That’s a tough one. I feel like everything has been a small incremental change over time. Often driven by racers and trails getting more technical/demanding.
My vote is for fat tires though as it really was a pretty “out there” concept when introduced, especially upon their first induction before the main stream. Come to think of it, tire technology has been a huge innovation in the sport as well. Can you imagine if we still used the same tire compounds and treads that were manufactured 20-30 years ago?
I personally absolutely love riding my fatty whether it be rain or shine, snow or dry. It’s incredibly capable. Not fast, but the traction gained is phenomenal over a standard width tire.
yeah, tough. Biggest innovation? I’ll vote for suspension “in general.”….but I suspect it was more of a “borrowing” (vs innovation) from the motocross world.
Biggest dud? Internal cable routing. WTF do I need to fish dropper ,shifting and brake lines from inside my frame!? -They were perfectly fine outside! I never had any issues….. and they looked just fine, thank you very much.
I’d say the suspension fork. It changed how we could ride roots & rocks and opened up alot of trails for the commoner. It paved the way to producing full-suspension bikes as well. I can still ride a hardtail on many trails but I don’t think I’d want to fully-rigid.
But Maarten T has a good point. Dropper posts are unique to mountain biking.
A front fork with proper platform damping and lockout is a real game changer, so definitely #1! The difference between one of these and a cheap pogo stick spring fork, or a rigid fork is huge. Disc brakes is #2.
Hands down it gearing and big tires, but combined. Gearing from road and touring bikes paired with big tires made dirt with hills possible. Alone each of these is incremental but when they were both on the same bike it opened up cycling to terrain that was just out of the question before……
Unless I am completely off the rails and these two created mountain biking so the question only covers items beyond this. Now I’m lost.
Fine, I vote craft beer! Craft beer has been the best thing to happen to biking, camping, hammocks, deck and patios… well just about everything but work has been made better by craft beer.
THE Gaia GPS that I use to get out on the singletrack. Lol. It changed everything for me. Oh and um, I love the suspension on the front of my hardtail but… Gaia, gets me to the places that are hidden away and untouched by the masses. I guess any GPS mapping is okay, but I like what Gaia has done for my experience on my MTB. Access to all the trails is the game changer for me. It is truly endless.
Game changers during my 30 years of mountain biking in no particular order:
Aluminum alloy frames
Furthermore, a particular trend/riding style that had the biggest impact for me was Freeriding of the late 90’s-early 00’s. It was first time that bikes and components were designed to take a beating with weight concerns taking a back seat. It was also not about racing. Finally, I could ride bikes and components that didn’t break every other second beneath me. I could laugh at the fools who still worshiped at the over-priced ultra light flimsy XC alters. It paved the way for the All Mountain and Enduro bikes of today.