Monday, May 18, 2015

The Power Of 'Experience'

'Experience'. What an odd word. It's a verb, it's an adjective, it's a 'thing'. There are companies who 'prioritize customer experience' and others who hire based on 'employee experience'. Humans are said to be a sum of our experiences, just as our mortal condition is part of the 'human experience'. Theme parks are based around it, tourism companies tout the 'best experience' of our lives, and even social media focuses on improving the time we spend using it.

Yesterday I had a very special, very wonderful conversation with someone whom I consider to be a new friend. He is an incredible person with some truly wonderful perspective and who, nearing the end of our conversation, brought up the value of experience. We talked about it for a while. And we both agreed that each individual's perspective is made up of many things, but largely from experience. We conversed about how each 'experience' will vary, despite similar details, and how widely those variances may seem to an outside observer.

Lately, I've been thinking a LOT. As usual. But over the last week, I've been pondering over the subject of my experience with Pinkbike and the subsequent 'proof' article that I wrote. My visit with this friend last night was actually sparked by the controversy of the Pinkbike issue, and we talked about it in depth.

The most important thing I think I've learned from all of this stuff is that each human experience is unique. Without fail. Everyone perceives the world differently, and thus they experience things very differently. For example: a room full of people at a party. Each individual in that room is going to walk away from the party with a different story to tell based on their own perceptions, the events that really affected them, and the other individuals they interacted with based on the level of importance that each influencing factor had on said person. Like a fingerprint, each story and each relation of the story will be slightly different, even if everyone saw exactly the same thing. This is often why police like having multiple witnesses to a crime; each recollection of a person's experience will vary based on perspective, personal bias, previous experiences or trauma, and so many other contributing factors.

My point in all of this is that my experience on Pinkbike is clearly going to be different from another users' experience. My experience as a woman is going to be vastly different than that of a man, even if age, demographic, education, income, sexual preference, hair color, eye color and DNA strand are the same. Like the butterfly effect, only one thing has to change in a history, a makeup, a childhood trauma or an event and suddenly both people are experiencing different things. My racing experience colors how I see rider speed in a video and my travel experience changes every single time I visit somewhere else. Just like my rural childhood influences what feels like 'home' to me, my time spent in between justice systems influences how I view authority. My role as a birth mother to an adoptive child and my history as a sexual violence survivor both change how I see others in similar situations, and they've impacted my ability to care deeply about both the world around me and the people in it. My passion about politics stems from my time in the capitol and running a non-profit built around clean air, and I worry about my brothers' brains (and the activities that may put them at risk) because I know what it's like to live as a traumatic brain injury patient.

I am a sum of my life and my choices, is what I'm trying to say, just like you are of yours. But regardless of how different those choices and lives may be, every experience is valid and has value. Every. Single. One. I'm apathetic about certain things because I cannot fathom the pain and so deeply passionate about others because I've known that pain. Even if I disagree with another person's opinion it doesn't mean any more or less than my own.

I think we've forgotten that. I feel as though I've forgotten that on so many occasions. I feel that the world as a whole has forgotten that those around us are just like us: human. And I think that when we doubt each other and devalue and discredit the words or opinions or feelings of someone else, it means that we don't recognize that person as an equal -- and if anything, we all are that. We are all people and we are all equal. Our differences don't make us enemies, they make us the same! And the only way to move past those differences is to relate to each other on a similar level, even if those opposing opinions about a topic is the only thing we have in common.

I'm so far from perfect that it's not even funny. Seriously. It scares me how many faults I have and how many mistakes I have made and I know that so many of you do, too. But if nothing else, that's where we're similar. And I love you for that. So if you want to chat, just shout. I'll be here, and we can talk... About experience, and the value of each one we've had.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Round 2: My Foray Into The Mire (Again), AKA: The Proof.

The last six days have been interesting. And I use that word in the same sense that a trainwreck is interesting or a burning building is interesting. If you look at it as a disaster, it's been fascinating.

It's also been really tough, I'm not going to lie. I will also gladly admit that I brought much of it on myself by writing my last little 'think' piece, entitled 'Why I'm Leaving Pinkbike'. If you haven't read it (or the comments), I suggest you go read it, then come back. If you're one of the 'TL;DR' folks, well, then maybe the Sunday funnies are more suited to your reading style. Long and short of it? It's been a pretty epic entrance into premature retirement. 

This post is round 2 of what's essentially become a classic Pinkbike internet slugging match of the largest proportions. I've been accused of a lot of really awful stuff by some folks who like to really push their weight around. Those accusations? Welp... Mainly having 'no proof' that Pinkbike staff A: had a bias due to my objection over sexist comments or B: even knew about my article rejections and how they relate to the 'rape culture' comment. There's also the allegation that there has been zero communication from me with Pinkbike staff over the last 9 months where my columns are concerned and of me being a coward/attention whore/feminist/disgruntled employee/insert-insults-here-and-it'll-probably-fit any troll's script. Whew. That one's mostly my favorite. Oh, and don't forget that I failed to bring Pinkbike up to date on the (frankly humiliatingly graphic) threats I received outside of the website that I turned over to the cops. Because, DUH. (Really?! Who doesn't want to tell a publisher or editor that some creep emailed you about how he was going to rape you, bury you and laugh about it?)

And instead of getting to the meat of this issue (why the largest bike site in the world broadcast an open endorsement of sexual violence towards women in a bike review and multiple other less-than-appropriate references to women), we're left debating the semantics of my behavior because no one can admit that we actually have a real fucking problem. So here I am, offering up screenshots and phone records instead of talking about the real issues that we face as an industry. 

Now, I'm not blameless. Granted, I can be a total asshole, especially when people attack me personally or shit on what I'm trying to do. No, but really. Don't do that if you're not looking for a fight. Case in point, the situation where some people claim that I 'made fun of a guy in a wheelchair'. Actually, said dude in a wheelchair tracked down my personal website, then proceeded to use parts of my 'About Me' section to counter a PB comment I made, right after telling me I would "never make it onto the World Cup, and even if you do, you'll be a good minute behind the winning times." Sure is cool to be told that, huh? And by the industry's favorite person, the guy who tells MTB legends that they've wasted their careers? Yeah. So there's that. And the thing is: an asshole is an asshole, regardless of whether they're sitting or standing. Just because I'm a TBI survivor and neurology patient doesn't make me any less of a jackass right now, does it? No. So here it is, in black and white. I'm sharing it with you because somewhere, down the road, someone will bring it up. And this entire bullshit thing is about the honesty and accountability inside of the industry, isn't it? I figure the least I can do is answer ridiculous accusations that I made fun of anyone in a wheelchair. 

 You know what, man? I feel for Ya. It must f*cking suck to be stuck in a body that won't work and hating everything while other folks go chase dreams doing shit they're really good at.
Check your 'facts' and that WC roster one more time. Just because you've given up on your body doesn't mean I don't have plenty of life left for living."

And here is the context. Feel free to pore over it. However, I won't be attacked by people who think that this is a way to cower me into silence about what has actually gone on. There is no reason to personally attack (or insult) another member of Pinkbike, especially not one who is working really fucking hard to make a living and race, as well as cover other women's race entries, with only a couple of jobs. Don't talk down to that person about 'racing locally', giving up and 'coming home' or tell that member that you doubt their ability to succeed, but that you can really see them on the cover of Deer Valley's brochure in the future. C'mon now. Would you honestly say these things to another dude giving his best?


If you're interested in miring yourself with the negativity that was that conversation, the full comment section is here:

And I'm posting this on this post in the hopes that whoever wants to accuse me of this can read it, understand it and then get past what yes, I wish I hadn't ever said, because it wasn't kind. It wasn't compassionate. And it wasn't appropriate for an athlete to say to someone who is confined to a wheelchair. The fact that it's fairly true doesn't make it any less awful or me less of an asshole. But. Like I said: if the tables were turned, would I expect someone to treat me differently when verbally abusing someone online? No. No, I wouldn't. And you know what? They don't. People don't pull punches when dealing with me, and I prefer it that way. 

But back to the issue at hand: my experience and the so-called 'lack of communication' and 'disappearing' when editors reached out to me. 

While you're scrolling through the following, I'd like you to ponder one thing: if the 'jokes' from Mike Levy had been of the racial/religious/sexual orientation kind, would I have been crucified for standing up then? Better yet, would the review have gone to press in the first place if it joked about racially charged violence or other protected class-inspired hatred? Just think about it.

Meanwhile, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times. Enjoy the ride! 

Claim 1: That my column-specific pieces saw no difference in publishing rates after I made my 'rape culture' comment. 


Screenshot 1 is of articles posted to my column before my comment. 
Screenshot 2 is just after the comment. 
Screenshot 3 is a continuation of 2, and the number of rejections I received post-rape culture comment.

Now, there is always the little instance of coincidence. Fine. Sure. It is what it is. But this? The column post approval rate before and after alone seemed pretty damning when I took a step back, but coupled with the phone call I had with the publisher shortly following the comments, it's a little too convenient. Also considering that multiple phone calls took place throughout the fall, and one in January with my editor, and then another one in late January, again with my publisher Julian, who spoke of 'changing attitudes' and 'surprising the audience'. 

This one exhausts me, mostly because it boils down to classic 'he said/ she said' and really, this entire process bothers me.

So. Claim 2: Lack Of Communication and that even after my column content stopped being approved, never once (as written in the comments of my other blog by Pinkbike CEO Karl Burkat) did I approach my editor Tyler or the publisher Julian about my column pieces being added. Whoops. Read on and enjoy. Also: feel free to contact them at these addresses. And me at mine. Please. 

I spoke with my publisher and editor through the summer and into the winter as I recovered from broken hands in August and a traumatic brain injury in September... 

And into the winter, especially after the Kohut comment, which earned me another talking-to. Because I'm the only jackass in the entire comments section. Great. Like I said, I am not without blame. But neither is Pinkbike.

All the while, still not being published in a column that supposedly exists 'to address issues within the bike industry with an open and honest edge' (as said by my publisher 5 days ago when we spoke on the phone).

And still... Nothing.

Continued candor, openness and self-criticism, and yet... Editors rejected the article I had worked on and then waited another month before addressing another column (and then used this candor to talk to a media outlet about during this entire debacle. Awesome).

Clearly, there was not a lack of communication between myself and my editor, publisher and even other members of the editorial board. This is a small sampling of written correspondence over the past 12 months, and that clearly excludes the lengthy phone calls alluded to and shown above. My willingness to take criticism and suggestion and my eagerness to help almost makes me want to vomit at this point as I read through emails. Seriously. 

Claim 3: I Refused To Take Direction (Or Edit Posts)... C'mon. Really?! After MONTHS of talking, calling, emailing, waiting, talking about discussion, just... Really? 

This one is pretty easy to debunk with the emails from above and that I edited multiple articles and ideas (as I've told Karl in an email). Others I simply lost interest in pursuing and let go, or got too busy to delve back into or any other number of reasons. It's part of the creative process and it happens.

Shot 1: 11 revisions on my part, on a column post that never ran, but that I was simply told there was no room for on the front page, despite it being a pretty prevalent issue within MTB racing (lawsuits against organizers) and a highly-talked about issue (20K hits on my personal website alone. And aren't they selling clicks?).

Shot 2: Another revision, another rejection. 

As you'll also see in one of the shots above of a Skype message, I went back to my editor the next day and offered another revision on an article and cited a 'toned down' version. Still no publication, or reasons why there wasn't. However, Karl Burkat (CEO of Pinkbike), later claimed both #2 (Unresponsive) and # 3 (Refused to take Direction) as shown in the email, and he also included my comment to Stacey Kohut as yet one more possible reason.

My response was as follows, and included the images I have posted above of the proof of contact, etc.

(Sorry about the split. I don't have a fancy big screen and I have to scroll. #firstworldproblems)

Claim 4 (as of Friday, May 15 in an email from Pinkbike CEO Karl Burkat) is my new favorite. At first, claims were 'We didn't know about it!'. Claims then became 'But she was unresponsive!' when I didn't immediately supply emails, phone calls and contact. And now, claims are 'You were needy and demanding and you bothered us.' Ever heard of gaslighting guys??? How about goal posting? If not, go look them up. Then come back. That seems to be PB's strategy for dealing with this issue, instead of actually just saying 'Yes, you're a prick and a loud mouthed jerk. We wanted nothing more from you, and no, please don't submit anything else.'

(This photo also contains part of the emailed response I posted above under Claim 3)

Instead, they waited for me to get sick of the runaround and leave PB. What I'm wondering is if I hadn't shit a brick (or overreacted) about that line in the review, would it have ever been looked at again by the editorial team? Would they have waited to take action until Levy came out with another review that rails against women? Would they have waited until another female writer aggressively responded to the undertone of hatred and sexism in repeated personal attacks to say 'Whoa. We need to seriously change our tone around here.' or ask 'Do we really want to capitalize on the fastest growing segment in mountain biking, or do we want to alienate all of them?'

And now that the industry has collectively decided that I'm a 'troublemaker' in the court of public opinion, I'm wondering what's left for me here, or if there is anything at all. 

And that's sad. Because I thought that bikes were something that everyone could do and be involved in and part of, regardless of their age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. I thought that bikes would transcend any bro-brah mentality and pack-like ignorance. I thought that the bike industry was a safe place for people, as long as they simply loved bikes. But clearly, I was very wrong. In the comment sections, in my opinions, in my articles and photos and in my female-ness, I was wrong. The opinions I have and the experiences I've been through mean nothing to the site owners, to other community members, and even to valuable members of the professional racing (and photo) realm who easily dismiss me. Because I'm loud? Nope. I can name off 50 other 'loud' or 'obnoxious' members of the bike industry who happen to be male, but who are taken in stride with a grin and a laugh. Am I dismissed because I'm opinionated? Talent-less? Outspoken? Nope, I don't think so, and nope, once more. I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm indeed dismissed, talked over, counted out and discredited because I happen to have lost in the genetic straw draw of birth and ended up female. And that's the issue we need to talk about. The issue of 'Oh, she's just a girl. What the fuck does she know?' 

I don't believe that there are villains or heroes in this situation. I don't claim to. But what there is is a situation where we (and yes, I mean collectively) allowed a series of hateful lines to be directed at any women who read a certain few reviews. And then someone lost a column. And for whatever reason, what we're talking about here doesn't actually fix anything, but leads us 'round and 'round in what equates to a conversational circle jerk where everyone takes sides.  

Because instead of a site owner stepping up, saying 'Yep, we fucked up' and fixing the issue to make sure it doesn't happen again and another woman doesn't stumble upon a hateful comparison to a bike frame, their first move was to post a comment on every blog and every forum board in an effort to discredit one contributor's experience so that they could save face. Damage control was the first thought, and painting me as a hysterical, shrill feminist shouting about rape culture was the easiest thing to do. Instead of saying 'yes, we have a community issue and we'd love to work with you to make this better for all users going forward', they decided it was best to shut me up and settle things down. Because this entire situation doesn't smack of a Pinkbike argument that you'd see in the comments section? Because this isn't classic cover-it-up-and-we'll-just-stop-talking-about-it?

Because no... We don't have a rape culture. Not us. 

Never here. You must be mistaken. 

Welcome to the bike industry, folks.

PS: Sorry if this is confusing as fuck. I'm injured and currently splitting time between work, being an ass on the internet, watching 'New Girl' on repeat and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Oh, and taking my cat for walks. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Dear Beginner

Disclaimer: I'm writing this because I was once a beginner who could have used the below conversation, not because I believe myself to be in any sort of advice-giving position.

Dear Beginner:

I know, the title is a little awful. But really, it's only because my creative consciousness has something equating to the flu right now. Please forgive me. 

Anyway. Where were we? Oh, yes. 

First of all, welcome to mountain biking. You've pretty much reached outdoor sports nirvana. It's a great place with fantastic people and arguably the best way to spend spare time and extra pocket change. Wait, scratch the 'spare' and 'extra'. It's simply the best and I'm delighted you've discovered it. Secondly, I love you. Yes, beginner, you. I love your enthusiasm and your bravery. I love that you've jumped into this crazy and overwhelming world and that you're ready to experience everything bikes have to offer. I love that you're willing to try something that ultimately, may take over your life and might actually become your one true love (side note: we're not a cult. I promise). I love that you've courageously chosen to pursue something that terrifies so many people and that you're open to making new friends. I love you.

My new friend, let me tell you something very important: regardless of who may 'vibe' you, please know that we passionately love our sport and sometimes that translates into aggression when a new wolf starts hanging around our pack. It's not about you. It's about us. Please be patient with us. On that note, please know that like any group, we have a few a*sholes. Ignore those guys. They're a*sholes. Unlike other groups, we have less a*sholes than scientific ratio should demand, and that is because bikes are awesome. Our ratio of awesome to a*sholes is A LOT:not a lot at all. 

Another thing I'd like to mention is to be patient with yourself. Don't try to rush progression (even though you will anyway), and understand that sh*t happens. Also: you're gonna fall. Pretty much always. I don't know anyone who doesn't fall on a regular basis. Yes, even the pros. Just be patient. You'll progress as you progress and it's only for you. 

Beginner buddy, as you navigate your way through trends, online information, trail days, bike parks, scenesters, pissing contests and ego trips, try to remember that mountain biking is about you and your bike. How you feel at the end of a ride is what matters. That feeling is going to translate into giving back to your new sport, which is another foundation of being a mountain biker. Give back. Give as much as you can, and then give a little more. Build trails, volunteer for shop days, show up and cheer, make new friends and ultimately, invest and give yourself time to ride. 

Beginner, please don't try to buy the perfect bike the first time around. Know that you will come to both love and hate your first bike; it will have things you adore and problems you abhor. Take those notes and put them into your second bike, but understand that your first bike is probably going to suck for a few reasons, like economic priority, lack of understanding, inaccurate assumptions of what you want from a bike. With rare exception, this is a grounding principle of our sport and true in almost every situation: you'll get better as you go along. My suggestion? Go to your local shop, shoot the shit, ride as many bikes as they'll let you and then pull the trigger on whatever you can afford. Because your first bike rocks, I suggest you keep that bike. You'll want it to tell stories about later. 

Donate blood and donate often. Falling is good for you! Failure keeps you humble, reminds you of your mortality and gives you something to strive for. Wrecking yourself and breaking a bike part (please, no bones or body parts if you can help it) is recommended at least once a year. Not only will it allow for perpetual upgrades, but it will teach you gratitude for an operational, functioning body. Always wear a helmet; you'll want to remember this in 50 years. Ride everything you can set your wheels to, and ride it as fast or as slow as you like. Walk what you can't ride and don't worry about changing the trail; you'll change the more you ride it. Don't stress about something that scares you, but just do it. The more you focus on a slab or a drop or a jump or rocks or roots, the more power it will have over you. Along those lines, my new buddy... Don't be afraid to get slightly in over your head. I'm not talking about hucking 50-foot road gaps on a BMX bike but instead, maybe signing up for a DH race or going to the bike park with people who might be slightly more advanced than you. I'm suggesting trying new trails, getting a little lost and (rhetorically) sending it into the blind once in a while. Take some risks, face your fears and push past walls that might hold you back. I promise that you'll appreciate it later on. 

Don't forget to educate yourself. YouTube is your best friend... Until it's not (you'll understand that one later). You don't have to be a self-taught mechanic, but do learn how to properly change a flat, patch a tube, fix a chain and keep your bike running smoothly. Google is a beautiful resource, as is nicely asking someone at a shop. You might get vibed out for a second, but stick around. Be nice, stay humble and ask real questions and any shop dude that isn't a douche will be more than happy to help you out. Another awesome educational tool: forums. Not the hater 'my-dad-is-tougher-than-yours' kind of forums, but reputable forums. And understand that asking questions isn't bad. It's a sign of an inquisitive mind and a person who's open to improvement. Be ready and willing to learn. Don't be afraid to take a mechanical clinic or attend ride days at your local mountain with companies who come through. 

Last of all but certainly not least, respect everyone. Every trail user, every rider. That means any gender, any bike, any and everyone. We're all out here, we're all friends, and we're all awesome. But don't be a doormat... Don't be afraid to speak up and be nice. You're one of us now, and we try to do the right thing. I'm sure you'll be nothing but rad, and we welcome you to the family. 

Oh, and one more thing: don't forget to have fun. When it stops being fun, it's time for a break. 


Your New Friend

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Racing: Nothing Will Ever Feel As Good

The recent PB poll here (and the associated comments) on the site got me thinking: why do I love racing? Why is hurtling my bike down a treacherous trail while the clock is ticking away so much fun?

The gears are still grinding away trying to complete the answer, but these are some of the conclusions that have surfaced from my internal inquiry. 

I love going fast, yes. And is this going to sound selfish? Absolutely. But having an entire track that has been roped, walked, and cleared off, one that's basically reserved for me and me only for a moment of time, is, in one short word... Priceless. I have an almost-guarantee that the track is mine to do with what I will while the world pauses for just a moment. No one will be stopped in the middle of the trail, no one will be pedaling up it, I'm allowed to go as fast (nay, encouraged) as I can physically afford, and the chance that it's a trail I'll enjoy is extremely high. It's the ultimate chance for freedom. It's the one minute in time that I get a hall pass from the universe to actually fulfill my hell-on-wheels personal fantasy. 

Photos by Exposed Imagery during the Reaper Madness Downhill ProGRT Round 1 Race at Bootleg Canyon.

Second is the progression factor. Let's be honest for a second: I am not immortally perfect at riding a bicycle. I am not a robot and I don't know everything. I haven't conquered everything, which means there's ALWAYS room for improvement, which I've recently discovered an addiction to. Racing drives improvement and progression. In fact, showing up to a race and being absolutely terrified of a course is, all at once, the best and worst feeling in the world. In that second, I'm keenly aware that I am lacking. Right then, I lack so much. I can feel the weight of my inadequacy crushing down upon my shoulders. My ego takes a blow and the fear seeps through my soul. 

But the fighter in me is exhilarated by all of this strong stimuli. 

At this moment of realization that I'm totally in over my head, the hopeful little light inside of me questions the possibilities of the situation. A glimmer of hope ignites. I begin questioning my fear, and those feelings of dreadful inadequacy. It's part of a race course, so it must be at least SOMEWHAT feasible. Someone, somewhere has done it. Or they've at least THOUGHT about doing it. And in that split second of hope, in that momentary reflection, joy is born, because this is another learning opportunity. It's another notch in my bike skills belt, another chance to improve. In fact, it's forced progression. Because what's the alternative to not learning that feature or section? Not racing? Walking it? Yeah, right. I don't think so. And so there I am, simultaneously scared out of my mind and excited and thrilled and hopeful and worried. A giant stew of raw, human emotion.

And so I commit to that progression. I always do. Sometimes it HAPPENS. I step up, conquer that shit and move on, like a bike-mounted Bonaparte sweeping across Europe (yes, I did compare myself mountain biking to a French military legend. That just happened.) and emerging victoriously, glowing with pride and spewing gleeful epithets. At other times, coaxing is required, from myself or the occasional race buddy. One of us will usually be able to talk my brain into thinking that scaling and riding or dropping this terrible obstacle is a great idea. On the rare occasion (such as my vey first ProGRT national circuit race), it has been during my race run when a feature is required riding to avoid a DQ and it's more of a do-or-die situation where my body says, "hang on, kids!" while my brain is screaming "we're all gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiie!!!!!!"

Racing the Pro Women s DH at Sea Otter.

No matter what the situation is, that forced progression inevitably happens. And it is always an adventure, especially as the things that truly scare me seem to be rapidly growing in size and risk level. There is always room for another skill, better maneuvering.

But that improvement comes because of the human capacity for adaptation. Our bodies and minds are BUILT to adapt. That is how our DNA and species survive. Evolve or die. And it's not always a huge feature or one blatantly obvious trick spot, either. The more frequent demand is the adaptation to hostile conditions, like twelve inches of mud or loose volcanic shale slabs the size of turkey platters. At home, we slowly and gradually adapt to the moon dust and the fallen logs and the usual debris during a regular, old-fashioned ride with our boys (or girls), but a race track evolves rapidly over a weekend of abuse. The trail that we walk Wednesday night in the beautiful twilight Alpenglow is a much different beast come Sunday morning. It has usually grown into a different trail entirely as rock gardens suddenly appear, trees seem to pop out of the ground and slick mud puddles dot the landscape like daisies in a mountain meadow. And we have no choice but to ride it. 

There is no other trail or another option. This is the course, dammit, and we'll race it. 

And so we are, by nature of the sport, forced into a skills evolution for physical survival. We learn specific course markings and visually seek out those rare features that won't move -- massive boulders the size of tanks and tree stumps that signal our turn initiation; these objects become our safe havens of consistency in a world turned upside down.The rules of this game constantly change, and our minds and bodies follow because it's not about the competition anymore; it's about survival. In this setting, at this moment, our minds and adrenal glands and endocrine systems are crying in loud alarmist tones 'adapt or die! Adapt or die' and the emergency exit lights in our flight systems illuminate while oxygen masks drop from our proverbial hormonal ceilings and the pilot speaks calmly into the intercom of our brains. The other racers and athletes no longer exist, because we're too busy focusing on not wrecking this plane. 

Photo Ralph Lederer Photography

Now. Imagine all of the above, but sped up like a video in an editing studio and condensed into one weekend. We're on a time crunch, and in that crunch we must show up, face the fear, explore the possibilities, embrace the challenges, master the newness, ride on hope, adapt to changing conditions, endure the inevitable 'emergencies', evolve some more and then RACE the actual competitive run! It's a highly concentrated experience with stimulus overload on a time table that exceeds the standardized rate. It's a goddamned drug. 

It's a state of altered reality that comes with a happy ending. Every single time. It's like heroin for the life junkie. 

Because during all of the above insanity that is racing, we also have one more thing going on, but externally: new friends. People. A strong community of riders and individuals who are all dealing with the same. Exact. Feelings. We know each other, even though we might not. We can sympathize and commiserate and delight in those same experiences because we feel similarly. And so we bond. Some groups catch onto the competitor vibe, while others latch onto the 'we're just here for the beer' motto. But we all know what that finish line feels like, and what that progress feels like, and the pressure of that warp-speed hourglass experience is, and we bond. We build friendships and relationships and occasionally? Even romances. Some of these connections last for a few days through the weekend while others will extend beyond that and onto new seasons and into multiple years, then lifetimes. And these are the threads of a race weekend. These are the very ties that bind us together into the same crazy cloth. 

This is racing. And there's no better feeling in the world.

Race antics in the lift line.

A Risk-Averse Society and Rider Responsibility

DISCLAIMER: This is a subject near and dear to my heart. I've seen things and watched people and heard statements that would make me walk away from mountain biking forever, given any lesser degree of love and passion for the sport. I've seen it from both sides: that of the injured party, that of the family of an injured party and that of the so-called 'negligent' party. It's a tough line to walk but it's an interesting topic that I figured we could all type in caps at each other over. In all seriousness, this is something I've debated writing about for a long time because I'm so close to the eye of the storm, but it cannot be ignored. These questions have to be asked. They're not simple questions, nor are they easily answered. 

Recently, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek rant about a gal who is suing Oregon race organizers after being injured during a pre-ride for a Super D race. While the details of that particular case have been much discussed and insults tossed back and forth, the basis of general concern still stands: what does and doesn't constitute rider responsibility?

While American ingenuity is well-noted and even famous, our litigious nature and unwillingness to accept responsibility is even more notorious. Millions of lawsuits are filed inside of the US for varying reasons every year; with those lawsuits comes a wide variety of blame: negligence, deceit, failure to act and many, many more. We not only avoid taking responsibility as much as we possibly can, but we're also pretty terrified of risk. After all, we buy products because they have a 'money back guarantee' or a 'lifetime warranty'. We build brick walls around entire communities to protect ourselves from the unknown that lurks beyond them. We stress and fret over the 'what ifs' of taking the 'wrong' career paths. We've banned sharp scissors, we allow strangers to view us in our underpants at the airport, and we consent to serious breaches of personal privacy, all in the name of 'safety'. We despise risk. We're crippled with fear. We abhor not being in control and the possible situations that exist outside of it. Even worse? When our fears manifest themselves (or if anything goes wrong), by damn, SOMEONE is going to pay and it certainly won't be us. We look for someone or something to blame, never willing to admit that sometimes, sh*t happens. Other times, sh*t happens because we're stupid. Because this is life. And in life, just as in bikes, anything and everything can change all at once. 

What faces mountain biking and grassroots racing now is no different than we face in every day life, and very little has changed for mountain biking in the last twenty years: the constant threat of someone getting injured during a race or event and deciding to sue hangs over us like a dark cloud. It plagues bike parks, companies, race organizers, and individual property owners like, well, the plague. From Snow Summit and other resorts closing their downhill trails to the heavy insurance policies that race organizers and riders have to carry, we all understand that those who host these events are all easy targets for people who cannot accept responsibility for themselves. But what happens when there IS gross negligence on the part of an organizer or mountain? Is a lawsuit the right answer? What happens when we put our trust in someone (or a bunch of someones), only to be let down or even permanently damaged because of plain ol' disregard? 

Just like skiing, mountain biking is dangerous. The very name itself implies danger: MOUNTAIN BIKING. You know, riding bicycles down and up a mountain. Yes, mountains. Those big scary rocky things that protrude from the surface of our planet. THOSE mountains. Mountains are dangerous. Bikes are dangerous. We accept that from the very moment we swing our legs over those wheel-mounted steeds. But how far does the 'inherent danger' label really go? Where is the line between accepting responsibility for our own actions and holding others responsible for theirs? 

Now, I'm a fan of bikes. I'm also a fan of survival of the fittest. At the very least, bikes require some sort of survival instinct, sort of like not falling into a manhole while wandering down the middle of the street. And playing bikes requires some sort of ability to map out choice versus consequence, a la "If I pedal as fast as I can into that tree, will I bounce" or some other version of cause and effect. Gravity, speed, velocity and height all have equal and opposing reactions. Just look on YouTube, Pinkbike, or Google search 'Mountain biking fails'. It can be scary. It can also be really, really funny (if you're the audience). But those of us who accept the risk and the unknown consequences of our future actions inside of the sport have a lot of fun. We have decided that the unknown consequences of our actions are far outweighed by the promise of fun, improvement and speed. That's what makes us mountain bikers. We know that we might live in a world where we vote for 'safety' and 'security' over privacy and personal freedom, but safety is an illusion. We know that risk is everywhere. We know that whether we're struck by lightning while walking the dog, hit by a milk truck crossing a street, or we trip over our own feet on the way down the stairs and break our neck, there is no such thing as a world without risk. It does not, quite simply, exist. Everything can kill you at some point or another and while fear is what keeps us 'safe', fear can also do us harm if we allow it to govern our actions to the point that it owns an entire society. So where's the line? 

How does a culture that eschews any sort of risk embrace mountain biking while its sub-culture quietly thrives beneath that safe, smooth surface? Well, it doesn't. Not really. Not without a promise that everything will be okay. We can't promise that you'll stay alive and we don't guarantee that you'll have fun or that you'll walk away feeling that your money was well spent. We can't promise that, not even with gravel pathways and machined trails. There aren't many people are okay with completely accepting the potential hazards that come with our sport, and that's alright: we have waivers. But when a judge declares a waiver inadmissible in court or unuseable in a defense argument because the plaintiff claims they were 'misled' by race organizers or resort staff about obstacles, features or unmarked hazards, we have almost no recourse as an industry. When a family sues STRAVA because their husband and son died seeking a KOM, how do we predict that? What do we do with increased demand for mellowed out trails, E bikes and the onslaught of joust-worthy, full suit body armour? How do we respond to the people who, regardless of the name of our sport, refuse to accept the fact that they are wholly and singly responsible for themselves and their own decisions, for good or bad?

Or do we?

Should mountain biking as a whole begin printing disclaimers on waivers, entry forms and lift tickets about the 'inherent risk' of mountain biking and the user's responsibility to avoid any and all hazards and that the trail may change at any time without prior notice? Do we follow the ski industry and inform participants that if they don't like a trail, they should walk it? Can we accept that, as a rapidly-growing industry with many new or first-time participants? And who's responsibility should the information be? Who should bear the brunt of an entire society's pernicious fear of risk? Do we give resorts and race organizers carte blanche because hey! You're here and you're the moron fighting gravity to stay upright on a two-wheeled contraption? Do we look the other way and brand mountain biking the official home of 'Our Way or the Highway'? 

Who pays for the signage to be placed, the human hours spent on mitigating consequences, and the legal defenses of those still held responsible for the personal choices of the people they host? Who pays for the negligence of the careless or thoughtless?

Will we decided to refuse to be placed in a situation of blame and instead, require our fellow riders and racers to protect mountain biking and, quite simply, 'sack up' and take responsibility? Or will we allow our beloved sport to spoil over negligence claims and lawsuits as we fight for a stake in the run for main stream market share? We cannot have both.

Opinions And The Opinionated

DISCLAIMER: This is another opinion, from an opinionated nobody writing an opinion column. 

"Opinions are like armpits: everyone has a couple. They all stink." An ironic statement at the very least. But true. It is, however, just another opinion. 

Opinion: o·pin·ion
noun: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

Whether it's wheel size, componentry selection, bike type, spring rate, kit colors, race venues, sexualization or in depth articles about heavy hitting subjects, bike media is full of them. We all have opinions. Gear reviews, prize-winning photos and even contests for best line... They come down to a few opinions. Article comments rife with disdain or even abuse due to a difference of opinion; one claims he's unequivocally correct while the other claims that no, SHE has the answer. But is there such a thing as perfect truth? 

The word 'opinion' comes from the Latin root word opinari, which means 'to think, believe'. Humans are funny creatures; some opinions are influenced as easily as the sun falls across a meadow, while other opinions stand frigidly against the storms of rational thought, objective evidence and even proven science. We think, therefore, we are. Yet everything we think we know rests just on the edge of everything we don't. Like light, we can only see to the edge of it before darkness takes over. There are opinions that flex and morph as new information is revealed, while a few refuse even the most convincing evidence. We see, we absorb, we compute, we judge. We form an opinion, and those thoughts are influenced by perspective, which is borne of conditioning, by personality, by events. Trauma, happiness, experience... They form us, thus forming the lense we see the world through. Most of the information we base our opinions off is colored before we even realize we have an existing bias. Very few judgements are objective, which is why there's a difference between 'opinion' and 'fact'.

But think about this: fact is relative. Fact only exists as long as we can remain ignorant of other information that would influence the factual. For instance, the world was once believed to be flat. Galileo was punished as a heretic because he claimed that the stars didn't rotate around planet Earth. So it could be argued that, without perfect knowledge, all 'fact' is simply an ignorant assumption. We see the puzzles we can put together until the light shines on the leftover pieces. 

A few months ago I was asked to review a bike and write an in-depth review of said bike. I took the bike out for a maiden voyage and came back cursing. It was AWFUL, I said. It rode like shit, I said. The entire bike was compromised around a faulty shock that wouldn't perform under pressure. It was slow, it lagged in turns, it was unresponsive. I despised the thing. Upon hearing my complaints, the mechanic took a look at the shock, then told me the entire thing was filled with water and random mud particles. Okay. So he tuned it up, sent me back out on it, and VOILA! It rode like the overly-hyped beast that it was. But my limited perspective and pre-ride bias tainted my experience from the beginning. So much, in fact, that I wasted a good day on the bike instead of realizing that something was wrong. My previously held opinion of a company soured me before my brain actually had any useful information upon which to judge the performance of this bike, and it cost me valuable time. 

"But sir, they drink the sand because they think it is water."

"No, they do not. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference."

Between the quote and the bike debacle, it was an interesting lesson for me, the bitch queen of the opinionated. After all, my outspoken opinions are why I was handed this column; I wasn't hired as an expert, an athlete, a model, or a professional. I was hired as a talking head; a body with a hilarious, albeit polarizing, opinion. I was brought on to shine light on the different and wild thoughts that come into my mind, many of which are totally irrelevant to any sort of dialogue. I was brought on to extract emotion from you and from whoever decides they'll drink my particular brand of sand. Some of the opinions I speak are simply to play devil's advocate. I'm looking for a reaction. Others will come from a very sincere, passionate place. At the end of the day, what I think shouldn't matter to you. 

The best thing about opinions is that anyone can have them. Having an opinion takes courage. It requires a piece of the holder, and it's an investment. To have an opinion, you have to think. You have to believe in something. Find as much truth as you're able, as much objective information, and form your own. Allow it to change with the tides and morph and grow. 

That's the beauty of an opinion: they're out there. It will either be yours or someone else's. Don't drink the sand. Find your own water.

Isaac Miller Photo

The World Is NOT Your Oyster

Dear Bike Nerds, 

I love you. We all love you. You love bikes. You love bike products. You love bike reviews. You love loving on everything; I know this because I love this. I love your comments! I love your input and your passion. I love that you're in love. I'm in love with your loveliness. But for the LOVE OF GOD, please stop bitching about products unless they directly impact your A: safety, B: health, C: financial stability, or all of the above. No, your sanity does not count. 

Bike products seem to be growing more and more obscenely overblown, overpriced and over-hyped on the daily. We have useless 'standards' for everything from bottom bracket sizes to the NEW! Boost yadda yadda yadda! We have ANT+ technology, bikes that ride themselves and OH MY, is that an inflatable life raft/DH bike/airplane/self-cleaning tire?! Stuff isadvanced. Everyone knows that ENVE wheels cost a grip of cash and that a World Cup winning race bike is going to run you more than an engine-equipped KTM. It's expensive. We also understand that custom tuned suspension and aeronautical space foam helmets are not designed for every level of rider. They're serious equipment. But before you whine that you'll never make more than $13 an hour and that 'the bike industry is pricing out regular folks' who don't need that innovation, please realize one thing: it could very well not be meant for you. 

Yes, I know. It's a shocking revelation; one that has, undoubtedly, rocked you to your very core. The bike industry doesn't revolve around your individual needs. I'm sorry. It must be crushing. 

But while you're processing that piece of information, let's explore the realms of folks who MIGHT be interested in the new XTR Di2. You may not feel that electronic shifting is all that earth-shaking or you could believe that mechanical shifting is more reliable, but there is someone out there who hates the big ring/little ring dilemma and decides that hell, they're just going to upgrade. To that gear-masher, Di2 is worth every penny. Or consider carbon wheels. You may not feel a difference in those wheels, but there could be a guy who has the sensitivity of a baby's bottom and who feels everything -- he's your emo counterpart and he (or she) feels it all. They need the dampening, or the stiffness, or the weight savings.

My point? Just remember that companies don't usually set out to blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on R&D, only to have it fail. Someone, somewhere needs that product you're so determined to banish to hell, and they love it. Weird saddle with oddly-shaped nose and cutouts? Yep. Someone uses it. That ugly frame with the stupid geometry you wouldn't be seen on in a million years that's also worth more than your house and car combined? Someone LOVES that bike. While I may not see value in a plastic windshield that mounts to the front fender of a mountain bike, someone in the rainforest has been waiting on that particular genius for a decade. 

Not every product was created specifically for us and not every company revolves directly around your needs as a rider. Hint: there are other people on this planet, and some of them ride bikes differently than we do. Unless it's going to put you in the hospital, out of a job, or on another planet, just walk away. It's clearly not meant for you.

Just because it may not be our ideal product doesn't mean that it's not perfectly suitable for a million other people, and I think we forget that. We forget that trends don't dictate development and that cost isn't always prohibitive. Maybe if we looked at that gel helmet with the Bluetooth-enabled antennae as a different sort of pure brilliance, we might just find ourselves falling in love with more of what we love.


The Bitch.