Fully recyclable, seamlessly integrated, with electronic gadgets galore, or have we already reached evolutionary stability? We ask bike industry experts what they think we'll be riding in years to come.
In issue one of Mountain Bike Rider magazine waaaaay back 1997 we asked the industry movers and shakers what the best mountain bikes of the future would look like. The answers were an interesting mixture of madcat ramblings, and the frighteningly prescient. Gary Fisher told us bikes would have electronic shifting and an onboard computer to alter the suspension dynamics as you ride. Spooky, huh?
He rather spoiled it though by adding “a chamber pot that I put on my poor, tired bike that overnight cleans, adjusts and adds back the worn microns of metal.”
So, 25 years later we’re asking the same question, what will bikes of the future look like? Have we reached the pinnacle of tech or are we set to get jet bikes with an ice cream maker in the head tube?
1. Jose Gonzalez: Gearboxes
Jose heads up research at Trek, which means he’s literally in charge of the brand’s future, running the Suspension Lab in California and more besides.
“Gearbox technology will finally get to a point where it becomes a very real alternative to traditional drivetrains in efficiency, function and performance. And when it comes to e-bikes, integrating the motor with the gearbox is the next frontier for both low power and full power versions.”
“The benefits of eliminating the traditional drivetrain go well beyond the drivetrain performance and durability benefits. Even if it gains a small amount of weight, the placement of the mass makes it a positive performance attribute. The big things are going to be addressing efficiency and shifting under load, which is where gearboxes fall short today.”
“Gearboxes will allow for further optimisation of kinematics, chassis designs and vehicle dynamics that you can’t do with a traditional drivetrain. As a suspension and vehicle dynamics guy, I’m very excited about what gearboxes can offer to the total MTB ride experience.”
“Electronic “smart” suspension will start delivering on the full performance promise that will justify it over high performance passive systems on mountain bikes. I can’t say much more on that without getting into trouble!”
- Shimano’s new eMTB groupsets include an auto gearbox for your e-bikes
- Bosch unveils ABS braking for e-bikes
2. Cesar Rojo: E-bike integration
Former World Cup racer, inventor of Mondraker’s Forward Geometry concept a decade ago, and now the engineer behind Unno bikes, in Barcelona.
If we were having this conversation 20 years ago, then the list would be unlimited… brakes, suspension, wheels, tyres, transmissions. Today, I don’t see big, big changes. Think about phones – there was a point where changes were crazy from year to year, now it’s just a small evolution. But for sure things will be getting better.
E-bikes and motors though, this is going to be a big evolution. I can see big changes and improvements because it’s still very early for e-bikes. They will come with other battery capacities and a lighter battery on the bike. We’re thinking that you might be able to order the bike with different battery capacities or change the size you’re buying.
There will be more integration, things will work seamlessly and more easily on the bike. For example, the remote for the e-bike and the display will be integrated and make just things a bit cleaner. Wireless shifting could become a bit more affordable. Integration is going to be the trend for many brands, and in a way they’re already trying to. Like Fox, it now offers the integrated fender on the fork.
I don’t think the route is active suspension, because off-road terrain is so difficult to read. It could be more helpful to have information about what’s going on with the suspension to help people set it up better. So if there’s something on your fork and shock that can tell you in a very easy way what’s going on there.
3. Joe Buckley: E-bike drivetrain durability
Specialized e-bike director, the man behind Specialized’s lightweight SL bikes.
What I see coming for the future is more e-bikes for sure, but the pedal bike is certainly not going to die. It’s kind of like skiing – you aren’t going to sell lift tickets to die hard cross country skiers, and the same is going to be true in bikes.
Further out we’ll see battery technology improve significantly enough to reduce some weight, but it’s going to take a while. Speaking of weight, e-bikes will of course never get down to the weights of similar style pedal bikes, but we’ll see a bit of an evolution in riding style that adapts to heavier bikes, and riders being able to do more with them. Think about motocross before anyone thought a backflip was possible. Nowadays people are backflipping snowmobiles and even monster trucks! Ok, maybe a bit off topic there.
Components wise, there will be solutions that greatly improve drivetrain durability and shift quality of e-bikes, currently in my opinion, a big Achilles Heel of full power bikes. E-bike motors of tomorrow will also have a more seamless feel between human/machine, eliminating the feeling that any motor is actually helping to power the bike.
Lastly, I predict that someday bike supply will actually catch up with demand! I know, I know, big dreams here…
4. Chris Porter: Multi-spring coil systems
Mojo and GeoMetron founder, obsessed with fettling and finding the limits of bike design.
The Bike of the ‘Near Future’ is going to look like the bike of the present for a few years because order books in Taiwan are full for that long! Seriously though, I am still hungry to see new ideas and innovations coming through…
I don’t see geometry changing much now that almost all manufacturers have accepted that slack head angles handle better, shorter offsets also handle better, long bikes handle better, steep seat angles help the bike climb better and reduce chiropractic bills and larger rider spaces help the rider to be more dynamic and comfortable on the bikes.
Proper adjustable hand angle systems and bolt on seat towers to allow head angle and seat angle changes independently of BB height and linkage adjustments which are becoming more common.
On the rear shocks I can see a possibility that we could end up on multi-spring coil spring system like on the quads, SSVs and some other off-road applications. Sure, we would love to find a way of making sliding bushes work for the front fork! But with bicycle forks being made in the style they are with Magnesium lowers, that’s not really an option in the near future.
I can dream though! So I would say that my Bike of the Future would have a lightweight dual crown fork with adjustable offset and sliding bushes to compliment the already excellent damper we have in the ERA and seeing as you are asking I would either have a dual rate coil spring with a dual rate negative or I would simply have a long, separately charged positive and negative spring air system with externally adjustable negative and positive volume.
My Bike of the Future would have some kind of derailleur in the frame or gearbox solution. Because of that it wouldn’t be limited to a 12mm rear axle over a massive rear wheel spacing of 148mm! So, bigger rear axle and wheel bearings all the way out to the outside of the wheels rather than bend-in-the-middle wheel bearing spacers to accommodate the free hub.
My single sprocket free hub would run above the wheel bearings and would have a switchable neutral for fast rolling chainless feel at speed. I would probably have an idler which I could adjust on the fly to give two different anti-squat characteristics for different riding feels…high pivot, low pivot, single pivot, multi pivot, VPP, Horst, none of those are the magic bullet, they can all be configured good or badly!
I would probably have a chain path that cuts back up close to the idler if I did go high pivot to limit chain growth and limit the amount of chain tensioner needed.
5. Frank Dörr: Smart bikes
Product development manager at YT, and the man behind the Decoy, Capra and Izzo.
Integration will get more challenging. Especially because the bike doesn´t feature a lot of cover parts like a motorbike or a car. We only have the frame itself to integrate cables, sensors, batteries.
With the big e-Bike push we opened a fantastic new chapter, with even more opportunities.
So talking about the bike of tomorrow, there will be even more smart parts coming to assist. In most of the bikes there will be a motor and a battery, sensors and cables. That’s clear. Pedal bikes will stay but in a smaller quantity. All parts will be nicely integrated and hard to identify.
People will stop thinking about the complexity of the product like they stopped talking about how a smartphone works or a car.
The future bike will let the rider focus on riding – on having fun instead of worrying about how all that works or how to set it up. Here I do see some similarities with the automotive industry, no doubt.
6. Adrian Carter: Natural selection will prevail
Founder of Pace, bike designer since the year dot.
If you’re riding bigger terrain you’re climbing more to gain access to the trailhead so efficiency remains as important as performance. Let’s take a current design trend as an example – running the chain over a high position idler gear producing a rearward axle path where it could be argued performance is taking precedence over efficiency. And of course if you’re needing more uplifts surely and inevitably e-bikes give you all the climbing ability you’ll ever need, virtually doubling the number of drop-ins you can do in a day.
As soon as e-bikes become an aspect of the bike of tomorrow then I think we all recognise we’re almost back to the start in terms of mountain bike development. Particularly when we accept what every e-bike rider knows – they’re a different tool that you ride over different terrain (further/steeper/rougher) with a different style, at a different speed all of which requires a total rethink in terms of chassis, suspension, tyre and cockpit design.
Performance driven design cuts out less efficient designs (say binning design B,C,D,E and F) to the point where all bikes use design A. Why not use design A if all other designs aren’t as good?
This is really well illustrated in Enduro Motorcycles which have been evolving for about 70 years rather than the 30 of mountain bikes. Gradually and inevitably moto design has ditched less efficient designs until you’re left with one where suspension, chassis and geometry design is broadly the same across all of the leading brands- almost literally to within a degree and millimetre. Will the same happen in high performance mountain bikes?- well why choose design B when A is better?…its natural selection.’
7. Sam Meegan: More sustainable
Sam Meegan, brand manager for Privateer Bikes.
Something that has struck a real chord with us is the bike of tomorrow needs to be sustainable.
Patagonia revolutionised the outdoor industry with its environmental drive, and whilst the bike industry is slowly coming round to this, we’re still a ways off. It’ll take a big change in business set ups and consumer habits, but if the bike boom taught us anything, major changes each year aren’t the future.
Trek has made great strides to be open about their environmental impact and it’s something we feel will be expected of all brands moving forward.
8. Wolf VormWalde: More data collection
Director of Specialized tyre development. Eats and drinks rubber (probably).
Renewable or recycled materials will replace fossil materials in compounding and casing material choice. There is also legislation in place or on the way to run factories as green as possible. This is worldwide.
Tyres, wheels, suspension as a system will grow together more. Every element is a part of the suspension chain. Rather than looking at the elements individually they’ll be dialled in and synced to work in combination.
To be able to adjust a more complex bike there will be electronic monitoring systems and aides to find the ideal setting. You don’t have to look too far for this. See cars and high-end motorcycles for how their chassis are managed electronically. We want to keep the weight down and as riders we actually like involvement. So I believe mountain bikes systems will be kept open for rider preferred settings and tuning.
Data collection and analysis will inform riders to make better material choices. Change is driven by an increasing ability to measure performance differences in real riding and competition situations. And then being able to break down the findings into clear recommendations about what makes you faster, safer or more comfortable in a given situation.
What I think could be interesting performance wise is if you are able to monitor slip, slip angle, acceleration and deceleration, lean angle. Different tire setups would produce different numbers, allow for comparison and enable riders to put numbers to ride feel. Also it could feed back into suspension and brakes to help set those up or even adjust them automatically on the fly.