What Happened to all the Mechanicals?

Mountain bike mechanicals are becoming a thing of the past. That's great! But will we miss them?

The Stoke is an occasional opinion series highlighting the things that get us stoked about mountain biking. 🤘 👍 👏 🙏

I’ve been a part of the same weekly mountain bike group ride for almost 15 years now, and looking back a lot has changed. Some of the trails we used to ride no longer exist while others have organically twisted and morphed to avoid the fallen trees. The regulars have aged by a decade or more and perhaps not coincidentally, the number of singlespeed riders has dwindled from most of us to none of us.

Recently I noticed another big change: we don’t have as many mechanicals as we used to. Mechanicals, in case you’re not familiar with the lingo, is mountain bike speak for mechanical issues. Basically, a mechanical is any problem with a bike that forces you to stop riding and make an emergency repair. And for the most part I’m stoked that regular mechanicals are a thing of the past.

I suppose I should start by thanking the product designers and engineers out there who have found ways to make our mountain bikes and components more reliable. Folks like Stan Koziatek, who in 2001 developed his No Tubes solution for bike tires. Or Roval engineer Chuck Teixeira who, after countless tests and prototypes, figured out that a wider rim bead profile would lead to fewer tubeless tire pinch flats. Of course it’s not just tires and wheels that have become more reliable — MTB drivetrains have come just as far, if not farther. But for our janky trail enthusiast group, flat tires were always our biggest foe.

Just to illustrate how much things have changed, on a ride two weeks ago, with 25 riders on mountain and gravel bikes, not a single person got a flat tire. Last year ten of us rode the 360-mile Huracan 300 on fully-loaded mountain bikes and no one got a flat on that ride either. Anecdotally it would seem the flat tire has gone the way of the Dodo bird.

Just as impressive is the fact that our mountain bikes have gotten more capable AND more reliable in tandem. Fifteen years ago no one was running a dropper post; today only Fitz is on a fixed post. (I’m still working on him.) Apologies to Notorious B.I.G. but as it turns out, more gears actually does not equal more problems. Our suspension performs much better and we’re not topping off the air pressure every other ride like we used to.

Yes, our bikes are way more reliable today. But so are we. Over time I know I’ve become a much better home mechanic, thanks in part to YouTube but also by virtue of time served grinding away in the garage. And then there’s the whole peer pressure thing.

Like every group ride our Tuesday night crew has a set of unspoken rules, one of which is that we’ll wait for you if you have a problem with your bike — but only once. And certainly not every week. Regulars have quickly learned that acceptance by the group is predicated on having a reliable bike that’s in good working order, week after week. Hell, I’ve been in the group as long as anyone and I’m scared to make Tuesday night my first ride on a new bike or component for fear that there could be a problem. I can’t risk the inevitable shame!

In some ways I kinda do miss the mechanicals. Whenever someone has a problem it’s a chance for me to rest, and to catch my breath. It’s the time to ask a friend how their week has been going so far. For some, though not me personally, it’s a chance to impart some hard-found wisdom about the best way to keep rolling on a torn sidewall when you don’t have a dollar bill or a Gu wrapper on you. Sure, mechanicals may be fewer and farther between today, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone. As soon as you get complacent and leave your flat repair kit at home, that’s when the snake decides to bite.

A lot of us are running electronic derailleurs now and I wonder if we’ll ever have to worry about having “an electrical” on the trail. In spite of the old-timers pining for the simpler days of singlespeeds and mechanical cables, so far so good. Yet, at some point someone will certainly forget to charge a battery. But, it’ll only happen once, lesson learned. Even then I probably won’t consider that an electrical, just a good old fashioned brain fart.

Yes, our group ride has changed a lot over the years. New riders have joined the group, new trails keep getting built and new bike days are regularly celebrated. And maybe, now that mechanicals are a thing of the past, we’ll find new reasons to occasionally stop and chat. After all, that’s the best way to keep the stoke going for years to come.