - do you like the sheer feel and the budgie smuggler effect or are you a baggies and trail jersey kind of guy? DH pyjama type? Legs shaved? Legs as hirsute as Brian Blessed's chin? Do you ride an XC hardtail? Trail hardtail? Full-sus XC whippet? Trail full-sus? AM? Freeride? DH? Slopestyle? 4x? Dirt jumper? Fixie? Do you dabble in The Dark Side from time to time? Do you live for the climbs, the descents or the flowing singletrack? Do you live for Strava KOMs or are you more of a Zen rider?
It's very easy to get yourself deep into a rut and pigeonhole yourself into a comfortable little niche according to your own perceptions (or other people's perceptions) of your own abilities, bike, gear etc etc etc. And it can be seriously counterproductive to the main reason we all ride ....... FUN.
I spent the weekend marshalling the second round of the British XC Series at Dalby and it really made me think about this fantastic sport of ours; it made me question why we do it; it made me wonder at the various driving forces behind the hundreds of people who paid good money entering a race, travelling across the country (or in some cases across several countries) to experience dreadful weather and punish themselves around several laps of Dalby's World Cup course: 7km of technical, brutal riding.
During the fifteen hours or so I actually spent out on the course doing my marshalling job, I saw a great many people all thrashing the nadgers off themselves and their machinery; some close to collapse, others looking as if they were just warming up for the main event; all covered in mud, all sweating; some with terminal mechanicals, some with ride-ending injuries and one poor bloke who had a real pearler of a smash on Worry Gill and ended up being stretchered out of the Gill and into the hurriedly-summoned ambulance on a spinal board at 8am on Sunday morning.
I saw an endless variety of bikes in all kinds of weird and wonderful combinations: a Reynolds 851 steel-framed vintage beastie in the Super Vets race; all manner of race hardtails including the phenomenal Cannondale Team Flash; race-ready XC full-sussers such as the popular S-Works Epic; a smattering of trail full-sussers (Stumpjumpers, Trances etc) and an incredible number of 29ers. Seriously, it was almost like a 29er convention at several points during the Elite/Expert/Masters races.
Some were belting along in big ring with the slipper down, others were hauling themselves along in the granny looking like they were about to die. Some were absolutely destroying the black descent back into Worry Gill after climbing all the way back out of Medusa's Drop, others were bimbling down it to the accompaniment of squealing and grating rotors, all clogged with the infamous Dalby mud and grit. Some tackled Worry Gill head-on (literally in several cases) whilst others took the B-line around the nasty drop; some were sponsored up to the eyeballs, riding top-drawer bikes with top-drawer componentry whilst others were clearly riding their pride and joy that they'd saved and sweated blood and tears to afford.
And what stands out in my mind most of all was the fact that lots of the riders (pro riders included) weren't averse to standing with a marshal, having a bit of banter and ask advice (during the practice sessions obviously!) .... "How many have got up that climb today?"; "What lines were they using?"; "Who's been quickest through this section so far?"; "Where am I?"; "What do they give you for your dinner?" and "Can you watch my bike while I have a slash?"
No pretentions, no superiority, no oneupmanship ...... just riders out to have as much fun as they can have on their bikes. Which is a long-winded of me getting to the point: it doesn't matter whether you're riding a 1989 Raleigh Mustang with a rear aero disc or an Advanced S-Works Team MuthaFecker with 19" of travel that weighs less than a dog's dangler - ride it to have fun. Don't take it too seriously (unless you make your living from it) and enjoy every pedal stroke.
For when you stop enjoying it, it's not worth doing any more.
One last thought: as we were loading the poor unfortunate Torq rider who'd mangled himself on Worry Gill into the ambulance (this Masters level fast bloke who had the sponsorship deal, had the flash bike and the support of a well-heeled team) with his face all mashed in and some sort of serious issue with his lower back, you just knew that, once his face healed, his back recovered and his mental demons were put to rest, he'd be back on the bike taking part once more in the greatest sport in the world. That says it all really. You put yourself through hell, leave yourself feeling like utter crap, push yourself further than anyone in their right mind would deem acceptable but you still go back out and do it a day/two days/a week later.
I had an epiphany during this weekend. Treat each ride like it's your last - in the case of the Torq rider (and a few others who had serious crashes), it just might end up being that way. Everything else matters naught.