THE SPEED OF CHANGE
By Jim McIlvain
the 26-inch wheel would be so rapidly
abandoned by trail riders (and
honestly, I couldn’t imagine that it was
going to happen this fast), but that
appears to be the way things are going.
Even the last stronghold of the 26er,
long-travel gravity bikes is being
invaded by 27.5-inch wheels with a
growing success rate.
Don’t shoot the messenger, but it
looks like the 26er is a goner.
These balloon-tired trailbikes have
left their home in Alaska and invaded
the lower 48. Well, maybe not the 48.
More like the lower 10 or 12. That’s
because they will never replace a
conventional trailbike in most
riding situations. In fact, I have yet to
bump into a fat bike being ridden on
Backbone Trail, where its bulk and
bouncy nature would make it fun for
about the first quarter mile. But, I am
going to add one to my personal quiver.
Used in the right conditions, like after
a snowfall on the Golden Eagle Trail
or on a midnight, full-moon beach ride
north of Ventura, California, the fat
bike is so much fun.
Last year we included a fat-bike
section in the buyer’s guide because
we felt it was an interesting-to-look-at
subculture of mountain biking. This
year, fat bikes are no longer a curiosity
or an oddity. They have earned their
rightful place in the guide’s pages and
in my garage.
It feels like ancient history now,
but there was a time when I created
a heated controversy in our sport by
refusing to use the term “freeride bike”
in our pages. Why? One, the word did a
horrible job of describing the discipline
it was intended to define, and two, I
felt anti-mountain bike forces would
use it against Mountain Bike Action and
our sport, accusing us of promoting and
condoning off-trail riding.
Instead, MBA used the term “
black-diamond bikes,” because that was the
only place these long-travel beasts
proved their worth. They shined on
steep, gnarly, black-diamond or double-black-diamond downhill trails and were
totally useless anywhere else.
I still stand behind my decision, but
as of 2014, it’s a moot point. The black-
Shoot me a question any time at
Since we publish Mountain Bike
Action every month, it is easy to get
caught up in the moment and miss
some of the sweeping changes going on
in our sport. That’s why our annual
buyer’s guide can be a real eye-opener.
It gives us a chance to take a breath,
look back at last year’s buyer’s guide
and see what has changed. And friends,
I do not remember a year in my 13
years as editor of this fine magazine
that has seen such dramatic changes as
this last one.
THE WHEEL DEAL
Just last year we cautioned riders
to take a wait-and-see approach to the
“new,” in-between, 27.5-inch wheel
size that split the difference between
26-inch wheels and 29-inch wheels.
Some big names, including Giant,
Cannondale, GT, Trek and Specialized,
were not offering models with 27.5-
inch wheels at the time. Twelve
months later, only Specialized has yet
to drop the 27.5-inch coin, and Giant
has gone so far as to nearly abandon
the 26er altogether.
Speaking to smaller builders, it is the
same story. “I can still build someone
a 26-inch-wheeled trailbike,” explains
David Turner, the owner of Turner
Bikes, “but nobody is asking for one.”
I would have been run out of town
on a rail last year for suggesting that
diamond bike is fading into the sunset
faster than it ever went on a trail.
The biggest reason is that aggressive
trailbikes are so totally awesome.
They are light, have great suspension
and are plenty durable. They can ride
circles around a black-diamond bike
on any climb and do a pretty great job
of matching them knob for knob on
the descents. And in areas where the
descents are too gnarly for an
aggressive trailbike, a downhill bike,
which now weighs about what a
black-diamond bike did two years
ago, is a much better choice.
So goodbye black-diamond or
freeride bike. Can’t say we are going
to miss you. Your replacement is so
THE WORLD OF COMPONENTS
Finally, the component world is seeing major upheavals. The “wheel deal”
has spawned just as many changes to
tire design as it did to frame design.
The selection of drivetrains (1x1, 1x11,
2x10, 3x10 and who knows what is
coming?) has never been larger. Some
seatposts now have more sophisticated
internals than suspension forks had
back in the day. And speaking of suspension, pretty much any dual-suspension bike in this guide has suspension
components that were engineered and
valved just for that specific bike.
How about axles? It is unlikely that
you will find a new wheel that offers
the old 9-millimeter axle with a quick-release standard, because there is so
little demand for them anymore.
YOUR GUIDE TO FUN
A good number of you picked up this
guide because you are new to our sport.
If I have confused you with 2x10 talk
or wheel-diameter choices, I apologize.
Please be assured that the rest of our
guide has been written to make it as
welcoming as possible. And if you like
what you find, I encourage you to join
us by signing up for a subscription.
We will help you pick the right bike
and then use it properly. Our goal is to
make you faster than the changes going
on in the sport that you are going to