Mountain biking is a constantly evolving sport - components, apparel, even riding styles continue to change from season to season. What was once a must-have accessory (anyone need some anodized purple bar ends?) becomes a piece of history, something we can chuckle at when telling stories about how it was 'back in the day.' What follows are seven freeride trends that have earned their place in the history books, for better or worse.
The initial reasoning behind the advent of woodwork onto mountain bike trails was sound – bridges helped raise the trails above the mud and water found on Vancouver's North Shore, allowing them to be rideable year round. But then something happened. Instead of being a tool to allow trails to navigate through wet and marshy areas, the wooden features turned into “stunts,” getting higher and skinnier every season. Before long you had to have the skills of a circus freak / tight rope walker to navigate the contraptions scattered throughout the woods. It was a slow speed game, where precision and impeccable balance were required to survive a ride without ripping off a rear derailleur or spraining your ankles after jumping down to the forest floor from some ridiculous height. And don't forget the teeter totters, those rickety, never-quite-dialed features that should probably have been left on the playground instead of being brought into the woods. Luckily, as the seasons passed, riders began to realize that slightly wider features allowed for more speed and flow, and skinnies returned to where they came, the toothpick thin cedar planks slowly decaying into the forest floor.
2. Hucks to Flat
Closely related to the popularity of skinnies, there was a time when pancake flat landings were commonplace, and the wheelie drop was a mandatory skill to survive a ride with all your teeth. Why weren't there any transitions? It's a bit of a mystery, but some of the blame may lie with Dangerous Dan, the North Shore builder whose trails were famous for their small, postage stamp size, sniper landings (Dansitions). There was a bit of machismo going on, an attitude that steep landings were somehow less hardcore than plummeting to a pile of dirt with the same pitch as a mall parking lot. Luckily, the allure of slipped discs and sore ankles has faded, and properly shaped landings have become more and more common, even on the North Shore. There's still the occasional drop to flat on certain trails for old time's sake, but overall those whiplash inducing landings are a thing of the past. 3. Stair Gaps / Urban 'Jibbing'
As freeride bikes grew in popularity, so did launching flights of stairs and riding off of loading docks. With 8” of travel and a Monster T up front, what could go wrong? As it turns out, aluminum frames aren't impervious to breaking after weeks of dropping 10' to concrete, and more than one shop had customers come back distraught that their supposedly apocalypse-proof frame cracked when they were 'just riding along.' The urban hucking trend persisted until straight airs began to lose popularity, and the antics of BMX riders proved that suspension (or even brakes) wasn't necessary, and that it was actually possible to ride street with a bit of style. The big bikes slowly returned to the woods they emerged from, and nowadays the only stair hucking you'll see is likely part of an urban downhill race, where the addition of wild dogs and screaming fans makes stair hucking a semi-legitimate thing to do on a downhill bike. 4. 50 Pound Bikes
'When I was your age, downhill bikes weighed 50 pounds and had 26” wheels....' For a time, concerns about bike weight took a backseat as the race for more and more travel raged on. Bikes pushed past the 8” travel barrier, and then Marzocchi pulled out their ace in the hole with the Super Monster, a behemoth of a fork whose 11.8 pound fighting weight matched its 11.8 inches of travel. Strap one of those onto a Karpiel Armageddon with a set of Sun Ringle Double Wide rims and you've got a Josh Bender approved huck machine. Luckily, a lot has changed in the last 10 years, and anything over 40 pounds is now considered heavy for a DH sled. And freeride bikes? Those overbuilt 7” steeds equipped with single crown forks, two chain rings, a bashguard and a chainguide in the front, well, they've shed some weight, had their travel reduced by an inch or so, and now they're called all-mountain or enduro bikes. They're just as capable, and a hell of a lot more pedal friendly than their predecessors.
5. 3.0" Tires
For a time, especially on the east coast of the United States, the downhill worthiness of your bike was directly related to the width of its tires. The fatter the better, and the Nokian Gazzalodi was the cream of the fat tire crop. Available in 2.6” and 3.0” widths, this bulbous beast showed the world how much of a badass you were. Bonus points if it was mounted onto a 24” rear wheel. When riders decided that cornering performance might be a nice option to have, the 3.0" tire's popularity waned, although the fat bike contingent seems to have picked up where this trend left off.6. Giant Fenders / Fork Stanchion Guards
Big tires require big fenders, and for a few seasons wheels disappeared underneath full size fenders that looked like they were stolen from a dirt bike. Eventually, someone realized that the plastic accoutrements were overkill, and fenders have since slimmed down to a less visually jarring size. Also related to the trend of strapping extra plastic to your bike were the fork stanchion guards that crafty Canadians started making out of PVC pipe cut in half and attached to the lowers of a non-inverted fork, protecting the stanchions from scratches. There's no clear answer as to why everyone suddenly felt the need to protect their stanchions – maybe the rocks were particularly sharp that season? There were even a couple of commercially available versions – Core Rat, best known for their nearly indestructible Cordura clothing line, was one of the first to capitalize on this odd trend.
7. Full Body Armor
Nothing complements a 50 pound bike better than 10 pounds of body armor strapped to your back for the push to the top. The Dainese Pressure Suit was ubiquitous for a solid chunk of time during the heyday of the freeride era, a plastic and mesh signal to the world that you were about to get 'extreme.' The football player suit of armor trend has since faded, as the introduction of viscoelastic pads like D3O allow for more form fitting, less bulky protections options. The only full suits of armor you'll see these days are usually rental items doled out by bike parks in an attempt to keep new riders' extremities intact so they can enjoy more than one day of downhilling before visiting the ER.