Maintaining a career in today’s world of off-road cycling might benefit from an understanding of what it takes to keep a bountiful garden.
I know a thing or two about racing careers, but virtually nothing about horticulture. Regardless, I’ve borrowed from the concepts of crop rotation and polyculture to come up with a methodology that has helped me in racing and life in general.
Thus: “Horticycling: The practice of participating in a series of dissimilar types of cycling events/disciplines within a given period of time in sequential or random order. Horticycling gives various benefits to the rider, including the replenishment of stoke/motivation/fun through the use of different forms of riding. Horticycling also mitigates the build-up of cultural myopia that often occurs when one form of riding is continuously repeated without variation, and can also improve happiness and skill by alternating disciplines, geography and bikes.”
Seriously, call it whatever you like; my point is, for me at least, variety is a key component of a fulfilling off-road cycling career. There is no single “garden variety” approach.
As of this December, I’ll have cultivated my way into my 18th year of racing bikes, my fifth year riding for The Kona Bicycle Company and, at present, my fallow period. The last 12 months have seen plenty of flourishing and sprouting, with (fortunately) minimal wilting and withering.
Through this latest season of adventures far and wide, I’ve competed in many different kinds of events aboard many different types of bicycles, and wondered to myself, “How does one implement their own system of ‘horticycling’ to stay relevant and keep a cycling career fertile, given the many options out there today?” I mean, “career” in the professional sense, and “fertile” as yielding both happiness and livelihood. After all, the simple activity of riding as a hobby can stay fertile forever, without any concern but the next day’s ride.
Always achieving the first item means you might get away with doing relatively less of the succeeding items. But if you can’t always achieve the first item, then perhaps having enough variety in your repertoire makes it possible to achieve all the other things, especially the last one.
Looking back, I’ve always maintained variety in my approach to cycling. Once I realized there were all these things to do – cross-country, cyclocross, short-track, downhill, eliminator, super-D, enduro, free-ride, dirt jump, trials, flatland, street, road, crits, clunkers, fatbikes – and how they all complement one another, I realized I was apt to enjoy any of them, but not just one. My skills favored some disciplines more than others, but variety was a big reason I developed a love for cycling in the first place.
It’s still hard to pick favorites. Every year I feel like I draw upon that attraction to variety, even if I’m heavily focused on training for a single discipline. For me the variety is always in reach, whether I need it or not, and it can always recharge me. Having the many provides me the balance to focus on the one.
“The one” for me has traditionally been cross-country (XC) racing. Paradoxically, the same variety that has provided for so much of my growth as a racer has also posed a challenge to maintaining a relevant career. It’s not news; XC racing isn’t the standalone game it used to be. Other plants have been blooming in the garden for a long time.
The irony is that there are still so many ways to be relevant today, but the world of off-road cycling in general has fragmented into many unique islands. It’s unclear whether having lots of real estate on one island is better than having a few acres on multiple islands.
The struggle for survival is different depending on the discipline. In the gravity world, for example, the price to attain or maintain relevance continues to soar to life-threatening heights. At least in XC the price you pay is still how fast you can pedal up and down hills to get to the finish line.
The gravity world is progressing so fast you need to produce more and more tricks, videos and stories than ever before. In XC, the sport doesn’t really progress, so each win just holds less value unless you are simply winning everything.
Once upon a time a single big achievement – a big win at nationals, a winning run at Rampage or chronicling an adventure to an untapped realm of the planet in 1080p –would have put you on the “marketable island” for a few seasons. Now those things might only earn you marketability for a few weeks or months.
The seeds that once sowed success are still as fruitful as ever; now it just seems like it takes more of them to keep a garden growing.
At the end of the day, it’s a struggle for survival that’s fun as hell; that can bring you to amazing parts of the world and introduce you to incredible people along the way. I’m happy about my situation, thankful for my health, my supportive community of family and friends, and my sponsors. I’m excited about what’s in store for the 2015 season and beyond. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about my strategy for growing a bountiful garden. x
Spencer Paxson rides professionally for The Kona Bicycle Company, and loves exploring trails far and wide.