The Pace of Change in MTB
Interbike is a rare opportunity to pick the brains of some of the biggest influencers in the mountain bike industry. Staff from both the product and marketing departments generally know what’s going to market two years from now in 2018, and right now many are working on 2019. Of course, they won’t tell us about this stuff, and if they let something slip and we pass it on we’d get blacklisted, so I wasn’t trying to find out specifics.
I wanted to find out what these people know about the pace of change – so I asked them a very specific question; Do you think the pace of change to mountain bikes is going to remain constant, slow down or increase in the next few years. I was talking about things like axle sizes, bottom bracket standards, headset sizing, shock sizing, wheels, tires, seat post sizes, the kinds of changes that have made bikes from five years ago completely incompatible with most parts from the bikes we were looking at down here in Las Vegas.
“Do you think the pace of change to mountain bikes is going to remain constant, slow down or increase in the next few years?”
Here are eight answers from some savvy industry veterans
“Crikey. It feels like there always has been change. It feels for me like business as usual. 26 – 29, 29-27 plus, 27.5 – 27 plus, fat bikes, e-bikes. It just seems to be relentless. For us at Santa Cruz I feel like there’s a steady pace of it. I don’t feel there’s been any sort of peak, that this has been any more hectic than any other time. What we’re noticing mostly is this demand of people asking us for e-bikes. That seems to be where everyone thinks all the change is. And it’s just another thing. It’s not the replacing thing. There’s always something. People are just looking around for, to be fair, the next bit that needs to be improved. Integrated headsets are cleaner. There’s some unnecessary stuff, like bottom brackets, six of one, half dozen of the other but I think it’s the natural pace of change. I think we’ve been pretty good at rejecting anything that’s B.S. Boost was a tricky one. At work I remember when Boost was a pain in the ass. It does improve certain things but we were living just fine to a point, I believe.”
Dan Dacko – North American Marketing Liason – SR Suntour
“It’s either going to stay the same or decrease. The reason I think about that. There’s a bunch of retailers I talk to who can’t move fast enough for that rate of change. If they aren’t prepared for it, then it makes everybody’s life miserable. Then there will be blowback from the people who ride the stuff and everybody’s just got to catch up. There’s too many things in flux. I think there are a lot of people asking why we did this. Why are we at this rapid pace of change? Does it make mountain biking more fun? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly more frustrating and I think a lot of people are coming to that frustration point.”
Josh Kissner -Product Manager – Santa Cruz Bikes
“I would think it would probably decrease for normal bikes. I feel like you’re going to see more people get bored and run out of ideas and start to do more electronics and things we don’t feel are totally necessary. That would be my guess. It does feel that we’ve been filling every single micro-niche for awhile now. It’s tough to know what’s next. I do think there have been a lot of improvements. None of us are doing it for convenience sake. Everyone is trying really hard and coming up with a bunch of new stuff. And most of it’s good probably.”
Bobby Brown – Marketing Specialist – Maxxis
“I think it’s just going to continue. A lot of us have mixed opinions on e-bikes but I think that’s really opening up mountain biking to a large percentage of the population that may have considered mountain biking a little too hardcore or intense for them to do on a Saturday morning. I’d say if anything plus tires, e-bikes, a lot of these technologies paired with bikes being so much better these days, easier pedaling and lighter weight, are making mountain biking more accessible. And this is going to grow the sport.”
Andrew Major – Tech Writer – NSMB.com
Photo – David Ferguson
“I think for big companies like Trek and Giant and Specialized, the pace of change is going to increase exponentially until the components on the bikes aren’t compatible with bikes from any other bike companies. For smaller companies the pace of change has to slow because they need to be able to build common parts to build their bikes. They can’t all have their own bottom bracket width or hub spacing so they need common standards.”
Eric McKeegan – Tech Editor – Dirtrag
“I think they’re going to settle in where they are now for awhile. I don’t think we’re going to see any new bottom bracket standards. I think we’ll see limited things like the 150 DH hub being used – maybe a few more companies using that – but I think we’ve settled a lot of the standards stuff. The tapered head tube has been estabished and no one seems to be messing with that. I’m hoping that similar things are happening with hubs and wheel sizes. I think the biggest thing we’re going to see is messing around with tires for a long time. Now there are 2.6 tires that aren’t really Plus Bike tires but aren’t really standard tires. But everything else – we’re through the worst of it. I hope. ”
Joel Smith – Product Manager – X-Fusion Shocks
“Change and development are far different. There’s been a lot of change but there hasn’t been much development. Developing something that’s unique and very useful and has an application that’s beneficial to the customer. I think we’ve made a lot of changes recently that I don’t think have been significantly beneficial for the amount of change they’ve required. I think the development is going to increase a lot because we now have a product that requires a lot of development – e-mountain bike products. It’s requiring drivetrain rethinking, brake rethinking, fork rethinking, battery rethinking, motor rethinking – there’s going to be a huge amount of development in the next five years that’s going to be driven by a different application. Which is e-bike. Part of the problem with the change thing is that we’ve reached the end of the cycle. If you a 160mm 27.5 bike, how much better are you going to make it? You’re not. There is no game-changer coming in enduro bikes – I don’t believe. So I don’t see the development in e-bikes crossing over to conventional bikes. But that’s where the revenue is coming from. By far the most interesting category at Eurobike this year was e-trekking because it’s generating the revenue. Whatever generates the revenue is where the development is going to happen.”
Morgan Meredith – Global MTB Marketing Manager – Cannondale
“I think we’re in a bit of a plateau. When you think about it mountain biking is not that old. There are things in the past two years that have been invented that completely change the way and the places we ride. We’ll start to see a slowdown of the wheel size debate, axle sizes and those sorts of things. There is not much farther we can take it in that regard. There are other places we’ll be doing more, in suspension and tires etc. In the smaller moves, I think we’ll start seeing a slow down there. Bigger monumental things will still be coming because we’re young and we still have a lot to learn.”
Not Exactly a Consensus
Not long ago it seemed like companies were reluctant to foist too much change on customers. They seemed to worry riders would be scared away and either choose brands that held on to previous standards and technology, or keep their current bikes, so they proceeded with caution. As change began to accelerate the backlash came on the internet, in bike shops and over post-ride beers, but the sales kept coming. The changes, both large and small, have given media outlets like ours shit to talk about – and new messages for companies to communicate. Many early adopters to 27.5 were medium-sized companies who found new markets and made huge gains on larger brands, making it clear that waiting on the sidelines with technologies like Boost and 27.5 Plus was not an option.
It’s clear that this rapid rate of change has improved bikes dramatically. Some of the changes, like clutch derailleurs, narrow wide, tapered head tubes, dropper posts, carbon construction, improved suspension and geometry and even new wheel sizing, have provided real benefits to riders. Given the choice between a full suspension a bike from 2011 and 2016 it’s not even close. At the same time, many changes feel like lipstick on a pig. I can see why riders feel new standards are being developed to part them from their cash. Consumer fatigue is setting in and I think some leveling off in the near future would be as welcome as a post-ride brew.
My answer is that I hope we don’t see the sorts of changes that will make your bike from 2016 incompatible with 2018 parts. Wheel size seems to have solidified some and we shouldn’t need new axle or shock standards soon, but I think the industry’s recent infatuation with new! and different! will find new areas of your bike to mess with. Call me a cynic, but I’d bet some carbon wheels against the madness ending anytime soon.
What’s your guess about the pace of change?