Can You Escape The New Bike Tractor Beam?

Words Cam McRae
Photos Ollie Jones and Hailey Elise
Date May 30, 2017

Let's say you don't race or use Strava. And let's make you a Saint, with an ego so unassailable and benevolent you simply smile when your buddies beat you down the trail, even as you choke on their loam. If you imagine yourself within these parameters what use would you have for a new bike? Let's add the assumption that everything is dialled and functional on your current ride so there is no wear and tear motivation for an upgrade. Would you lust for a shiny new ride all the same?

Do you want to go faster despite not competing? Against anyone? Why is that? Do you want your suspension to smooth out the trail more than before? Does a stiff front end that will shred more precisely motivate you if you aren't scratching out tenths? If performing our best was the real motivation wouldn't we all be in the gym more?  Unless it's a pretty new colour that has made your trigger finger itchy...

Any Whistler Bike Park patroller will tell you that crashes involving higher speed produce the worst outcomes (those slower technical trails are often safer). And yet we want to go faster. The human animal has a lust for more that has kept our species multiplying throughout the ages. If you aren't moving forward you are falling beyond; this expression has never been as apt as it is in the internet age. We are addicted to new and shiny and we spend much of our free time in that pursuit even as we become more aware of this trap.

Ollie Santa Cruz

Yippee Ki Yay mother f@cker! Ollie Jones in a celebratory mood. Photo - Hailey Elise

Is it sensation we are chasing? In the absence of competition, is it that feeling that we are floating above the trail that has us slapping down that second card (the first one's maxed) for a new bike? More speed can be felt in your stomach; higher G-forces and longer moments of weightlessness. And perhaps a "better" bike allows you to feel more in control so you can ride with an extra dollop of abandon. Is that it? When your bike feels perfect it's a moment that's difficult to compete with; tires tracking the ground precisely and silently, allowing you to approach the edge of adhesion with confidence. But if we could keep reproducing that feeling it would soon become dull and unsatisfying. 

Must. Have. More.

Auto enthusiasts are a good case study for this. Dudes (almost always dudes) who are enthusiasts but have never street raced or spent a day on the track, pour thousands into making their cars faster in every way. Even though they won't likely get within 80% of the top speed, and nowhere near the cornering limit. The internet is bursting with forums for every performance car imaginable. There was a model of 3-series BMW produced between 03 and 06 that has 10 more horsepower than stock and a few other small modifications, and owners of these cars have their own forum that has 525,000 posts; ZHP Mafia Yes... Mafia. The obsession is real. 

Being a product manager for a bike company must feel like a twisted version of Groundhog Day. Imagine reliving the day you release your newest project, the bike you have laboured over, bleeding into every detail from axle path to grip colour until you think you've done it; produced the Ultimate Shred Machine. It sounds like a pretty good day until you realize you've already got the next generation of the bike well under way. This isn't always the case but often it is. If NEW BIKE is so perfectly hewn, how can you possibly improve on it? Do you leave some imperfections as low hanging fruit? Is it planned obsolescence? Are you simply responding to changing market forces with the newer model? Have the goalposts moved so much since the last time you started with a clean slate that you have an entirely new target to shoot for? Will technology or advances in material driving the change? Or are you simply fixing something... that ain't broke?

Hailey Juliana

New bike day must be approached with gravitas. Hailey Elise going full Rambo. Photo - Ollie Jones

Clearly tinkering and improving was important to our ancestors, and the best tinkerers likely passed on more DNA than their ham-fisted or lazy counterparts. So maybe it's genetic. Otherwise, I'm at a loss to describe what makes me lust for new carbon wheels, a fresh camera body or a fancy knife for the kitchen. My son gets excited when we buy new soap, deodorant or a particularly nice bath mat. 

It has to be more complex than being victimized by marketing or being a slave to fashion. Or maybe less complex. Homo Sapiens is a species programmed to become dissatisfied with anything that is no longer new. Whether it's spouses, Ipads, wall colour, hair colour, beard colour or sandals; our favourite things often lose their lustre over a shockingly short interval.

New bikes are amazing; nothing squeaks or rattles, your rotors don't rub and everything is shiny and clean. Companies are pushing harder all the time to make a better product so we'll keep slapping down the plastic. And they have this magic trick down. Newer trail and AM bikes do pedal to the top and shred to the bottom vastly better than those from even five years ago; that is inarguably true. But imagine for a moment that someone had drawn the line permanently at 26" wheels the way BMX has with 20. Would any of us be less obsessed with mountain biking? Less charged about that next ride? Would we have less fun? The purist inside me hopes the charge would be no less... but maybe that wisdom is wrong. 

Perhaps the progress bikes have made has kept us interested and engaged.* It's easy to point to sports that were once hot and growing that have since fallen from favour, windsurfing and roller blading being two examples. And skiing was in the doldrums before skis started to get fat and curvy. The enthusiast segment of mountain biking seems to be growing at a steady rate, for better or worse, and the barrier to entry to our sport is lower than it's ever been, thanks to the quality of even entry level bikes. And the early adopters keep the used market charged with year-old carbon masterpieces for bargain bandits to pick up on the cheap. Maybe all this improvement for the sake of improvement has a silver lining? Or bronze at least?

The best reason for getting a new bike is the charge it brings. I'm eager to get out and try the new machine so I get my shit together and carve out more time to ride. But I can get close to that same buzz from bleeding my brakes or doing a really good clean and maintain on my bike. And picking up a nice used sled works almost as well as a freshly unboxed virginal bike. So maybe we can do without new as long as we get different or refreshed?

Hooray for the Luddites, the riders who are happy with heirloom wheels and Chromoly hardtails. Being grateful for what you've got is a life skill for the ages,** but maybe it's not all bad, this progression. Maybe it's as human as extramarital affairs, Bavarian car lust and Louis Vuitton bags - and occasionally mountain biking is actually less expensive than those three. 

*Interested, engaged and broke. And I realize it's possible that for every one of us who is as excited as ever about mountain biking, there may be two who have given up out of frustration with the industry. 

**Unless you are grateful for cable actuated disks or elastomer forks. Stop riding those if you can.

Trending on NSMB


+1 pedalhound
Mic  - May 30, 2017, 8:30 a.m.

Mountain biking is serious business. That's why.... ;-)


+4 Tehllama42 Mammal natbrown Pete Roggeman
Cr4w  - May 30, 2017, 8:49 a.m.

Luckily if you live in Vancouver and are 6'6" there really aren't many options. I have the biggest, longest, stackiest monster truck bike there is. Everything else that comes even close to being a better option gets entered into my bike spreadsheet (Google Sheet, actually) to see if it really compares. 

So far nothing. Which is great. Zero options. Zero yearning. Just a desire to ride and a willingness to take care of my bike so I don't lose riding days to mechanical issues.

Though my hardtail yearning is definitely up this year from last.


+1 Cr4w
Endur-Bro  - May 30, 2017, 10:36 a.m.

Have you compared Poles and Mojos yet?


Cr4w  - May 30, 2017, 4:39 p.m.

Mojos are cute I guess.
The Poles look really interesting. Would love to try one.


+2 Tehllama42 ExtraSpecialandBitter
Deniz Merdano  - May 30, 2017, 10:37 a.m.

It's the media...

Photography and cinematography don't sell a product, they sell a dream...

-A new bike will make me shred harder, jump higher, etc..

Blame the internet and the media.. I am a part of it, you are a part of it..we all fall for it..

But let me tell you.. my new 2017 bike definitely made me shred harder, jump higher, etc..


+1 Deniz Merdano
Pete Roggeman  - May 30, 2017, 5:37 p.m.

Existentialist angst! You did point the finger at yourself, and I'll gladly do the same. I'll also cop to being a victim.


Deniz Merdano  - May 31, 2017, 2:38 a.m.

I struggle with it on a daily basis.. 

Hoping to change the world by not feeding the beast with the same kind of food that is out there.. circulating on Instagram and the internets.

But I also want to belong, ride my bike with good folk and share beers after and talk bikes..

My wife says I have to make money and talk less bikes...

The struggle goes on and on..

Tell you what, my commuter/dad wagon bike is getting more and more use these days..

I see a hardtail in my future.


+6 natbrown Andrew Major Pete Roggeman Metacomet Tehllama42 ExtraSpecialandBitter
Amanda Marie  - May 30, 2017, 11:27 a.m.

It's actually hardwired into the human brain -- novelty and adaptation keep us alive because we're geared to learn. Our brains release massive amounts of dopamine when the need for novelty and our curiosity are fed. The human brain actually has a 'novelty center' that only turns on when exposed to things it's never actually seen, not just new versions of old things. The lure of dopamine makes us want to seek out new things -- it's like a carrot on a stick, and so we go. The science is far more complicated than that, but it's incredibly relevant to the way the bike industry markets. We love shiny shit because essentially, we're all bipedal trash pandas.


+3 natbrown Cam McRae Pete Roggeman
Mammal  - May 30, 2017, 12:09 p.m.

Almost a decade of being a student has conditioned me to see through most of the shiny and focus on value (performance)/$. Upgrades for me are usually in the form of used frames that help me stay relatively current with regards to geo (every 2-3 years). Fork swaps (new or used) happen every few years. I read all the media out of interest, but take it with a heavy dose of salt. If I haven't tried it, then I don't need it.

I feast off of the used market, with a light sprinkling of new product here and there when it makes sense. I think the industry must hate me, but I like it that way. I enjoy knowing that I get the most bang for buck with the sport I'm so passionate about, especially since I spend ludicrous cash to live at the base of the mountains where my passion plays out. I understand why people "need" the new, but it doesn't jive with my uber practical nature (if you can call an avid mountain biker "practical").


Pete Roggeman  - May 30, 2017, 5:40 p.m.

I think the concept of 'new to me' is just as apt as 'brand new' in this context. And don't be mistaken, the bike industry and bikers need people like you almost as much as they need people to buy new stuff. You are helping pull used product out of people's garages, freeing up a corner for them to fill with something new.

Which reminds me, any interest in a sweet deal on a 2013 S-Works Enduro? No, seriously, I have one to sell.


+2 Mammal Pete Roggeman
Andrew Bruce  - May 30, 2017, 12:35 p.m.

Folk buying the latest kit means I can buy the stuff they're done with. I get great value, they get cutting edge, and the industry can afford to keep developing better stuff


+1 Pete Roggeman
natbrown  - May 30, 2017, 12:38 p.m.

Really good, interesting article Cam. I've long considered the appeal of MTB to be primarily 2 fold. Riding is cool, but the tech and consumerism that it drives it is undeniably the other factor. Amanda Marie has a good comment explaining the current neuroscientific hypothesis around this behaviour. While I think the consumerism and riding each feed each other, I think they also function independently. The act of buying something new and shiny isn't only exciting because I'll get to ride it. Just researching for a purchase, pulling the trigger, bringing it home/the arrival of the delivery, and unboxing are all 'enjoyable' experiences that stand mostly independent from the act of riding. I doubt many people have riding in the forefront of their mind at least. Riding is why we 'care' about the stuff, but it doesn't go much further than that.

It's essentially untestable, but I do think existing in an ocean of advertising is mostly responsible for this. At the very least it's a reasonable idea. It's hard to overstate just how immersed in advertising we are, and also just how comfortably almost everyone accepts it. When I recently did a one year mickey mouse degree that included advertising I was horrified at the ethical standard of how I was being pushed to apply advertising. In this case, there have been improvements in bikes, and that confounds the analysis in the instance you're discussing here. However there are many things that don't really have those factors, where people just make really, really bad decisions from an objective standpoint. With a little thought anyone can come up with some huge, shockingly significant examples.


Cam McRae  - May 30, 2017, 12:53 p.m.

Thanks Nat!


+1 wizardB
dave_f  - May 30, 2017, 12:39 p.m.

My sentiments exactly. Used to be my bikes were "work in progress", now I consider them all to be in a final state. My riding is "work in progress". Going to the dirt jumps or BMX park is fun because there's no one freaking out about the latest wonky headset fastener for $30. I derive hope from the belief that it is possible to transcend bipedal trash pandaism.


+2 wizardB ZigaK
Cr4w  - May 30, 2017, 4:41 p.m.

Totally. The more you ride the more stuff wears out so you still get your consumerism off the back end but it doesn't feel so obnoxious as when you're replacing stuff just for kicks. I only swap stuff out when it's basically ridden to dust, which, it turns out isn't that hard to do with modern drivetrains.


mightyted  - May 30, 2017, 2:58 p.m.

What about disposable income? For me, owning a bike is like being married. I can look at other bikes, but I can only have one at a time. That and the onslaught of new specs and advertising over the years has only inoculated me from the tractor beam. It's hard to care when you can't even keep up. Every 5 - 7 years, the juice is worth the squeeze. If I'm lucky that is.......


+2 wizardB Cam McRae
Andy Eunson  - May 30, 2017, 4:38 p.m.

There was an excellent documentary on knowledge network last week on marketing. Part one. They talked about marketing using fear as a selling point. The big SUV was the example. Bigger is safer but that turns out not to be entirely true as many SUV's handled poorly and roll easily and are less safe. In cycling we see that with helmets. MIPS, Leatt turbines, etc. I think fear is used to an extent to sell or up sell helmets. Similarly we must have the latest and greatest carbon and other tech or get left behind. 

It's not entirely like that though. I'm never gonna go back to friction thumb shifters or rim brakes. But maybe a hardtail with a nice fork. Do I really need anything more? 

What is faster, an Audi S7 at 130 kph or a Toyota Echo at 130 kph? What is better, Oil Can on a DH sled or Oil Can on a hardtail?


Pete Roggeman  - May 30, 2017, 5:48 p.m.

The helmet one is murky as you've laid it out. I haven't seen a lot of what you could call fear-mongering with respect to the marketing of helmets. Is there conflicting information/uncertainty about what the 'best' helmet is? Yes. 

But using MIPS as an example, if there is evidence that it works, and the up-sell is ~$30, that is a legitimate incremental safety gain. Not the same as misidentified safety as you laid out in the SUV example. Not the same as the difference between an SLX and an XT brake.

Maybe I'm being persnickety, but helmets are a big time outlier to me, compared to almost everything else. Yes, they're profitable. Yes, there are big time marketing dollars at work. But it's still different than almost everything else.

Oh, and an S7 at 130 is faster because it won't fly off the road if it hits a corner at that speed ;)


Andy Eunson  - May 30, 2017, 7:34 p.m.

And I agree with you on helmets Pete. There is some engineering behind MIPS and other such features. But perhaps a bit grey. The removable chin guard thing. I suppose they are a good thing but how well do they actually work as opposed to a real full face? I don't pretend to know. I do prefer things that are marketed for their functions as opposed to style or sex appeal. This article is excellent though as it brings out our inner sceptic.


+1 Cam McRae
wizardB  - May 30, 2017, 4:59 p.m.

I ride what I own , have no need to ride faster, have lots of fun and don't need to pretend I'm a racer. Haven't got rid of my 26 inch wheels they are great builds and work fine.


+1 Cam McRae
stinky_dan  - May 31, 2017, 8:05 a.m.

There's things I'll buy new and things I'll happily buy second hand. Frames aren't one of them as I don't trust myself 100% to spot any flaws (leads to another question : who offers the best post warranty service on broken frames).

But I guess the tractor beam is when you have something that is optimal and you are being persuaded that what you have is no longer any good for a multitude of made up reasons and that you need the new goodness in order to be 'back in the game'. It's a tough one and not entirely black and white as sometimes new technology is better, just not 'new things'.

I recommend lining your helmet with tinfoil to avoid the mind rays.


ZigaK  - June 1, 2017, 4:21 a.m.

re**: I think cable actuated disk brakes could work very well. I was shocked to find out that most of them have just one moving piston that is pressing against the other, fixed one. But there are dual piston designs out there.


Cam McRae  - June 1, 2017, 9:58 a.m.

I love how you mined that one point to comment on Ziga! I'm sure they could work well, but they didn't.


+1 Cam McRae
ZigaK  - June 1, 2017, 10:57 p.m.


I'm in process of buying a cheap gravel grinder, hence it will have cable actuated brakes. I have a funny feeling, after reading up on those C.A.B.-s excessively, that I will be swapping my mtb's brakes as well. I know, wouldn't work in BC, but here where I live it might.


+2 wizardB Cam McRae
Poz  - June 1, 2017, 3:43 p.m.

As noted earlier in the comments part of the draw to mountain biking is 1 part the sport and 1 part the tech. I find a lot of joy just tinkering on my bikes in my shop -- as well as researching different parts. This can be where the constant incremental changing standards can be excruciatingly frustrating to deal with.  

I'm riding a 2014 Blur TR in 26" that I built from the frame up from a smattering of parts from my prior Cove Stiffee build and new. Do I walk in the LBS and trailheads and get a little envious at the latest and greatest? Absolutely. However, I satiate my upgraditus by making incremental upgrades to my current bike(s) as either parts wear out or some money is burning a hole in my pocket (unlikely). An added bonus to this is I can see the actual improvements to my ride as I'm only changing one item at a time. Another bonus is I often end up with parts that I can swap to my family/commuter bike (the Stiffee) or, soon, to my kids' bikes. 

As my frame and fork are 650B friendly I may try that out when I cannot get any decent rubber but until then I'll be happy to spend a few hundred every year on my current steeds to keep them running smooth and add some shiny bits here and there.


jeffgicklhorn  - June 6, 2017, 3:06 p.m.

The tractor beam is strong!

I'm relatively new to mountain biking (~3 yrs) and a graduate student with a limited budget, so while it would be nice to have the shiniest, lightest, most tech-infused bike out there, my 2014 Kona Process is rock solid and not going anywhere. It took me about a year of budget tinkering and upgrading to get my bike to where I was happy with it. I'm super happy with it now, but with other friends (who have full time jobs and make lots of money) upgrade to new whips it does make me a bit jealous.......


Please log in to leave a comment.