Now that the chaos of Eurobike and Interbike has subsided and many of the hot new products for next year have been revealed, it's a good time to take a step back and examine the state of the modern mountain bike. As far as we've come from the era of coaster brakes and rigid forks, there's always room for improvement, although these days technology is so far advanced that new ideas tend to be less disruptive compared to the days when inventions like the suspension fork or hydraulic disc brakes first appeared. Drivetrain
Electronically controlled suspension and shifting have arrived, but they're not yet the norm largely due to the sky high cost, and the fact that non-electronic shifting and suspension work so well. 1x drivetrains continue to increase in popularity as more riders see the benefits of ditching the front derailleur, and as frames emerge that have been designed without even the option of mounting a front derailleur. What about gearboxes? That's the cry that comes up whenever drivetrains are mentioned, but although the concept is novel, the weight and added complexity continue to limit the number of options. Geometry
Bike geometry has seen a pronounced shift over the last few seasons, and the latest crop of all-mountain machines are longer and slacker than ever. Some companies are pushing the boundaries further than others, the Nicolai GeoMetron
being the most obvious example, but it does seem like at a certain point the limits will be found – after all, riders still need to be able to reach their handlebars from a seated position, and no one wants to ride a bike that makes it feel like they're stretched out like Superman.
Wheels / Tires
Coil sprung shocks have appeared on the bikes of a number of high profile pros racing in the Enduro World Series this year, a trend made all the more surprising by the fact that air sprung suspension continues to become more common on the World Cup downhill circuit.
What does this mean for the average rider? It means air and coil sprung suspension options are continuing to improve, with the end result being that consumers have more capable choices than ever. 2016 looks like it will be bringing at least three coil sprung shocks equipped with a compression lever that allows them to be firmed up on-the-fly, which could further increase the number of riders that choose to go the coil route.
What goes around comes around, and big tires and wide rims are back in fashion again. On one hand you have the 27.5+ movement, which involves mounting up 3.0” tires to rims that have internal dimensions of around 40mm, creating a wheel that has an overall height of close to 29”. 27.5+ still seems to be in the awkward adolescent phase, trying hard to figure out where it fits in, but I do think it will gain traction among beginner and intermediate riders who will appreciate the stability and the resulting increase in confidence that the wider tires bring. Hardtails are also an ideal use for the big tires, where the lower pressures that are possible help create a less jarring ride.
Wide rims aren't just for Plus bikes, and an internal width of 28-32mm seems to be the sweet spot for “regular” bikes, allowing riders to run lower pressures without ripping the tire off the rim. More and more companies are seeing the light, and I doubt it will be long before large companies like SRAM and Shimano join in with wide rims of their own. There are also several tires on the way designed specifically for wider rims, tires that are intended to prevent the square tread profile that can lead to odd handling on the trail.
Puncture resistance is still an area that could use improvement, especially now that riders are venturing into DH bike terrain on lighter tires. Schwalbe's ProCore, which uses a secondary internal chamber that allows riders to run even lower pressures and not risk denting their rims, is one attempt at addressing the issue, but the jury's still out as to how effective it actually is. Finding the balance between a tire that's light but durable is tricky, but there are several new sidewall construction techniques on the way that may potentially help. Where does that leave us?
2016 is shaping up to be a year of refinements, full of small advances that will further elevate the current state of the mountain bike. All of this raises the question, “What area of mountain bike technology is in need of the most improvement?”
Are you tired of adjusting your derailleur? Sick of bleeding your brakes? Frustrated by constant flats? What would would you change if you were in charge of developing the mountain bike of the future? Cast your vote below.