Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Downhill’s uphill battle

Downhill mountain biking is gradually shedding its image as a dangerous sport

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing Reporter

“When I was a kid, doing a wheelie was unacceptable anywhere by anybody,” he says, adding that getting caught doing such a rudimentary trick, involving nothing more than lifting the front wheel of the bike off the ground, could be enough to get one suspended from school.

Brian Cheng (鄭宇宏), 47, who has been racing downhill for about 15 years, has similar memories of those early days of the precursors of downhill biking. He began riding a BMX bike when he was 12, and had to do so behind his disapproving parents’ backs. One day, while in junior high school, he simply rode his bike to school. Though he didn’t pull any stunts, not even a wheelie, he was treated by teachers as though he were a low-life gangster.

“You must be a troublesome kid to ride a BMX,” he recalls them admonishing him.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

Today, attitudes toward downhill biking are slowly starting to change. This is thanks in part to a concerted effort on behalf of the downhill community to inform Taiwanese parents, whom Huang describes conservatively as being “protective,” of the relative safety and benefits of the sport for young people.

There is also an ongoing campaign to foster a good relationship with hikers, with whom downhill riders share many of the hillside trails they use. Conflicts between bikers and hikers have turned nasty before, verbally if not physically. But Bagwell Hsu (徐星吉), 34, who rides regularly with the Northern Taiwan Off-Road group, says he knows why some in the hiking community, which far outnumbers downhill riders, are wary of the subculture.

“Putting myself in their shoes, I understand,” says Hsu. “If I were hiking and someone barged down with a bike, I would get frightened. So that’s why we always say, ‘Slow down, this is not a race. If you see a hiker, stop. Don’t just slow down and pass by. Stop, greet them, then go your separate ways.’”

Huang takes things to a greater extreme when it comes to putting the sport’s best foot forward. “In the worst case scenario, I would choose to run into a tree rather than scare a hiker.”

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