Today’s Top Innovations

Movers and Shakers

Long-travel 29ers: While many companies have attempted to build 29er trail and enduro bikes in the past, nobody was really able to make it stick. We reviewed one several years ago and described it handling corners “like an 18-wheeler trying to make it through a McDonald’s drive-thru.” Well, those days are past us, and the new crop of big-travel, big-wheel machines finally handle well. Heck, even many of the top pros on the World Cup downhill circuit are using full DH rigs with huge travel and “wagon wheels” and winning. To say that these bikes are here to stay is an understatement.

Suspension tuning: Suspension companies have drastically improved the air springs that most trail and enduro bikes use to make them feel more and more like the plush coil springs we all came to know and love years ago. They’ve also introduced and made available very easy-to-use tuning options, like air-volume reducers and compression and rebound dampers, which make your suspension ride like the pros’ without the help of a pro mechanic.

Long-travel dropper posts: When dropper posts were first introduced about a decade ago, they revolutionized riding forever. Until now, though, they were always limited to a few inches of travel. This left riders with improved clearance but without the ability to truly put the bike into “rally mode” with the saddle completely out of the way. The newest posts are available with travel up to 150 and 170 millimeters of travel, which can slam the saddle all the way and let you shred.

Helmet safety: Nearly every high-end helmet now comes with additional protection for reducing rotational forces in the event of a crash. That can make a big difference in preventing concussions, and we’re all for that. Companies like 6D, Leatt and MIPS have all engineered systems that keep your noggin safer by limiting the violent rotation that can damage gray matter. You wouldn’t buy a car without airbags these days, so why would you buy a helmet without this added protection?

Improved tire compounds: Along with improvements in sizes and options, tire construction has improved leaps and bounds this year. They’re lighter, quicker, and grippier. The tread patterns are also more diverse than ever, offering anything from XC-quick to DH-aggressive, all without completely sacrificing rolling resistance or traction.

Long, low and slack geometry: The days of the 120-millimeter stem are long gone, thanks to this new crop of bikes. It seems every bike we’ve tested recently—from cross-country to enduro and downhill—has been designed with a long front end that allows for the use of a short stem. Along with that change, bikes have gotten lower bottom brackets, slacker head angles and steeper seat angles. This new-school geometry not only improves handling and confidence, but also puts the rider in an efficient position right over the pedals.

Wider tires: Even if you don’t go to a full plus-sized bike, tires have gotten wider on all bikes across the board. This gives better traction, a more compliant ride, and protects your rims from dents and dings. If you’re running a tubeless setup, you can even get away with very low pressures, which further improves the ride quality.

Wide rims: This is another one that’s been around for a while, but wide rims have revolutionized mountain bikes. The days of the narrow rim are all but gone, thanks to a new crop of lightweight and wide rims that can spread the tire and increase the tire contact patch. These new wheels are also stiffer and more responsive than ever before.

Plus-sized bikes: These have been around for a while, but they have come into their own this year with improved suspension, wheel and tire technology. Plus-sized bikes offer improved traction compared to a standard bike, but don’t have the weight penalty, clearance issues and limited options for suspension of a true fat bike.

Direct-to-consumer bikes: Bike manufacturers are rethinking the entire model with which they deliver their bikes to you. Rather than head to the bike shop and pick one off the rack, they’re going the way of Amazon, allowing you to shop online and have the bike delivered right to your door. Companies like KTM, and Bulls are spearheading the effort, and we’d guess there will be others that follow. We’ve always been proponents of the local bike shop, and still are. www.ktm-bikes


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