The modern mountain bike has evolved dramatically over the last decade, thanks to innovations like dropper posts, 1x drivetrains, and improved geometry. The evolution doesn't show any signs of slowing down either - there's still plenty of room for improvement and refinement.
This year's nominees for Innovation of the Year included a clever coil spring rate adjuster, a futuristic XC race bike, compliant carbon wheels, and a wireless electronic drivetrain. All of those products have the potential to advance the sport in their own way, but it was SRAM's AXS component group that takes the win.
2019 INNOVATION OF THE YEAR
SRAM's AXS Components
The future is wireless.
The concept of an electronic drivetrain isn't entirely new - early attempts took place from several manufacturers back in the 1990s, but it wasn't until the introduction of Shimano's Di2 drivetrain in 2014 that there was a viable option for mountain bikers. There was one issue, though; Di2 still had a wire running from the shifter to the derailleur. That meant that setup wasn't any easier (and it often actually took longer) than installing a drivetrain with 'regular' cable and housing.
In 2016 SRAM launched their wireless road gruppo, SRAM Red eTap, and it wasn't long before speculation began about when that technology would make it over to the mountain bike world. The rumor mill kicked into high gear when prototypes popped up in late 2018 on the bikes of various athletes, and then the group was finally launched to the public in early 2019.
As it turns out, it was worth the wait. The shifting is instant and impeccable, and the same goes for the action of the wireless dropper post - there's no delay between when the lever is pushed and the derailleur moves or the dropper can be lowered. As for setup, that's just about instant as well. There's no need to fuss with cables and housing; just bolt on the derailleur and shifter, install the battery, push a couple buttons and you're ready to go.
With AXS, dropper post installation takes a matter of seconds.
There was a lot riding on the launch of AXS - a glitchy interface or poor performance could have stalled it at the starting line, but after nine months of near-constant use our original test parts are still going strong. Yes, the shape of the shifter paddle could stand a little more refinement, and the price is still situated up in the stratosphere, at least for now, but as far as overall execution goes, SRAM nailed it the first time around. The future is wireless, and the launch of AXS has put SRAM right at the front of the pack.
The 2019 Pinkbike Award for Innovation of the Year goes to SRAM's AXS components.