After a year of testing and covering the latest mountain bike releases, Matt and Jeff discuss their favorites and talk about trends for 2022 and beyond.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Matt and I are going to be talking about our favorite mountain bikes of 2022 and also we’re going to talk about all the other bikes that were released in 2022. How are you feeling about the bikes this year Matt?
Pretty good. You know, it’s another year of like new bike releases and everything. And we got on a pretty strong handful. They continued to evolve, I think, in some ways, less meaningful than others. But it seems like the ball is still rolling in the right direction.
Every year for the last two or three years is like, oh, this is a weird year. And I think that’s probably a good label for this year as well. We’re still feeling a lot of the effects of the supply chain stuff and things getting pushed back and pushed around.
Looking at the bikes I tested this year, it was an unusual year. I tested some bikes that were kind of out there and ones that maybe I wouldn’t have tested in a normal year given easier access. But yeah, we did ride some good bikes this year. So what were some of your favorites of the bikes that you tested in 2022?
So I think I had two favorites overall, but first I’ll list all the bikes I tested this year. It was a little bit later this year — I think June — that I started getting some bikes in to review. I had the newer or the second generation Santa Cruz Megatower in, and then shortly after that the second generation Fezzari La Sal Peak.
I went to a press camp with Pivot and rode their new Shuttle e-bikes, long travel and then the short travel. We rode the Allied BC40, their new cross-country bike, in Arkansas.
And lastly, I had the Trek Fuel EX, which was updated this year to be a little longer and a little bigger. If I could pick two favorites, I think I would pick the Trek Fuel EX and the Allied BC40 that we rode in Arkansas.
So what was it about the Fuel EX? Had you ridden the Fuel before that? That bike has been around for a long time, and it’s probably one of Trek’s best selling mountain bikes. So were familiar with it before?
Familiar, yes. The last Trek I rode was their… I don’t think it was the first generation of the Remedy, but it was the first generation of the Remedy 29er. And I owned one of those a couple years, it’s probably been like five or six years, something like that. And I think it was 140/140mm of travel front and rear. And so at that time, it was kind of like that was like a long-travel 29er, when they were figuring out how to put that kind of suspension together with with 29-inch wheels. But now funnily enough, the Trek Fuel EX fits that that travel category, because it’s a 29er and now 140mm rear with a 150mm fork. The Top Fuel kind of just sunk into like a cross-country trail category a little bit more.
But yeah, it’s good to get on another Trek and kind of feel what the latest version is like.
As I recall we we got that bike pretty close to the launch, but they had to like, kind of piece it together with random parts that they were able to find. Was the build that you tested pretty close to one of the builds that they have on offer?
I remember them saying that, but I don’t think it’s any different than their 9.8 build. All the components are pretty much the same. Like we were talking about supply and inventory a minute or two ago, the one constraint that companies still seem to have is still limited supply in some areas. So for this one I would have asked for a size medium but they only had a medium-large and so they sent the medium-large. Great review either way, but definitely still a tad too big for me.
Is that a bike that you could see yourself owning? And if you did own it, like, would it kind of take the place of a lot of your bikes? Could it be your main bike?
Yeah, that’s one of the points I was making in the review is that it’s super impressive. And I guess 140mm of travel is still kind of that sweet spot. You can do a lot of things, like you can go on a 20-30 mile ride with it, and it’s not going to beat your up. The geometry of it is aggressive enough to where the travel is going to be the only limitation on really technical trails. It was really outstanding.
One takeaway for me was just the ride feel of the bike in that it had a really stiff frame, and a really supple suspension. Great suspension kinematics. Anytime you get a suspension platform that laid out really well with a really stiff frame, it just feels like it picks up speed and carries it so well. So yeah, I would definitely buy one.
The other factor that goes into choosing this as a favorite bike is that they make a lot of different builds. They make an aluminum version, so it’s a little bit more affordable. They hit a lot of different marks on it, and of course, it’s Trek, one of the biggest companies in the world and they have the resources to to meet all those different price points. It’s a great bike.
I was nodding along when you were saying 140mm of travel is just the right amount. And I feel like that’s going to be sort of a theme for our conversation here is that, in a lot of ways, mountain bikes have… they’ve started like coalescing around these key measurements. For rear suspension travel I think 140mm is the right amount. It’s not too much, not too little. And we’re seeing that with geometry and everything else with bikes.
You mentioned the Allied BC40, which is a bike that we both tested. So we went to Bentonville, Arkansas, this fall and we got to check out the Allied factory and see where they make the bikes. And it is a true factory. People say they visited the ‘Santa Cruz factory” and you know, they don’t actually make bikes in Santa Cruz. Granted, the company is based there and they assemble bikes and have a big warehouse, but Allied is actually making the bikes there.
What was it about that bike that you that you really liked?
So Allied takes a different approach to the bike than Trek. The starting price for those is like $7,000 or $8,000 so they’re not cheap. But they look so good. The BC40 is a different bike than any other in terms of the ride feel compared to anything else I rode this year, and a unique approach to making the bike.
As far as being a 120mm cross country trail bike, climbing was great on the single pivot suspension layout. It was super fun to descend on too and it looks great. That’s a big driving factor, it’s a beautiful bike.
We had different color schemes — yours was greenish, and mine was purple, or the other way around. They were both beautiful, great color combinations. Allied does such an amazing job on the paint and as I recall, they don’t even outsource the paint. A lot of smaller brands take it to a paint shop down the road. But Allied has a paint booth and they do the carbon layup right there too.
What did you think of the bike compared to other models you wrote this year?
Like you said it has a lot going for it. The bike looks great; super high-end build and very high quality. I loved how lightweight it is. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a weight weenie when it comes to bikes sometimes, so it was super fun to ride such a light bike that climbs really well. And I find that you can actually be a little more playful on lightweight bikes, or at least it’s just easier to move them around, get them in the air and stuff.
The the ride feel is not like your everyday, or at least for me, it wouldn’t be like an everyday kind of bike. It’s not designed necessarily for comfort and fun, it’s a race bike. And so if I were racing and I were like, really serious about cross-country riding or marathon riding, you know, all-day type rides, I think it would be a great bike for me. In terms of just being an all around fun bike, I don’t think I would put it in that category.
I thought the the geometry on it was a little bit more relaxed than like a standard cross-country bike to where I think I would feel comfortable riding on it on regularly on on certain trails. Because it’s so light, and the travel is still rather short, it’s not something I would ride on most of my trails. At least close by here outside of Denver. But I think it was comfortable enough for me to ride regularly. Just not most trails here. Arkansas for sure with the rolling, up and down trails where you don’t have these massive square-edged rocks and things like that, that are bouncing you around.
I will add that to the positives as well: the geometry is good. And that part of it is comfortable. It’s just more like it’s stiff race bike that’s meant to be very efficient. You and I have different preferences when it comes to that too, because I tend to like bikes that feel a little couch-like, where they’re gonna soak up every little bump and vibration. Just sit back and relax a little bit. And that’s definitely not a bike you can relax on.
It definitely wants to be pedaled uphill. It’s one of those bikes that really rewards you for for pedal input. Like any cross-country bike, but then also it is so light and stiff that downhill you’ve kind of got to be on your toes.
There are some really good descents in there at the Back 40 trails. It was a little unexpected to kind of roll down and we’re like, Whoa, where did that come from?
What other bikes stand out to you from this year?
Like I mentioned I had kind of a weird test crop this year, maybe because I didn’t do the best job planning. I’ll take part of the blame on that but also I do have a hard time finding test bikes in my size. That actually led to some issues with some of the bikes I actually was able to get.
The unusual ones that I’m not even including in this ranking would be the Stake Klunker which is well, a Klunker bike. It’s a rigid, basically just cruiser bike that’s designed to be fun, and it costs just $500. It’s one that you just buy to ride around town and look cool.
And then I tested a Diamondback Haanjo gravel bike. So not a mountain bike. But it was it was good for gravel. I had fun on that one but it’s not a mountain bike.
And then the El Roy, which Marin calls — I think they call, or it maybe I put these words in their mouth — a downhill hardtail. It’s super slack with a lot of travel, more than most hardtails you’re gonna see.
And then on our Bentonville trip we rode the Allied BC40, and we also rode Orbea Rise e-bikes, which was good. [Jeff also tested the Alchemy Arktos which he forgot to mention.]
I just got an Evil the Following bike in for test. The first ride was pretty sweet, it seems like it’s going to be a good one for sure. The Following has 120mm of travel in the rear so it’s kind of that downcountry, light duty trail bike.
Of those, I would say the the Marin El Roy hardtail was was one of my favorites. It was kind of weird; at first, I was like, this bike is really weird. It took some getting used to because it’s got, I think, like a 63 degree head tube angle, and like a 150mm or 160mm fork. And it’s a really long bike. Initially, I was like, this bike rides really weird.
Then toward the middle of my testing, I was like, this is the best bike ever. I love this thing! I’m gonna buy it, it’s amazing.
By the end of it maybe the novelty wore off, and I though okay, it’s a good bike but not like the best bike I’ve ever ridden.
I also really liked the Orbea Rise. You and I were on slightly different models; I think yours was aluminum, and mine was the carbon. That was the longest I’ve ridden on a one of these lightweight-ish e-bikes. And I really enjoyed it, it was a perfect bike, I thought, for Slaughter Pen where we rode in Bentonville. On those trails there aren’t any sustained descents. And because of that, you’re constantly just going up and down, up and down with these short, kind of punchy climbs. Having an e-bike really saves your legs, and you can just ride a lot more and do more downhills on it. And yet it was still super easy to get in the air and really maneuverable.
I wrote an opinion about this last year. We’ve been pretty undecided on short-travel e-bikes, and like, what’s the point? It’s easy to pedal this like big enduro bike up with a motor anyway, but if you go to a place like Arkansas, and you kind of see this makes sense. If you’re after an e-bike something like that, or the Pivot Shuttle SL makes a lot more sense there.
I was of the same opinion. In fact I argued strongly that for e-bikes it only makes sense for a long-travel bike with a heavy, big battery and big motor. I basically looked at them as these self-shuttle vehicles where you could go up a really big mountain and then bomb back down it. But riding the Orbea in Bentonville really changed my opinion. Because I felt like I could ride all day on it, and it’s just fun. There were no parts where I was thinking, okay, let’s get this part over with. All of it was just sweet, like let’s go up again!
It makes it a lot easier to carry your speed. Pretty much every uphill and downhill. You just kind of maintain. It’s not like an enduro bike where you’re just like trotting along uphill and then speeding downhill. It’s a more consistent pace.
Any anything else about the bikes you rode this year? You had ridden on the first version of the Megatower, right?
Yeah. We should talk about that just because it’s been such a popular bike this year. Most Santa Cruz bikes are, but it seemed like the Megatower got a lot of interest.
It was an awesome bike, and much different than the first version. I think Santa Cruz kind of made an early, long-travel in 2019 with the first version that was still sort of an all-mountain bike, and now it’s for sure an enduro bike. It’s a great bike though they’re still very expensive. People love the Santa Cruz brand and they’re gonna pay for that brand name.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with the climbing. I thought the seat tube angle was still a bit reserved for an enduro bike, I think it’s only like 76° or 76.5°. I found myself on steep climbs still getting on the nose of the saddle quite a bit. It’s just a bear of a bike to climb with. I ragged on it initially because it came with a 30 tooth chainring. I was like, come on, it’s got this big 52 tooth granny gear on here. But I still needed the 30 tooth because it’s a lot of bike to climb with.
Descending, you know, to be honest, it was such a fun bike to descend. The VPP on it feels amazing. Really stiff, really comfortable bike to descend on and carries its speed very, very well.
While we’re talking about the Santa Cruz brand, they seem to have knocked out a bunch of new releases, and they got rid of a lot of the 27.5 bikes, moving them to 29ers or mullets. And then we also saw a lot of updates from Yeti as well, they completely redid their line with the SB 120, 140, and 160. It was like literally like one week is one bike and then the next week, another bike.
Ibis was another brand that kind of did that. For them a big driver was rebranding where they launched a new logo and a new aesthetic. What do you think was driving some of these big updates?
Well, I think a big part of it is just the product cycle, like the mountain bike product cycle. I mean, if you look at like Santa Cruz, they consistently update their bikes every three years. It’s like on the on the money. A lot of the updates I think were pretty minimal for Santa Cruz, the geometry changes on a couple of the models are pretty negligible — you know, the head tube angles are like almost the exact same, the seat tube angle is almost the exact same, etc.
And as far as suspension kinematics go, for the past couple of years brands have been giving their bikes more and more anti squat for better pedaling characteristics. And now they found a point where it just wasn’t good anymore, and started dialing back their anti squat.
For a brand like Santa Cruz, and Yeti, and pretty much any brand, I think it’s really just driven by product cycle. You want to keep those bikes in the news, you want to give updates so the consumers aren’t forgetting about you. With Santa Cruz they seemed heavy on frame feature updates, like adding downtube storage. I think that’s going to be a big thing for a lot of other brands, too, is just adding frame features. Downtube storage, flip chips, other things.
Cable routing through head tubes. We saw a few of those this year and it’s like, that’s a feature nobody wanted.
For Yeti it was just kind of like a sweeping product update because it’s been a couple years since they introduced the SB 100, the 115, and the 130.
Everything seems to be coalescing around a few standard measurements. Like light-duty trail bikes have 120mm of rear travel. And Yeti’s got one now; they had a 100 and a 115, but now they go to 120. And then more solidly trail bikes slash all-mountain bikes are 140mm, and 160mm tends to be associate with enduro. So it’s almost like they’re just kind of trying to align it with, like, what everybody’s come to accept as being like the right measurements.
Yeti had SB100 and the 115, and I wonder if they kind of got to a point where I was like, well, does anybody really want 100mm Yeti XC race bike? And then the geometry on the 115 was so dated by the time it came out, so reserved.
If you look at how well brands have done with the 120mm, 130mm trail bikes like the Ibis Ripley AF, the Transitions, Evil’s Following, the Rocky Mountain Element, it was kind of like, we need this 120mm downcountry, whatever you want to call it, bike in our lineup. I think the product cycles speak to that a lot, aligning your models with the latest trends.
You know Evil updated — and I’m doing air quotes here right now — updated all of their bikes with what they call LS, or lightly salted, versions. Admittedly they weren’t huge updates, but one of the biggest aspects of that was adding the universal derailleur hanger (UDH) to their frames. It’s sort of like when Boost came out, when SRAM said this is a new standard we’re going with, and a bunch of frames got updated because nobody wanted to be left behind on that.
Universal derailleur hanger is another SRAM standard which gave a lot of brands an excuse to look at their their models and say hey, we could do like a minor update so we can get UDH on there.
That was similar when Ibis “updated” their bikes this year around new branding and the SRAM UDH. Those were the only two things and so they had a big sale on a lot of their bikes right before the update.
I ended up buying a frame in the older version because it was a crazy sale. I figured they’re probably not gonna update this bike just yet, because it hasn’t been out that long. Come to find out well, it’s basically just new branding. And they added this UDH capability.
Which is a great thing. A lot of mountain bikers like to complain about new standards. We hate the thought that we’re gonna have to upgrade our stuff, we’re gonna be forced to upgrade. Or we’ve invested all this money in wheels or drivetrain stuff, and now there’s a new thing that my stuff’s not going to work with.
I feel like we all need to admit that derailleur hangers have been dumb for a long time, finding the right one for your frame. I paid $90 for a derailleur hanger once for a bike, because, you know, nobody else had it. I had to wait weeks for because I could only find one in the UK. It was ridiculous, especially for a part that’s designed to fail, almost a consumable part and yet, they were so hard to get. So it’s a welcome change, but it’s going to take a while for that transition. And yeah, it is going to be frustrating for those of us that have bikes that don’t work with UDH yet. But we’ll get there just like we did through all the other changes.
It definitely does seem like a smart update. Same thing, I spent 50 bucks on a piece of billet aluminum to take with me on the trip South America, just in case I break a hanger, which I’ve never done in my life. But just in case, I brought a hanger. I’ve got this special one that only one other brand aside from the manufacturer makes.
Sounds like a scam? I don’t know, we should do an investigation. Like there’s must be some reason why it’s been that way.
This year, in some ways felt like last year for updates, perhaps due to supply chain problems. Updates that brands had planned to do, they realized they weren’t going to get the bikes in time or they’re just waiting for previous model year bikes to actually arrive in their showrooms. It feels a little bit like a gap year, but there were a few major updates, and new bikes from brands.
The Pivot Shadowcat comes to mind; that’s all-new bike from Pivot. We also got the the Trek Fuel EX, which was a big update with a lot of changes on that one. The Scott Genius got a really new look and feel. Were there any major updates that that stood out to you, or long overdue updates to bikes?
The Shadowcat was interesting, because that’s, you know, a 27.5 bike front and rear. Is that the only 27.5 bike they have in their line now?
It seems like it.
Pivot’s brand is totally geared toward high-end, business-oriented bikes. You know they’re making serious bikes, and fun is not like the big underlined word when you read their marketing. And then the Santa Cruz updates I thought were interesting, too. The Bronson and 5010 are mullets now after spending so much time trying to hold on to 27.5 wheels.
I really liked the Scott Genius, that’s one I want to test anyway. Because it is so unusual and different. They bought Bold cycles, or they’re like very close partners with them, and Bold kind of pioneered this design where the shock is tucked into the frame. In a lot of ways it’s a great idea because it protects dirt and stuff from getting in and wearing out your seals and stuff. And the shock positioning is super low.
It looks like a cool bike that I’d love to test and see how it rides. And then of course, you know, since the shock is hidden on it, they also have to hide all the cables. And so that part I’m not sure like I’m on board with. I guess it’s a good clean look. But I would hate to have to work on that bike or you know, especially for us because we’re always testing different components. To throw a new set of brakes on that bike, it’s probably an ordeal.
The look of the new Scott is similar to the Cannondale Jekyll where that shock is really tucked underneath, and then along the lines of more and more electronic drive trains and stuff. Just cleaner looking bikes in general I think is going to be a big driving factor for bikes in the future. But those do look really really cool and sleek.
I think when we talk about geometry slowing down and suspension kinematics slowing down, then you look at the new Scott, there’s obviously still a lot of room for development on mountain bikes.
You’re right, the easiest solution to hiding cables, making bikes look cleaner is go electronic, which a lot of bikes have done. The Evil that’s in for test right now has SRAM AXS wireless shifting on it, which is great. But the frame still has all the holes and ports things for cables, and they’re empty now. That looks worse than if it just had cables. We’re in a weird transition period where I wonder if we’ll see bikes that are designed purely for wireless systems and they don’t even have any ports at all. I mean, obviously brakes, it’s gonna be a long time before those are wireless.
I have seen some brands just adding little rubber plugs to empty cable ports.
You still have a bunch of weird rubber circles on your bike. And it’s more than that, the frame has to have a square, little box where the cable exits out. It’s like, is bike missing something?
I was talking with a friend this past weekend on a ride about SRAM AXS because the stuff is on sale. It definitely feels quicker than a mechanical GX system to shift, but other than that I guess you have cable maintenance that you don’t really have to do, and indexing might be a little bit easier. But still, there is not a big performance gain when you go to an electronic drivetrain, at least in my opinion. And so the big draw to it is just reducing the amount of cables you have on your bike. Does it look really nice getting rid of just one cable?
Two cables if you invest $700 or $800 in the wireless dropper. You’re getting rid of cables but you’re adding batteries so it’s a trade off.
Related to this whole discussion about supply chains, and bikes being updated or not being updated, we’re at a point now where there are too many bikes. A lot of brands have a lot of bikes, and it’s crazy to think that it was just earlier this year that most of us were still in the mode of bikes and parts being hard to find.
You actually wrote a story in March of this year — so not that long ago — saying that the bike boom was over. And that was one of our most popular articles of the year, I think because at the time people were like, hold on, like I haven’t heard this. I thought this was gonna go on forever, or people were saying deliveries are out two or three years out. We thought we’d be going into like 2024, 2025 still waiting for bikes. And yet here we are, and there are so many bike sales.
It’s been kind of nutty the amount of sales lately. Maybe I’m just signed up for way too many newsletters, but it has been nutty the amount of sales that there have been on products and then just bikes in general, so many sales lately. If you’re able to take advantage of it or hold off until… I think I’m going to look at updating my bike in the fall from from now on whenever I’m ready to update. The funny thing is that’s some of the big sales were framed like oops, we made too many bikes.
Yeah, that’s literally the name of the sale that Specialized had. We made too many.
This whiplash effect that brands are unfortunately facing, where they had so much demand and they produced a lot more bikes to fill the demand. And then with supply chains it takes forever for bikes to get over here.
I think consumers also got tired of it. They either just weren’t interested in buying a bike anymore, or they found a different bike, maybe on the used market. If you’re a bike dealer you might be stuck with all those bikes that you ordered, thinking that there would still be demand for it when the time came.
I was talking to someone at one of the big component brands and they were saying they were shocked that all these bike companies didn’t foresee the end of this boom. A lot of companies went into it really optimistic that this demand is here to stay, people are gonna try biking, they’re gonna love it, and they’re gonna just keep buying more bikes. And, you know, we’ve got so many orders we can never catch up. And sure enough, they caught up.
We’re seeing that in other industries as well like tech. A lot of those companies overhired when everybody was jumping on to Zoom calls, and doing virtual schooling and that kind of thing. And then come to find out that was temporary. That’s not what everybody wants to do.
It’s interesting because it seems like some of the smaller brands may have fared better, or at least, you know, are seeing more even demand for their products. This year we saw new bikes from Cotic, Nikolai, Esker, Ionic, Starling. These are boutique brands that hand build bikes and they were able to pump out some updates this year, more updates than some of the big brands.
I was looking at a bike from one of these brands, and they’re not having sales, because they have exactly the right number of bikes that they need. So yeah, it is interesting to see that dichotomy between the big brands and the small brands right now.
Those big brands really had an advantage early on in the pandemic, just the sheer amount of buying power they had and the amount of factory space that could buy up and produce more bikes to try and accommodate the demand. That article was kind of like bold to write, at least the headline, that early on. But if you had heard what the bike dealers were saying, that people aren’t really busting down the doors for these entry level bikes anymore, there’s still probably a growing demand for mountain biking as it continues to get bigger. But the bike boom itself where everybody wants to bike has come and gone.
I do think we’re going to continue to be in sort of a growth phase, but maybe just not at the levels that that we had hoped for. Maybe there were 50% more people on bikes a couple years ago, and you know, maybe it’s gonna level out at like, 10%. Not all of them, we’re gonna stick with it, but some of them will. And that is a good thing long term.
Some of those brands that kind of used their size to their advantage and bought up as much factory time as they could, it came back to bite some of them.
So we talked about a few e-bikes in the mix here, and I noticed there were a fair number of e-bike announcements from brands that haven’t had e-bikes in the past like Transition and Evil as well. And then just today, Scott has a new like super lightweight e-bike called the Scott lumen, which at first I saw that headline and thought, they’re making a bike light. But it’s a bicycle. What do you think about the e-bikes that we’re seeing this year?
You mentioned the holdouts, are there any more holdouts?
I don’t know. Probably just the handbuilt guys I mentioned earlier, builders using steel and titanium. They don’t they don’t have eMTBs, but everybody else does.
Right the, like only small to medium size brands don’t have e-bikes yet. Companies that I can think of that aren’t making one are like Guerrilla Gravity in Denver, for example. But they kind of have a unique setup with their frame production so it makes sense that they’re not really doing one yet.
Transition released one and then told people they were releasing another one next year. And then Evil came out with one finally. Oh, and Ibis Ibis came out with one, the Oso.
Not to be confused with the Diamondback fat bike.
So I think all the core mountain bike brands are making e-bikes now.
Yeah, and they seem to be kind of coalescing around this idea of like, the longer travel, self-shuttling bikes, and then the lighter weight e-bikes. We saw a mix of that. For brands like Transition and Evil that tend to be a little more progressive and skew toward the gravity end, that’s what they’re starting with, is those bigger e-bikes. Then you’ve got brands like Pivot, like you said, more of like a race heritage and a serious bike kind of angle, and they have their lightweight one and Scott as well with their racing focus, we’ve seen more of those, shorter travel, lighter weight e-bikes.
The one that Transition hasn’t released yet is being marketed as a two-in-one bike where you can take out the battery and it’s as light as a regular mountain bike, and you can pedal it like that. Which is kind of similar for the Pivot Shuttle SL, it’s light enough to you can pedal it like a regular mountain bike. I don’t know how big of a selling point that will be. Because it’s still really heavy on a bike where the travel is only 132mm or 135mm, for the Pivot. You’re still pedaling around a 40-42 pound, 130mm travel bike. And same with the Transition. I don’t think people are buying their bikes and thinking it’s a two in one or something like that.
It looks odd to to be pedaling around, like part of your frame is missing. From some of the interviews I’ve done this year about various topics, somebody will say something like, a lot of us could benefit from like a longer stem, let’s say, but then they’ll caveat that and say it would look weird, and so nobody does it. Aesthetics is actually a big part of that. I don’t see people doing that from a practical standpoint, taking their batteries out.
Really you can do this with any e-bike. I tested some e-bikes and tried riding them without the battery, just to see how they would feel. Maybe they’ve done some additional structural things that make that possible but for the most part, you can do that on any eMTB. But I don’t think anybody really wants to.
I would just have an e-bike to have an e-bike.
Unless you’re like, I could take it to that place that doesn’t allow e-bikes. I’ll just take my battery out and I’ll be good.
So let’s talk about predictions for next year, 2023. What do you think we’re gonna see?
Yeah, I think geometry is still going to slow down quite a bit. I really do think we’re like hitting a point of diminishing returns there. There’s still going to be, I think big changes for brands that have a longer product cycle and they haven’t updated their bike in like four, maybe five years or something like that where there’s still a lot of room to change up the geometry. But if you’ve updated in the past year, I don’t think geometry is gonna be the big reason to update your bike anymore. Maybe suspension kinematics. But I do think frame features, adding more electronics will be kind of driving forces for bike updates.
Yeah, that’s a good point. This makes me think of the piece Sam James wrote recently about 1X drivetrains and how that had such a ripple effect on geometry, and components, and everything like that. I would throw dropper posts in there as well. Bot of these allowed or drove some of the geometry changes that we saw over the last five to 10 years. But all that seems to have been kind of worked out now. And unless we see something else, like dropper posts, or, you know, one by drive trains, I don’t know that there’s going to be a reason, like you said, to really mess with things because we kinda figured out what works.
I think that there are there’s still a lot of room for component updates. More brands are using shorter cranksets this year and bigger diameter dropper posts. But they’re really minor tweaks and tend to offer only a slight performance gain. I think smaller updates that are a little bit less noticeable will continue to catch on.
For some reason flip chips are still big and I don’t really understand why. Like with the Trek Fuel EX there are like six different geometry configurations on the bike. Why not just make one that is best?
It’s confusing for sure, even for us writing about them. We look at this stuff every day professionally, and it’s confusing to us. I can’t imagine for a consumer. They may think well, that’s cool. I can adjust it if I’m not happy with it. But in reality nobody touches those things. Or, maybe they do. We should do a survey. Ask people if you have a flip chip, like, have you ever flipped it?
I heard overheard a guy on a group ride recently talking about his bike, and, you know, he’s like, yeah, it’s got the flip chip.I could put it in the lower mode or higher mode or whatever, but I haven’t tried that yet in three years. He still was talking about it as if it was like this is a great thing to have, even though I don’t actually need it.
Whenever I get a bike in that has a flip chip, I always leave it in the stock, neutral setting because it has always felt best in that way. And I think brands have gotten better to where you can separate the geometry from the kinematics or maybe some like the Trek Fuel or some of the Yetis have two different flip chips: you have one for your suspension one for your geometry. But there have been bikes from brands like Rocky Mountain where you’re adjusting your geometry but it is at one of the shock links also so it affects the suspension kinematics. Any bike that I’ve had with the flip chip, it always feels best in the stock setting. Sure, maybe the head tube angle gets a little bit steeper, but it still feels better and in that stock setting.
I think it’s a great thing for the brands to do if it is to allow them to say accommodate a different wheel size on the bike, then having the ability to do that with a flip chip is convenient. Or if you swap out the shock, you know, for a longer or shorter one, I think then that’s great if you can just flip a chip and use your same bike and not have to, like, get a whole new bike. But in terms of just keeping everything, it doesn’t seem like many people get a lot of use out of that.
It kind of seems like having those features is a big selling point for people and saying, if you get this one bike you can have it with this head angle or that head angle or it can go in this shock setting or that shock setting. I think it negates the concern of being stuck to one bike when you buy a bike if you’re a consumerWhen people are looking at several different bikes it takes a lot to narrow it down to one. And then if you narrow it down to one, you’re like, I still have all these settings so I can ride exactly how I want.
It probably doesn’t add much to the cost of the bike either, it’s just like a little bit of hardware. On the design end they just make sure to leave some room for the flip chip to flip around. So probably not a bad thing.
You mentioned the larger seat tube diameters, and that’s a trend. I think you actually wrote about that trend last year, 2021. We’re starting to see more of that.
I think it came out early this year like January 22.
So the the fatter seat tubes allow for longer travel dropper posts, which I think most people are into. That seems like a good change.
There were a few brands that moved to 34.9 this year: Norco, Trek did with their Fuel EX. There were a couple others I can’t remember. And then, you know, some brands who are still like holding onto the 31.6 or 30.9. For whatever reason they don’t see any merit updating, but at least the folks that I talked to about 34.9 seem to believe that it’s not a performance update. It’s just something that mitigates concern for consumers about the life of the product.
Yeah, you’re sort of future proofing. Right now, the dropper posts that are on the market, they still skew toward the 30.9 and 31.6mm sizes. You don’t have as much selection currently at the 34.9mm size but I’m sure we’re going to start to seeing those move that way. This is one of those where the frame manufacturers are actually out ahead of the component suppliers, which doesn’t always happen that way.
A lot of this talk has been driven by Bike Yoke. They’ve been talking about it for years, with geometry changing bikes, and they’re trying to keep up with the pace of geometry changes. And brands are asking for longer and longer droppers, and they’re saying, hey, we can’t really make a good enough product at the length and the existing diameters that you’re looking for.
But other people just don’t feel like it is that big of a deal, or they’re not really seeing concerns or issues with longer 30.9 or 31.6mm posts.
Another feature we talked about was frame storage. We’re seeing more brands adopting that, you know Specialized, I think was the first like major brand to do that with their SWAT storage system. But now Trek’s got it. Santa Cruz has it. I don’t know, am I missing anybody?
Orbea started working it into some of their frames.
I think with it becoming so much more ubiquitous you’re going to see people who buy a bike because it has that feature, or discount a bike because it doesn’t. If you can work around the existing patents and whatnot, then it’s a pretty good selling point for your bike.
Do you find it super helpful to have frame storage? Is that something you would look for, like when you buy a bike?
So the bikes that I own, they don’t have them. And I’ve had a couple of bikes that have had them for review, like the Santa Cruz and then the Trek. But on review bikes I really don’t settle into them that much so I’m not putting my gear in there. But I definitely would use them. The problem that I have bouncing around different bikes is it’s hard to keep track of a toolkit here and a toolkit there. I hate using those strap things with tools.
You gotta put all your stuff together it so don’t rattle around.
Exactly, scratches the paint. You’re just putting like this big black Velcro thing on your $4,000 frame. It’s ugly. If I owned a bike that had that feature, I would definitely use it just to keep that stuff tucked away and just know it’s always there.
It does seem like a nice feature to have but doesn’t quite go far enough. Those downtubes are big on carbon bikes but for me, I still would need to carry some kind of pack like a hip pack. What I’ve gotten into lately is little frame bags, or even bar bags or things like that. I agree, they don’t look good and most of them bounce around and feel awkward because you’re putting weight on parts of the bike that shouldn’t have weight. But I’m definitely all for anything you can do to store more stuff on a bike. For summer rides it seems like you can get everything you need into one of those and ride without a pack. It just feels so much better to ride without anything, even a hip pack. It was good to get rid of that.
The cool thing about Specialized is that they include a bladder that’s shaped like the down tube, so you can fill it up with water and have an extra water source on your bike.
A lot of thought goes into that, for sure.
I think one more trend that we’re seeing and have been commenting on with bike releases this year is proportional chainstays. In the past most bike designers would pick like one chainstay length and run it across all sizes for a model. I think in part just because it made manufacturing easier, they could do the same rear triangle for all the bikes and save them some time and expense. But obviously riders are all different sizes and so that that doesn’t necessarily work. What do you think’s driving that and why are we seeing that? Is it just time?
Yeah, I think time is probably a good word for it. It’s another way to optimize bikes across your size range. I think it’s always been at the expense of taller people because I would assume, like clothing, geometry is often designed around the middle of the bell curve. It’s awesome for me as somebody who’s five eight. I’m always a medium everything.
On some of these bikes the proportional chainstays are around the same for the size mediums and then they change for taller sizes. Reach has gotten so much longer people now notice it and seat angles have gotten so much steeper, it’s like you do notice having chainstays that are far too short. You feel way too stretched out or uncentered across the bike, too far forward.
Like a lot of things on mountain bikes, people will say, a longer chainstay makes it more stable. And you think, wow, that’s great. Yeah, I want a more stable bike.
And then they say, well, if you have a shorter one, it’s more playful. And you think well, yeah, that sounds good, too. And so over the years, we’ve bounced between those, like everybody was trying to make theirs really short so that they could add the word playful into their marketing copy. And then you know, enduro was big. And so people were like, we made ours longer so that it’s more stable, and you can go faster.
Based on that there must be some Goldilocks thing in between that’s both playful and stable. But you can’t do that for everybody. If you’re giving them all the same size, every sized rider, that’s a welcome change.
I’m curious what changed to allow this. Was it just companies just saying, screw it, it’s gonna cost us more but this is really important, we need to do it. Or, did something change in terms of like the manufacturing, that just made it like more cost effective now where they’re like, we can do this, and it’s not going to affect our bottom line.
With carbon fiber a big part of the cost is in creating these molds. So if you only have to make one mold, that’s a lot cheaper than having to make five, one for each size.
For the brands I’ve talked to, the rear triangle is actually the same measurement across all sizes. They’re just lengthening the chainstays, where it connects to the rear triangle. I don’t know exactly where this happens — if they’re just lengthening the link or an attachment for it that allow it to still have the same rear triangle across all sizes. It’s just you can lengthen the chain stay at the front triangle.
That would make sense that you could have different linkages that are much smaller pieces, and a lot of times are machined or, you know, don’t involve a mold.
It’s definitely worth diving into because there’s to it than that. With geometry having changed so much in the past couple years. I think that’s probably driving it too.
There’s a lot going on in the bike world as usual. There were a lot of fun bikes that we were able to test this year, and also a lot that we’re hoping to get a leg over next year.
Yeah, it’s time to start planning tests for next year.