Now that this year’s tradeshows are over, we have a pretty clear picture of where the cycling industry is taking us. From Sea Otter, Eurobike, Interbike and dozens of product launches along the way, here’s my take on where mountain biking is heading.
1. Plus rolls onward
Two years ago fat bikes crowded the tradeshow halls, but their time has come and gone. While their heyday may have passed, their influence on the market remains — many mountain bikers now have a taste for fatter, if not fully fat, tires.
Plus bikes in various diameters have grown in popularity this year. Nearly every company has a 27.5+ hardtail in its line, many also have 27.5+ full suspension as well.
The mid-sized 27.5+ platform owes its widespread acceptance to the fact that the size often fits nicely into 29er frames and forks. Companies can offer one model with two wheelsizes. Santa Cruz has capitalized on this by offering the Hightower and Tallboy in 29er and 27.5+ versions.
In a similar fashion, 26x3in tires can be squeezed into many frames designed around 27.5in wheels.This smaller plus size is still pretty niche, at least for now. Although it seems to be gaining ground.
Jamis has a line of women’s hardtails designed around 26+ and Rocky Mountain teased the fact that its new enduro bike, the Slayer, is compatible with 26x3in wheels and tires.
2. Elevated chainstays — function over form
This trend is a direct result of trying to shoehorn plus-sized tires into frames while keeping the chainstay length in check.
Trek’s 29+ hardtail, the Stache, started this trend a few years ago. While it might look like the reasons for the design are quite different, many early mountain bikes resorted to this design because the drivetrains at the time were prone to chainsuck. Moving the chainstay out of the way was a Band-Aid fix for the issue, but it worked.
The motivation behind today’s elevated chainstay designs is different. It’s all about packaging. The chainstays, chainring and rear tire are all vying for space. It’s like there’s a land grab going on just behind your bottom bracket!
Cosmetically speaking, Salsa’s Woodsmoke may not be the belle of the ball, but this quirky hardtail can accommodate 29+, 27.5+ and standard 29er rubber thanks to interchangeable dropouts and an elevated chainstay design that keeps the rear respectably short.
Yeti Cycles followed suit with a similar design for the new SB5+. This 27.5+ full suspension also uses elevated stays to gain clearance without resorting to the rangy chainstays.
3. All “adventure” all the time
“Adventure” is the buzzword of the year. This trend may go hand in hand with the growth of plus bikes, but is certainly not limited to them. “Have bags will travel” seems to be the industry mantra at the moment.
Until this year, custom bag makers dominated the bikepacking market. But not wanting to miss out on the action, larger bike companies are now developing bags that are purpose-built for their models. Specialized introduced a line for the new Sequoia touring bike and Giant has developed the Scout line of bikepacking bags to fit its frames.
My personal favorite new product in this category is Porcelain Rocket’s dropper-compatible seat bag.
4. Big data comes to mountain biking
Data acquisition is becoming a much more significant part of the development process for many companies.
Renthal is developing a GPS telemetry-based system to measure flex in its handlebars. The goal is to take testing out of the lab and into the real-world in order to design handlebars that are strong without being too harsh — a problem many riders have encountered with 35mm diameter handlebars.
Another key advancement in real-world data wrangling is the advent of suspension set-up technologies. SRAM acquired Shockwiz earlier this year and rolled into the Quarq family of data acquisition products.
When installed, this handy little device transmits information about your suspension’s performance to a smartphone-based app, allowing the rider to make more educated suspension adjustments.
5. XC goes aggro
Last and certainly not least on this list of this year’s mountain bike trends is the progression toward longer, slacker, more capable cross-country race bikes. Yes, all mountain bikes in general are getting this treatment, but this is where it really makes a difference.
If you’ve watched a world cup cross-country race recently, or observed the carnage on the Olympic mountain bike course in Rio, you understand that cross-country racing has become a lot more technically demanding.
Weight and speed still matter, but steeper, more challenging courses have called for a new breed of race bike. One, coincidentally, that’s also more fun to ride on your local trails.
Take for example Rocky Mountain’s revamped Element. This 29er race bike sports 100mm in the back, but boasts 120mm upfront supplied by Fox 34 or RockShox Pike, depending on the build. Best of all, it also comes with a dropper seatpost.
The new Scott Spark is another example of a cross-country race bike that blurs the line between trail and XC. It comes in versions with 29 and 27.5in wheels, the latter sports 120mm of front and rear suspension.