WHERE ARE THE SUPER BIKES?
By Matt George
I've got a bike, a great bike, I've had it for a while though and the tingle for a new ride has turned into an itch. Truth be told, I've not owned a bike that has had me so enchanted that I didn't long for another. I'm not particularly attached to machines, I've never named a car nor have I assigned a personality to a hunk of metal. I tend to save that love for my children, wife, friends and dog. This attitude, I believe, keeps me a bit more rational and subjective.
My current bike is a 155mm rear and 160mm front travel 29er. If I could love a bike, this one would be it. With caveats of course. It's made by a big brand (starts with an S), came at a spectacular price point, has a big warranty and has never let me down. It's positive attributes I've lauded numerous times on the FRMB Facebook group, yet I secretly have some issues. Still, it certainly qualifies as a benchmark, a solid bruiser willing to go anywhere and comparable to more exotic names and price points. I've rewarded this machine's behavior with lustful, adulterous online window shopping, almost since day one.
We mountain bikers aren't typically content with things, content sits on the couch, not a mountain bike seat. However, I do feel that we've accepted a large dose of mediocrity in trade for many small tastes of improvement. We've seen tires boost grip and lose weight all while gaining size. Similar attributes go for wheels. Good things. Yet the fact that most of us have to add air pressure every time we ride gets little attention. We're not here to talk minor issues though, let's talk bikes, whole bikes.
Bikes have undoubtedly improved. One would be a prick for not noting such, however, there's room for growth. We've seen geometry change drastically since my bike was new, suspension is ever evolving, wheels / tire size options have gone through the roof and we're looking at the most capable bikes that we've ever seen.
So why do I feel unfulfilled pondering my next MTB purchase? Am I an ungrateful complainer? I'd say that I'm not much of a complainer at all in most aspects of my life. I drive an 11 year old vehicle and new jeans is a special occasion. These examples are not due to poverty either. So, what gives?
I think that I'm a bit of a futurist, a dreamer of sorts. I look to the possibilities of the near future with awe and optimism. The negative to that is a healthy heaping of disappointment in the now. Why shouldn't we be a bit disappointed though?! Carbon fiber (as we know it today) is a product of 1963. We went to the moon almost 50 years ago, our cell phones talk and affordable, autonomous cars are just around the corner. Where's my super bike?
I get that manufactures have to put money into R&D, tooling, manufacturing and so on, all before producing bike parts or frames. Other industries evolve faster though, with the same issues.
Why can't a 6" travel bike climb like an XC race machine and descend like a small DH rig all while weighing 26lbs and costing $4,500?
Call me dreamer all you want, I've already owned that title but, we're about to see mass produced, fast, electric cars with reasonable range come down the pipeline for less than 4 times the cost of very high spec bikes. For a freaking car! Headlights, waterproofing, four big tires, heat, huge batteries, headlights and zero g type seats just to name a few of the attributes of a Tesla Model 3 or it's rapidly developing competitors. Let's not even get into the world of data which is seeing exponential growth along with Moore's Law.
We are seeing solid equipment improvements in mountain biking but, it's not enough. There used to be a race for weight saving in mountain biking, all while gaining longer legs and improved ability. Now, every trail or all mountain bike you look at is about 30lbs give or take. There seems to be very little penalty for increased travel or burliness. Even the weight weenies are SOL these days if they want to keep up with their friends plowing rock gardens on E29's, Wreckoning's or Bronson's. They'll look for a trail bike with a bit less travel that matches the modern riding style and find that they won't save a lot of weight, will likely spend more and come out marginally faster on the climbs but, bruised and battered on the descents. Should the trail rigs not be stupid light while the all mountain rides be sub 30lbs for a base model? I can't fathom that this is too much to ask, we just flew a satellite past Pluto and sent back high def pics.
Weight isn't the only issue. There's cost, reliability, lame component spec, tires and suspension performance to boot. I do realize it's a bit much to ask that all bikes come with 7" of travel that climbs like 4", weighs 20lbs and costs $2500 but, shouldn't we have a goal like that to work towards? It seems that positive geometry changes, evolving wheels and tires and knobs on suspension components have sufficed. I've been looking over the new crop of bikes and dread sets in; it's either rad with pedaling and/or weight penalties or it's a bone stiff hardtail, hardtail with bouncy 3.0's or a nervous 24lb 90mm race whip.
Can I get a 27lb 29er with 150mm? Can it cost under $5k? How is this too much to ask? If not then can we add lightweight, electrified pinion style shifting with carbon belt drive too?
Will R3ACT suspension, carbotanium, carbon nanotubes or automated manufacturing save the day? Will people tire of the "next big thing" being just an incremental change (looking at you Tallboy / Hightower and Pike / Lyrik) and rebel to ebike land?
Probably not, but we do live in a world with 2 year product cycles before incremental changes. Where're the big, exciting changes?
I'll just keep dreaming that the E29, Rip9 RDO or Transition Sentinel will come out with an updated model in September that pushes the sport forward, all the while airing up my tires, endlessly.
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