The Angry Singlespeeder: Think you’re hardcore? Think again

'Blind Bobby' McMullen defies odds and redefines what it is to be hardcore



It seems the term “hardcore” gets thrown around pretty loosely in athletic circles these days, especially when it comes to riding bikes. Naturally, some people like to brag about their accomplishments, and often times they describe their adventurous exploits as hardcore to friends, family and anyone else bored enough to listen.

Riding a century, doing a 50-mile mountain bike race, riding a singlespeed or commuting 20 miles to work every day would be considered hardcore in many peoples’ books. But is it really? I mean, all four of those activities are no doubt definitely hard to do, and I don’t want to take anything away from people who achieve those accomplishments, but they’re not hardcore.

Because McMullen is legally blind, he depends on both the verbal instructions of guide riders and his own heightened sense of feel to get him down the trail. Suspension-maker SR Suntour has even tapped into his extraordinary sensitivity to help develop product.

Hardcore is riding a century with a ruptured lung. Hardcore is doing a 50-mile mountain bike race with one leg. Hardcore is riding the truest singlespeed of all—a unicycle—on rocky singletrack. Hardcore is foregoing car ownership and riding your bike everywhere because you have no other choice, not just to work and back because you want to do it for fitness.

What I’m getting at here is, whether or not what you do is truly considered hardcore, we are all physically and mentally capable of a lot more than we think. Perspective is everything, and when we surround ourselves with people who do truly remarkable things, it brings out truly remarkable inspiration in each of us to push ourselves out of our comfort zones, because outside of your comfort zone is when you truly learn who you are as a person.

McMullin sees his health issues simply as part of who he is. In this video from Lezyne, he explains that overcoming them is just something that’s on the everyday to-do list.

You know who is hardcore? Bobby McMullen. Bobby has survived diabetes, kidney failure, two kidney and pancreas transplants, open-heart surgery, cancer and, oh yeah, he’s legally blind. And guess what else? Bobby races downhill mountain bikes. That’s right. He races blind.

So how does Bobby not careen headlong into a tree every time he rides? Bobby rides close behind guides and close friends like Mark Weir and Yuri Hauswald – not to mention his wife Heidi – who call out obstacles and tell him when to turn. Bobby crashes. He crashes hard. He’s broken a lot of bones, but being legally blind isn’t an excuse he uses to keep him from going out on his bike and making the most of life.


Bobby was the first visually impaired rider to do the legendary Megavalanche-a completely mental downhill race in the Alps with 1,000 crazed lunatics elbow-to-elbow jamming 19 miles off a mountain that drops 10,000 vertical feet. Some think racing the Megavalanche is hardcore. It’s not. Racing the Megavalanche blind is hardcore.

Bobby McMullen

So the next time you go out on a ride and think what you’re doing is hardcore, think again. I’m sure what you’re doing is hard, but is it Bobby McMullen hard? Most likely not. And that’s perfectly okay. Being hardcore is reserved for those special few people who give true perspective on life and inspire thousands, even millions, to push themselves a little further and do more than they think they’re capable of. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go on a singlespeed ride that will definitely not be hardcore.

Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.

About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • bob says:

    Great story. and couldn’t agree with you more; thankfully, I’ve never accomplished anything that was hardcore.

  • Rydeordie says:

    Words do not do justice to the level of inspiration one could take from bobby. I believe he said ” yeah I got a little bit of cancer and just had open heart surgury.” The man isn’t just stAying alive but rather thriving! I can imagine how the conversations about this will go.”oh yeah cancer and open heart surg huh? How did you hear about him? ”
    “Uhhh I read about him in an article about how he is a legally blind downhill mtb racer!!”
    Much props Bobby I’m gonna tell people your story thank you. And thanks ass for bring this inspiration to the people.

  • Scotch Hennesy says:

    Damn straight! The mental picture that went through my head when you mentioned Bobby raced the Megavalanche blind! Crap! 20/20 vision would kick your ASS while trying to complete that race!

    After what this guy has had to deal with while on this spinning ball in space, should make everyone that is “healthy” reading this article feel blessed that we can wake up every day, go to work and ride our bikes without limitations.

  • shawn says:

    Sorry, that’s not hard-core either, I know this dude who was blind and deaf with one arm and one leg (both on the same side of his body) who did a century race on a handcycle towing a bike trailer with a bear strapped to it that he killed in self-defense with the knife on his Park multi-tool (he still had two arms at the beginning of the race). Oh, and it was only 20 F and in the middle of a blizzard. Seriously, though, Blind Bobby is the balls, but can’t this author quit trolling to get reactions by self-appointed definitions of ‘what is/what isn’t’ and ‘who is/who isn’t’? I know I’m not hardcore, but if you are racing solo 50 milers or centuries, then I think you can say that’s pretty hard-core. Bobby is what you would call ‘extremely inspirational’ and perhaps the most incredible of the hardcore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be hard-core if you don’t have a disability.

    • Regan says:

      Nailed it. I’m pretty sick of lifestyle sports media trying to dictate who is or isn’t trying hard enough. This is an inspirational story,
      But don’t take away from others who work hard to accomplish their goals.

  • Tony says:

    This is a good one. More of this!

  • trailsnail says:

    Nice article.

  • Highway68HIllbilly says:

    Kurt from Reno!

    Nice article. Anyone that has or does race mountain bikes in norcal knows or has seen Bobby. I definitely don’t give myself credit towards my own accomplishments without first giving thanks how fortunate I am.

    I for one wish Bobby all the best riding in the world and hope he gets in as many turns as he can. Definitely looking forward to Bobby calling the awards in Ashland in a few shorts weeks. Even though he can’t see jack, I’m still not giving him any time off the line! Guy is still f a s t!!


  • Luis says:

    Inspirational for sure. A man that does not allow physical limitations to dictate what he can do. Now as far as hardcore…to each his own !! I don’t much worry about what others are doing. I give props and work on getting better myself !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • crashnbash says:

    Unbelievable! He has shown the world a ‘Jedi-ish’ method of thrashing a mountain bike( using the ‘Force’ as he rides)—Hail BOBBY!

  • Roger says:

    So I guess anyone who’s phsically challenged is hardcore? How bout people who died Mt.Biking, are they hardcore?

  • GOOAAALLL! says:

    I decided against any attempts at hardcore being for 2014. I’m just regularcore. I probably even regressed a little. I usually ride in the winter, but winter was being hardcore instead.

    Cheers to guys like this, everybody knows at least one.

  • K Amir says:

    Less Hardcore attitude may have lead to better diabetes care and no blindness or dialysis. People don’t need to lose vision to diabetes.

  • Jack says:

    Trully inspirational history. But what’s the deal with being “legally blind”? I know people with albinism is considered legally blind, although they can see better than some “normal” people.

  • EpicAndy says:

    Classic ASS. “Here’s another reason you all suck.”

    Know what’s hardcore? Not posturing like a cock.

  • S.G. says:

    When I took a trip yesterday, I bought some pizza afterward (Peppes Pizza), a very sour women worked there, it’s ironic, she is young and beautiful, nice hair/body/eyes, have all of her five senses (I am deaf, fat, bald and ugly), but she still choose to be sour, being a dark shadow in her own life?

    I became uncomfortable, and fortunality I have learned to mirror other peoples energy-level, as I have suffered too much with sour/wrong peoples, finally learned after 30 year that its’not my responsibility to make other happy.

    The male one there seemed to be uncomfortable too, and I know how it’s to not have confidence to tell someone to cut out the crap, to leave me alone, to not be emotionally drained.

    The little fun is that my bike is a Surly, but it makes me very happy, since I can do something who are absolute on my own terms.

    Life are difficult, but where would the fun be if it was’nt? 🙂

  • Lloyd Lemons says:

    I’m so glad I came across this story! I’m a 61 year old roadie and randonneur, and I’m also a mountain biker when I get out west. I’ve had 4 spinal surgeries, and innumerable surgeries on my eyes. My left eye is virtually useless and my right eye has started deteriorating with the same type of retina problems. I’m planning a solo trip across the Southern Tier.

    Bobby, you are an inspiration to me! You give me a lump in my throat and a tear of determination in my eye. I hope my future is as bright as yours.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Shontsy says:

    Handicapped people who continue to ride ARE hardcore, but they also have no other choice due to their life circumstances. So if I backflip off a mountain and break my neck, I’m not hardcore because I can’t ride anymore? That’s what this article implies. I’m only hardcore if I continue to blow into my wheel chair tube and try again. Maybe I’m a smart enough rider to NOT get hurt in the first place, or have not been so misfortunate in life to loose a limb or an eye. Does that make me an inferior rider?! You can tell an inspiring story without insulting every other rider to throw a leg over a bike and coming to ridiculous conclusions about what an arbitrary word means. I say, anyone who sticks with riding over the long term is hardcore. People who don’t continue to ride were never really riders in the first place. If you love it, you can never give it up. That’s hardcore whether I have all my body parts functioning or not, or can do a backflip or not, or can win a race or not. We don’t ride to impress other people, we ride because we have an inner need for whatever riding gives us, and that varies from person to person. I couldn’t spend 10 minutes on a road bike without wanting to shoot myself from boredom, but other people win the Tour de France, and they still impress me. Whatever… I reject your definition of hardcore. It’s as much a state of mind as it is an action.

  • KeBEAN says:


    That’s the literary use of overstatement of the word “Hardcore” zooming over the heads of the readership. ASS isn’t saying why this guy is better than you, or downplaying what you think is hardcore.

    He is using a word everyone recognizes and overuses IN GENERAL to introduce a very inspirational story. Seriously, why does everyone cling on to something so semantic? It was a good article, and a really awesome story.

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