Seven things…

Hi! I’m Jon and I’ve got issues. I like mountain biking and I also like lists, both in a way that borders on obsessive-compulsive.  In my new semi-regular blog I’m going to inflict my obsession on you.

To start off, here’s my choice of seven things that made mountain bikes better. It’s not exhaustive by any means (it lacks compact geometry, suspension forks that work and the internet) but it has made me think about how much better bike technology is now in all sorts of little ways, regardless of what the luddites say.

Lock-On Grips: Remember the bad old days fitting grips? Numerous methods existed and all were supposed to be foolproof; spit, WD40 or hairspray, which most mechanics have as a matter of course. You’d have to go through the spraying and screwdriver sliding process every time you made a change to your cockpit – well, until someone thought of the split clamp anyway. Besides, your choice of grip attaching folk legend didn’t really matter because as soon as it rained they’d become loose and spin around, causing your hand to fly off the grip and punch you in the face just as you were trying to pull up on the bars.
Little stems: Despite having been around for quite a while now, universal acceptance of short stems as a good thing still hasn’t happened. The argument that they move your weight too far back and destroy climbing traction is slightly flawed as you can move your weight forwards by leaning forwards more.

Long stems are evil

You handlebars are in another post code..

The reverse of this isn’t true sadly, as with a long stem if you want to move your weight further back to prevent you flying over the bars on a steep descent you would need to a) have longer arms to start with or b) let go of the handlebars, which is universally accepted as a bad thing.

Soft compound rubber: The point where tyre manufacturers realised tyres should be made in a compound softer than plastic was a beautiful one. They sold more tyres and we could ride over roots in the rain without the bike moving two feet sideways at something close to light speed, just when you least expected it.

Sticky Rubber

Lovely sticky rubber

The magic of science and dual compound designs means that they aren’t really all that draggy to pedal around either, although there is always someone with an original set of 1990′s tyres that thinks they’re still fine. The fact that they’re so hard the tread hasn’t worn in 20 years and the way the owner will turn white when confronted with slightly damp roots proves them wrong.

Rear shocks with platform pedalling damping: Suspension design has come on a lot but the real reason you can now pedal a bike with enough travel to have been classed as a downhill bike not that many years ago all day long is mostly down to shock technology. You can actually pedal modern full suspension bikes around without tracing out a sine curve as you move or feeling seasick on long tarmac sections.

pro pedal and the gate

Just say no to bob..

Disc brakes: When the first disc brakes came out there were mutterings of how they were too heavy, overcomplicated and should only be used on downhill bikes or tandems.

A selection of disc brakes

Sweet stopping power

Happily, everyone saw the value of having a braking system that worked all the time, unlike rim brakes which would stop working the instant you rode through some wet grass or a puddle and then make a grinding noise for the rest of your ride as the expensively machined rims that had to be kept perfectly true were ground into dust, before finally exploding one day when you put a bit of pressure in the tyre.

rim brakes are scared of this

Your rim brakes have just stopped working.

Cartridge bearings: Cup and cone bearings persist to this day and they are certainly better for bicycle hubs, as long as you ignore the fact that most of us ride in mud and filth, don’t strip our hubs regularly and are generally poor at spotting a bit of play in the wheels when they inevitably loosen off and inevitably self destruct. With cartridge bearings it’s simple to have them knocked out and some fresh ones fitted, but if your cup and cone hub has got pitted bearing faces, it’s game over hub.Expand this principle to your BB, your suspension pivots and your headset then it becomes obvious cartridge bearings are among the best things ever, unless you enjoy readjusting cups and cones over and over again, as well as searching out the correct tools to do so. The only tool a cartridge bearing replacement job needs is the best one; the hammer*. RIP Phil Wood

Powerlinks: In the dark days before Powerlinks, once a chain was fitted, that was it. If you wanted to remove it you’d need your chain tool and a special replacement pin, as attempting to rejoin a chain using the same pin would run the risk of pushing it too far out and losing it forever plus knowing that at some point in the future the weak point you’d just introduced would fail. Probably when pedalling off in front of an audience, or when you’d gone out for a “quick spin” ten miles from the nearest road with no tools. Chain repairs would take ages and usually involve losing a gear or two as your chain got smaller, link by link.


One, two, three...

I’ve got chains that are mostly made of Powerlinks now and while the rest of the chain is liable to snap at any time the Powerlinks are still fine. I don’t even need to look that hard for the right place to split the chain. The only bad thing is the way they’re impossible to undo if you’re cold, wet and in a hurry.

So, there’s a starter for you all – what obvious things have I missed? Feel free to leave your suggestions below.

* not entirely true