12 Jul 2018

Necessary Evil

WORDS & PHOTOS x Ben Sykes

You open the door and sit down, turn the key. As you turn it, multiple systems spring into life. The starter motor spins on the ring gear to spin the flywheel and crankshaft – the pistons now a moving dance of metal. The fuel pump charges into life, pressurising the metal lines from the tank to the engine. The crankshaft whirrs away, pulling the timing chain and with it, the camshafts, moving the intake and exhaust valves to move fuel and air in and out of the engine, fuel saturated in, combusted out.

You push the clutch in and select reverse, ready to roll out to the trailhead for another satisfying early morning ride. The birds chirp as the dew that’s settled overnight on the grass falls from the leaves, leaving just enough moisture to run onto the dirt below, ready for your tyres to mix it with the lower layers of the trail. The gearstick moves the selector rods in the gearbox as you drive, the gears connecting the organised chaos of the engine into the forward motion of you, your bike and the car to your early morning destination.

Underneath your seat, the metal shell of the canopy floats over the tarmac, as the familiar sound of rubber and road meeting together in a dull roar that echoes through the still morning air. Arriving early at your destination you steer into the parking lot, park the car, exit the car and breathe the sweet morning scents deep into your lungs while you unpack your bike and await your buddies’ arrival, full of anticipation for the fun that’s about to occur.

The unsung hero of the mountain biker and necessary evil for the environment, is the cars, trucks and vehicles that enable some of our best cycling experiences. Often unrealised until a breakdown, flat battery or empty fuel tank takes us out of taking them for granted and into the frustration that a dependable vehicle has failed us.

As we move into a post-oil world slowly but surely, with the effects of climate change, oil’s finite resource dwindling by the day and what seems like ever-fluctuating prices at the pump, it is important to remember the vast amounts of development of the internal-combustion-engine-motorised vehicle, and how it shapes the mountain biking experiences we currently enjoy.

Recently I experienced first-hand the loss of this motorised companion and its effect, with a mechanical breakdown rearing its ugly head and requiring some days of downtime until it returned to its normal duties. In that time I pondered – what if we had no cars? Would mountain biking as we know it today exist? For a sport that prides itself on trail advocacy, environmentalism and its nature-loving roots, it is almost the dirty secret that so much of our experience is enabled by motorised vehicles. Would limiting the use of our personal cars in our mountain biking experiences just lead to the use of more shared resources like tour buses, trains, other public transport and even lead to an upsurge of helicopter drop-offs? It’s hard to say what the answer is to the above, but one thing is for sure, the motorised vehicles are here to stay in one form or another as a part of our journey, our identity and our sport.