Our tribute to MTB innovation. Do you agree with this list?
Your all-singing all-dancing bike didn’t just drop the trees. It’s a product of design evolution. Ever since the earliest days of mountain biking the innovations came thick and fast.
Here’s our list of what we think have been the all-time game changing ideas.
Before Shimano invented Hyperglide – essentially the clever shaping of cassette sprockets – changing gear on a mountain bike was a pretty hideous hit-and-miss affair. When Shimano introduced Hyperglide cassettes (and also chainrings) it was amazing. You could actually change gear under pedal load. You no longer had to be permanently twiddling your cable adjuster for the uphill followed by the downhill.
2. Riser bars
When riser bars – such as the iconic Club Roost Go Fast bar – appeared, in one fell swoop the whole of the MTBing world was split. Split into those who biked for fun and those who biked for fitness. No more was it compulsory to adopt a heads-down climb-centric riding position. With a riser bar your weight was more centred. And the extra width helped with control as well.
3. V brakes
Some people may argue for disc brakes to be included here but disc brakes took an awful long time to become reliable, affordable and light. When V brakes appeared however it was instantly like night versus day. You could slow down – even bring to a halt – your mountain bike on a descent. A game changer. A real unlocker of riders’ potential.
Like disc brakes, suspension had a difficult birth but there’s no way we can’t include it in this list. Suspension forks became the norm sometime in the mid 90s. Rear suspension took a good while longer as companies struggled to get man and machine working in harmony. It also took a long time for MTBers’ concerns with weight to be overcome with the real-world bike handling benefits of suspension.
Trying to go for a mountain bike ride in the early years with a bottle and cage on your bike was rather limiting. You couldn’t really have enough water on you to ‘survive’ an epic day out in the wilds. And let’s not forget how often you’d reach down for you water bottle only to find that it bounced out somewhere earlier on the ride. The arrival of bladders on our backs changed everything.
6. Short stems
With the gradual move to short stems it is difficult to pinpoint an exact time or a specific company who can take the credit. At a push you could mention Gary Fisher and his push to longer top tubes and shorter stems circa 2000AD. But if anything it was a real-world rider movement put into motion by members of the public who could see that long stems weren’t so good for fun bike handling.
7. Softer compound tyres
Back in the day, tyres used to be made of much firmer rubber than they are now. And tread design was rather crude and heavily based on mechanical traction ie. knobbles and paddles digging into dirt. Sticky tyres first made an appearance on the DH scene – remember Maxxis Slow Reezay? – but eventually tyre companies did more trail-friendly softer tyres. More grip, often less draggy, slimy rocks and roots become rideable by regular riders.
Another one we can credit/blame Gary Fisher for with the Gary Fisher Two Niner in 2001. Regardless of your opinion or experience of 29ers (the early ones were pretty awful it has to be said) the very concept of moving away from 26″ as being THE wheel size for mountain biking began here.
9. LED lights
It’s easy to forget what bike lights were like before LEDs came along. They were heavy, fragile, the capable ones were massively expensive and they all offered poor burn times. Nowadays we don’t think twice of bobbing a rear LED on our backpack or quickly strapping on a dinky front LED light and heading out for a nighttime play.
10. Five Ten shoes
Up until Five Ten came into the MTB scene with their super grippy soles, riding flat pedals was more about a tribal allegiance than a performance or handling thing. Being clipped in is still almost definitely faster but using Five Tens plus flats just feels more engaging and fun. Five Tens were arguably the first instance where speed arguably took a back seat to having a laugh.
11. Dropper posts
Once you’ve ridden with a dropper post you’ll never ride with a fixed height seatpost ever again. The ability to get yourself lower and more centred on the bike at the push of a button was super liberating. Dropper posts such as the Gravity Dropper have been around for a surprising amount of time but it wasn’t until RockShox released the Reverb that droppers became popular.
Watch: Hottest enduro bikes of 2016
The bike industry is still rather lead by racing. If it isn’t racing then it doesn’t bear factoring into bike and product design. The enduro buzzword quickly became something of a joke but finally the bike designers had a race format to design for that resembled the sort of riding that all of us do most often. Trail bikes improved massively once enduro was upon us.
13. 1x drivetrains
SRAM started it, no question. SRAM’s XX1 was released in 2012 but it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve seen how a wide-range cassette with a single chainring setup has affected mountain biking. There are cons to going 1x: limited gear range, more unsprung mass on your rear wheel. But the pros are more significant: simpler, lighter overall, quieter, improved chain retention. The most interesting knock-on effect of 1x is that bike frames can be freed up from having to factor in a front mech and/or larger chainrings.
Like them or loathe them, electric mountain bikes aren’t going away and there are going to have an impact in the wider mountain bike scene. It’s too early days to really put much store in the fears of the anti-eMTB faction. In reality it’s how electric mountain bikes are perceived outside of the bike world that’s going to be the important thing. e-MTBs can be empowering and liberating but the very concept of any non-human power being involved on a bicycle is always going to be controversial.
Have we missed any?
If there’s an innovation or idea that you think deserves a place in this list, feel free to leave a comment below.