WHEN YOU STOP WE'LL STOP
offset and the head angle, and wheel size, as measured along the ground by dropping a line down vertically from the front axle and measuring the distance that it ‘trails’ behind a line extrapolated out from the center of the steering axis) in a generally recognized sweet spot. This was thought of as one of the cornerstones of predictable bike handling.
However, as reach numbers grew, and stems got shorter (longer toptubes and short stems also go together like peanut butter and bananas), head angles slackened, and seat angles steepened (finally, hallelujah!), wheelbases got longer and longer, and the big lump of meat on top of the bike found it more difficult to get enough weight over the front wheel at speed. Hence the most recent geometric evolutionary twist being explored by a certain scrappy brand out of Bellingham—reducing rake to bring the front back ever so slightly beneath the rider in order to maintain traction on the front and enhance stability.
Meanwhile, how we ride has continued to change. Modern suspension is great, and bikes really do climb pretty damn well (especially when you consider how long and slack they are, and how antithetical that is to the road-derived traditional paradigm of what constitutes ‘good’ climbing). But don’t fool yourself, from a majority perspective, mountain biking is really not defined by climbing anymore. Trails are now built for mountain biking; switchbacks are disappearing in favor of sweeper berms, shuttles are a common part of the vocabulary and the chunky, hike-abike groveling of the ’80s and ’90s is the stuff of sepia tinted memories. People are riding trails built for slacker, longer bikes, and they are riding them faster. As such, wheelbases in excess of 47 inches are now seen as an advantage, not an impediment, for most riders in most terrain. Whether or not we want to admit that we are actively a part of this changing landscape, the landscape is changing.
Is there a downside to the current evolution? Absolutely. If you favor really tight, techy, old school trails, new school bikes handle well but are loooong, and they are a pain in the ass to muscle between narrowly spaced trees and around switchbacks that would have been tough to clean with a 42-inch wheelbase. And those old-school trails themselves are changing. In heavily populated areas, apexes are getting wider, corners are getting blown outward and tight lines are disappearing entirely. Whether ancient trails hacked into the earth centuries before mountain bikes came along are experientially better or worse than carefully radiused berms and rolling dips that serve double duty as erosion control and jump face is like arguing whether electricity is better or worse than fire. Context plays a big role.
For my part, I have no sentimental urge whatsoever to ride the bikes I was riding in the 1980s, but I sure do miss some of those trails.
PART OF THE