Opinion: The pace of change in the mountain biking world is slowing and I totally agree
Personally, I’m not opposed to more incremental updates. Maybe it’s not as exciting to see another one The Santa Cruz release looks a lot like every other model in the line, but if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Mountain bikes have evolved to such an extent that it’s hard to imagine what type of change could occur that would be as dramatic as the introduction of disc brakes, suspension or dropper posts. I suspect we’re approaching an evolutionary plateau, a time when the focus is more on refinement than reinvention.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of new products on the horizon, I just don’t think they’ll alter the driving experience to the same extent as some of the greatest advancements of the past.
How did we come here?
Geometry has advanced dramatically over the past decade, and today’s bikes are only better for it. The stiff, short 26-inch-wheeled bikes of yesteryear look like children’s toys next to the longer, slacker options they’ve been replaced with, and the performance benefits brought by the updated geometry are very noticeable. , especially when descending.
However, there is a time when bikes can no longer straighten or slack off (Grim Donut excluded). Sure, someone could make a 100mm XC bike with a 62-degree head angle, and while I’m really curious to try it, it’s unlikely to catch on. Bikes have still come out that are longer and slacker than their predecessors, but the changes aren’t quite as drastic – lately there have been half-degree head angle changes here, slightly more reach long there, which I would say is an indicator that we are approaching the limit. After all, climbing is still a big part of the mountain biking experience, and trying to pilot a big bike barge around a tight, technical climb won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
The wheel size debate has pretty much died down as well, with most companies opting for a combination of models with 29er or mixed wheel configurations, with a 29er wheel up front and a 27.5 inch rear. This caused some consternation among the 27.5-inchers. 4 Lyfe crowd, but I think the mixed-wheel setup makes a lot of sense on longer-travel bikes. I was skeptical at first, and I still vomit a little in my mouth every time someone says, “It’s the best of both worlds,” but after riding a decent number of mixed wheel options, I came to appreciate their handling in enduro and DH bikes, especially on steep terrain. It’s also an option that can be offered relatively easily on a bike, as going to a smaller rear wheel is much easier than going to a larger one when it comes to frame clearance.
More tweaks and refinements rather than dramatic overhauls
To that end, we’re seeing more adjustability built into bikes – Specialized’s Stumpjumper EVO is a great example of how to create an incredibly adaptable bike, and the recently launched Trek Fuel EX seems to be taking a page out of that playbook. Giving riders the ability to incline or slack a bike’s head angle by a significant amount, and raise and lower the bottom bracket height is a great feature. Of course, many riders will never deviate from the stock setting, but for those who want to tinker with or fine-tune their bike for a trip to a different riding area, this is a great option and acts as a way to future- proving the geometry of a frame.
As the chances of radical geometry diminish, this will cause companies to turn to new features to help their new models stand out from the old ones. Storage in the frame, anyone? Again, that’s not a bad thing – there’s no rule that says the next model of a particular bike has be longer and looser than the previous one, although this is almost always the case. Personally, I think it would be refreshing for a company to say, “We’ve nailed it with the geometry of this bike, so we’re leaving it alone for the foreseeable future…and adding an aluminum version to the lineup.” ”
What about electric bikes? It’s a whole different Pandora’s box, but it’s also where a lot of product development takes place. This makes sense given how well modern mountain bikes work and the room for improvement there is in the battery/motor department of an eMTB. Love them or hate them, e-bikes are now part of the landscape, and they’re only going to become more and more common, especially as more relatively lightweight mid-power options are released.
Of course, as I write this, there’s probably someone in their garage working on the next best thing, a transmission that never needs adjusting or tires that are impossible to puncture. I’m all for innovation when it leads to improvements, big or small. Even if there aren’t massive upheavals in mountain bike design in the near future, there are still more than enough areas with room for refinement.
A buyer’s market could be on the way
A slower rate of change means riders with bikes that are a few years old won’t feel like they’re missing out on anything special every time a new model is announced. It’s all too easy to start feeling that new bike craving, but it’s a lot easier to keep those feelings at bay if the latest and greatest doesn’t seem vastly different from what you currently own. Sure, a downtube storage compartment is handy, but for many riders that won’t be enough of an incentive to rush in and upgrade.
Additionally, a wave of newcomers have entered the world of mountain biking over the past couple of years. While many will be around for the long haul, others may not be as sold on the sport. What does that mean? Well, as supply chain issues ease and the used market begins to fill with bikes from riders trying to unload their pandemic purchases, a buyer’s market could be looming on the horizon. . Despite all the pessimism in the financial world, maybe it’s time to get a bargain on a bike that won’t be obsolete any time soon.