MTBTP: I will never write a product review

Originally posted on October 17, 2016 at 7:30 am

MTBTP (Mountain Bike Trailer Park) is written by Uncle Dan. He thanks you for your attention.


I know, “I will never write a product review” is a bold statement. My dad taught me to “never say never.” Still, I realized that it’s not in my wheelhouse last weekend, when I went on a mountain bike trip with eight other guys.


We drove from central Ohio to central Pennsylvania to ride the trails around State College and Rothrock National Park. Day one was Allegrippis. So flow. Much stoke. Very speed.


Days two through four were at Rothrock state forest. So gnar. Much hill. Very rock.


The diversity of these trail systems could not be more pronounced. Allegrippis is machine-built flow trail. Super fun and rideable in either direction. There’s even a trail called “Dirt Surfer,” in case you weren’t sure what these trails are like. The only technical bit of the formal trail system at Allegrippis is handling your bike at speed.


I was there earlier this year for Dirt Rag Dirt Fest, which was something of a Mud Fest, and I was itching to ride these trails again in drier conditions. I was not disappointed. Rothrock, on the other hand, is full of old school riding. Steep ups and downs. Fall line trail. And the rocks.


Oh, the rocks. Sharp, never-ending limestone nuggets of chunky, rip-your-sidewalls goodness. So much rock that the different rocks even have their own names—like baby heads and tombstones.

Last year, I managed to flip my bike on a downhill and the bike landed on me. The brake rotor was so hot that it branded my arm. (Bonus points if you can identify the maker/model of rotor from the photo).


We never make it out of Rothrock without at least one broken bike and a few broken bodies. This year I broke a spoke and tore a sidewall. I only bled a little.

My tip for riding Rothrock: bring spare parts. So fun and challenging though; it’s worth a derailleur hanger. Rothrock will make you a better rider. I’m already dreaming about returning before fall is over.


Our group however, was not as diverse as the trails. We are all middle-aged white guys of the same socio-economic status. The heterogeny of our group was not intentional. The ride was organized publicly and posted on various websites and social media as open to everyone. This was just the group that responded.

Not surprising though. We represent mountain biking’s largest demographic. We, collectively, have older kids or no kids, enough money to buy nice bikes and to travel, and enough time off work. Our lack of diversity is not good. If the sport is to survive and grow, it needs to pull in a broader segment of society. That means accessible trails, affordable bikes, and plenty of opportunities to learn.

But I digress. This column is supposed to be about why I will never write a product review.

On this trip, I realized that almost any of the guys I rode with could probably write a better review than me. Most of them were, to some degree, like a lot of guys in our demographic, what I like to call “bike nerds.” I mean that, of course, in the nicest way possible.


Everyone knows at least one bike nerd. Are you a bike nerd? Well, you’re reading on online column in a mountain bike magazine, so, it’s at least a possibility.

But nerdity is not limited to bikes. You probably also know photography nerds, guitar nerds, and model train nerds—guys that can discuss, in detail, the seemingly minute differences among camera lenses, guitar pickups, or train track types.

On one extreme end are the nerds who enjoy sourcing parts and building bikes (cameras, guitars) more than riding them. On the other extreme end are expert riders who work on their own bikes out of necessity or love and probably have worked in a bike shop at one point or another in their lives.

If you hang around bike shops long enough, this dichotomy will come up in conversation eventually. It is often framed as those who “need” certain high-end equipment versus those who can “afford it.”

Some people sneer at those who can “afford it.” Not me. I think the sneerers are just kind of jealous. Personally, I say, whatever floats your boat. As long as you are not prioritizing bike parts over diapers or rent, what’s the harm?

But back to Rothrock. This is an annual trip, with eight of the nine guys returning from last year. And, of the eight returning riders, six were riding new, high-end bikes, different from the new, high-end bikes that they had last year.


Bike nerds, for sure. (Love you guys—don’t get mad at me!) But bike nerds who ride very well.

Whenever a group of such cyclists gets together, the conversation quickly devolves into tech talk that sounds so esoteric that friends and colleagues can’t follow along.


And it’s not big-picture details, like the difference between 29ers and 27.5. No, that’s kiddie stuff. On our trip, the guys quickly got into the minutiae of needle bearings versus guide bushings in dropper posts and the differences in rolling resistance among fat bike tires.


This type of conversation requires a depth of knowledge that is not available to the average person. These guys don’t just rely on mountain bike magazines or press releases. For them, those sources are old news by the time they come out. Bike nerds are six-pages deep into Internet forums and spy sites on a daily basis. On rainy weekends, they can be found in their basements or garages, taking apart every piece of their bike, cleaning and adjusting it, and then putting the bike back together.

It’s not a bad thing. And some people are just wired that way. We had a couple of engineers in our group. They can’t help but to pull apart the tech, study it, and make their own choices about its form and function.

Some people just like to show up on group rides with some new bling to show off. Why not? Other guys become that way from years in the bike industry, like at least one guy on our trip. Still others simply enjoy the escape to the garage to drink a beer in peace and clean the gunk out of their bottom brackets (not a euphemism, BTW). And, some become bike nerds out of necessity, because work or injury sidelines them from riding, so the best they can do is read about mountain bikes and try to at least enjoy the sport vicariously.

Me, not so much. I fix bikes when I have to, meaning when I don’t have time to take them
to the shop and wait for repairs. I’m not all that mechanically inclined anyway, and I’m liable to strip a bolt or overtighten a clamp.

If some of my past/present bike mechanics are reading this, they’re probably nodding right now (Adam, Mike, Paul, Chris). They are used to me wheeling a bike into their shop that I have already butchered at home. I usually greet them with “hey, fix my bike.”

And, as it relates to the “newest innovation,” I don’t get into that stuff. I buy nice bikes, for sure. Aside from adding a dropper post or swapping the saddle, I figure the engineers at Trek have probably done a pretty good job of figuring out what components are best for my frame.

But even beyond all of that, I can’t go through what it takes to be a bike nerd. The techie stuff just bores the tits off me. I’d rather read a good story in Dirt Rag than the specs on the newest bottom bracket size. Perhaps this hurts my credibility as a MTBer. Perhaps It makes me less of an expert. I’m okay with that. (I wreck enough anyway to call my expertness into serious question.)


When I want to know the difference between a Rockshox fork and an Ohlens, I don’t ask the bike shop, I text a bike nerd. But the biggest reason that I’ll never write a product review is that I usually can’t tell the difference between one part or another anyway.

For instance, I have used many different 29er tires. But beyond obvious differences (like big vs small knobs or weight), I can’t really tell them apart when I’m riding.

If I was asked my opinion about the tires I’m currently riding, I’d probably say that they hold air and turn round pretty well, unless they get a hole. I rode this current set (that came on the bike when I bought it) for about a year or so, until I ripped one at Rothrock. Any other tire would probably also have ripped on that rock. I will replace the ripped tire with the same model. (Crap, I just wrote a product review.)


And forks or shocks, forget about it. When someone asked me the travel on my fork this weekend, I said “I don’t know.” The group fell into a stunned silence.

Why don’t I know? Because it doesn’t really matter to me. I just like riding bikes. As long as the bike I’m on can get me around the trail I’m on, that’s good enough.


And let’s be honest. There are folks who were around before hydraulic disk brakes, auto-tuning shocks, electric dropper posts, hell, before suspension, who were riding these trails and enjoying them. Isn’t what that it’s about?


Well, it is for me. Ride whatever you like, whether it’s the latest high-end carbon fiber, or a steel 26er from 1992.

Be brave and obsess about gear, if you like.

Read Uncle Dan’s previous columns, if you like.


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