An innovation is most often defined as being a new method, idea or product that offers some sort of advantage over whatever came before it. That explanation can certainly be applied to the nominees this year, with all five putting forward a compelling argument that they either allow us to go faster or further, not to mention with less effort, than ever before. From being able to run less tire pressure without drawbacks when it comes to reliability, the ability to alter a bike's geometry while on the move without having to rely on a proprietary shock, to smarter shifting that can be programmed to think for you, it's clear that 2014 was a big year when it comes to technology that promises to actually make a difference. All we need to do now is decide which of the five products below is worthy of being labelled the best Innovation of the Year.Schwalbe Procore Canyon's Shapeshifter Technology
Reliable tubeless tire setups are only now becoming the norm in most scenes, but the next step in tire and rim technology is already apparent: Schwalbe's dual chamber Procore system that, somewhat ironically, reintroduces a tube into the equation. It consists of a small volume, high-pressure tube (55 - 85 PSI
) with a bead attached that's installed inside of a large volume tubeless tire pumped to between just 10 and 20 PSI. The special tube helps to hold the tire onto the rim, so the chances of pulling a bead off are close to zero, and it also protects the tire from being pinched from sharp, hard impacts. Insane traction is likely the first thing that comes to mind, but there's another, less obvious reason that Procore could be the next big thing: better suspension performance. Jo Klieber, Syntace founder and the man who kicked off the development of the system, explained to us that when he added the highly pressurized tube inside the tire
, the spring rate of the tire would ramp up faster when the two began to compress in unison and thus would activate the suspension in a more seamless and gradual manner. If successful, the dual chamber system could allow the rider to use lower pressures and at the same time force the suspension and tire to react as a single unit to small bumps.
Specialized's New Demo
Enduro racing may be the butt of a lot of jokes lately, but it's also going to be the reason that trail and all-mountain bikes that we'll all be riding in a few years will be so awesome. An EWS racer's needs to be aboard a machine that crushes the downhills but can then also be ridden back up with minimal effort should make for some pretty interesting bikes as things develop further, and Canyon's Shapeshifter technology is one of the more interesting developments in this regard
. It uses a supplementary air actuator, hidden mostly out of view behind the rocker arm, that actually changes the location of the upper shock mount in order to alter the leverage. The upper mount moves by just 15mm, which doesn't sound like much, but it takes the Strive CF from 160mm to 130mm of travel, as well as raising the bottom bracket by 19mm and steepening the angles by 1.5 degrees. Canyon says that Shapeshifter adds a total of 200 grams to the bike, and that their team has been using the system throughout the 2014 EWS season. The design allows nearly any shock to be used due to the Shapeshifter system being entirely separate from it, meaning that you're not locked into using a proprietary damper, which is the downside to other convertible systems on the market.
Specialized didn't just go back to the drawing board for their new Demo
, they did so while also combing both existing and fresh concepts to come up with a bike that's an improvement on its predecessor on all fronts when it comes to going fast. The move to larger wheels was an obvious one, but their investment in carbon construction saw them nearly forego aluminum altogether, with it showing up only in a few vital locations on the frame where bearings are pressed into it. Even the higher end Demo's rocker link is carbon - it's a mostly hollow piece with internal carbon ribs that are strategically placed to increase both strength and rigidity. The bike's suspension, while looking quite different from the previous Demo, does actually function in a very similar manner, although it's been moved down so low on the bike that the main pivot now rotates concentrically around the bottom bracket. It's fair to say that the new Demo is probably one of the most exciting new downhill bikes of recent times.
Yeti's Switch Infinity Suspension
Di2 isn't likely to make cable operated drivetrains obsolete anytime in the next decade. It's also not going to become self-aware and try to kill you or anyone else. It is going to cost more than many complete, dirt worthy mountain bikes, though, but no one is forcing you to purchase it (unless it does become self-aware and decides to do exactly that
). However, what it is going to do is push both shifting technology and system integration towards new levels of awesomeness
. The Di2 derailleurs know exactly where each cog and chain ring are, and they can actually communicate with each other to compensate for cross-gearing, not to mention the fact that you can select a synchronized mode so it will make sequential shifts, operating both the front and the rear derailleurs, by pushing only one button on the right-side shift module. In recovery mode, Di2 can readjust itself and resume normal shifting after a crash or impact has compromised its original settings - let's see your mechanical system do that. In the future, we expect a battery that's not only connected to the Di2 drivetrain, but also to your electronically controlled suspension, and even a GPS system. Many riders will hate on it - we're scared of batteries, aren't we? - and it's not about to replace traditional systems, but it is going to lead to some very exciting times.
Yeti's Switch Infinity design employs a bearing carrier that moves vertically on two Kashima coated tubes from FOX
, with the setup controlling the bike's wheel path: initially, as the bike goes through its travel, the carrier moves upwards, giving it a rearward axle path for improved pedalling and small bump absorption. As the rear wheel goes deeper into its travel the mechanism moves downwards, reducing the amount of chain tension for better big hit performance. Yeti's vice president, Steve Hoogendoorn, explained the difference: ''With the older eccentric we essentially have a really, really short link – something that's less than 15mm, whereas the mechanical analogy for the rail is the exact opposite. Instead of creating a short link, we're creating what's essentially a link that's an infinite length long. We're able to tune wheel path and anti-squat extremely precisely and accurately, which we couldn't do as easily with the Switch.
'' It's also claimed to be 100 grams lighter than the original Switch design, and can run smoothly when submerged in quicksand for a decade. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but some impressive testing details from Yeti have us believing that isn't too far from being the case.
Stay tuned for more PB MTB Awards nominees all month.