Over the last decade we have seen massive changes in mountain bike design and standards, with a huge change in the quality of ride and the ability of our bikes to hit the trail. Every year there seems to be a new innovation that is sure to improve our ride and get us down the mountain even faster than before, but when is change too much too fast? is there really a necessity to change common hub standards so frequently? The question is one on many riders lips and is almost as hot as the wheel size debate, actually no, nothing will be more controversial than wheel size…..
Originally our mountain bikes were fitted with QR skewers and 26 inch wheels, they were claimed to be state of the art…. oh how quickly that changed. the reality is that many of the alterations to design inclusive of wheel size and through-axles have made significant changes to ride quality and I for one am certainly glad I started mountain biking in the era I did. Twenty six-inch wheels are great, they are fun, responsive and providing they are placed on the right bike with the right rider; they truly can wield some awesome results. After all, many of the Red Bull Rampage riders this year were sporting twenty-six inch wheels and ripping the obscene lines better than any of us could ever dream of.
The Wheel size debate
I could write for days about wheel size and I am certain that many of you would have opposing and similar views, after all it is subjective and really comes down to the rider. this year we saw the introduction of 29ers into the UCI World Cup DH events by none other than the Santa Cruz Syndicate, Greg Minnar had one of the best years he has had on tour and the results spoke for themselves. However, when riders as small as Danny Hart sported the wheel size he ripped the arse out of his pants and swiftly went back to 27.5 wheels. Will they become more prevalent on the tour? Only time will tell, but the point is that wheel size is subjective.
For me it comes down to intended purpose, I ride a 26er for pump track and dirt jumping, a 27.5 for trail and enduro, a 29er for cross-country. I certainly feel the difference between each wheel size and they all have their pros and cons, at the end of the day it comes down to what you like to ride. The reality is that 27.5 and 29ers are here to stay and 26ers will still be there for dirt jumping and slopestyle bikes, but the majority of trail riding will be done on larger wheel sizes.
Geometry and the long, low and slack trend
Like it or not the industry is producing longer, slacker and lower geometry bikes with astounding results. Many of the old guard may debate the necessity but the ride quality is certainly improving. Never before have you felt comfortable descending on cross-country bikes like there is no tomorrow, but this years Queensland U19 Enduro State Champion Luke Radley would certainly attest; after all he won the state title on his 2018 Giant Anthem. Enduro bikes (I know some of you will say there’s no such thing as enduro, but the term is here to stay) can descend world cup downhill tracks without issue and can even place in the top 5 at the DH World Championships in Cairns. So where is this going?
Well to be honest we are not sure just yet, but it would be logical for the industry to go too far one way before settling on the perfect example of a modern mountain bike. With the modern manner in which bikes are designed, tested and produced the reality is that perhaps this may not occur. The end result for those of you that love to descend, are epic bikes that are loads of fun!
Boost or not to Boost, that is the question?
With the introduction of boost hubs one has to wonder where are we really going with mountain bike innovation? No longer do we have to update our wheel size due to 27.5 and 29ers being here to stay, now we have to update our frames or wheel sets to match the ever-growing hub size? is this really necessary for the majority of riders, or are we moving too fast for financial viability?
Boost hubs are touted to give greater wheel stiffness and increased performance, which by all means is what we love to have, but do they really increase the ride quality for the majority of riders; that is, for the everyday punter? The vast majority of riders are in the average skill level range, in fact over 90% of riders are. That means over 90% of customers are average riders, everyday Jill and Joes; so do we really need to be spending money every year updating our hubs sizes for minimal impact?
The real answer is probably not and perhaps the industry needs to take a good hard look at itself. Whilst increased hub sizes will improve riding quality minimally and increase the run times of the pros, the cost versus benefit ratio for the everyday rider is certainly well out of whack in my opinion. I’d like to be able to buy a brand new bike and still get parts for it in 3 or 4 years without issue, after all what’s the point of a warranty if we can’t keep the bike long enough to enjoy its benefits?
The introduction of 148mm hubs is here to stay, but do we really need to go any further? Knolly just announced that its whole lineup is moving to 157mm spacing and the standards continue to move. Is it simply innovation or a means to get us to spend more consumer dollars? Don’t get me wrong, I am all for innovation and change, but expanding my hubs by 6-10mm every year or two just doesn’t wash with me. There is a difference between innovation and practicality.
The reality is we all love getting new toys and we love how far mountain bike design has come, but we are not here to launch a man to the moon. We are here to have a good time on the trail, go as fast as we can when we race and catch up with our mates. I for one don’t have a bottomless wallet to keep updating the ‘standards’ on my $5000 bike every year or two. It’s time the industry started focusing on what the majority of consumers need, not what their sponsored riders need to go faster……