We polish up our crystal ball, strain our tea leaves, and lay out our tarot cards to come up with 9 trends we'll be seeing more of in 2024 – for better and for worse.
In the past, technical innovation has brought us game-changing trends such as progressive geometry, 29in wheels, mullet bikes, stealth dropper posts, single-ring drivetrains and internal frame storage. All things we now take for granted. But, for better or for worse, what are the trends we’re seeing influencing bike design right now? And what are the future developments we’ll be seeing integrated into the best mountain bikes of tomorrow? Those are the questions we’re going to try and answer in this video.
We’ve been around long enough to have seen the trend for gearbox bikes come and go several times. Normally what we see are a few headline grabbing prototypes, a lot of chatter in the forums – back when people used to use forums – and then nothing. The hype would die away and everyone would go back to their derailleurs and that would be the end of it for another five years.
And the reasons why they never gained traction were: they incur additional friction; they were clunky; the shifters weren’t very ergonomic; and you couldn’t shift under load. On every gearbox bike we’ve ridden – and there have been plenty – we came to the same conclusion: nice idea, shame about the execution. Only the Honda RN01 seemed to offer the perfect solution – a shrunken derailleur drivetrain in a box. But that never made it to market.
So, is 2024’s trend for gearbox bikes as much of a red herring as it’s always been? Maybe not, as there is a product that may have solved the biggest issues with previous gearboxes, namely the shifter itself and changing gear under load. That product is the Pinion E1.12S Motor Gearbox Unit, or MGU.
Well-known for its gearboxes, Pinion has combined a motor and gearbox into a single unit that is a potential game changer for e-bikes. Offering the panacea of less maintenance, reduced risk of damage, and less unsprung mass, the MGU has the potential to last a lifetime. Unlike a derailleur system, you can also shift while coasting, or even when you’re stationary.
The 12 gears boast a 600% range, and while the 4.1kg drive unit and gearbox is heavier than a standalone motor, it lets you save around 800g at the rear axle. Which should help the suspension action and potentially the dynamics of the bike. All you need to do is change the gearbox oil once a year.
At the moment it’s available on models from Rotwild, Simplon, and Bulls. But we wouldn’t be surprised to see other brands jumping on the bandwagon over the next 12 months.
The other big trend we’re seeing gathering momentum currently is for lightweight, mid-power e-bikes. Yes, we’ve been saying this every year for about five years now, but 2024 could really be the year it catches on. And the reason is, the arrival of Bosch.
With its new Performance SX motor, the German giant boasts more power and range than its rivals, as well as a good reputation for reliability and service. We’ve already ridden the new motor on a Whyte E-Lyte and the Bulls Sonic Evo SX and we expect many more brands to offer bikes with this system in 2024.
Will it be enough to prise existing e-bike owners away from their heavyweight, full power machines? That’s the big question, and it’s certainly not going to be easy, as power is an addictive drug. But the potential to enjoy a more versatile bike, with more playful handling, could be enough to get some riders to go cold turkey. Likewise, those riders still holding out on an analogue bike may find it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of the darkside.
3. Internal frame storage on e-bikes
Something that might come hand-in-hand with the growth in new diet e-bike models is internal frame storage . Commonplace on analogue bikes, it’s not something we’ve seen until recently on e-bikes, for the obvious reason that there’s a ruddy great battery inside the down tube.
But Orange’s latest Phase Evo, with the Bosch SX motor, managed to find enough space at the top of the down tube for a small storage compartment. Considering how much we like internal storage on bio-powered bikes, we reckon this would be a really nice addition to lightweight e-bikes as well. They don’t need to be massive, but anywhere you can fit a tube, mini-tool, or packet of emergency jelly babies is good by us.
4. Headset-routed cables
Ok, now for a trend we would love to see the back of. No surprises for guessing, it’s headset routed cables.
It feels like there’s a bunch of disgruntled road bike engineers out there – that have hated having to implement thru-axles, disc brakes, and big volume tyres on their streamlined speed machines – and have decided to take revenge by giving us headset cable routing.
OK, ok, maybe it can, and I stress can, give you a clean cockpit look. But not always, and it can also make your cockpit look like a dog’s dinner. And maybe you could argue that there’s less risk of damaging your cables in a crash when the bars spin round.
But in every other way it sucks. Please kill it with fire.
5. Greater autonomy and integration
Another trend that will stir the emotions of any passionate mountain biker is the rise of the machine. Increasingly, the humble mountain bike is being controlled – not by the nut that holds the bars – but by a number of microchips and algorithms. Humans are being sidelined, riders are becoming more like passengers, and the very purity of mountain biking is under threat.
Well, that’s the alarmist, clickbait, headline-grabbing take on technology such as Auto Shift, Flight Attendant and ABS braking. The truth is, that these systems are on a tiny proportion of very expensive models, so this is hardly an evil phenomenon that is plotting world domination.
And you can just switch it off.
Put aside your prejudices and actually ride these systems, and you start to see the advantages emerge from the paranoia. Perhaps not everywhere, in every situation, for every rider, but in plenty of circumstances they do a better job than we can. Which can, in turn, free up your mental or physical capacity to do something else better.
So being able to ignore your suspension, or your gear changes, or how sensitively you pull the brake, allows you to brake later, choose a better line, or improve your timing. And that can be a huge benefit. We’re also merely scratching the surface of what these systems are capable of. So there’s no doubt that they will only get cheaper and more effective over time. We just need a foolproof way of remembering to charge all those extra batteries after every ride.
6. Complex suspension linkages
After a long period of consolidating suspension designs across the industry, it looks like we could be about to enter a world of wacky linkages again. Across the board, frames seem to have settled on a variation of rocker link four-bar, seatstay/yoke driven four bar and virtual pivot twin-link designs. This has led to loads of similar looking bikes.
Ubiquity is not great for business, and in the quest to improve product differentiation, we could start seeing some crazy designs break cover, even from mainstream brands. That’s the purely cynical take. What’s also driving this trend is the quest for better suspension performance.
Where brands seek to control multiple suspension variables individually, such as leverage rate, axle path, anti-squat and anti-rise. Trying to optimise several characteristics at once leads to more pivots, more linkages, and much greater complexity, but also has the potential to deliver better suspension performance. And that’s why we’re hearing more about bikes with six-bar linkages, such as the Atherton bike, the Commencal Supreme V5, Specialized’s new Demo prototype, and the Yeti 160E.
We’re also seeing bikes with main pivots and shocks on rails, to give more consistency and control over leverage or axle path. It’s not a new concept, but it’s certainly one that seems to be making a comeback.
7. Short cranks
Short cranks is a trend that also seems to be gathering momentum. E-bikes were the original catalyst behind this trend, where the need for ground clearance surpasses the requirement for additional crank leverage. Which has led to 165mm and 160mm cranks now being commonplace on e-bikes.
But short cranks have also been spreading their wings onto analogue bikes, helped by the arrival of Hope’s 155mm Evo cranks. Now we’ve got short crank evangelists such as Dakota Norton and Remi Morton flying the flag, the trend is sure to gather pace.
8. More adjustable sizing/geometry
OK, this one is nothing new, but with more brands adding adjustability to their bikes, we figured it was worth including here. Specialized is the undisputed king of mutation, with bikes like the Stumpjumper Evo, Turbo Levo, Levo SL and Kenevo SL offering extensive adjustment options. But plenty of other brands, including Trek, Canyon, and Scott, allow customisation of weight balance and sizing with drop-in headset cups. And, more significantly, the potential to reduce the number of models each brand produces. Which leads us into the final trend…
9. Range consolidation
Model ranges have expanded massively over the past couple of years, as brands try to cater to an ever-increasing spectrum of tastes. To be considered a comprehensive brand, you need to have a couple of hardtail designs, an XC bike, a down-country bike, a trail bike, an enduro bike, a downhill bike, a lightweight e-bike, and a full power e-bike. Then maybe you need both full 29in and mullet versions of the most popular platforms. You’ll need at least four frame sizes for each model, and to get a good spread of prices, you’ll probably want to offer both alloy and carbon frames.
With every model getting three price points, you’re looking at over 50 different models, times four frame sizes. That’s at least 200 different mountain bike SKUs for a big brand like Trek or Specialized. In reality it’s many more.
Which seems completely mental to us, and totally unsustainable given the economic climate, and environmental concerns. So, we expect some big range consolidations over the next few years, where brands trim the fat from their ranges, and maybe try to incorporate adjustable sizing and geometry to their models so that they can manufacture fewer frames but cover the same scope of rider heights.
But that’s just a hunch. We’ll see as the year goes on.