Mountain Biking Has Changed

My life as a mountain biker began back in the early-nineties. I was 15, had my first job and first real taste of disposable income. Somehow, I managed not to blow a few consecutive pay cheques and saved a little extra to buy something decent. It was a Specialized Rock Hopper FS, notable at the time because it was the least expensive Specialized bike equipped with front suspension, which, in 1993, was a very big deal.

If I were still riding that old bike on today’s trails, I would struggle. Not only would I struggle to ride well, but also to ride safely.

In the last 10-15 years, in particular, mountain biking has really evolved. Wheels have grown larger, tires fatter, bikes longer, handlebars wider, and the suspension on higher end bikes is now so good that it can somehow simultaneously both calm and energize the trail. On top of this, add in the innovation of the dropper seat post.

Dropper posts started showing up on a lot of higher end bikes 6-7 years ago. They are now becoming standard at the mid-range level as well. I would personally consider it a worthy upgrade for any level of bike.

It functions like an office chair. Pull the lever and sit and the seat goes down. Pull the lever while standing and the seat goes back up. It is a game changer.

Imagine skating or skiing and not being able to bend your knees in a turn because your equipment restricts you. Your center of mass stays high, tall and tippy, and limits the forces that you can apply to your edges. Now, imagine the equipment gets redesigned and suddenly grants you more mobility. You would immediately feel more nimble, stable, and less afraid of falling. That’s what the dropper post has done for mountain biking.

With this and all of the other recent advancements, there is suddenly more grip, safety, and stability than ever before. Mountain biking has effectively become easier. However, since the goal was never to make the sport easier, only more fun, the trails are evolving alongside the bikes in order to maintain the sense of challenge.

Most new trails today are designed to a completely different standard than they were 25 years ago, even 10 years ago. More and more, trails are designed with out-of-the-saddle pedaling, pumping, and coasting in mind. This is unlike many older trails, which were commonly designed around the rider staying in or very close to a seated pedaling position.

No matter what you’re doing on a bike, if you’re having fun, keep doing it. However, if at some point during this pandemic, you grab your old 90s or early-2000s era bike out the garage to go rediscover mountain biking, don’t be surprised if you catch yourself thinking, “mountain biking has changed”. It has and it’s incredible now. You just need the right equipment.

This month’s trail tip: Try thinking of your dropper post as a riser post, instead. Experiment with keeping it down unless you’re sure you need it higher.

A Singletrack Mind by David D’Agostino

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