Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aristotle and the modern dirt jumper.

Applying ancient greek ethics to today's biking scene.

Back in the fourth century BC, Aristotle, one of the first great minds of humanity, came up with a system of ethics that said virtue is the middle ground between excess and deficiency (or something like that in Latin). His theory says the virtue of courage is the middle point between rashness and cowardice, wisdom lies between ignorance and cunning, forgiveness lies between vengeance and injustice and so on.

Flashforward a few thousand years to the opening of Queenstown Mountain Bike Club’s dirt jump park yesterday and you have an interesting demonstration of the old guy’s idea in action.

Under a flawless blue sky with the sound system cranking and the barbeque serving up the best two-buck sausages you’ll ever have in your life, Queenstown’s bikers were out having a blast. Thowing themselves at some pretty intimidating leaps - giving it their all without a prize cheque anywhere in sight.

If you looked closely at the eclectic crowd in attendance, you could see them falling pretty neatly into Aristotle's three camps; the deficient, the virtuous and the excessive.

For every biker there were three pudgy, sunburned rubberneckers, deficiently scoffing sausages by the sidelines, clicking off the occasional photo but never actually entertaining the thought of giving it a go. “Are you kidding! I might get hurt.”

Then there were the virtuous participants giving it their all, throwing a few tricks, having a few crashes, but mostly just having great fun.

If you take a look at the face of a guy who’s just landed a thirty-foot jump on a five hundred dollar bike, you’ll see an ear-to-ear endorphin grin combined with a look of pure calm of which a Zen master would be proud. It’s not surprising really; after watching the ground racing towards at you from a couple of storeys up it must be hard not to feel a deep sense of calm when it’s all over.

Then there’s the most interesting bunch, the professionally excessive. This event attracted a few. Riding their own brand of bike, travelling with a dedicated video cameraman, photographer and manager. It seemed as though they’d sacrificed so much and made so many compromises to get to the top of their game that the fun had left the building a long time a go.

It’s pretty easy to spot these guys in amongst the rest of the crowd. Rather than that look of calm, they’ll be supporting a competitive scowl, cursing at jumps that didn’t go so well and screaming, “Who da fuckin man!” into the camera lens when things went right. It could all be genuine, or a bit of an act to help drum up sponsorships, it's hard to tell. But either way it’s pretty ugly to watch.

Pigeon holing asside, seeing that display of passion on wheels certainly gets you fired up to get out on the bike. As soon as I’m finished writing this, I’ll be off for a spin with a few mates. We won’t be doing any big jumps and we won’t be setting a world record pace but it’ll get the endorphins flowing and burn enough calories to justify a beer or two afterwards… and that’s just fine with me.

Vive la médiocrité!