Bike (USA) - - Grimy Handshake -

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.










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