4 Must-Have Mountain Bike Innovations
Whether it’s been more than a decade since your last mountain bike purchase or you’re on the hunt for your very first mountain bike, there are numerous innovations over the past ten years that have made mountain bikes more comfortable and capable than ever before. Depending on your needs and how much you plan to ride, these innovations will help make you a better rider and should be on whatever mountain bike you end up purchasing.
Hydraulic Disc Brakes
The faster you can stop, the faster and safer you can ride. Perhaps no mountain bike innovation is more important than hydraulic disc brakes, a feature that has gone from an expensive option ten years ago to a standard feature for virtually every mid-to-high performance mountain bike.
For those on a tighter budget, mechanical disc brakes use a cable to control the disc caliper, and can work reasonably well, but mechanical disc brakes require more upkeep to ensure the cables are free of mud and grit for smooth performance. Hydraulic disc brakes also have more power, modulation and lower maintenance requirements thanks to being a fully sealed system.
Thanks to the superior power and modulation of hydraulic disc brakes, they enable riders to use “one finger braking”, allowing the rider to have a better grip on the handlebars for more control when the trail gets steep, rocky and loose.
When it comes to performance upgrades, one of the least sexy yet essential ways to improve a bike is a really good set of tires. Shelling out upwards of $100 for a good set of tread can be hard to accept at first, but once those new shoes are on your bike, climbing traction improves, braking traction improves and of course, cornering traction improves. Hands down, a good set of tires is the best performance-per-dollar upgrade you can make to your bike.
To improve tire performance even more, tubeless tires have been around for more than a decade, but have really been perfected within the last 10 years. Tubeless tires do away with a traditional inner tube, instead relying on an airtight seal between the tire bead and rim, and with the aid of liquid sealant, allow the rider to run lower tire pressure for enhanced traction, a smoother ride and better protection against punctures and flats.
The trickiest part to tubeless tires is learning how to set them up, add sealant and swap tires out. Of course your local bike shop can help with this, but even the most basic do-it-yourselfer can handle setting up and swapping out tubeless tires.
Originally developed for long travel full-suspension bikes, over the past ten years dropper seatposts have become so popular they can now be found on hardtail mountain bikes and even some cyclocross and road bikes. Although a dropper seatpost can weigh as much as a half-pound more than a traditional seatpost, the improvement in rider comfort, safety and performance is well worth the weight penalty.
Dropper seatposts provide the rider with better body positioning on the bike during descents where a traditional seatpost hinders movement. With the saddle out of the way, it gives the rider a lower center of gravity and much improved maneuverability on the bike, especially on extremely steep descents where a traditional seatpost increases the likelihood of a rider crashing over the handlebars.
Dropper posts can be cable or hydraulic operated with a handlebar-mounted button. Cable actuation provides faster performance while hydraulic operation can offer easier setup and lower maintenance. Most new frames are designed to accommodate “stealth” dropper posts, running the cable internally from the down tube to the seat tube. But almost any frame can accommodate a “non-stealth” dropper post, which runs the cable externally.
Clutch Rear Derailleurs
Before the advent of clutch rear derailleurs, chain slap, chain suck and dropped chains when shifting were a far more common headache for riders. But by integrating a spring-loaded mechanism, clutch rear derailleurs keep constant tension to virtually eliminate dropped chains and annoying chain slap against the frame’s chainstay tube.
The advent of the clutch rear derailleur has also enabled another important innovation – 1x drivetrains. A 1x drivetrain system eliminates the front derailleur and front shifter so the rider only has to focus on shifting the rear derailleur, simplifying the bike while making it lighter. Most 1x drivetrains feature 11 gears in the rear with a range that’s almost as broad as a traditional system with a front shifter and multiple front chainrings. Although some riders will still prefer a front shifter with two or three front chainrings for a wider gear range, a clutch rear derailleur can still be used to improve overall shifting performance, making it a must on any geared mountain bike.
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