Culture: Scars Are Souvenirs On Your Bike And Body

Now that I’ve outed myself as a curmudgeon (see my article about how I hate boombox guys), I might as well lean into it with today’s hot take. Overly matched and or spotless bikes bother me more than they should. Mountain biking scars are souvenirs on your bike and body, and every rider should have a few.

Although I am only 32, this is my 20th year of mountain biking; and my body has kept the score. A twelve-inch scar on my shoulder proves two surgeries and three collarbone breaks. In addition, I’ve got a dead tooth from falling off my bike while attempting a steep teeter-totter in my teens. Finally, a broken jaw, ankle, and the near-constant presence of saw briar cuts on the inside of my elbows add to the general aesthetic of a body that’s been well used. I suspect I’m not alone in this, and you probably have war stories you could tell about your injuries. Thankfully with intentional body maintenance and effort, although I carry many scars, my body is working as good as ever.

So why don't many riders have the same attitude toward their bikes?

Many mountain bikers treat their bikes like delicate glass sculptures to be protected and fawned over, kept in pristine condition for bike checks and Instagram stories. Quit color matching your logos to your stem and ride your damn bike. Your bike is a beautiful tool, but like your lathe or router table, it’s just an expensive toy taking up space if you’re not using it.

I love a gorgeous bike as much as the next person. It’s just that it would appear many have forgotten the end purpose of such beautiful bikes is to ride them. It’s almost a tragedy how many spotless and color-coordinated bikes end up in “Buy-Sell” listings. What happened? How do so many bikes end up with this fate?

I suspect it boils down to many people buying amazing machines only to realize their dreams of whizzing through the woods come with a lot of suffering and fear.

But, of course, some people don’t like to suffer and scare themselves, and that’s OK. It’s just a costly mistake to discover you don’t really like riding as much as you thought after you bought your S-Works Enduro. Maybe it’s a result of cycling becoming the new golf in some circles, where bikes have become as much of a status symbol as a new BMW.

As a culture, we assume far too much of each other from the bikes we ride. We’ve been marketed to believe that a bike is an identity, and I hate that. What a thin identity without weight or depth your bike is. It’s just a tool, nothing more, nothing less. I know this ranking according to status symbols has been happening for thousands of years in various cultures. I just wish we’d leave it out of mountain biking.

For these reasons, I really like the scrappy outsiders in skate helmets and basketball shorts.

I like the guys whose bikes are held together with baling wire and prayer. A customer at a high-end shop I used to work at spray-painted his mountain bike BMX style. He rattle-canned everything. Spokes, tires, chain, seat, everything. I love that guy’s punk ethos. I’d be willing to bet good money he didn’t care if his cranks were level in photos or that his bike had a slew of scratches, and neither should you.

I read a book a while back called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. Ariely argues that while economics is based on rational creatures making choices about scarce resources, humans aren’t at all rational. Nowhere is this more obvious than mountain biking. $150 for a CNC’d purple anodized stem identical in function and weight to the stock forged model, eww. Don’t even get me started about Kashima.

If we were more rational, we'd do core exercise every morning, pull-ups after work, and eat the occasional vegetable instead of endlessly scrolling for edits and good deals on parts.

Our hands hurt after a long run because they’re weak, not because our handlebars are too stiff. Almost every problem we seek to solve with new bike parts can be solved with exercise. Does your back hurt after long climbs? Do more core exercise. Want to climb faster? Stop drinking beer to lose 10 lbs and do some squats a few times a week. Want to descend more quickly? Use a kettlebell occasionally and do some shoulder exercises. Do you think you NEED 75mm rise handlebars? For the love of all that is holy, stretch!

The final word.

I admit I’m as guilty as anyone has ever been. I like having nice bikes as much as anyone, and I spend an excessive amount of time reading about the newest gear that will solve all my problems. It’s just that I wish I didn’t believe it all. 

Before I alienate any more of our readers, somebody hand me my Denver Nuggets shorts and my skate lid. It’s time to ride. 

  • Share
Avatar for Peter Haile
Peter Haile

Whether pushing his limits on technical trails, seeing what’s around the next corner, or tinkering in his shop; Peter enjoys life to the full. In addition to bikes, he enjoys frame building, graphic design, and math. He lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and son.

Get the email for busy mountain bikers.

Discover the best products + gear, and learn about deals from brands you love.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments