I'd progressed through all of the iterations of suspension - flex stem, Rock Shox Judy's, Santa Cruz heckler (one of the first), bombers, Patriot, Five. I'd raced downhill, done dirt jumps, step downs and gaps and I wore body armour.
Except none of my mates (after a brief flirtation) were really interested in this nonsense plus after a few close shaves and a cracked wrist I knew that sooner or later I was going to take a big crash and a big smash. After a long break, the hills called and off I went into the wilderness.
I still used the same bike as I was a convert to the full bounce. It was the most efficient, fastest, most comfortable... And being a single pivot man, easy to maintain. Even the forks in those halcyon days were easy. Servicing involved changing the oil. Once. In say 5 years of hard use.
Of course the priority was the descent; we just went further afield to find them. I even did long distance stuff (On a patriot with a coil over shock and bombers and 26" wheels. It worked)
The change was slow. Pals had already switched to hard-tails for some rides. Suspension was increasingly seen as an unnecessary indulgence only of use for more speed which was also seeming like a pointless goal.
The beginning of the end was a trip I did in 2011 - a bikepacking trip no less but with rucksack and too much stuff. Suddenly the suspension was at best a useless waste of energy and at worst a liability if the over loaded air shock were to go pop.
That Chiarain Path descent was the final nail in the coffin. I already had an on-one 29er built as rigid bike but with mudguards and racks for a tour I never did. 29er tyres in those days were narrow and largely knob free but I bunged on the best I could find and hit the dirt (or mud). Blisters and sore wrists followed so my ageing 26er inbred was resurrected and I had my first epiphany. A short, light hard tail was the tool for trail centres. Further a field it was a bit uncomfortable but the tide had turned. A longer, lower Ragley followed but another distraction had happened. Fat bikes. I got a mk 1 mukluk and suddenly I had achieved nirvana. No suspension = no problem.
The bikepacking bug had bitten too. The fat bike got toured up the western isles and the On-one 29er got toured round Iceland. Simple was the new bling.
2012 was coming to an end (thank god as it was a wet one) and a 29er seemed to be the way forward but something more versatile than the somewhat unyielding in-bred. So I hunted out a frame that would take big tyres and long forks. In 2012 these were few and far between and I seemed to be the only one interested in such a combination.
Things were about to change. In a bar in Minnesota a bunch of guys were drunk and talking about the next big thing. They invented it right there - a 29er with more trail to make it fun but 3" tyres to take the sting out the bumps without the need for expensive, high maintenance suspension. The Surly Krampus was born (note:- the above is true, they told me). Within a few short years "plus" was the new thing. All the big names were talking about it. All the mags were slagging it off then praising it by random turns. The Surly boys just smiled, leading the change / charge once again.
I got one of the first and I forgot suspension, once and for all.
May 2013 saw me in Torridon - that mecca for mountainbiking that I had only visited briefly in 1997. The descent to Annat is seen as one of the maddest and rad-est in the UK. On my five it would have been a blast. I'd have maybe got a strava king of the drops. I don't know, I don't care. On the Krampus it took ages, it was hard, I fell off. You felt every bump; everything I put in, I got out. At the bottom I was wrecked. It was ace.
And it was safe right? I was going slow, picking my way down and round stuff, not blasting through. 4 days later it broke my collar bone.....
By this time Bikepacking was in full flow and people were coming to the same conclusion - less is more. Less things to break, less chance of them breaking. Suspension had lost the plot. Bikes had more and more pivots, forks needed a strip down every other ride and no-one saw the joke. Ask a club level motocrosser how often they service their forks and they will reply:- change the oil, once. In five years of hard use....
But plenty people bought the dream and the manus were scared that rigid bikes would catch on so they reinvented them to suit their marketing plans. The boys at Surly just smiled and sold every Krampus they could make.
Its not mainstream though and never will be. I was at Hamsterley trail centre last year on the Jones. As I packed up two guys on SC bronsons were getting ready to ride. They eyed the weird forks and bars. "Are you riding proper trails on that?" I thought back to that years Highland Trail. Sutherland, Assynt, Fisherfield. Maybe they had just come back from the Alps so I avoided the inevitable pissing contest. "Aye if you've the patience" They weren't convinced but they were half my age.
Rigid works. Its slow but seems fast. Descents take longer. This is a good thing. Its simple, it looks good. In 1988 we rode rigid 'cos there was nothing else. We didn't care and we didn't miss what we didn't have. We never asked if it was Ok to ride this trail on a rigid. We rode it. We didn't die.
Others jumped on the none-bandwagon. People started to look at what people really wanted out of a bike, not what a marketing company felt they could sell them. Take a bow Jones, Stooge, Surly et al.
A mate who is into vintage motorcycles summed it up - "the better you get the worse a machine you should ride" Countering hordes of sports bike riders who upgrade there machines every year as they 'improve.' Anyone can ride a modern sports bike fast. Its boring. Its hard to ride a rigid / girder pre-war side valve quickly but its the most fun you'll have on a motorcycle trying.
Its easy to ride a rocky descent on £5k enduro mountainbike. Its hard to ride a rigid bike on the same trail but its the most fun you'll have on a bike trying. Don't believe the hype (or the marketing lies). Ride Rigid. Less is more.