With the arrival of a new year, it's time to look into our crystal ball and see what the next 12 months might hold when it comes to new mountain bike tech and trends. Will 2018 finally be the year we get hover bikes? Read on to find out...
1. More electronic trickery in suspension and shifting
Whether you like it or not, the traditionally mechanical world of mountain biking is set to get increasingly digital. It's been in development hell for a couple of years now, but Fox's adaptive Live Valve damping system points the way for a future where you suspension won't just passively react to the terrain you're riding over, but instead predict what's coming up and adapt to it. Being able to square the circle of pedalling control and bump absorption is the holy grail of bike suspension - just imagine a long travel bike that pedals as well as a cross-country rig...
In the world of gearing, Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting system has failed to make much of an impact on mountain bikes, but SRAM's wireless eTap system holds more promise for off-road riders. Removing the need for any gear cables and requisite routing and holes would allow for lighter and stronger frame designs. That said, the extra power required to move a clutch equipped mech over wide range cassette in muddy conditions means this one isn't overly likely, we reckon.
2. Everything will get more expensive, forcing more brands to go direct
There's no getting around the fact that the uncertainty over Brexit had a serious impact on exchange rates, with the pound falling massively against the dollar during 2017. Seeing as most bikes and bits are paid for using dollars in Taiwan and then imported to the UK, it's pretty obvious that things are going to get more expensive. Some of the more financially astute brands might have been able to delay passing on price rises to consumers last year via financial trickery, but 2018 is the year it's really going to hit home.
That means many brands have tough decisions to make. They can increase prices and see sales fall or keep prices the same and reduce their margins, neither of which is ideal when they're up against high-value direct sales brands like Canyon and YT. One solution is to take a leaf out of their book, cut out local bike shops and sell directly to consumers. Intense Cycles just recently announced that's what they would be doing, resulting in prices dropping significantly across the range, so expect to see more brands following suit.
The downside to this is that you'll miss out on the face to face advice and after-sales support a bricks and mortar shop can provide when buying a new bike. You pays your money, you takes your choices...
3. You'll start to care about fork offset
Even if you're a dedicated tech-head, you'd be forgiven if fork offset wasn't at the front of your mind when looking at bike geometry. Fork offset is the amount the front axle extends horizontally from the centreline of the steerer. Along with head angle and wheel size, it has an important effect on how much trail your bike has, which in turn influences everything from straight line stability to how much effort it takes to steer the bike through turns.
For years, fork manufacturers have offered fixed offsets depending on what size wheel you're running, but some brands such as Transition are now starting to spec much shorter fork offsets than normal to improve handling as head angles have got slacker and reach figures got longer. It's an approach pioneered by industry legend Chris Porter of Mojo, but we expect to see a lot of brands following suit over the next year.
4. Wider rims and 2.6" tyres will kill off Plus rubber
Full fat 2.8-3.0" wide 'Plus' on 40mm or so wide rims might have been the last big thing, but 2018 is the year things will settle down to a much more reasonable level, with 30mm wide rims paired to 2.4-2.6" tyres specifically designed to work with them, whether on 27.5' or 29" hoops.
The reason for this is that, despite the hype, the drawbacks of super fat Plus tyres outweigh the benefits in most applications. Getting an aggressive tread pattern and a durable casing at an acceptable weight is an almost impossible task with a proper Plus tyre, so stepping it down slightly gives most of the benefits without the drawbacks. That's the theory anyway.
We will add one caveat here: Plus tyres will still make a load of sense on lightweight trail hardtails, where the extra volume helps mute bumps, and on e-MTBs, where more traction is welcome and the weight of a carcass tough enough to cope simply isn't an issue.
5. Integrated storage will be more common on bikes
Specialized kicked off this trend a good while back with their 'Storage Water and Tools' - SWAT - system that allowed you to carry tools, tubes and more within the frame or integrated to it. The trend is going to get bigger this year. Canyon gives you the option of what's best described as a butty box behind the headtube on their 2018 Spectral trail bike and there are loads of small companies making clever tools that live in your steerer tube or crank axle.
Not having a hefty backpack or having to sticky-tape a spare tube to your frame can only be a good thing, we reckon.
6. More trail bikes will get idlers
Ahh, the chain idler, an idea whose time comes with unerring regularity. This time around the charge is being led by the likes of Commencal, who have added an idler to their Supreme SX enduro machine, having used one on their Supreme DH V2 downhill bike for some time.
What's an idler you say? Well, in most suspension designs, the chain tension has an effect on the suspension extension, known as anti-squat. This effect is commonly used to help improve pedalling performance, with the chain tension stiffening the suspension as you pedal to counteract energy-sapping bob. This also works in reverse, with the suspension pulling on the chain and cranks as the suspension compresses.
This pedal kickback is particularly bad with high single pivot designs, which have a lot of chain growth as the suspension compresses. To get around this, an idler routes the chain up from the cranks and instead of going straight to the cassette, is routed via an idler cog mounted to the main pivot, neutralising pedal kickback completely and giving no anti-squat (or squat) at all.
The upside is that you then mount your pivot wherever you want - usually to get a very rearwards axle path to help deal with square edged bumps - and not have to worry about the cranks jerking backwards whenever you hit a bump. The downsides? Well, the idler inevitably adds drag, you need a really long chain, the benefits of a rearward axle path aren't as clearly cut as you might expect and some anti-squat is actually useful for good pedalling performance...
7. Women's specific geometry will be dropped for women's specific builds
There was a time when brands were falling over themselves to create bikes with geometry that they said was better suited to female riders than male or unisex bikes, often citing oodles of biometric data to back that up, with various claims of higher centres of gravity, different arm-to-leg length ratios and so on.
Nothing wrong with that, surely? Well, in a somewhat curious turn of events, this almost always led to bikes that had steeper head angles, shorter reach figures and higher bottom brackets than the equivalent non-women's specific machines - generally, things that are known to make mountain bikes less good to ride off-road. Add in the fact that the bikes often suffered an equally curious transition to flowery graphics and pastel colours and it often seemed rather tokenistic and patronising.
Snark aside, mountain biking is a very dynamic activity where you're not in a largely fixed position on the bike in the way that, say, a road cyclist might be. That makes the centre-of-gravity stuff less important than decent reach, slack head angles and a low bottom bracket when it comes to rider performance and confidence. Throw in the fact that people tend to come in all different shapes and sizes regardless of gender, and it makes a lot of the theory seem rather irrelevant.
A better idea, therefore, is to just make the bike with the right geometry for riding offroad and make sure the contact points are up to the task for female riders, which is exactly what we're starting to see.
8. Shimano will play the numbers game and go 12spd (or beyond)
Poor Shimano. Once the dominant figure when it came to anything to do with gearing, they've been on the back foot ever since SRAM came out with their genuinely game-changing single-ring only, wide range 11spd drivetrains. Even once Shimano had gone to 11, their decision to keep pushing multiple front rings plus Di2's expense and general lack of appeal gave the general impression of a company on the back foot, while SRAM decisively forged ahead with their single ring vision, launching 12spd Eagle groupsets with even more range.
However, the Japanese giant is notoriously punctual - in what other countries would a train line apologise for leaving 20 seconds early - and they've always followed their three-year product cycle religiously. Seeing as the last top end XTR group was launched in 2015, it means we're due one this year. Will they go to 12spd? Will they still offer multiple chainrings? Will there be mechanical and Di2 options? We don't know - but we do know there will be something.
9. Frame geometry will change, but only conservatively
Not that we're a broken record or anything, but we do like our bikes on the long and slack side here at off-road.cc, so this isn't one we're looking forward to. For yet another year, we're sure that new bikes with creep a few millimetres longer here and a fraction of a degree slacker there, but probably nowhere near as much as they should do to leave behind their road bike roots and embrace the future as truly dedicated machines in their own right. That means more reach, steeper seat angles and slacker head angles. Hopefully, we'll figure out how all that jumbles together with bottom bracket weight and chainstay length along the way.
If you've got any predictions of your own (apart from mountain bike websites continuing to make numbered lists) then do let us know in the comments...