If you’re a mountain bike rider, but your current model is more than 10 years old, you may want to check out new models, as bike technology has made incredible advances in the last decade.
Who would have imagined my expensive full-suspension bike, with up to four inches of adjustable travel, would be obsolete just a decade later? It’s still a good ride, but nowhere near the comfort and versatility offered by the new bike technology, a trend that began with cyclo-cross racing models, which combined many features of road bikes and hard-core mountain bikes.
One of the biggest changes is in tire size. The relatively recent development of the 29-inch tire is challenging the standard 26-inch wheel, with good reason. It’s more stable, with more traction and a greater ability to roll over road and trail obstacles. It’s also more comfortable and is a much better fit for taller riders.
One of the drawbacks of 29-ers is they can’t be used on a bike made for standard wheels. They require a new frame expressly sized for the larger tires. And there is another drawback: The better grip of bigger tires is a tradeoff with more weight for the extra rubber and wider rims, so the bigger-wheeled bike will be heavier.
However, the new trend of versatility also applies to tire size. Your choices are no longer limited to 26- or 29-inch wheels; there’s now the “650B.” This tire is an in-between size of 27.5 inches. According to many mountain bike experts, this size offers many advantages seen with the 29-inch tire — such as traction and comfort — without the higher center of gravity that can cause handling problems for shorter riders. But the best part of the 650B is that it will fit many regular 26-inch wheel hubs, so buying a new frame isn’t required.
You may still want a new bike after a riding a few demos of the latest models. A majority of the new bikes come with a stiffer frame, which offers more stability whether wheeling over potholes on city roads or single-track trail drop-offs on mountains.
Another technological innovation is the single chainring. Instead of the bulky chainring wheel for each gear, this drivetrain uses only one chainring. As with the other modern versatility options, there are advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is no longer needing a shifter, so you’ll never get confused by wondering which gear lever to push. You don’t need to worry about hitting a rock or tree trunk or other obstacle with your big chainring. There’s also much less of a chance of catching a pant leg in one of the chainrings.
Disadvantages include losing your highest and lowest gear, so it will be more quite a bit more difficult to pedal up steep hills and keep a constant cadence on flat terrain. You’ll either develop more leg strength or spend more time pushing your bike on technical stuff, and you may need to pull back your cadence to keep your speed under control on easy stuff.
Another innovation over the past decade is hydraulic disc brakes. As anyone who has tried to stop quickly at high speed on a steep downhill already knows, cable brakes do not provide immediate stopping power, no matter how hard you squeeze the brake levers. HDB give that ultimate stopping ability, which is why they were originally the domain of mountain bike racers. While there is some controversy over the way the heat of friction affects the operation of lower priced HDB’s, there’s no arguing these units do provide superior stopping power.
Don’t buy a so-called “mountain bike” at a discount or big-box store, despite the cheaper price. You won’t get the quality required for a comfortable or safe ride. In fact, if you read the fine print on the manual, it will sometimes warn, “Meant only for use on paved roads.” Components will be cheaply made and wear out or break easily, thus costing you more in the long run. Go to a real bike store and buy a real mountain bike.
If you’re an infrequent rider who rarely takes that dusty old mountain bike out of the garage or basement, you might not need a new one. But if you ride more than a few times a month, either for pleasure, exercise or transportation, check out how high tech has come to mountain biking, making it much more comfortable and secure and worth the price of a new model.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly, which offers the latest on training, diet and athletic information.
Distributed by MCT Information Services