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You might have noticed that the word ‘progressive’ gets used quite a bit within the cycle industry these days. It could be a bike, a trail or even a pair of socks that have the word ‘progressive’ applied to them or in some cases, they’re things that have been ‘designed for the progressive rider’. If my dictionary is to be believed and why wouldn’t you – all the definitions of swear words are spot-on, then I’m assuming that the use of ‘progressive in this instance means … ‘favouring or promoting change or innovation’ rather than, ‘relating to or denoting a style of music popular in the 1980s and characterised by classical influences, the use of the keyboard and lengthy, pretentious and often mind numbingly dull compositions’.

Yes, I suggest we progress over that big hill.

If we assume it is intended to mean the former, then it becomes quite easy to see why manufacturers might be keen to have their products viewed as ‘progressive’. A frame may be considered progressive because it incorporates new, cutting edge technology and ideas. A trail might be designed for riders who are pushing the boundaries of what’s rideable and socks? Well, the definition did say ‘promoting change’ so it’s quite obvious that any manufacturer of socks plus your mum / wife / girlfriend would like you to view them as progressive and embrace change.

It’s a positive attribute with slightly edgy undertones. My thesaurus, which you should really take with a pinch of salt on the grounds of not containing many swear words, lists the possible alternatives as – advanced, forward-thinking, enterprising, innovative, dynamic, bold and let’s not forget, radical. Can you see what I’m getting at? Who wouldn’t want their stuff or themselves tarring with that particular brush? When you think about it, it’s powerful stuff ………. and yet, I can’t help but feel that the word ‘progressive’ has no rightful place within the world of bikepacking.

Why? I hear you scream, shocked and slightly offended. A large proportion of us will have started our pedal-powered careers much further up the cycling food chain. The bikes we lusted after and bought, probably were considered progressive at the time or at least would have being had the industry chosen to describe them as such. However, many people find that when they head down the path signed ‘bikepacking this way’ they discover that simple, basic, straightforward and uncomplicated become desirable qualities when selecting a beast of burden. Granted, they may have some modern tweaks and up to date components but the overall look and feel could seem positively retro.

How about riding? Well, as of yet, no one’s built a bikepacking theme park which means most of our riding takes place amongst the wide open spaces of the nation’s countryside. At times, the terrain may be technical or challenging but it wasn’t designed to be like that. In many cases, it wasn’t even ‘built’, it simply evolved into what it is today. That process may have taken thirty years or two thousand but that matters little because chances are, somebody at some point has ridden, pushed or carried a bicycle down, up or across it way before you did – we’re not really pushing the boundaries there are we?

Algae emerge from the water as bikepackers – that’s progress.

Perhaps our clothing and attire then? Maybe we’re on firmer ground here given that many modern materials could rightly be described as advanced or innovative, so perhaps your jacket could be be described as progressive or that it was designed for the progressive rider who finds themselves stood outside in the rain a lot – I think you’ll agree that’s quite valid? Trouble is, most of my clothing isn’t made from modern wonder material, nor have I progressed so far up the evolutionary ladder that I have three legs and six feet. I wore bread bags inside my shoes as a kid to keep my feet dry – I still do. Twenty years ago, I’d slip a bin-bag over my jacket if I had to ride my motorbike eighty miles in the rain – I still do. Yellow Marigolds are my ‘go to’ waterproof glove and it’s not because I’m kinky but because they work. It’s the same reason your granny used them for washing up forty years ago – and perhaps still does.

No, bikepacking is in no way ‘progressive’. It’s less of a march forward and more of a slippery slope backwards. Anyone entering from a cycling background is likely to wake up one day beneath a small expanse of nylon sheet and discover that in some ways they’ve actually regressed. Yet, they find themselves content and their world expanded not diminished because for every step backwards you take, there’s two strides forward.


  1. dave says:

    Enjoyed that Stu 🙂

  2. MuddyPete says:

    …and here I am reading this article for the first time, three-and-a-half years after it was written. Progress….?

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