Every year, or nearly every year, we sit down and try to use some of our best-guessing to predict what the mountain bike world might hold in store for us – and for you – in the year ahead. While sometimes we’re a bit wide of the mark (electric shocks still aren’t here just yet, but this year did see a 29er win a World Cup downhill race, so that’s another one in the bag) we’ve been successful more often than not at predicting some of the key moments of the year.
Well, it’s that time of year again, where we all take a stab at what we think might happen in the next 12 months. There’s no cheating allowed, which means no delving into yet-to-be-launched product catalogues or asking our mates in the bike trade. Contrary to what you might think, we’re in the dark about it as much as you are. So, without further ado, let’s re-use this photo of Hannah as it’s so good…
Going back to 2012 – we predicted that ‘Touring would become the new cyclocross, which was the old fixie’, that ‘there would be a new UK World Champion’, ‘electronic shifting would start to appear on pro-racers’ bikes’ and more. For a laugh, you can check out those 2012 predictions right here.
And back in 2015, Chipps predicted that in a year, you wouldn’t be able to move for these new Plus bikes.
2016’s predictions foresaw that the fat bike would lose out in popularity to the new Plus-size wheel, we predicted the return of the 29er trail bike and predicted both 11-speed SLX and electric XT.
Last year we predicted: Affordable SRAM 12-speed, 2.6in semi-plus tyres, e-bike batteries small enough to fit inside frames, the resurgence of 29er trail bikes and the settling of wheels into the ‘new’ Boost standard, among others. And we were pretty on the ball!
Let’s see what we’ve got for 2018 then…
Chipps – Editor and Reluctant Tech-head
1) Shimano Will Announce Its New XTR Groupset
That bit’s pretty easy to guess. It’s been, what? four years since XTR went 11 speed and the rest of the range, down to Deore has caught up with the 11 speed thing, so that means that 2018 will see the announcement of new stuff from Shimano, available in time for 2019. While we don’t know what’s coming, it’s not a great leap of deduction to think that it will be based mostly around a front derailleur system and 12 cogs instead of the current 11, with one-by as an after-thought as it currently is. Or perhaps Shimano will go straight to 1×14 speeds, leapfrogging SRAM’s 12? After all, it famously has had a cassette patent depicting 14 sprockets since 1999. I’m hoping the latter, but I suspect that it will still be a case of gradual improvement. Shimano’s keenness for backward compatibility has seen it keep the same cassette body design for this century so far, which limits how small a cog it can run (11T), which would mean that in order to rival Eagle’s 10-50T cassette, it’d have to a much bigger cassette. 56T anyone? 60T? Or will it come out with a way of going with the ten tooth sprocket?
With more and more bikes ditching even the capacity of a front derailleur, this next year will be one of Shimano’s greatest challenges yet…
2. The Bicycle World Will Lose Another Legend.
In 2017 we lost Mike Hall, but I don’t think that it will be an isolated incident. With more dangerous and distracted roads, super-technical downhill and enduro courses and our original mountain bike pioneers heading towards their 70s, I think we’re going to lose a big name next year as the mountain bike world ages and the world in general gets more dicey.
3. Less Carbon, More Alloy
Other manufacturers will follow Pole’s (and Orange Bikes’) lead and will stop production or research into carbon frames or components based on price and/or environmental concerns. Alloy frames have proven themselves durable and near enough light enough. Plus they’re recyclable at the end of their lives. To a growing number of customers, the (increasing) price of carbon isn’t worth the benefits.
4. Pirate Trail Closures
Landowners will start to get heavy on ‘pirate’ trails and we’ll see bikes denied access to some whole forests. It’s harder and harder to keep secrets these days. With heightened liability worries, I think that landowners are going to start to crack down more on illegally-built trails.
5. Open Wales?
By contrast, Wales will move closer to Scottish-style open access. But won’t quite get there yet. While it would be great to imagine free access through Wales next year, the process will take years even if the will is there. One for 2020 perhaps?
6. Shock Closure
Just throwing in this bonus bit of cheerfulness. I reckon 2018 will see a major bike manufacturer or shopping emporium shut up shop for good. And we’ll be as surprised as you are.
Wil – Technical Editor & Antipodean Adoptee
1. SRAM Will Go Wireless With Eagle eTAP
This could be wishful thinking on my behalf, but I have a good feeling about this one. I predict that SRAM will introduce electronic shifting at the XX1 Eagle level in 2018, but rather than use wires like Shimano, it’ll be wireless (as it already has on the road). The system will comprise of a compact shifter and a single rear derailleur, which will allow riders with existing 1×12 Eagle drivetrains to easily upgrade to wireless shifting without having to buy a whole new groupset.
SRAM of course already has wireless electronic shifting on its flagship Red road groupset. So it isn’t that big of a stretch to see the same technology integrated into a mountain bike shifter and rear derailleur. That said, I’m guessing a significant amount of testing is going on behind the scenes to ensure a wireless rear derailleur and its removable battery will be durable enough for regular dirt and water immersion. Once SRAM cracks that one though, its wireless shifting will eliminate the need for one cable on your bike, providing a much cleaner and simpler setup that will also offer more accurate gear changes.
As of right now, I’m still wondering what the shift mechanism will look like – mostly because Shimano holds A LOT of patents for shifters (especially electronic ones). Will there just be a single trigger shifter with two buttons? Or will there be a button on each side of the bar to emulate that same F1 shift style?
2. Fox Racing Shox Will (Finally!) Unveil Live Valve
Well I’ve been premature with my prediction about smart suspension for the past two years, but I swear it’ll be third time lucky for 2018! Fox briefly teased its Live Valve system a number of years ago, which promised automated control of your rear shock’s compression damping by way of a small computer that used several sensors to determine how firm, or how soft it should be according to those inputs. It’s not dissimilar to the RockShox e:i system that Lapierre, Ghost and Haibike made use, though that system has rather strangely disappeared over the past two years…
The reason I’m confident about Fox’s entry into smart suspension is due to the number of 2018 bikes that have been sneakily listing ‘Fox Live Compatible’ as one of their key features. Those have included models from Rocky Mountain, Pivot and Giant, all of which are appearing with two curious little holes along their non-drive chainstays right near the rear dropout. My guess is that this will be the mount for a rear sensor for measuring speed and bump force. I’m also guessing that the system will be powered off a Shimano Di2 battery, given the close working relationship between the two companies. When it does become available, you can bet that the Live Valve system is going to be heinously expensive, given the pricing of Fox’s previous iCD electronic suspension platform.
3. More Coil Sprung Forks & Rear Shocks
There’s been a small resurgence in coil-spring suspension in recent years, which has somewhat gone against the tide of the industry’s push for air spring technology. Alongside Cane Creek, we’ve seen brands such as Ohlins, FAST and MRP offer up both coil sprung forks and shocks throughout 2017, with plenty of riders swearing by the coil’s ability to deliver buttery plushness that an air spring can only dream of.
Personally, I don’t see coil-sprung forks and shocks taking over the market, because air-sprung versions offer more tuning capabilities, while also being considerably lighter too. They certainly have their place though, and we will surely see more manufacturers employing coil springs into their forks and shocks in 2018.
4. Someone Will Invent A Tubeless Valve That Isn’t Stupid
Ok, this is more of a wish than a prediction. But if any industry tech-heads are out there listening; can we please, please have a tubeless valve that 1) doesn’t bend at the mere sight of a human thumb, and 2) doesn’t gunk up with sealant like a drain full of bubblegum?
I say that as someone who spends a lot of time changing wheels and tyres, including on Friday afternoon where another bloody valve core unthreaded with the valve cap, resulting in a ‘WHOOSH!’ of air that left the rear tyre flat just 5 minutes before I was meant to be heading out the door. Oh, and then there was that test bike I had in recently that had a really, really slow leak in the front tyre that was the result of a slightly sticky valve. Seriously, of all the things that could possibly go wrong on a mountain bike, more often than not it’s a stupid, tiny, insignificant tubeless valve that can ruin a ride. Do they really need to be that annoying?
5. Pinion Will Bring Out A Wireless Electronic Shifter
Despite all the benefits that the Pinion gearbox brings to the table including vastly reduced maintenance, a huge and evenly-stepped gear range, and (for full suspension bikes) improved suspension behaviour by the reduction of unsprung mass, there’s no denying that a whole load of potential customers have been turned off by Pinion’s requirement for a twist-style shifter.
While I don’t know if it’ll happen this year, my guess is that Pinion is working on developing an electronic trigger shifter that will ditch the two cables required by the current system. Ideally it will be wireless, but however it goes about it, Pinion will be able to welcome a shed-load of potential customers if it can provide an alternative to its rotary twist shifter.
Hannah – Editorial Wrangler & Dungaree Enthusiast
1. Gearbox Bikes Will Move Into The Mainstream
As other parts of the bike get lighter, the weight penalty of a gearbox can be offset elsewhere. And once you’ve broken a few costly modern rear mechs a bit of weight doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. We’ve seen a few gearbox bikes from niche manufacturers this year, expect to see some bigger brands experimenting with them this coming year. (Despite Benoit Coulanges high-profile start-hut bobble at Fort William last year…)
2. More Brands Will Offer Pick ‘n’ Mix – And Ditch Women’s Bikes
With direct to market and pick and collect options growing, bespoke build specs will become easier to deliver. Shorter stem, wider rims, longer cranks, comfy saddle – pick what you want and let the bike of your dreams arrive on your doorstep, or of your LBS. Since the stock will be held by a central warehouse, supplying Small or X-Small bikes will be less of an issue, and women and children will benefit from having quality frames with their choice of parts.
3. Someone Will Launch A Sensible Finance Option For e-Bikes
Along the lines of car leasing, a scheme to allow people to play as they pay will be launched. It’ll help increase e-mtb sales, but also help families switch to using cargo bikes in place of a car for many more journeys.
4. People Will Buy Less Stuff
People will look to buy ride experiences rather than ride kit. Holidays and events you can enjoy with your mates (rather than out and out races) will do well. If skills coaches aren’t put out of business by insurance implications, they’ll do OK too. Brands will try to tap into this market – expect to see more Hopetech Women type events.
Mark – Publisher & Resident Grumpy
1. More Brands Will Introduce e-MTBs That Look And Feel More Like MTBs
Focus and Specialized have laid down a lot of the groundwork here but the standout sign of things to come has been the leap in evolutionary e-MTB development that was the Focus Raven² – an e-MTB that can be converted to a super light non-motorised bike in seconds. Battery power density is on the rise and with that will come more development and cleverness. Haters will still hate, but that won’t make the blindest bit of difference to what comes out of the R&D workshops of the (literally) switched-on brands.
2. More Local Bike Shops Will Close Down
There was a rush of closures towards the end of 2017 with some big stores finding the cost of that space is no longer being recouped in sales of bikes or accessories. Now it’s not just the little guys feeling the pinch and that’s not going to change until a new equilibrium has been found.
3. More Brands Will Go Direct
Last year saw Intense, Cotic, Scott, Felt and other big and recognisable names decide that skipping the middleman was their best option to getting more bikes sold. It’s our doing of course. The convenience of online ordering and next day delivery has expanded far beyond mere grocery shopping. The high-street is already a changed landscape and without that traditional shop front for new products it was always inevitable that the change would move up the chain and end at the factory gates.
4. Surviving Bike Shops Will Become Service Centres
There is an opportunity waiting to be grasped by the independents that survive. All those direct-sold bikes will need servicing and warranty work carrying out. Warranty work on a direct sold bike involves the customer sending a whole bike back to the distributor, which is a total pain in the arse, as well as being inefficient and expensive for all concerned. But there’s a network of independent workshops out there set up to do exactly what is required at a convenient location local to the customer. It just needs the direct brands and those independents to start talking to each other. The modestly competent home mechanic has always been able to fix most things on their bikes with relative ease. But e-MTB and bikes with Shimano’s Di2 come with literal black boxes that for the first time in the history of the bicycle are going to need a computer to run ‘diagnostics’. Another opportunity for the local indy workshop.
5. The Line Between ‘Media’ And ‘Brands’ Will Get Even Blurrier
Media outlets are still coming to terms with the dramatic shift in content distribution that means brands that once were customers are now direct competitors as more brands pump out their own in house video content to their own pages, websites and social channels. As big audience reach is no longer the sole domain of the media, trust and integrity are the new USPs for media brands that want to survive.
So, what have we got right, what have we missed and what is obviously never going to happen? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!