Wise Words is our new interview series talking to some of mountain biking’s most switched on people.
We’ll ask our short list of questions to a heap of influential, inspiring and outspoken people that we feel are driving the direction of mountain biking today. Some will make you think, some will make you laugh, some will be plain dumb, some will inspire you to better yourself and your riding. We hope!
Wise Words are coming to you this week from none other than Ben Arnott.
If you don’t know who Ben Arnott is then where have you been? The original No Fuss Events King of the Mountain and all-round pinner. Ben is also an engineer at the Canadian outfit Chromag. You’ll no doubt have seen him spannering some very fast bikes in the Trek Factory Racing and YT Mob pits more recently though. Just don’t offer him eggs.
How would your closest riding buddies describe you to someone who has never met you?
A salty Scot who makes them ride further than they probably wanted to, but hopefully someone they want to go for a beer with afterwards.
What thing or things have you bought in the last year that had the biggest effect on your life as a mountain biker / cyclist / person that works in the bike industry?
The first being my Geometron. I’d had a run of a couple of bad bikes and had been getting a bit burned out on riding. Around the time I was at peak frustration, I started working at Chromag and rode a Surface hardtail for our staff weekend. I couldn’t believe how well it climbed, and descended. I love the way hardtails ride, but I am not finished with suspension bikes yet, so I searched out a suspension version of a bike with a steep seat angle, slack head angle and long reach.
Long story short I ended up with a Geometron, and I can’t explain just how much it’s changed my riding and my outlook on what a bike can do. I’ve tried to stop telling people about how much better a bike with good geometry is, but it’s hard sometimes when you see people about to spend thousands of their hard earned on a bike that you know is going to be bad.
Chapeau to Porter et al, they’ve got an uphill battle ahead of them.
The second thing has been my new tool box for the World Cup races. I did a graduate scheme after uni at an aerospace engineering company, and everything in the work area had to be super clean and tidy. Part of that was organising the tools for each job and getting foam cutouts made for the work chests.
I managed to find a company in Vancouver that does this for industry, and got them to make me some foam cutouts for my toolbox. It was a pretty cool process, and the result made my day to day work at the races a lot nicer this year.
What unusual habits do you have as a bike rider?
Probably no positive ones. I have had a few bikes in a row with no bottle cage, so I often ride with no water. I think I’ve built up a bit of a tolerance for it, as I never get particularly thirsty.
Apart from that, I come from a XC and endurance racing background, so I like going for really long stupid rides where I’m usually under-prepared.
What piece of advice do you think every mountain bike rider should hear? And what piece should they ignore?
No matter what your level, get your suspension set up for you, and figure out a tyre pressure that works for you, and stick to that as a start. Having those things sorted from the get go will make you progress faster, and help you understand how your bike works. Even if you’ve been riding for years, get your suspension tuned, or learn how to do it. I’d say the majority of even experienced riders are riding with the wrong setup in some way.
Ignore, or at least be very cautious of anything coming from the industry telling you that you need this fancy part to make it worthwhile to even continue riding. Have a regular look at what the pros are running on their bikes, and realise that spending £2000 on wheels is not going to make you a better rider, and is just going to leave you stranded in the back of beyond with a broken carbon rim.
If you could go back and re-ride one day from your life so far, where/what/when/who would it be? Would you change anything?
Hard to choose one for sure, but it would probably be a birthday ride a few years ago, at Innerleithen in Scotland. My brother and I used to arrange a ride around our birthday and we’d invite everyone we knew. We’d end up with these big trains down sketchy trails in the November muck, and so those rides were pretty memorable.
Having moved to Canada now, the riding every time you go out is pretty unbeatable, so I have to say that considering that, I’d like to go back and hang with the Scottish homies for a ride!
What have you wasted the most time on in your life as a rider or bike industry career that you wished you’d given up years ago?
It’s a bit cliche but there’s nothing I’ve done as a rider or in my career that I wish I’d given up. Even any bad times just somehow led to where I am now, and every year is better than the last, so long may that continue.
I suppose I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to committing to big trail features sometimes, as I’ve always been scared of getting hurt. At the start of this year, I broke my collar bone and scapula while riding in Croatia around the World Cup, and it was actually fine. It really made me think that I’ve wasted time being scared about injuries like that, and they’re actually not as bad as you perceive they’re going to be.
Regarding the career, I wish someone had just told me when I was younger that a large majority of your suitability for a job comes from time and experience alone, and just to enjoy the journey of getting to where you want to be. I wasted a lot of time applying for jobs that I had no chance of getting at the time.
How do you motivate yourself when you’re struggling or lacking inspiration?
Not very effectively.
Anyone who knows me closely knows that I’m a worrier and that I tend to catastrophise about things, but it’s usually pretty short term, and I usually go for a ride wherever I am and think about how lucky I am to be living this life, to have been born in a nice place at a good time with very few actual worries.
Also, a couple of years ago we lost a bastion of the Scottish MTB community and of one my best friends, Allan Findlay. His passing was a total devastation for all of us but the memory of him keeps me going whenever I’m feeling down or unmotivated. Again, another total cliche, but it’s always helpful for me to think ‘What would Allan have done?’ the answer is almost always an improvement on what I’m doing, so it works.
What single and specific thing about riding bicycles do you gain the most happiness from?
Being in a place I’d never have otherwise visited, sitting on a bike at the top of a mountain with friends. That’s pretty hard to beat.
What single thing would you like to erase from cycling history from the last year?
‘Plus’ tyres probably could have done without being invented, only disadvantages as far as I can see, and not helping with our puncture problem.
What single thing would you like to make happen in the cycling world in the next year?
I’d like to see disparate wheel sizes gain traction, I’ve been riding 29/27 for while now and can see only advantages.