Mountain bike technology has progressed at a breakneck pace over the last ten years, and while that's led to entirely warrented frustration and confusion due to rapidly changing standards, that progression has also resulted in bikes that are better than ever. Dropper posts have become ubiquitous, front derailleurs have gone the way of the Dodo, and open dropouts with quick release skewers are nowhere to be seen. But that doesn't mean there isn't any room for improvement, and while the next advancements to come down the line may not be as drastic as the introduction of suspension, or disc brakes, they'll still have an impact on how a bike performs out on the trail.
If it were up to me, there are a few changes would come sooner than later. But don't worry, I'm not proposing any new hub spacing standards or wheel sizes...
Dropper Posts That Drop at the Push of a Button
Remember the days of trying to decide whether or not a steep descent was worth getting off your bike and lowering your seat for? Me too, and I don't miss them for a minute. Sure, it's possible to get down some pretty nasty stuff with your seat post raised sky high, but it's not nearly as fun (or safe), which is why dropper posts have become so popular.
But what if it was possible to drop your seat down at the push of a button, rather than needing to lower it with your body weight? Think about it – you shouldn't be seated when you're descending, but that's exactly what's necessary to get that seat out of the way before dropping in.
I'm not the first to suggest this idea, and I'm sure I won't be the last, but I'd love to see it come to fruition. Imagine if there was a small toggle switch mounted next to your left grip – push it in one direction the seat rises up, push it the other way and it lowers. Of course, that's easier imagined than executed, but I'd love to see someone give it a try. Oh, and bonus points go to the magician who can figure out how to accomplish this without any electronics or batteries.
Better Flat Pedal Shoes
I split my time between riding flats and clipping in, but I'll admit that I don't ride flat pedals quite as much these days. It's not that I think one style of pedal is superior to the other; it's just that there are so many nice clipless shoes out there, well constructed options with BOA dials, velcro or ratchet straps to fine tune the fit, while most flat pedal shoes still stick to the same model – they're basically slightly stiffer skate shoes with a sticky rubber sole.
Of course, flat pedal shoes need to have a more flexible sole than clipless shoes, but there's no reason why all of the other bells and whistles can't be carried over for all the flat pedal fans out there. Maybe the fact that Sam Hill took home the EWS champion on flat pedals will give a little more weight to what some would consider a trivial request.
Short Cage, Wide Range?
I spent over a decade wrenching on bikes as a full-time mechanic, and an unhealthy number of hours were spent wrestling with temperamental front derailleurs that never seemed to work quite right. The arrival of wide-range 1x drivetrains has been a welcome one, except for one thing – long cage rear derailleurs are back again. It's a tradeoff that's necessary, at least with the current designs, in order to allow the derailleur to extend all the way up to those extra-easy gears, but I wish it didn't come at the cost of reduced ground clearance – that lower pulley wheel is just begging to get snagged on a branch or a rock. Luckily, most derailleurs can take a fair bit of punishment before bending or braking, but wouldn't it be nice if it was tucked even farther out of the line of fire?
I stumbled upon a photo of a bike I used to own the other day, one that I'd equipped with a single ring, 10-speed drivetrain and a short cage Shimano Zee derailleur. Of course, that setup didn't have nearly the range of SRAM's 10-50 tooth cassette, a range that I regularly take advantage of in order to ease the pain of ascending the steep climbs near my home, but still, I'd love to have a short cage derailleur and a wide range drivetrain. I know, that's easier said than done, but I feel like there has to be some garage tinkerer out there with a solution that doesn't involve bolting on a heavy gearbox.
More Slack, Short Travel Trail Rippers
The enduro craze is still in full swing, and there's no shortage of long, low, and slack bikes on the market with 150 – 170mm of travel. But what if those same geometry principles were applied to shorter travel machines? Kona was on the right path with their Process 111 back in 2013 – that bike's still one of my all-time favorites – but there still aren't nearly enough options in that category for my liking.
I'm not into the whole 'more travel is always better' argument, and for all-around trail riding I tend to gravitate towards shorter travel rigs. I like the precision that's demanded by the reduced amount of travel, but I also don't like feeling like a bike's geometry is holding me back. Transition's new Smuggler with its 29" wheels, 120mm of rear travel, a 140mm fork, and a 66-degree head angle is on the right track, but I'd like to see even more companies follow suit. Trail bikes make sense for the vast majority of riders - not everyone is lucky enough to have terrain that warrants 160mm of travel, but with a few geometry tweaks the next generation of trail bikes can be more capable than ever, no matter if the trail is as steep as Champery or as flat as Kansas.
What would be on your wishlist? 20mm thru-axles? The return of 26" wheels? More inverted forks? Hoverbikes? Gaze into that crystal ball and then lay out your ideas for the future below.