You’d think as MBT’s in-house mechanic I’d be giddy about any gizmo, do-dad and gadget that comes along with the promise of making the experience of riding a mountain bike more enjoyable. Not so! At least, not so much lately. This revelation came to me recently on a test ride where the bike in question presented so many cockpit tuning options that I felt like a fighter pilot in Top Gun. “Talk to me Goose”.
So we have all of the usual trappings, the shifters, the front and rear brake levers, you know, the staples that have been around for countless years. Next to these there was a bar-mounted switch designed to stiffen or loosen up the suspension on the fly through one of three settings. The “softest” of these was essentially allowing the suspension’s damping circuits to flow oil freely, the “stiffest” basically being locked out. Neat, right?
Next to this switch was a button to control the dropper seat post. Everyone knows it’s crucial these days to have a seat riding up your crack on the climbs but slammed into the seat-stay once the front tire starts to point downward. This is common knowledge circa 2013 onward.
Now down below me there could be found a small red lever at the top of the shock’s air canister. This little booger controls three specific modes of shock operation on the fly- there is a position for maximum damping called “descending mode”, a stiff mode for smooth trails and pavement and finally an in-the-middle setting for trails. I think I have it in the middle mode. But it may have gotten bumped forward because that last g-out felt pretty darn jarring.
Now beneath the shock is a little gizmo that looks like two more shocks stuck together. These are in fact special bushings that drive and alter the position of the main pivot on the fly. From how I understand it, it allows engineers to tune the bike’s anti squat and leverage ratio curve independently. Look at you, cleaning my clock on that old single-pivot. You may be faster but I’ll bet mine was more expensive!
This all got me thinking about how silly it is that we’re endlessly inventing new high-dollar tech designed to make something that is inherently fun a whole lot more, well, fun. I’ve noticed a bizarre pattern with this reasoning. You have 3” of travel, right? So huffing along at a nice cadence on your favorite rooty single-track is challenging and exciting. You get bored and upgrade to 5”. Now suddenly that same trail is like riding on smooth pavement. So your own choice is to find a more difficult trail to recapture some of that challenge and excitement. You do so only to get smoked by some guy on 6” of travel and a dropper post. Your only choice is to upgrade to hang. You do so but now that trail feels like riding on pavement. You get the idea.
The industry is currently riding this wave on tire size to no end. Once the diameter debates finally started to cool down, it was off to width. If 2.10” of width is good, then 2.5 must be better. And if 2.5 is better, 3” must be amazing. I mean, we already have fat bikes so at least there is a limit to how far this will go but does anyone think maybe these new must-have specs just may be more about making people buy things over again to fix what wasn’t really broken in the first place?
The cynic in me starts to realize something. Durability these days is good. Impressively good. So whereas in years past companies could count on your business in replacing things that broke, bent, snapped or twisted, now it takes reinventing the wheel (literally) to get you to go buy a new frame, fork, hub, etc. And if you enjoy spending your money on the sport we all love, who am I to complain? I get caught up in it too. I’ve been looking for a 1x drive-train on my next bike.
I guess where I get a little grumpy is that I hear a lot of fresh snobbery of late. “You still have a Horst Link driven 8x3 26” trail bike? How retro!” That’s when the core of what mountain biking is all about gets blurred out by corporate agenda nonsense. A carbon framed 27.5+, 1x12 drive-train with a dropper post and 150ml of travel is not the only way to get out and enjoy the trails. I assure you of this.
To me, part of what’s always made mountain biking superior to road riding was the lack of snobbery. Never forget that the sport was literally born of hippies sliding worthless WWII era Scwinns down the side of a mountain. Telling them that a $7,000 bike was the only way to get out there and enjoy the dirt would have been crazy talk. The day it stops becoming crazy talk is when we’re in serious trouble.
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