The end of 2020 means that it's time for us to make some questionable predictions for the coming year that may or may not pan out. Below, the Pinkbike editors look into their crystal balls, read the tea leaves, or maybe just take a wild guess at what 2021 might hold.
What do you think - are we out to lunch, or do any of our predictions make sense?
2. Updated Shimano Saint group.
Mike Kazimer's Predictions
1. More mullets and fewer 27.5” bikes. I’d imagine we won’t see that many dedicated 27.5” bikes released in 2021. There will be plenty of bikes launched with 29" wheels front and rear, but we'll also see more mixed wheel size bikes hit the market running a 29" / 27.5" combo. That smaller rear wheel helps give shorter riders more butt to tire clearance, and lets marketers keep using the word 'playful' in their ad copy, while the bigger front wheel allows for better rollover and traction.
Shimano updated XTR, XT, SLX, and Deore over the last couple of years, which means Saint is up next. Hopefully. We saw a prototype derailleur
floating around at the tail end of the World Cup DH season, so something is clearly in the works.
Will it be a DH-only groupset, designed around a 7-speed cassette, or will there be options for riders who want to run a wider gearing range? Only time will tell.3. New Trek Session.
There have been rumblings about a new Session in the works, and considering the current version last received an update over three years ago, the timing makes sense. I'd imagine it would get a little longer - the reach on an XL is only 461mm - but will we see more than just the geo get tweaked? Maybe a design that doesn't look like a Session? 4. Declining DH bike sales.
Speaking of downhill bikes, riding one is about as fun as it gets, and we're planning on reviewing a whole bunch of them once the lifts open back up for bikes in 2021. But when it comes to justifying owning one, that's harder than ever, especially for riders that don't have any plans of racing. Today's enduro bikes can get riders safely down most tracks, and still be pedaled around on the days the shuttle truck is out of gas and the lifts aren't running.
There's also the fact that we're seeing more riders start peeking over into the electric world, and I have a feeling that those burly eMTBs are cannibalizing some potential DH bike sales.
2. Towards the end of 2021, I suspect we'll see some more innovation and new stuff.
Brian Park's Predictions
1. I'm still feeling pretty confident that bike sales will stay strong through 2021. Between the boom of individualist sports and some pent up demand, I see availability issues continuing through at least Q1 and Q2. I don't think we'll hear the word "closeout" until the fall of 2022.
I also think small, domestic, on-demand manufacturers will grow this coming year thanks to all the shortages through traditional overseas channels.
Everyone was focused on production and smoothing disruption in 2020.3. SRAM will answer back.
For quite a few years SRAM enjoyed entry-level drivetrain supremacy on the OE side, but this year Shimano's Deore and SLX have changed all that. It's unlikely that SRAM will let Shimano eat their lunch like this for long, and I'm sure they've been working hard on things. AXS was launched nearly two years ago, so it seems a safe bet that they've been working to drop that technology into their lower-priced offerings. We took a look at their cable-pulling wireless patent last month, but that seems like a stop-gap at best—maybe a cheap way to extend wireless down to the NX level without having to redo the whole drivetrain.
To truly take advantage of the AXS system, it'll require a redesign of the existing lineup and I'm predicting we'll see it at least down to the GX level in 2021. Then again, I thought that AXS suspension would land this year, so my track record in predicting SRAM is not great. Oh, and speaking of SRAM, is 2021 the year they take advantage of UDH?4. Racing will not proceed as it's scheduled today
, and at least a few of the tradeshows currently on the calendar will get postponed or canceled. Not exactly the boldest prediction, I know. So here's one— at least one tradeshow organization will run into financial trouble in 2021.5. A lot of marketing is going to be lame in 2021.
Everyone is selling everything they have right now, so product marketing and sports marketing will be down next year. The smart brands know they need to set themselves up for the long-term while there's money flowing into the sport, so they'll spend on R&D and brand marketing instead. But while the best brands will lift and inspire all the new riders who are taking up the sport to take them from fans of MTB to actual mountain bikers, the vast majority will go "okay, non-endemic audience equals condescending, over-the-top messaging—we know how to do that."
There will be a lot of feel-good stuff and lots of B-level trail bike "films" with grandiose voiceovers, while the most talented riders in the sport will struggle to get support for more ambitious projects. More really good riders will be forced to vlog about their parts sponsors.6. Aaron Gwin
gets back on the pointy end of the podium in 2021.7. Slopestyle competitions will continue their slide into irrelevance.
It's bittersweet, but did anyone miss them this year? To be honest, I think this one is a good thing because we should get more Matt MacDuff videos and Semenuk-style videos from the hugely talented crop of slopestyle riders instead. At our core, all we really want to see out of slopestyle is cool shit on bikes, and the competition aspect of slopestyle was always largely spectacle anyway. This way we can see creative stuff, on more creative courses, from riders who may or may not thrive under the pressure of competition.
Matt Wragg's Predictions
1. The Pandemic will change sponsorship deals. I know of at least one high profile downhiller that prefers to let his racing do the talking but who has found himself with a more exciting off-season than he hoped for. In these troubled times, it's a question of value. Without races for him to win this year, his usual output simply wasn’t enough to justify his racing salary, and facing a potentially troubled 2021 that left the brand staring down the barrel of a second year of massive investment with potentially little return.
This is a trend that has been increasing in recent years; there are very few riders who can get away with just being pure racers, and it goes back to that ole selling bikes nuts again. Brands are looking for riders who can help them sell bikes away from the racetrack and a year without much racing will have helped sharpen their focus on who is giving them bang for their bucks, and who isn’t.
Outside cycling, Tracksmith maybe showed the way
. They took on two new athletes this year, Mary Cain and Nick Willis, but rather than put them on standard athlete contracts they were taken on as employees with well-defined remits for the company. Yes, they will have time and space to continue to compete at a high level, but regardless of what happens on the track, their value to the company will be unequivocal and I think that kind of guaranteed return on investment will start to look more and more attractive. 2. We'll see more e-bikes in 2021
, with this winter feeling like a watershed moment for them. If you follow social media, surely you'll have seen more and more racers and riders embracing the eebs (I think I’m too old to say that word in public) and breaking down the stigma attached to them. Many riders who were skeptical a few years ago are letting go of the “it’s cheating” nonsense and admitting that regardless of how you want to classify an e-bike, that they’re fun as shit. I think seeing a rider like Kade Edwards describing it as his favourite bike is incredibly powerful, and it’s hard to see all those “he’s only saying that because he needs a paycheck” arguments lodged against him. Of course, more e-bikes getting sold will only exacerbate the sales disparity between e-bikes and regular bikes, but if we’re having fun, who cares?
Mike Levy's Predictions
1. Wheels will continue to be round in 2021, and your current mountain bike will continue to work just fine. Actually, better than fine if it was made within the last couple of years... This is handy because we'll also still see a relatively limited number of new bikes being available on showroom floors thanks to the pandemic messing with production cycles. And with the far (and near) future uncertain in a way that no one understands, it's a very scary time to be making the kinds of business decisions that could boom or bust a brand.
I suspect there will be plenty of well-founded caution when it comes to orders and manufacturing from Asia, which means fewer of the normal options consumers are used to seeing on showroom floors.
That'll cause two things to happen to bike sales in 2021. First, the PB Buy & Sell will continue to be on fire; it's a seller's market for anything with two wheels, decent suspension, and modern geometry, even if it's a season or two old. Secondly, if Giant, Specialized, Trek, or any other large companies can't fill your local shop's need to sell bikes, I foresee smaller, versatile brands with more flexible manufacturing schedules (and therefore bikes available to sell) to swoop in. 2. Onshore manufacturing will slowly grow
, spurred on by consumer demand and the inflexibility of traditional production and shipping. Here's the thing: we'll always value our outside time, no matter how we choose to spend it, and it seems like current events have only reminded everyone of that. In other words, the sport is growing, pandemic or not. Riders new and old are looking for bikes but all we're hearing is that ''It'll be at least a few more months...
With all the unpredictability of the past year, I suspect that a few small to mid-sized brands were looking into onshore manufacturing many months ago. If it works cost-wise, that'd provide them with more control of their products and timelines in an uncertain future. Not only that, forward-thinking manufacturing methods could reduce some of the costs usually associated with onshore production. Okay, maybe a bit optimistic, but who knows? Shimano responds. But so does SRAM.
Confusing, I know, but let me lay it out as I see it. SRAM's wireless AXS stuff has made Shimano's wired Di2 drivetrain look a bit Tandy TRS 80 versus iPhone 27. Then again, Di2 was already five years old when AXS came out in 2019, so I wouldn't be surprised if Japan debuted a new battery-powered drivetrain of their own to go up against it. Hopefully it doesn't have any annoying cables.
If you've read any review of any new Shimano drivetrain, you might know that it lets you shift under pedaling loads like an absolute meathead. That means a bit less thinking and a bit more power to the ground, and it's thanks to that Hyperglide+ stuff, which is essentially just how the chainplates and cassette teeth are shaped and how they mesh together. Shimano first put it to use on their latest XTR stuff, of course, but you'll also find it on their no-brainer, do everything, bargain of the year drivetrain, otherwise known as Deore, and it's shaded SRAM's entry-level options. But that's how this works; someone makes something better, and then someone else makes something betterer than that. I think we'll see SRAM be that someone in the future.Categorizing bikes become even more pointless
, but we'll still try to do it in 2021. The niches of our sport will always require niche machinery - downhill, cross-country race, fat bikes, and so on aren't going anywhere - but slotting them into orderly categories is a bit pedantic given how well rounded the modern ''mountain bike'' is becoming. I mean, what else do you call the Norco Optic, Ibis Mojo, Stumpy EVO and REGMO, Giant's Trance X, and many others? As my buddy Alan pointed out, everything's a mountain bike now.
This makes me feel a bit silly every time I categorize a bike I'm reviewing, but that's how we need to do it sometimes, especially when talking comparisons. Putting bikes into categories makes them easier for us to talk about and judge; just imagine how confusing the sales floor would be if you rang up your LBS looking for a new ride and the sales guys replied with, ''You looking for a Demo or a Supercaliber?
'' So yeah, sometimes it makes sense to call something a something.
What else will we see in the coming year? If there ends up being a race season in 2021, the greatest male downhiller of all time, Greg Minnaar, will win his 23rd (and maybe 24th?) World Cup
. My local shop tells me they sell more high-end e-bikes than they do high-end mountain bikes, and that gap will continue to grow regardless of how you or I feel about battery-powered bicycles
. Tradeshows in 2021? Definitely not in North America, but maybe in Europe
. Pinkbike in 2021? Last year was stuffed full of Field Tests, the Pinkbike Academy, Explainers videos, The Privateer, and a bunch of original content, but expect that to expand even further over the next twelve months.
While we're all hoping that the coming twelve months is brighter and safer for everyone than the previous year, it'd be foolish to say that the wider future is anything but unstable. Zooming in on our little sport, the Pinkbike crystal ball is showing hazy images of more e-bikes but fewer downhill bikes, a calendar of World Cup racing that's in question, and empty shop floors but very busy trails.
What do you think is in store for mountain biking in 2021?