Evolving Bike Standards

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.

Xan Marshland reviews the Ventana Zeus for Blister Gear Review
Xan Marshland, Colorado Springs.

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.

Blister Gear Review Topic of the Week - Trail Bikes: Short Travel vs. Long Travel
Tom Collier, Whistler, BC.

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.

7 comments on “Evolving Bike Standards”

  1. Great article. Fully sold on the 1x, but I did not know manufacturers are designing bikes around the 1x. What bikes are designed around a 1x drivetrain?

  2. Great article! I’m not a luddite, but very expensive change has been happening at a pace that is turning me off. Or maybe, it is that MTB’s big advancements have been made and now “upgrades” are relatively minor, but still $$$.

    Specialized is (in)famous for “Innovate or Die”, and it looks like a lot of the bike companies are bought in to this line of thought. Is that because innovation can net marketshare? Or is because the Asian “catalog” products are duplicating existing designs (and lowering costs) at a faster rate?

    In the bike industry’s defense, and unlike 10 years ago, almost all quality bikes are now great. The base components are great. The geometry is great. Deore level bikes can be very capable now. Maybe we are driving change to make our bikes more greater-er! And always find a way to pay for it.

    On a side note, I recently had an option for carbon rims, but went aluminum. I don’t want to huck my meat into a boneyard on a 10k bike. Nor do I want 10k hanging off the back of my car. I just want to ride and think only about the 20 feet in front of me.

  3. I think it’s important to remember something: 15 years ago, mountain bikes were really, really crappy.

    Today, your average rider can walk into any shop that sells Giant, drop under $2k (MSRP is actually lower than indicated on the website) and walk out with one of these: http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-us/bikes
    It’s not just a good bike, it’s a bike that will embarrass anything that’s more than 3-5 years old from any manufacturer. It’ll ride better and be way, way, way more fun. Probably faster as well, if you care about that. Spend more? It’ll be even better, though as usual there’s a case of diminishing returns as the price tag gets bigger.

    Yes, new standards can get annoying. You might be forced to upgrade your old, clapped out Stumpjumper from 2001 because finding a fork, hubs, a drivetrain, or whatever else to fit is next to impossible. Have you tried updating an iPhone 4 to iOs 9? Here’s a hint: you can’t and if you want today’s bikes to be as good as they can be, your Y2K POS bike has to go.

    I’m firmly of the belief that until roughly 2005, no bike company out there really had decent engineers, designers, or anyone other than excellent marketing people hired on as employees. Garage-level engineers, sure, but no one competent and it showed in terms of the crap they put out. Bikes got so bad that I (along with others I know) stopped riding. It wasn’t fun anymore. We witnessed a whole bunch of crap get put out and tested by consumers, the result of which was pissed off buyers and sales going down the drain. Today? Bike sales seem to be better, more people are cycling, and the chances of walking into a bike store and walking out with a bike that’ll end up sucking are pretty damn low. If we’ve got emerging standards and rapid product cycles to thank for that, I’m OK with it.

    I do wish bike companies took more time to fail in-house before releasing finished, ready-to-go versions of product to consumers. The 20 X 110 to 15 X 100 to 15 X110 axle debacle is a great example of something that should have NEVER happened and that proper design and development would have caught. Boost 148? Same thing. Forethought, it seems, is still something that most bike companies lack…

  4. I’ve got a 2011 Specialized Stumpjumper Elite. I love it. When I bought it, its “big innovation” was going to 2 gears in front — my 2002 Stumpy had three gears and worked just fine. My 2011 Stumpy has 26″ wheels. When I got it, if I recall, mostly Gary Fisher was pushing 29″ wheels, and no 27″-ers were even on the market. I’m perfectly happy with 26″. I’ve never understood why the purported trade-off to larger diameter wheels — more forward momentum but less agility in tight turns? — was actually worth it. But if I had $10 for every time someone in a bike shop has told me that I “must get” a taller wheel bike, I probably could have purchased one by now!

    The one “innovation” that probably added the most to the cost of my bike was the secondary “brain” shock in the rear. Yes, my bike is smooth in the bumps, but I’m not sure that its because of that shock. The 2011 is lighter than the 2002 (which is now my son’s bike), and that’s good. The front fork is a bit slacker: better on downhill, but a bit more labor on uphill. Honestly, the one “innovation” that I’ve gotten the most out of is one I added myself: I upgraded to Shimano XTR clipless pedals.

  5. The 26″ wheels were great, but I did find them a bit (way too) slow, all that effort into pedaling for diminishing speeds.
    29″ was a huge jump for my weak legs so 27.5″ is the Goldilocks fit for me.

Leave a Comment