What is the biggest mountain bike innovation of all time?

Singletracks Mountain Bike News, Reviews, MTB Trails and Community Protected: Forums Mountain Bike Forum What is the biggest mountain bike innovation of all time?

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    • #215669

      Internally among the Singletracks staff, we’ve debated the answer to this question so I know we’ll get a lot of different opinions here as well.

      What do you consider to be the biggest innovation in mountain biking history? Argue for any of the items on the list below, or add your own!

      • Front suspension
      • Rear suspension
      • Lightweight materials (carbon)
      • Drivetrains (1x, electronic shifting)
      • Fat tires (fat bikes, plus bikes)
      • Larger wheel diameters
      • More powerful brakes
      • Geometry/frame design
      • Helmet cameras
      • Dropper post
      • Suspension designs
    • #215679

      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.

    • #215680


      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.

    • #215682

      Dropper post is really the only thing invented for mountain biking, is it? Everything else is an adaptation of something that already existed elsewhere…

    • #215744

      I’d have to go with disc brakes. That was the biggest wow factor for me when upgrading from a rigid 80’s Trek. Dropper post is cool, but if I had to choose one or the other, definitely the discs.

    • #215800

      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.

      • #215819

        Front Suspension by a long wide margin



    • #215826

      I say the dropper post.    Internal routing is cosmetics as I’ve never heard of anyone getting injured because their cables got tangled on something.   Carbon is nice, but not mind blowing….to me anyways.

      Suspension is also up there somewhere.

    • #215831

      Tubeless tires can’t be overlooked. I could give up carbon, suspension, disc brakes. But no way I can go back to tubes. Sound crazy? Think about it.

    • #215964

      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.

    • #216007

      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.

    • #216271

      Great question!

      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.

    • #216283

      For me it’s the 29er wheel. They just feel so good.

      Suspension never really did it for me as i ride pretty conservatively and i can just use bigger tires with less pressure as an alternative.

      GPS is good and so are hydration packs.

    • #216284

      Game changers during my 30 years of mountain biking in no particular order:

      • Disc brakes
      • Clipless pedals
      • Front suspension
      • Rear suspension
      • Dropper posts
      • Aluminum alloy frames
      • Tubeless tires

      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.

      • #216286

        Raymond, your last paragraph is very insightful. Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

    • #217755

      As a newer rider living in Arizona, id say Tubeless tires. First Upgrade a bought for my bike was a dropper post. Its great and I use it all the time but its a just a quicker way to raise and lower your post.

      Second upgrade I made was to tubeless tires. My bike came With TR rimes but not tires. After puncturing 3 tires on my first 3 rides thanks to Burs and Cacti needles, I quit riding until I could get tubeless tires, (about a month). No flats since. I could use slime, or stans inside the tube but it doesn’t let me run the lower pressures I use for rocks and sand on the trails here.

      Third upgrade, clipless pedals. These have helped me with my climbing significantly but they create a bit of pressure that gets annoying during longer rides.

      Fourth upgrade will be to Carbon bars. Either today or tomorrow. I have enough reward points to get them “free”.

      So Tubless has been my best upgrade because I haven’t found and downside yet. Anything that will destroy tubeless will destroy tubes.

      From riding older and cheaper bike with bolt on wheels and Rim Breaks, to my new bike with through axles and Hydro disk brakes.

      Having ridden bikes with Bolt on and QR axles, I can admit that through axles are amazing because they line on the wheel perfectly everytine. Just needs micro adjustments for centering.

      Hydro disk brakes have been awesome as well for stopping power and reliability. But ive already had to top my brake fluid and buy new pads because they got oil on them.

      As a new MTB rider, thats my expirence with these innovations.

    • #217908

      Of all time, I’d probably have to say front suspension considering the vast majority of mountain bikes at least have a front suspension.  I’ve been to the Mtn. Bike Museum and Hall of Fame when it was in Crested Butte and looking and several of the early designs and ideas was like something out of the days of the Wright Bros.  I would also say that IMO the biggest innovation in the last 20 years are 29ers.  From my observations as a mid-western mtn. biker before 29ers was that mountain biking was a VERY stale industry in terms of innovations and attracting new riders.  Everybody I knew of were all into road riding and buying Trek road bikes to be like Lance Armstrong (my how things changed!).  Then came 29ers, I was in love at first sight, and apparently ALOT of others were too.  Suddenly, everybody seemed to be buying new 29er bikes, getting back into mtn biking or trying it for the first time.  Even friends who knew nothing about mountain bikes were talking about 29ers and interested.  Also, suddenly, the trails started getting MUCH busier with everyone trying out their new 29ers and talking/debating a lot about wheel size.  Ever since, it seems like mtn. bike innovations have kept coming fast and furious and interest has skyrocketed.  I think 29ers opened the door to how a major innovation could invigorate the industry and opened the door to (of course 27.5) and made the jump to fat bikes possible (IMO a close 2nd for best recent innovation).  The down side is that I don’t feel like quite the outsider/rebel in cycling for riding dirt, our local trails are jam packed with way more mtn bikers year round.  It’s kind of like watching your favorite underground band go mainstream and hit the big time.  Still, I’m happy to see it and eagerly await the next latest and greatest innovation!

    • #218962

      If I have to pick one and one only, it’s definitely front suspension. That was a major game changer. Crazy to think that minimal travel Mag 21 could change my life so much 🙂

    • #219019

      Nothing has given me more confidence on the trail and encouraged me to ride faster and harder than disc brakes. Not having to worry about if I can stop or if my brakes are going to overheat makes mountain biking safer and more fun than any other improvement in my opinion.

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