Industry Award WinnersPinkbike's Industry Award winners were chosen by PB staff and by key insiders, who argued their points between beers and late night stints at the keyboard until we agreed, sometimes reluctantly, on four selections that left pivotal imprints upon the sport in 2013. Judging only by numbers, like sales-volume, race wins, attendance, OEM spec or gross revenue, would have made it simple to pick the winning nominees from our four categories, but the mountain bike industry is fueled as much, perhaps more, by passion as it is for profit. Evaluating attributes like influence, progression, innovation and motivation, forced us to dig deeper. We chose the Game-Changer, the Comeback, the Innovator and the Most Improved, based upon the potential of each to inspire others to do similar deeds. For without inspiration, how could the mountain bike have grown from a beach cruiser with a derailleur and decent brakes to the marvelously engineered off road vehicle it is today? Without inspiration, how could a sport progress from Repack to Val de Sole? And without passion, how could a cult following of balloon-tire trail riders alter the landscape of cycling and become a global business - all in only three decades?
Game-Changer of the Year
EMBA's Enduro World Series
Majority votes decided the lion's share of this year's Pinkbike awards, but the Enduro World Series won the Game-Changer category unanimously. Enduro racing in one form or another has been growing steadily in Europe and North America. The promise of a competition venue that mirrors the kind of riding and the type of terrain that most of us aspire to - on the bicycles that the majority of us prefer to ride - has been long in coming. The fact that enduro courses are staged for pros and amateurs alike is even more compelling. When Chris Ball helped unite Darren Kinnard, Crankworx events manager; Fred Glo, French Enduro Series founder; and Enrico Guala, Super Enduro founder to form the Enduro Mountain Bike Association, and then produce the EWS as a global racing venue, they ensured that the soul of mountain biking would burn brightly within Enduro racing for the foreseeable future. The EMBA and its Enduro World Series serves up authentic mountain biking to real riders without dumbing it down or artificially amping it up to placate corporate interests and spectators. An International competition venue founded and operated by riders to benefit riders - that's a game-changer.
|Enduro is mountain biking.|
- Fred Glo: French Enduro Founder
Most Improved Brand of the Year
Kona Bikes earned the win for Pinkbike's Most Improved Brand of the Year by our own votes and by an overwhelming popular vote throughout the Pinkbike community. One need only to peruse a catalog from Kona's recent past to appreciate the leap that the Northwestern bike maker has made in both modernizing its designs and also for their new relevance to contemporary mountain biker. The Operator DH bike, for instance, emerged as a World Cup level competitor from the ashes of the nearly fossilized Stab Supreme. Viewing the two designs together gives one the impression that the Operator landed fully formed from outer space. It is hard to believe that it did in fact come from the designers at Kona. When the Process AM/trailbike was released, it proved that Kona was on a tear.
The Process demonstrated that its team had a strong understanding of the three wheel diameters and where each option made sense in its range. That said, it was more than fresh frame designs and a competitive range that caught our attention. Typically, to instigate such a profound change, bike companies fire half of their staff and inject a new team of marketing and design personnel - or they sell the brand to a more interested buyer. Kona, however, made its turnaround from within. They added Chris Mandell to head its mountain bike division, but for the most part, Kona's recent success was metamorphosis. Which strongly indicates that most of the staff still shreds and also explains why the first three designs to emerge from the new and improved Kona hit their core audience in the heart - DH, freeride and all-mountain. Welcome back boys.
|We've always thought that everything in cycling develops from the grassroots level.|
- Jacob Heilbron: Kona Co-founder
Innovation of the Year
SRAM X-Sync Narrow-Wide Chainring
Hyperbole has distorted the word, "innovation" to the point where its use in the context of cycling is almost exclusively in reference to grandiose inventions. Less provocative creations, however useful they may be, are most often described as, 'simple improvements.' On paper, SRAM's X-Sync chainring tooth profile would definitely be tossed into the later category. The entire concept can be related in a single phrase: "The chainring's teeth are shaped to match the widths of the chain links" - almost as exciting of a read as a three-page paper on rubber compounds. However insignificant it may seem, SRAM's innovation - the adaptation of the narrow-wide chainring tooth profile as a method to guide the chain to and from the front sprocket from a wide variety of angles - proved to be the missing piece in the single-chainring drivetrain puzzle.
Pinkbike chose SRAM's X-Sync chainrings for our Innovation of the Year Award for a number of reasons. We believe strongly that single-chainring drivetrains are the best solution for most mountain bike riders. Until SRAM perfected the narrow-wide concept, though, the only reliable method to prevent the chain from derailing when the gear selection or terrain caused extreme chain angles was to install a chainguide. We acknowledge that many riders don't hear the constant zeeb zaab zeeb zaab noise when they pedal, nor do they notice that even the best chainguides look like they were purchased from the Legoland gift store - but that's OK. The rest of us, however, would prefer a quiet, cleaner looking and more elegant solution. SRAM's X-Sync chainrings do such a good job of keeping the chain on that they eliminate the need for a guide of any sort for all but the most aggressive bike-handlers - and thus destroy the last barrier standing between rank and file riders and the widespread acceptance of the one-by drivetrain.
|...In the future, we may well mark its debut as the silver bullet that killed the front derailleur.|
Comeback of the Year
The sport of mountain biking owes much to Suntour. The Japanese drivetrain maker was instrumental in assembling the first production component group when the mountain bike was in its infancy. Suntour's show of support was desperately needed at that moment in time, and it could be argued that it was the availability of a mountain bike-specific component group and not a bike brand that launched the fledgling mountain bike industry. Suntour's dominance in the 1980s was a brilliant, but short lived flame.
When the sport reached its zenith in the early 1990's, the name had all but passed into obscurity. Resurrecting a brand in the hyper-image-conscious society that we call the bicycle industry is a monumental exercise in labor and humility, but it can be done. Suntour joined with Sakae Ringyo to become SR Suntour and began the long march back to mainstream mountain bikes, armed with an enviable working ethos, a modest ensemble of affordable OEM components and a brand new suspension factory. With the announcement of SR Suntour's 25th anniversary in 2013 came the news that it had become the largest supplier of bicycle suspension forks in the world.
We chose SR Suntour as the winner of our Comeback of the Year Award because their storybook return was not the product of a Manhattan Avenue marketing campaign ramming a bunch of slightly better than average products down our throats, levered by a handful of World Cup podiums, earned by a mega-million-dollar Jumbo-Juice team. Rather, we picked SR Suntour because they became a suspension powerhouse by working hard and by innovating, improving and supporting their products - and because they understand that technology is only of value to those who can afford it. SR Suntour's conservative approach reflects the ideals of the original Suntour factory in Japan and assures us that SR Suntour will become the long-awaited third power in the mountain bike suspension game.