Bike (USA) - - Contents -

Change, it is of­ten said, does not hap­pen in a vac­uum. One shift in think­ing can lead to a con­cur­rent re­ac­tion in be­hav­ior, which can lead to a domino-fall of con­se­quence that even­tu­ally can re­shape the way we all act and think. Cause and ef­fect, ac­tion and re­ac­tion, rip­ple out­ward and cre­ate more cause and ef­fect, more ac­tion and re­ac­tion. Whether we are talk­ing about species evo­lu­tion, pol­i­tics or bike de­sign, this holds true.

A few years ago, I opined that the pen­du­lum of moun­tain bike ge­om­e­try was swing­ing past one of my fa­vorite nav­i­ga­tion points—the Sch­winn Ex­cel­sior DX—back in the di­rec­tion of slacker head an­gles af­ter a cou­ple decades cater­ing to a de­cid­edly steeper, cross-coun­try-race-friendly em­pha­sis. I also spec­u­lated that we were reach­ing the end of the pen­du­lum’s swing, as the head an­gles and reach num­bers on gen­eral-duty trail bikes were get­ting into what had been the sole do­main of down­hill bikes not too many years prior. The thick part of the moun­tain-bike-buy­ing bell curve, I as­sumed, would balk at these new plows. Turns out I was wrong (yet again, just like when I said elas­tomers would be the fu­ture of sus­pen­sion …), and the pen­du­lum has con­tin­ued to swing out into the long-and-slack fron­tier. How? Why?

The evo­lu­tion of bike ge­om­e­try is an on­go­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive/com­pet­i­tive ex­per­i­ment. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are look­ing to sell bikes. In or­der to do that, they need to sell bikes that peo­ple want to buy. The first moun­tain bikes were mod­elled af­ter old Sch­winn cruis­ers be­cause that was as sen­si­ble a start­ing point as any. For a time, XC rid­ing and rac­ing was seen as the dom­i­nant mar­ket, and so bike de­sign moved from heavy and slack to­ward light and steep, head an­gles ratch­eted up, and no­body seemed to mind wear­ing Ly­cra. Then, Canada, freeride, yada yada yada, and large num­bers of moun­tain bik­ers be­gan think­ing that this was more fun. Cue wide­spread car­nage de­fined clearly in bro­ken hel­mets, col­lar­bones and bike frames. Steep, twitchy bikes climb tight, nadgery trails well, and they are rock­ets go­ing up fire roads, but they pretty much suck ev­ery­where else. So, head an­gles got slacker, wheel­bases got longer, tires got wider, wheel di­am­e­ters ex­panded and here we are. But there are some nu­anced points along the way to con­sider.

One of the prime in­di­ca­tors of the com­ing change, if you were to look back a decade-and-a-half, would be the re­turn of the riser bar. Not only did riser bars come back, they got wider. And wider, and wider again. Hand in hand with that, by ne­ces­sity, stems got shorter and shorter. Nar­row bars and long stems work pretty well to­gether, but wide bars and long stems, not so much. It cre­ates an odd tiller ef­fect at the front of a bike. Like­wise, nar­row bars and short stems are grim. A short stem needs some more bar width to influence a front wheel to turn. Mean­while, slacker head an­gles were be­ing met with greater fork off­set. This was seen as a way to keep trail (a mea­sure­ment de­rived from the fork


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