Innovation of the Year Nominees"Clever" is often confused with "creative." We anticipate clever. Clever drives the string of peer-powered improvements the industry feeds upon. Creativity is a more uncertain and risky path. To inject a fresh idea into the mainsream, to present a product that has yet to be accepted by the sport's elite, to overturn convention - those are the attributes that define the innovator.
Our three nominees for Innovation of the Year sprang forth from very diverse brain trusts. Specialized Bicycles (no surprise there) got the nod for their WU double-articulating dropper seatpost that retracts the saddle to the angle preferred by downhill competitors. That was an easy choice.
PB's second candidate rocked the industry like an earthquake. Darrell Voss' Nail'd R3act rear suspension looks and operates like no other. Beginning with an unapologetic revival of elevated chainstays, his kinematics fly in the face of convention, but the pedaling performance of his ridiculously long-travel design defies argument.
Our third nominee hails from Switzerland. BMC's new Speedfox cuts a conservative profile that belies a different take on the mid-travel trail bike. Its Trailsync dropper seatpost is linked to the shock's low-speed compression control. Raise the post and the shock is switched to the "firm" setting. Lower the post and it automatically switches to "open" mode. It's a simple concept that transforms the trail-riding experience.
Why it's Nominated:
It could be argued that dropper seatposts were not invented for descending. They were invented for climbing, to reduce the time and the suffering required to get to the next descent. BMC's Trailsync embraces that reality by coupling the action of its integrated dropper post with the shock.
Trailsync debuted on BMC's 120mm-travel Speedfox 01 29er, and it breaks a number of rules. For starters, the dropper mechanism is integrated into the seat tube. It's a dedicated system. The dropper's mechanical stop is dirt simple: a spring-loaded pin that indexes into one of three holes in the post. And, the shock's remote compression dial is linked to the seatpost, not the handlebar-remote lever. If that sounds complicated, it isn't.
Trailsync reduces complexity, mechanically and for the rider. It offers the three most useful saddle heights with a resounding click: fully extended; an intermediate position, one inch lower; and completely dropped. There is never any confusion, because the post is linked to the shock, and the handlebar remote lever only operates the post. The result is a one-touch lever that makes the bike do exactly what you want at the precise moment when you need it. From the First Ride:
Why it's Nominated:
We're all accustomed to how a dropper post typically works - depress a lever and the seat can be dropped vertically, remaining in the same orientation for the entire stroke. It's a different story with Specialized's Command Post WU. The saddle clamp is articulated, so that the seat tilts backwards as it retracts (up to 14 degrees). When it's up, your bike pedals in the classic cross-country position. When its down, you descend in the configuration you'd choose for DH. Gravity riders stay low and well off the back when dropping into steep chutes, and having the saddle lined up with your body in dicey situations can afford a substantial measure of control when it's needed most.
You will soon be able to have your own WU for around $425 USD, as long as your seat tube accepts a 34.9mm post. The cable-actuated mechanical internals offer 14 indexed stops and its travel is 115 mm, slightly less than Specialized's ubiquitous 125mm-stroke Command Post. That said, Specialized advertises the WU at 150, claiming that the tilting mechanism has the effect of greatly extending the dropper's stroke. Measuring from the saddle's sit-bone area, the WU supports that claim. With riders demanding more and more travel from their posts, Specialized's post could make it possible to get around frame design constraints by requiring less room to provide the same effective amount of seat drop.
Bottom line for the WU is that enduro has pushed development to the point where trail bikes are closing in on the descending performance of DH bikes. Specialized has invented a dropper that puts the saddle where it needs to be to complete that task.From the First Look:
Why it's Nominated:
"Suspension damping is friction, and while some damping is essential, any amount of friction is going to slow you down." The words belong to designer Darrell Voss, who thought it was ridiculous that bike makers were using damping forces to mitigate any number of ills related to pedaling feel, ride height, brake dive and bad frame design. Voss maintained that bikes would roll faster and pedal more efficiently with suspension kinematics that favored drastically reduced suspension forces.
Clearly, Voss and the bicycle industry were on different paths. While he was fleshing out a proof-of-concept suspension design, elite-level enduro and DH racers were upping their spring rates and cranking in their dials to the point where an average rider could barely move the O-rings of a pro racer's bike.
Voss went public with his invention in 2017, partnering with Polygon and Marin. His R3act suspension could not have looked more alien - a large monostay swingarm that terminated on a tubular sliding element, hinged to the frame. By comparison, the slender aluminum control links that drove the shock and established the suspension's kinematics were dainty. Polygon's Square One - a 180mm-travel all-mountain trail bike was first to market, and it was scoffed at by influential members of the media, most of whom had cut their teeth on more conventional (one might even say, "inbred") enduro machines.
The proof, however, was in the riding. As promised, Voss' novel design pedaled as well or better than its most-respected contemporaries - and all the while, its incredibly smooth suspension followed every contour on the trail. One by one, the critics were silenced. If there were remaining doubts, the success of Polygon's R3act powered DH prototypes under Tracey and Mick Hannah put them to rest.From the Review:
Two wildly different takes on the neoclassic dropper post and a rear suspension design that defies contemporary logic. Judged by the criteria set forth in the first paragraph, PB's three nominees easily qualify as innovations in the most creative sense. They break convention, divide popular opinion and provide fresh, creative solutions. But, which is the most innovative?