What interesting times we live in. Not since the late 1980s and early 1990s have I seen so many new and cool mountain bikes and components. Back in “the day” (80s/early90s), the industry and product category were replete with artisan builders of both frames and components. We saw so many notable (and not so notable) developments back then. Does anyone remember U Brakes, Shimano BioPace chainrings and Slingshot frames, to name a few?
Then came the late 1990s and 2000s. This seemed like the era of standardization and commoditization. The norms were 3×8 and 3×9 drivetrains, thumb index shifters, 26 inch wheels and mass-produced bikes from Taiwan. This was a relatively boring era in mountain biking, and there were years that I almost lost interest, opting to ride singletrack on my KTM instead.
Then, boom! Here we are in the 2010 to present era. All of a sudden, I feel like we are in another renaissance period, with several new and cool platforms becoming standard fare – even on moderately priced bikes. I’m sure there are many more, but here are a few developments that are on my radar:
- Wheel sizes – After what seemed like decades of rolling on 26 inch wheels, 29 inch wheels are now mainstream for cross country and trail. They just work, especially in areas with a lot of rocks and trail debris. Just in the last year or so, another platform is resurfacing and becoming viable: 27.5/650b. We are seeing some of the major players rolling out 27.5 bikes – for example, check out Santa Cruz’s 5010 (Solo) and Bronson.
- Drive trains – After years of running three chainrings up front, we saw the introduction of 2X10 drivetrains. This is a much improved drivetrain (over 3X9) in my opinion, and you can get a pretty wide range of gearing with an 11-36 cassette in the rear. Next, SRAM drops their XX1 1X11 drivetrain. Look ma, no front derailleur! While I haven’t tried this system yet, I look forward to giving it a go and seeing if I have the leg strength to pedal up the local hills.
- Fat bikes – One of the first outfits to go mainstream with fat bikes was Surly. Now they have several models to choose from, including the Pugsley, Krampus and Moonlander to name a few. In 2013, we saw new offerings from mainstream outfits Trek and Specialized. This is a category where, like the late 1980s, we are seeing some boutique and artisan brands (for example, Colorado Springs’ own Borealis Bikes). Hopefully, all this excitement will confirm “fat bikes” as a viable category – we’ll see.
The last few years have also seen many other “refinements.” Carbon is becoming more mainstream as a frame material, and you no longer have to drop $10k to get a carbon bike. Stan’s NoTubes is a lifesaver in cactus and thorn-infested areas. And how about some new full-suspension categories such as “all-mountain” and “enduro.”
Yes, we are living in interesting times in mountain biking. My only regret? I wish I was a little younger so I could ride these new toys like I did as a young pup. But as they say, being old is better than the alternative….