Friday Debate – is mountain biking the new surfing?


Words: Ali ‘intern’ Todd

Surfing. Here’s a working definition from Urban Dictionary, a website I suggest you avoid looking at unless either you think your mind has already seen all the innuendoes possible, or if you’re just really desperate for an introduction to a Friday Debate. So here goes:

A religion to many people. It takes over their lives so all they care about is how close they are to a beach, they check the surf reports every half hour to see wave status, and the only money they ever spend is for gas to get to the beach…and surfboards. Surfing takes lots of time but is very fulfilling and many people believe they are closer to God while riding an amazing wave.

Surfing. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a thing the city crowd hitch onto, driving their VW Campers (classic, of course, but restored by someone else at their expense) out to the beach on the weekend. They’ve got all the latest stuff, but it’s just a fashion statement really. Then there are the beach bums, slumming it in the back of a car/ van cuddling their old (but treasured) boards, not caring about appearance a bit. People get very protective over secret spots. And yes, for some people it’s almost like a religion.

Mountain biking is 'cooler' than ever, which can only be a good thing as more folk are brought into the sport. You better get used to seeing more 'bikey pikeys' as Ali Todd puts it, too.
Mountain biking is ‘cooler’ than ever, which can only be a good thing as more folk are brought into the sport. You better get used to seeing more ‘bikey pikeys’ as Ali Todd puts it, too.

So are the two sports alike and could mountain biking be the new surfing?

Let’s compare:


So bikes. Lifestyle box? Tick. People wear their Troy Lee Designs hoodies to the pub, and convert the backs of their vans to provide a trail centre touring machine. Countless numbers of kids dream of being on the trails instead of in biology. People will define themselves as ‘mountain bikers’, and commit time and effort to it in the bucket load. For evidence of this, watch someone’s reaction to having their bike stolen. It may not be new, expensive or amazing, but it means a lot. A relationship is formed. It’s a friend, in an odd kind of way.

Fashionable pastime latched onto by the mid-life-crisis-guy who doesn’t like Porsches. Tick. Ok, stereotype there, but you know what I mean. It’s not the weekly trip from London to Cornwall in VW Campers though, it’s the weekly trip to the trail centre with either the pointless 4×4 or the Vito Sport. Because the “Sport” makes a difference. Back to it though – I did see a guy out recently, unloading his suspiciously shiny Giant XC bike (carbon 29er hardtail, I think) from his BMW X5, and proceed to pedal off round the loop in jeans, a t-shirt and a cardigan. Incredible.

Beach Bums. Tick, except they’re Bikey Pikeys. I’m currently on a mission to buy a van and convert the back into something I can live in on a very tight budget, and become one of the above BPs this summer. It definitely exists – especially when you consider that for a lot of these guys, their bikes are worth more than their cars and everything else they own combined.

Secret spots, and over-protectiveness: also tick. I love digging trails, even where I shouldn’t. Just show me some good natural terrain and I’ll be off. It might not be as bad as the surfers with the almost feral tactics in preventing people from finding “their” cove, but hey. It’s going to go that way though. One GPS loop or a Strava-too-far and you’re stuffed.

Religion-like approach. Final tick. I may have calmed down a bit in my old age [Editor's note: Ali is about 6 years old], but it amazes me how excited people can get over bikes sometimes, until I remember that it was only a few years ago when I was the same. Devotion isn’t a strong enough word for this. It’s absolute commitment.

Expect more traveling 'lifers', and why not?
Expect more traveling ‘lifers’, and why not?

Is it the same though? Really? Surfing has built up a cult-like following over the years. Everyone, no matter how strong their interest level, is aware of the lifestyle side of surfing, and it’s just… cool. I suppose that’s it. It’s fashionable: brands like Animal or Quicksilver roam the streets, and everyone knows where they come from. However good you are on a bike, you’ll still come down the hill covered in mud, dressed in (usually) unflattering baggy shorts and ill-fitted jerseys, rather than wetsuits. It’s much easier to look attractive in the latter.

The office boys aren’t as common, either. Bikes are still quite a ‘grass-roots’ thing, and Fort William is further from London than Devon. As above, it’s not quite as glamorous, and maybe it’s seen as an enthusiasts’ sport, rather than something you’d want to dabble in. On the beach bums point, bikes are also playing catch-up. The trouble is that they’re expensive things, and they like breaking on you, so they require money…

Religion. I think we all know surfing has got that one as well, purely because it’s got such a massive following. We may have people who are just as committed, but the sheer volume of wave maniacs is overwhelming…


Here’s the crunch point then. Bikes are incredibly popular with a huge (and ever-increasing) number of people, but we just can’t match the flood (excuse the pun) of surfers. There’s a core of committed riders, there’s the dabbling fringe, there’s the lifestyle, and there’s the possessiveness over secret spots… But will we be a nation of mountain bikers in twenty years? Will Endura be the new Animal?


  1. Adamant

    There is one fundamental difference, a good surfboard is considerably cheaper than a good bike and it doesn’t break at the first available opportunity.

    Thus making surfing more enjoyable, as it’s a less tech obsessed past-time and therefore one that you can enjoy ‘doing’ rather than spending hours adjusting gears only for your rear mech to fold on impact with a leaf.

    Note: I have never surfed in my life, but I have been afflicted with the virus know as mountain biking for the last 20 years.

  2. Ben Winder

    Ha ha! I did love the sarcastic editors not!

  3. serge the seal of death

    i i am afarid there is one or two points, firstly surfers or people who like the fashion, (fat face) are often not surfers, i have yet to see a high street fashion brand based on this, Howies being the closest.
    2nd, Surfing alhough still male dominated, has some really hot women who surf in hot countries in bikinis, now i am sure that there may be some specialist vidoes on the internet of such things for bikers, but its a rare site at a welsh trail centre.

  4. James McKnight

    Brilliant comments! Ha.

  5. Naveed Nasir

    I’m a mtbr and lived in France for a surf season. Have to say I totally understand the idea of surfing being like a religion. I surfed for 4 hours a day and was hooked. I’d then go mtbing on the weekend. Like riding surfing has its own set of rituals like paddling out (climbing?) waiting for the wave (dropping in) and then riding the wave (shredding a DH) and then at the end you just want to do it all over again and again. Two very different sports but oh so similar. Another thing is that excluding the possibility of drowning or a surfboard landing on your bonce, surfing seems a lot safer. Hoever in the end, if I had to choose, would me mtb:)

  6. stevo

    mountain biking is more like golf than surfing!

    mountain bikers wear brightly coloured, space aged fabrics and ride around on £5k bikes at the weekend. surfers enjoy the experience over the kit.

    we should look to our bmx cousins, they ride around on battered inexpensive bikes in jeans and a t-shirts and look a whole lot cooler than we do.

  7. oldnick

    [MrTmode] Ain’t nothing cool about trying to look cool fools [/MrTmode]

  8. Lev

    I was brought up in Cornwall and used to surf. I took some surfers to Afan on an uplift and we rode the wall descent as it was getting dark. One of my surfer mates told me he understood why I did it over surfing and made the connection to riding a wave. I think it does have the spiritual side to it, that surfing does. Linking your turns and getting air with flow are the same as riding a wave. Going out in the rain and mud and shit is like going out in big shitty waves. Lots of comparisons.

  9. Richard

    Greetings from South African Bikers;thanks for a great blog


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