I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this topic, but I was recently reminiscing about the bike I owned twenty years ago, which had me thinking about how far mountain bike technology has come and what is now considered the norm on bikes in 2021, if you can find one.
It all began for me with a 1999 Kona Muni-Mula that I was lucky to get my hands on after my parents agreed to match my funds collected from yard work. I won’t get too nostalgic, but even for a 14-year old kid, weighing 45 kg soaking wet, things broke; rims and cranks bent, chains bounced into unimaginable places, head angles were scary steep and stems were obnoxiously long, not to mention the terrible control points like cast pedals, slip-on grips, and plastic tires. I loved that blue bike, despite over-riding it. I know other veteran readers are scoffing about the troubles they faced further back in history, but a steady stream of mechanical mountain bike tech has started to plateau.
In case you haven’t caught on by now, mountain biking is a mainstream sport and it’s been an imperative step for the demand in technology at a base level. There are knee-high kids bouncing down bike parks after school, YouTube stars are rocketing 30-meter gaps on a daily basis, and downcountry bikes are as capable as some freeride machines from 2005. World Cup downhill races are now consistently decided by hundredths of a second, heck, even qualifying is an achievement for a privateer because the equipment is top notch. The top pros are barely keeping a leg up on the field as developments are prototyped so rapidly.
New enduro bikes are available for $3,000 that don’t disintegrate over a weekend of riding and have all the fixings: dropper posts, lock-on grips, air suspension, hydraulic brakes, tubeless tires, and wide-rang 1x drivetrains that hold the chain in place without a guide. Even bottom brackets and hub bearings are tremendously more reliable than before. Modern geometry lets beginners feel like heroes tackling local trail networks that used to be reserved exclusively for a diehards, all on budget. Sure, things still break, but for the number of riders pushing bicycles to the upper limits it’s incredible when you stand back and observe from the outside. To cast a parallel, it’s like when the whole ski industry moved to parabolic skis. Everything clicked and the masses caught up. We as mountain bikers have it very, very good right now.
All of that trickle-down technology seems to be drying up though. So, where do we go from here? The next chapter, electronic integrated. In our digital era, it’s the next logical step – like it or not. We’ve seen small gains in the last few years with Shimano’s Di2 drivetrain, then small odds and ends appeared like the ShockWiz suspension app, but RockShox’s new wireless electronically controlled suspension, Flight Attendant, is soaring into the future of premium bike technology. The system gives the best performance downhill while seamlessly monitoring the dampers based on inclination, free of any wires.
Battery powered, wireless motor-controlled components are the furthest advancement to date, but do they edge out something as simple as soft compound, tubeless tires, the only point of contact between the bike and the ground, or is there a more polarizing part that changed the game for you?