I remember the day like yesterday. It was year 1996 when I took part in my first downhill race. My Moongoose bike had a steel frame without any kind of suspension. There were no hydraulic disc brakes or telescopic seat posts on it. It was just a common mountain bike similar to the ones ridden by the early pioneers Gary Fisher, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze on the Mountain Tamalpais trails in Marin County, California in 1970’s.
I crashed hard in the lower part of the course. My hockey helmet was smashed into hundred pieces and I was close to breaking my collar bone. Luckily it sustained the impact but my racing career was over. It was a big fun to ride anyway.
Since then many things have changed. The rims got lighter and tougher. We halt the bikes with the assistance of hydraulic power using the light disc brakes. The early full suspension bikes were heavy as hell but we admired them and craved them. Modern bikes are much lighter and have much better handling so they can be used not only for downhill and freeride but also for the cross- country racing. The hi-tech materials like titanium or carbon fiber are commonly used. Everything goes lighter, faster and better. The question is, what comes next?
There’re always going to be some new trends. After we walked around the stands at the Eurobike we would name a few. It seems that every producer brought his own fat bike sample to the exhibition. Some of them put the fat tires together with electric power supply. Such bikes look cool but what are they good for? The fat bikes were originally meant for use in snow or sand, but how are you going to recharge the empty batteries in the middle of a desert or in the snow plains of Alaska?
But not all trends look good only on the colorful pages of catalogues. The good thing is that engineers improved the ratio of reducing chainrings from three or two to just one and adding some more sprockets in the rear, so when you want to change the gear, it’s much faster and easier. There are also more and more companies developing their own gearbox systems like the German brand Nikolai.
Their gearbox is integrated into the bicycle frame and requires almost no maintenance. The center of gravity is perfectly balanced in the middle of the frame and the lighter rear wheel has a positive influence on handling, the riding dynamics and rear-end suspension performance.
Another big story these days are new standards in mountain biking. On one side the industry wants to make things better, faster and stronger, but at the same time it makes it harder for the consumer to decide which trend they want to follow and what kind of bike is the right one for their riding. Not long ago somebody came with the idea that 26’’ wheels are not the right ones anymore.
Now you can choose from three different diameters from 26’’ up to 29’’. Still not enough? The hit of 2016 season is called 27+ tires. It’s a new size that has 27 inches in diameter but looks as broad as the fat tires.
The producers say that with significantly increased grip and additional suspension, 27+ bikes can create more confidence in all aspects of riding, especially in technical situations, where the less skilled rider might have previously been scared away. The bikes are going to be lighter, stronger, the technology faster and more durable, the suspension more responsive and easier to adjust.
But there is always going to be one important rule. You can have the latest gadgets on your bike but the ride won’t be any better unless you enjoy the time with the real friends.