All of the two wheeled objects in the picture above have a number of things in common. Firstly, all of them have the primary capability to take on various levels of off-road fun, as well as being used on tarmac. Some of them are quite specialised. Some of them are specialist-generalists, in that they can do a few things on-road or off-road quite well. All of them have serious followers, recognised brands associated with them, as well as globally connected communities of people. Some people only like one of them in particular. There are also strong biases between the different groups. Some motorcyclists wouldn’t sit on a mountain bike because it either doesn’t go fast enough for them or is just too much like hard work to get the thing to move forward, and it also isn’t cool in their eyes. There are the die-hard cyclists that wouldn’t go near a motorcycle because it isn’t engaging enough and doesn’t require the physical exertion that they enjoy on a mountain bike. So, for every two wheeled object in the picture, there are strong groups that mostly, don’t ever interact with each other. However, there are some people that will be happy to swing a leg over all of them and really enjoy the experiences, like me for example. In addition, there is one of them in the picture which I believe provides a common bridge between all of them from the Marin cross-country mountain bike to the big BMW 1200GS, and I’m going to take a look at each of them individually before declaring the connecting bridge between them. I’m also going to throw in a famous music track that I think represents each bike, so hopefully, it’ll be music to your eyes and imagination.
Whilst you read about my trusty Marin, lock your brain into the great music track ‘The Joshua Tree‘ by U2, and imagine racing through the desert on this very light and great all-round mountain bike. As you weave in and out of the cacti, climb up red rocks and slide down sand dunes, you won’t be worried about taking on any off road challenge because this machine will do it. It might not descend super fast like a full-on downhiller or climb like a carbon hardtail bike, but it does provide all round fun, and quite cheaply in comparison to the BMW for example. The invention of the mountain bike changed cycling forever, but the introduction of moto-like full suspension and disc braked mountain bikes transformed the off-road cycling experience. Whilst I’ve set the scene with a desert image in your mind, this bike works well anywhere in the world, whether it is in the mud, the snow, the rocks or on the road. A good all-rounder & top bike.
This bike was Cannondale’s innovative answer to getting from the top to bottom on the rough, downhill stuff as fast and as safe as possible. I only ever think about one music track when going downhill on this and that is ‘Song 2‘ by Blur. Shouting the ‘wooohooo’ chorus either inside my helmeted head or out loud just seems the right level of energy release for this bike and its purpose. Downhill mountain bikers are a very specific group of riders, and a specific culture has emerged over the last 30+ years since the sport emerged. It’s perceived as a more rock’n’roll sport than cross country cycling, and with events like the Red Bull Rampage well embedded in the annual calendar, riders are now part cyclists, part dare devils and part gymnasts. This bike has its limitations though. It is so specific to going downhill, it can’t be cycled uphill. Downhill bikes are usually transported up hill in Land Rover-type vehicles, or cable cars, or pushed, or carried. This isn’t everyones idea of fun, particularly if you’re a motorcyclist. My bike is set up as a single speeder as well, and it’s one, big gear is for for going downhill only, and not up. The saddle is too low for normal cycling and when it is ridden on the flat, the long suspension and big tyres soak up most of the riders’ energy before it gets to the tarmac. Whilst this bike is over 20 years old, it still does the job, for my level of riding at least.
In 1995, Oasis released the now, classic track, ‘She’s Electric‘ and I think it sums this machine up perfectly. If the Cannondale was built for harder work than the Marin, then this Trek ebike takes things to a new level. Everything about it is big. The tyres, the suspension, the brakes and the frame are all designed to respond to off road speeds that a normal mountain bike would not reach or sustain. The Bosch motor is very torquey and the electronics even include one setting which is a form of traction control. It is about twice the weight and cost of the Marin though. Whilst there are several ‘cliques’ in the cycling world from down hillers to time trialists, the ebike has driven a bit of a wedge between these different communities. For example, hard core mountain bikers and road racers believe it is cheating to have electric assisted pedalling. ebikes are however, allowing people who might not be able to cycle or keep up with fitter friends, to get out there and have fun. ebikes are here to stay and are getting lighter, and with longer electric assisted range. I even like the process of doing the usual post-ride washing and cleaning and then, plugging the bike into the wall to charge it up.
As specific as the Cannondale is for going downhill fast, this old Bultaco was designed to take on extreme off road challenges. Trials bikes are light, narrow, strong, agile and very specific. You won’t be riding around the country on a 2 week touring holiday on this bike. If you want to ride specialist terrain though, then this is the thing to use. As I tend to do most riding on a trials bike in the Autumn and winter, I’m always reminded of the White Stripes song, ‘Dead Leaves and the dirty ground‘ when riding this bike, because that’s usually what I’m riding through. Trials riding is an unhurried sport which requires balance, agility and control. It is a great way to develop riding skills. I love the narrowness of the bike and the way it grips the ground. Equally experiential, is the fact that this is a Spanish two stroke, so you get everything from the engine vibration to the blue smoke, to the smell of the pre-mix racing oil I put in it. This bike has ‘soul’.
This is the motorcycle equivalent of a national express bus, in that it covers long distances in any weather and in comfort. You won’t be surprised to hear that the song which represents this bike for me is the Divine Comedy’s ‘National Express‘. The BMW GS has off-road roots which go back to the 1970s Paris Dakar race. It doesn’t look super-sexy or sound amazing. It also doesn’t accelerate like a Ducati sports bike, although it does gather momentum very quickly. This makes it the best all round motorcycle I’ve ever owned. My GS spends the majority of its life on the road and with the occasional gravel track thrown in. However, put some off road tyres on it, adjust the electronic suspension to suit and it will happily take on some off-road stuff. It won’t do what the Bultaco will do or the Marin, but it does a hell of a lot and very efficiently. I could also imagine the song ‘Mustang Sally‘ as a good representation of it because whilst it isn’t a race horse, it is like a strong and speedy Mustang, and after riding the Bultaco or any of the other bikes, it does feel like I’ve just climbed onto a big horse.
OK, enough about bikes and music, what is the ‘so what?‘ that I’m trying to articulate here? Well, it is all about one of these bikes that I believe bridges all of them, and I’m predicting a paradigm shift in two wheel fun…………
Of all of these bikes, you will notice that chronologically, the Trek ebike is the newest. It is the bridge that I believe connects the Marin with the BMW. When you ride a normal mountain bike, you are travelling relatively slowly and you are essentially the engine and passenger, which means all of your energy goes into keeping the bike upright and moving forward. When you are riding a motorcycle off-road, you have an engine that is providing the energy so your concentration and control is focussed more on the actual riding. However, motorcycles are limited to where they can now go off-road and they are noisy, make a mess of trails with their power and tyres, and this makes them a bit unsociable in these environmentally green days that we live in. The ebike allows you to travel at speeds where you can focus on, and enjoy the ride, whilst not running out of energy. The ebike also has an off-road capability which is similar to the trials bike. It climbs stuff that you just wouldn’t get up on a normal mountain bike. It is also a lot quieter than a motorcycle. The Trek also does not need to be transported to the top of the hill so it can be ridden down again. Climbing big altitude is much easier on this bike. I’ve noticed a lot of ‘anti-ebike’ stuff being communicated by the general cycling community, but for me it’s transformed my mountain biking. If you own a mountain bike of any sort, try an ebike and start riding the trails like you are on a moto-X bike. If you are a Motorcycle rider, get on an ebike and get off road with it because it will aid your motorcycle handling skills and get you fitter as well. If you aren’t a cyclist or a motorcyclist, try an ebike and join the paradigm shift.
P.S. If you don’t like any of the music tracks that I’ve connected to each of these bikes, choose one or more that represents your bike(s).
All photos by the author