Somehow we made it to 2021. That number still doesn't seem right to me - I'm pretty sure everyone was supposed to have rocket packs, laser guns, and flying vehicles by now. Unless your last name is Musk, you probably don't have any of those things. Luckily, mountain biking still exists in this odd world that we're living in, and today's bikes are better than ever.
We were recently talking about the next iteration of the Grim Donut, a discussion that got me thinking about what features all modern mountain bikes should have, at least in my mind. There's a mental checklist I go through when I'm writing up a bike review, so I thought I'd get that list out of my brain and onto the screen. Without further ado, here's a list of what I'm looking for on a new mountain bike.Long travel dropper posts + frames to accommodate them
The average dropper post length has been increasing over the last few years, but there are still too many companies putting 150mm posts into size large frames, and too many frames being released that don't have short enough seat tubes, or enough insertion depth to run a longer travel post.
Sure, on shorter travel bikes a super-long post isn't as much of a necessity – those bikes will see more use on rolling terrain, where getting the seat as far out of the way as possible isn't quite as important, but it should at least be possible to run one. On longer travel bikes, I'd like to see more companies get on board and start shipping bikes with 200 or 210mm posts, at least on the large and extra large sizes. At the moment, I'd say the companies based in the Pacific Northwest are doing it best. Transition, Kona, and Norco all have bikes that come properly spec'd.
There are multiple posts on the market that allow the amount of travel to be customized, so I'm not sure why more companies don't use a something like the Trans-X Rad or PNW Components' Rainier post, where the travel can be altered up to 30mm in 5mm increments in a matter of seconds without any special tools.
On the other end of the price scale, I'm still waiting for a 200mm RockShox AXS post to come out. Right now, 170mm is the longest option, which means that there are a bunch of fancy bikes out there that would be even better with a longer post, but their owners will need to go retro and install cable and housing (or hydraulic line) if they decide they want more drop. 12 x 148mm rear axle spacing
There hasn't been a massive shakeup in the axle spacing realm for a few years, and my fingers are crossed that it stays that way. Most new XC, trail, and enduro bikes are showing up with 12x148mm Boost rear hub spacing, and there are even some DH bikes, like the Specialized Demo, with that spacing as well.
That brings us to 12x157mm SuperBoost spacing. I've seen all the graphs and read all of the justifications, and yes, it would have made a whole lot of sense if regular Boost had never hit the market, but at this point I think it's too late to change lanes again. There are lots of examples of bikes with relatively short chainstays, generous tire clearance, and plenty of frame stiffness that use regular Boost spacing; why shake things up for negligible gains? Size specific or adjustable chainstays
We're starting to see more and more companies rolling out size-specific chainstays, or chainstays with chips that allow them to be lengthened or shortened by 10mm or so. Maintaining an even front center to rear center ratio across all frame sizes makes a lot of sense, and it's a little surprising that it's taken so long for this to catch on.
After all, an extra-large bike with a 500mm reach and 440mm chainstays is going to feel a lot different out on the trail than a size small with a 430mm reach and those same 440mm chainstays. Having size specific chainstays makes sure that the bike's intended handling characteristics are maintained no matter the rider height. Threaded bottom brackets
I'm not as vehemently opposed to press-fit bottom brackets as some – I haven't had any noise related issues in years - but given the choice I'd still always pick a threaded bottom bracket. After all, they're easier to install and remove over and over again without any frame damage, and much less likely to creak or get jarred out of place. It's still a little mind-boggling that you can pay more than $3,000 for a frame that doesn't have a threaded bottom bracket – if I was designing a bike this would be on my list of must-have features. Cable routing that works
Internal or external, I'm not too fussed about where a bike's housing sits, as long as it's easy to live with and completely quiet. If its going inside the frame, I want to be able to run it through without using any dental tools, magnets, or shouted curse words. At the head tube, there might as well be ports to cleanly run the rear brake on either side of the handlebar, one of those smaller details that's often overlooked. SRAM UDH
At the moment, the benefit of SRAM's Universal Derailleur Hanger
is that it's inexpensive (around $15 USD), and should be easily obtainable from most bike shops. That means if you do break one, you won't need to go on a wild goose chase trying to track down a replacement. I also have feeling that SRAM has something up their sleeve that will make this a good feature to have in the future... I'm not sure what it is, but I know if I was bike shopping a UDH would be a point in the plus column. Room for a water bottle inside the front triangle
All of Levy's moaning has paid off, and the vast majority of new bikes now fit a water bottle inside the front triangle. Really, the only reason I'm including this point is to encourage the trend to continue. I know there are some holdouts that think carrying water is an unnecessary compromise, but that's a shaky leg to stand on given how many bikes currently exist that perform incredibly well, and manage to have room for a bottle where it belongs.
I'm also a fan of the two bolts that have started appearing on the underside of top tube, although I think there's a lot of room for some clever solutions in this space. A relatively inexpensive chunk of plastic that a tube and multi-tool could attach to shouldn't be that hard to create; in fact, I already convinced Brian Park to crank one out on his home 3D printer and it turned out much better than expected. Final thoughts
The focus of this list of requests was more on frame features rather than specific geometry numbers. At the moment, I'm happy with where things are going in that department. The longer and slacker movement is continuing, but I think it's starting to slow down a little. There are limits to how far numbers can get pushed before you end up with a bike that's so narrowly focused it's missing the versatility that makes today's bikes so much fun.
I also avoided diving too deep into specific parts spec / pricing requests this time around, since that could be an entire article on its own, but I will say that an aluminum frame with good suspension, good brakes, and a basic-but-reliable drivetrain will always make a whole lot of sense.
What do you think? What's on your list of must-haves for a modern mountain bike?