As 2019 has gently blurred into 2020, it's once again time for us at off.road.cc to uncover our crystal ball, cross our palms with loose change and then stare deeply into the murk to pull out some predictions about what's going to happen in the world of gravel and mountain bike tech. Here's what we reckon is going to be a big deal over the coming 12 months...
Fatter-legged enduro forks
We've already had a bit of a sneek peek of what we think is a prototype of Fox's new 38 enduro fork, which upsizes the legs of the current 36 fork (by 2mm, natch) for additional stiffness in the rough and tumble world of top-level enduro and freeride.
If Fox is far along enough with their design to be letting it be seen on riders' bikes, then it's almost certain fellow mountain bike suspension rival RockShox has a riposte in the works. Given their current penchant for reviving names from the past, a la Lyric and Pike, we'd place good money on the new fork - if there is a new fork - being called a Totem.
Fond memories for editor Jon there, as the launch for the original (and the Lyric) was the first he went on, all the way back in 2007. Time stops for no man etc...
Gravel bikes will get more mountain bikey (and also less)
Yes, yes, we know we said that'd happen last year with only partial success, but 2020 is definitely going to be when some gravel bikes start to really blur the boundary between what is and isn't gravel.
We've heard swirling rumours about more gravel bikes with more suspension, while Evil's Chamois Hagar is, to all intents and purposes, a pretty progressive mountain bike that happens to have drop bars.
We reckon this trend will continue, with a subsection of gravel getting more dirt focussed and the other side steadily continuing as the do-it-all, multifunction all-road rides customers need and the industry wants to sell - just without either admitting that this isn't a sexy enough reason to lay down some cash.
'Flop' bars will be a thing
With the continuing identity crisis as gravel bike are torn between their roadie dad and mountain bike mum, only one thing has been certain thus far; namely that drop bars are the thin red line that splits gravel bikes from being mountain bikes.
Of course, the only certainty in life is uncertainty, so we reckon some bright spark will create the flat-drop bar - instantly portmanteaued to 'flop' bar - which will sit between the two and muddy the waters some more.
It'll work with road-style brifter controls or normal mountain bike kit depending on how you angle it, run with grips or tape, offer more hand positions than a normal flat bar (so you've got stuff to do when you're bored on gravel) but less drop that a normal road-style bar (so your neck doesn't get a crick as you're being rattled about).
Gearboxes get less rubbish
The big fat drivetrain news of 2019 wasn't all that whizz-wireless electric stuff as it turns out - much rather that Shimano had been beavering away on a gearbox transmission for mountain bikes, as discovered when BikeRadar went snuffling for patents.
It's basically a much-refined version of the mech-in-a-box that was at the heart of Honda's RN01 downhill bike from the mid 00's and if it makes production - it probably will - then the dangly derailleur on your rear wheel will likely have had its day.
Getting weight off the rear wheel means better suspension performance and keeping the cogs covered up in a box means vastly increased lifespan for components and smoother shifting in the worst weather.
Everyone will have some new 'standards' to really complain about
This one follows on from Shimano's gearbox - which will require any bike that uses it to be completely designed around it. You'll long for the days of bitching about a new freehub standard that simply required a small component change as your entire bike is made obsolete overnight.
As the bike industry doesn't do things by half, expect a few more big new standards to arrive as well - for a start, those burly new long-travel enduro forks we mentioned earlier will probably be wanting a new steerer tube design to cope with all that extra leverage.
We reckon 1.5" straight steerers are due a comeback, but a new tapered design would be a fun addition to the already easy-to-understand world of headset 'standards' - assuming you count silently crying in a bike shop as you try to get a replacement as 'fun'.
Cross-country bikes will get gnarly
We've already seen a steady trend in up-gunning cross-country bikes with a smidge more travel and dropper posts - as in Specialized's Epic Evo range - but we reckon the time has come for lightweight, short-travel bikes with aggressive geometry and the ability to do much more than just go fast uphill.
The 2020 NS Bike Synonym range gets short travel paired with a slack head angle, steep seat angle, big reach figures across the sizes and trail bike mod-cons like a dropper post and wide bars. It points to a future where doing big miles at high speed doesn't mean you have to be scared witless on a twitchy machine once you start descending.
Bikes like these will make the most of all the advances in suspension performance, bike design and geometry to deliver enduro bike confidence without all the baggage, making them perfect for trail centre thrashing, natural singletrack slaying and racing; all in one package. Expect 'downcountry' to be the new bike segment name you love to hate.
Do you think we've missed anything? Is our crystal ball rubbish? Do let us know in the comments...
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