The bike industry has always been a haven for inventors and tinkerers, and over the years, we’ve seen a vast number of innovations hit the market—some more successful than others.
Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about a variety of new products and new standards, all of which supposedly will make our riding experience better.
So what’s Blister’s take on all of this? Are these revolutionary new products that will change the way we ride? Are they evolutionary changes that improve on some of our favorite parts? Or are we looking at products that are new purely for the sake of being new, that don’t actually offer much of any improvement to the average rider? We weigh in, and we look forward to hearing your thoughts, too.
Q: Of the new products, standards, and innovations that have hit the market recently, do any stand out as being game changers? Anything that’s “Revolutionary” rather than simply “Evolutionary?”
Noah Bodman: I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call any of the recent innovations “revolutionary” in the sense that it’s brand new technology that has never been thought of before, and it’s changing the way I ride. But I do think that 1x drivetrains are shaking things up a bit.
Getting rid of the front derailleur means that frame designers can get away with shorter stays, and they don’t have to jump through any hoops to provide an attachment point for the derailleur.
And in addition to that, having the chain run at a more-or-less fixed distance from the bottom bracket (since most 1x bikes are designed around a 32 tooth ring), the suspension can be designed to be a bit more efficient. In the past, suspension designs and linkage layouts were always somewhat of a compromise between the path that the chain follows around the small granny ring and a larger chainring. On newer bikes that are designed around a 1x setup, while there are still some compromises, the inefficiencies can be minimized to some extent, which ultimately translates into better pedaling efficiency.
So while this isn’t revolutionary in the same way that (for instance) the introduction of suspension forks changed the mountain bike market, I do think 1x drivetrains are helping to take frame design in a good direction.
But the best thing about 1x drivetrains?
They are largely backwards compatible: you could put a XX1 setup on your ten year old bike. Yes, you’d need a new driver body for your hub, which is somewhat inconvenient. But that new drivetrain will more or less work on any existing frame.
Xan Marshland: Suspension is a great example of something that was revolutionary, but I can’t think of any advancements since then that are anything more than a modified version of something we’ve already seen.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been huge progress, of course. We’ve been constantly tweaking and reinventing mountain bike design for over 30 years now, and this process has resulted in some awesome products that are noticeably better than their predecessors. But development tends to occur in a traceable, gradual evolution rather than in a series of revolutions.
As for something that qualifies as ‘game changing,’ the first thing that comes to mind is the dropper post. They’re not a super recent invention, but in recent years, they’ve become available in a variety of configurations from a ton of manufacturers, and have become much more of a standard component on a wide selection of bikes.
They might not have opened up new opportunities in design, but these things have done more to change my experience out on the trail than any other individual product out there. And what’s more ‘game changing’ than something that truly changes your riding experience?
Marshal Olson: The four biggest components in recent memory that have impacted the overall rider experience have to be:
(1) super high performance modern suspension, (2) the 1x drivetrain allowing for much more refinement to how full suspension bikes ride by fixing the chainring size to a small % variation, (3) dropper seatposts reaching acceptable durability and weight, and (4) the refinements to modern tubeless tires over the past few seasons. There is minimal to no weight penalty with modern tubeless tires, and they are approaching flat-proof. When I first got into mountain bikes, basically every ride had one rider in a group of four getting a flat. Now I see single-digit flats in 120-150 days a year of riding.
Tasha Heilweil: I would say the most innovative technologies after the advent of tunable suspension are dropper posts and tubeless tires. In my mind, these are revolutionary components, completely changing how a bike can be ridden. Both did more than tweak the standard to increase performance (tapered head tubes made a huge difference in terms of fork capability and stiffness, but were more of a tweak than a revolutionary design).
Tubeless systems decrease flats and allow tires to be run at sub-25 psi, vastly improving grip. And Xan hit the nail on the head: dropper posts have changed how bikes can be ridden. Both of these innovations were consumer driven in terms of remedying actual problems.
Tom Collier: The only change that has been revolutionary for me is the dropper post. It changes when I stop in rides. No longer do I always stop at the top of descents, I can now flow through a trail and quickly raise and lower my seat to match the terrain. I can also now always have a low seat even on very short technical descents, where I wouldn’t previously have taken the time to stop and drop the seat.
Everything else, recent suspension changes, 1x drivetrains, tubeless tires, bigger axles, etc. have certainly improved my riding experience, but they are definitely evolutionary changes.
NEXT: Wheel sizes, “Boost”, Etc.