Trendspotting: 4 Predictions Concerning the Close to Way forward for Mountain Bike Tech

Let’s put aside all the talk of parts shortages, sold out everything, and focus on what’s likely coming down the pipeline in the near and not-so-near future. Sure, it might be a little trickier to purchase the bike of your dreams right now, but that doesn’t mean companies have paused development – if anything, they’re busy trying to figure out exactly how many new widgets to order for 2023 and 2024, an especially challenging task given the current situation.

New standards? More mullets? 13-speed drivetrains? It’s time for another look into the crystal ball to try and figure out what trends are going to stick, and which ones will fade away.

More Mixed-Wheel Bikes

Mixed wheel bikes have existed since the early days of the sport, but 2019 saw the concept come back to life on both the World Cup downhill and Enduro World Series circuits. In some instances, it seemed to act like a way to justify running a 29” front wheel without losing any street cred after talking smack about the bigger wheel size (*cough* Bruni *cough*), while in other cases it allowed smaller riders to retain tire-to-tuchus clearance and still have at least one 29” wheel.

Proponents of the concept pushed it as a best-of-both worlds type scenario, some magical combination of wheel diameters that made everthing else pale in comparison. That’s obviously not the case, but it does look like the mixed wheel option is going to have a longer shelf life than plus size tires did…

Three years after the mixed wheel re-animation, where does it fit into the mix? Well, in the downhill world it’s become a fairly common option. The new Trek Session, Commencal Supreme DH, Santa Cruz V10, Specialized Demo, and Canyon Sender all have a mixed wheel option, to name a few.

It’s also become a fairly common sight on eMTBs, largely because a smaller rear wheel makes it a lot easier to keep the chainstays to a manageable length, something that can be a challenge when you’re also trying to have room for a motor and a battery.

What about on bikes with less travel? Mixed wheel bikes popping up with increasing regularity, although in many cases its being done to replace a 27.5″ model. YT’s new Capra comes to mind. That way companies can spec the same fork and front wheel on more models, which reduces the number of different products they need to order.

My crystal ball says that’s not going to change too dramatically in the future either. Yes, there will be plenty of mixed wheel bikes hitting the market in the coming months, typically with 150mm or more rear travel, but it’s not going to be anything like the year that bike companies were tripping over each other to switch every model over to 29″ wheels. If anything, there will be fewer 27.5” bikes released, with mixed wheel setups taking their place in companies’ lineups.

High Pivot Hype Continues

If the mixed wheel trend is simmering, the kettle of high pivot hype is at a rolling boil. It’s almost harder to name a company that’s not working on a high pivot enduro or downhill bike of some kind, if they haven’t released one already. Trek joined the party earlier this year with the new Session, and images recently surfaced of what looks like an idler pulley on a Specialized Demo.

Prototypes from Devinci, Norco, GT, and Cannondale have all been spotted over the last few months, so it’s not a stretch to expect this summer and fall to have a bumper crop of idler-equipped machines.

What’s fueling the high pivot fire? Well, some of it may be a fear of being left behind – if high pivot bikes are getting podiums and ‘regular’ bikes aren’t, well, might as well stick on an idler and see what happens. There’s obviously more to it than that, though. High pivot designs create a more rearward axle path, which in turn can make it easier to maintain speed in rough terrain. We’ve seen several different way of approaching this design – some bikes have higher main pivots than others, some use a single pivot layout, some use a Horst Link – but at the end of the day the goal remains the same: to create a bike that doesn’t get hung up on obstacles and has minimal pedal kickback for a smooth, controlled ride.

Similar to the mixed wheel trend, I’d expect the high pivot designs to remain on gravity-focused bikes. That’s partially because of the inherent drag that comes with adding another pulley wheel onto a drivetrain. That extra friction isn’t that big of a deal if your focus is on having the best run possible when gravity takes over, but it’s more of an issue if you’re heading out for a multi-hour pedal fest. There’s also the added weight that comes from the design – those grams are harder to swallow when they’re on a lighter XC or trail bike.

eMTB Evolution – Lighter & Less Powerful vs Bigger, Full Power Options

At this point pretty much every large company has at least a few e-bikes in their lineup, which means that the smaller brands are up next. I wouldn’t waste too much time shedding tears over the fact that your favorite ‘core’ brand is sipping the e-Kool Aid either – bike sales may be booming, but there’s no guarantee it’ll last, so it makes sense for companies to diversify with at least one electric option.

Are non-motorized bikes going to go the way of the dodo? Despite the claims of ferverent e-acolytes to the contrary, the answer is a resounding “no.” Look at it this way – people still willingly choose running as their preferred means of outdoor recreation, and just think of how many easier ways there are to get around. Sure, some riders may fully cross over to e-bikes, but I see it more as a supplement to the sport rather than something that’ll completely take over. Mountain biking is already expensive, and when you add a motor and battery it starts to get even less attainable, especially for people who aren’t dedicated enthusiasts.

Returning to the eMTB trends, I think we’ll start to see a split, with lighter less powerful bikes emerging on one side, and full power, extra-beefy machines on the other. Personally, I’d choose a full power, long travel machine over a lighter, less powerful one, but we’ll have to see how Specialized’s Kenevo SL does compared to their Levo to really see what the market wants. I do think that the lighter eMTB concept makes sense for shorter travel trail bikes, something like the Orbea Rise, where it can deliver a much more ‘normal’ feel while allowing riders to go further, faster.

We’ll have to see where battery technology end up – there’s certainly plenty of research being done in that area by car and electronics manufacturers. Maybe someday it won’t be necessary to choose between light and not-so-powerful or heavy and very powerful, but that looks to be the reality for the near future.

Drivetrains – More Electronics, New Designs

Now that SRAM and Shimano both offer a full range of 12-speed drivetains, I don’t think we’re going to see any 13-speed drivetrains any time soon from either company, so those pitchforks can stay in the shed for now. There also doesn’t seem to be much news coming from the gearbox world, so I think the idea of a wide range gearbox that uses a trigger shifter and works under load is going to remain a pipedream for the near future.

What’s much more likely is that Shimano will enter the wireless world, a prediction that’s bolstered by the patents they were granted earlier this year. Plus, their Di2 groupsets are overdue for an update, and it’d be odd if the next generation kept its wires, especially considering that SRAM has already trickled down their wireless drivetrain down to the GX level.

Speaking of SRAM, it looks like they have something up their sleeve too, likely tied to the introduction of that Universal Derailleur Hanger. Once again, this speculation is fueled by patent images, and there’s no clear timeline as to when we might see something new.

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