Change is inevitable, and for the past decade, it has been extra inevitable in the world of mountain bikes. For a sport that is still relatively young, especially one that is so dependent on equipment, that is to be expected.
Taking a step back and examining these changes, it can be easy to think everything is in flux, and mountain bikes will continue to evolve at a rapid pace, with bikes in 2027 looking nothing like those that we ride today. But, after the wheel size revolution brought about by 29ers in the late ‘90s, most of what we’ve seen has been more about evolution rather than revolution.
Some things that point to evolution versus revolution:
Single-ring drivetrains aren’t really new, and the change was easy to see coming. As the range of rear cassettes increased, we’ve watched chainrings drop to one. Unless we suddenly see someone develop a way to make gearboxes lighter, cheaper, stronger and shift under power, we are at the end of the line for derailleur drivetrains. Things might get lighter, and we’ll see tehcnology trickle down to cheaper price ranges, but there aren’t many arguments that we need more gear range than the 500 percent we see now with 12-speed.
Remember the Monster T? Those 12 inches of wannabe moto suspension might have been good for Josh Bender-style antics, but not so good for much of anything else. We’ve settled in at 200 mm of travel for downhill bikes, give or take 10 mm or so of travel. Geometry seems to be settling down, too.
Gadgets are complicated things that replace simpler things in an attempt to improve the riding experience. Electronic shifting and suspension control fall into this category, as do emerging tech like one lever to drop the saddle and open up the rear shock. It will be interesting to see what rises to the top and what fades away.
Are we headed towards a future of smart bikes that adjust to the terrain and our pedaling input without the need to push a button or flip a lever? Would that really constitute an improvement in the ride experience? My guess is the mountain bike world will want to retain some control over shifting, at the very least.
While there is a lot going on with geometry these days, and a lot of it is new, it is also good to remember those early semi-production mountain bike frames from the likes of Joe Breeze had 67.5 degree head angles and 50 mm of fork offset. It wasn’t until much later on that head angles steeper than 70 degrees came into vogue. How long until we start heading back to steeper angles? There is already a push to return to the old standard of 38 mm of offset for trail bikes.
We’ve been down this road before, too. Remember Nokian Gazzaloddi tires? In the ‘90s it wasn’t uncommon to see a 24×3.0 tire shoved into a 26 inch downhill bike. And just like last time, we went wide and then got smaller again. Will 2.6 tires become the middle ground everyone is looking for?
Hayes started the disc brake evolution, and out of all the new tech, brakes should really be the least problematic. Since dumping the taper-bore master cylinder, for the tried and true time-port design, SRAM’s brakes have improved. But every new design brings opportunities to find new ways to create issues, and both SRAM and Shimano have seen difficulty this year. Cracked pistons, inconsistent engagement, stuck pistons, etc. Buy your local wrench some lunch; you’ll probably hear all kinds of horror stories.
For things to improve, things have to change. But it is looking like the days of giant leaps in performance might be over. I am more than prepared to be proven wrong, though. Maybe before Skynet decides we are expendable, it will design us bikes I can’t even dream of with modern knowledge.
This column originally appeared in Dirt Rag 201. Subscribe today to get six issues of the mag a year, and while you’re at it, sign up for our weekly email newsletter to get the latest web stories in your inbox every Tuesday!