The other day, I was sitting back watching the downhill race video from 1993 remembering what it was like riding back then. My fork was a RockShox Quadra 21R with an amazing 40mm of travel via elastomers that didn’t provide much of anything in sub 50 degree temps. I was on a chromoly frame with a 130mm bright yellow Control Tech stem (matched the fork) and the bike was about to get the best upgrade of the time outside of suspension…a set of XT V-Brakes.
We were on the edge of mountain bike innovation. The suspension fork was getting dialed in and manufacturers were wildly designing rear suspension designs looking for that balance between travel and efficiency. Most of the designs were complete junk back then, but we didn’t care as we didn’t know any better as riders. All of the sudden we were getting rear wheel travel and it was like the second coming for mountain bikers. Almost every year, there was something being released that was completely innovative for the industry from hydraulic braking systems to new materials used in frame production like carbon fiber.
The Current State of Mountain Biking
I look at today’s bikes and I see a lot of progress. However, what used to be innovating is now just a race to make parts lighter. It seems we have found a plateau in the industry where everything is awesome.
- The 140mm travel trail bike (which was beyond DH back in the day) has become the median as riders are finding it to be the balance between squish and efficiency.
- Modern day suspensions have gotten incredibly efficient.
- Riders all the way down to Wal-Mart bikes are enjoying the benefits of hydraulic braking and the option of 29er wheels.
- Even the most budget of builds completely destroy bikes from even several short years ago as component groups like X.7 and SLX have completely raised the bar on performance without breaking the bank.
- Full suspension bike weights for racers are in the low 20 pound range.
- DH sleds are allowing riders to huck off of mountains.
- Small, wearable cameras like the GoPro are even allowing us to capture all of this action for cheap.
So where is the innovation in the industry going to come from now? Are we just going to see bike brands start to offer new color schemes with slightly tweaked geometry over the next couple of years?
So what will be the next big thing in mountain biking?
Outside of electronic shifting and just adding more gears like we did with the 2×10 movement, what do we have to look forward to as mountain bikers all lusting to have the next latest and greatest thing from the bike industry? Right now, I do not see much room in the way of innovation outside of refining what we already have.
This could be a good thing in reality. It might allow for bike companies to further scale their business and help keep pricing from getting out of hand. While innovating every year is exciting, it does cause a strain on supply lines as manufacturing costs increase to keep up with the drastically changing retail environment. With some stabilization, we might be able to regroup and get really good at the core competencies of bicycle and component manufacturing.
This might also open the door for more specialty small companies to release semi-custom products that riders can use to bring the uniqueness back to their rides as we come out of a recession at the same time.
But…pretty soon…the industry will need another ‘next big thing’ to keep forward progress rolling. It will be interesting to see what actually materializes and how that drastically effects our trail experience. Until then, we will keep rocking out the equipment we have and continue to enjoy the time spent on the trail. After all, that is what it is really all about.
What do you think will be the next big thing in mountain biking?