Mountain biking is still a relatively young sport, and how and what we ride is still changing pretty rapidly. Along with fashion changes (the fall then return of full face helmets, downhill racers flirting dangerously with UCI’s spandex prohibition, everything being made of carbon then the return of alloy) the last decade saw some pretty big changes.
Which 11 had the biggest impact on how we ride our bikes in the woods? Read on. Then tell us why we’re wrong in the comments.
Whatever your opinion on eMTB’s, they are here and, with how rapidly their popularity is growing, they are here to stay. In fact, as battery and
engine motor designs develop, they’re starting to look quite a bit like normal mountain bikes. There’s still no resolution to questions about how eMTB changes land access, with only a patchwork set of rules forming regulating where they can and can’t be ridden.
The idea for dropper posts has existed for almost as long as mountain bikes, when Joe Breeze and Josh Angell released the Hite-Rite. After a brief period in the spotlight, the idea faded for a decade, until it was revived as the Gravity Dropper in the early 2000s. Droppers gained momentum through that decade, but it was RockShox Reverb’s release in 2010 that cemented them as a mainstreat technology. Since then, they’ve spread to XC and even gravel, apparently, changing bike design along the way. From the early days of tempestuous, failure prone designs, they’ve also become more reliable and, lately, wireless.
1x drivetrains and clutch rear derailleurs
Riders had been making – or unmaking – their own 1x drivetrains before it became an official thing marketed by companies. All it required was taking the chainring off, which didn’t really require a ton of effort. But, with the advent of wide range cassettes and, crucially, clutch rear derailleurs, it became possible to have a functionally wide gear range without worrying about dropping your chain all the time. It was all the encouragement many riders needed to ditch finicky front derailleurs once and for all.
Land access and mountain bike tourism
While towns like Moab and Fruita have been mountain bike destinations for decades, and Whistler led the way for bikepark style tourism, the idea of towns accepting – and embracing – mountain biking as a form of recreation tourism really gained momentum in the 2010’s. Some towns were ahead of this curve, but now small towns across B.C. and Quebec are hiring trail builders – instead of prosecuting them – and pushing themselves as riding destinations.
The rise of Enduro
Enduro racing is the newest discipline of mountain bike racing, and it has quickly changed how and where people ride, as well as the bikes they’re riding on. Longer travel trail bikes are now light enough to pedal up, and incredibly capable on the descents. It’s made consumers much more willing to accept heavier bikes that can take this increased level of abuse. There’s still Olympics-bound XCO racers building sub-20 lbs full suspension bikes, but your average rider is happy with something that weighs a bit more to get a much more capable bike. Oh, and every descent on your next group ride is now a race.
Bike design has changed dramatically over the last ten years, with “long, low and slack” going from a marketing slogan to mainstream. This change is partially a result of dropper posts, the popularity of enduro racing, and even the more recent changes in XCO course design, but it is definitely making bikes more capable and more fun to ride.
Strava (a.k.a. “STRAAAAAVVVAAAAAAA”)
Strava launched in late 2009, at the tail end of the last decade, but its impact on how people ride could be one of the biggest changes in the last 10 years. Rider’s now track and share everything from daily rides to races and, occasionally, the location of secret military bases around the world. Oops. That’s not the only objection some riders have to Strava, but there’s no sign that social fitness site is going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, it keeps growing faster.
GPS navigation is essential to Strava, but it’s not the same. Accurate mobile GPS mapping has made it much easier to get around unfamiliar trail networks, whether you go home and tell the internet about your ride or not. The popularization of GPS has made Trailforks possible, it helps you get home when you get a little lost in the woods, and it helps you find that cool new trail everyone’s talking about.
The growth of, and media attention to women’s mountain biking
Women’s cross country racing has always been popular, especially in Canada. Riders Alison Sydor led the way early on, and Canadians have been at the front end of international XC racing since. Lately, though, there’s been a big surge in women’s mountain biking across the board, with events like Crankworx pushing equal podiums, Formation, Casey Brown, and the Women’s Freeride Tour pushing freeride mountain biking, and enduro and downhill on the racing front. Programs like Fast and Female, Ride Like A Girl and Dirt Girls are helping to make the next generation of female mountain bikers feel welcome in the sport.
Safety is cool again! Sports across the board are starting to take concussion prevention more seriously, finally. Crashing is an inevitable and regular part of mountain biking, so seeing helmet companies start taking brain health seriously is good. While they were expensive when they were first introduced, helmets with some form of concussion prevention are actually getting affordable. Some MIPS-equipped helmets are dipping below $100 Canadian, meaning its no longer a choice between cost and investing in your long term health.
Boost spacing (and SuperBoost)
While it was much maligned when it launched, Boost has definitely changed bike design since its introduction. It’s now a defacto industry standard, for now and aside from SuperBoost 157 proponents. The changes to fame design aren’t as obvious, but it’s made frames and wheels stronger, which is good, right?
What’s next and what missed the mark?
The above are far from the only changes mountain biking has seen over the last ten years, but they’re the ones that have had the biggest impact. Other technologies are just starting to gain momentum. Tire inserts have quickly gained popularity, especially in gravity oriented disciplines, but they’ve yet change how tires or wheels are designed. They have changed some race results, though, and kept many group rides going instead of ending early with a flat tire.
At the other end, Fox’s Live Valve is an impressive feat of engineering, but hasn’t gained much momentum since its release. Electronic shifting has been slow on the uptake as well. While Shimano’s Di2 XTR and SRAM’s more recent AXS wireless shifting both made waves upon their release, they’re still not something the majority of riders are considering buying.
Fatbikes had a big moment in the 2000s, when they were maybe overhyped by brand marketing departments. After fatbikes were prematurely declared dead, they’ve undergone a slow resurgence across the winter-bound Canadian provinces and territories (i.e. all of them) where they extend the riding season year-round.
Mullet bikes – 29″ front matched with a 27.5″ rear wheel – came flying out of the gates in 2019, but its yet to be seen whether that will be a lasting change or just a fad in enduro and downhill. Some early adopters are already starting to switch back.
What else? What has changed your riding experience the most in the last ten years?