Seven things…

by 23

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.Β  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
Easy to get on and off plus no hair spray required!

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.

short stem
Stems don’t come much shorter than this!

Short 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.

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.

maxxis tyres
Super sticky rubber

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.

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.

Mordern shocks take the knocks out with little bob
Modern shocks take the knocks out with little bob

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.

hope disc brakes
Tons of power no matter the weather..

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.

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.

Smooth rolling and long lasting
Smooth rolling and long lasting

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

Chain links can save you in a ride
Chain links can save you in a ride


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 β€œquick 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.

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

Comments (23)

    Great blog Jon, had me properly guffawing at the long stems bit.

    How’s about trail centres as a controversial nomination? No getting lost and staring forlornly at a soggy OS map when the bridleway disappears in the middle of a peat bog, no nasty surprises, and a coffee and cake waiting back for you back at the car park. What’s not to like?

    What’s not to like? I think you’ve listed most of them ;oP

    the tool for removing power links hsould be in, although perhaps implied by the inclusion of the links themselves

    Tubeless, although this is still somewhat in its infancy, market penetration-wise

    trouble with trail centres is demonstrated by the reaction I got in one of the lake district tourist offices “trail centres are being opened in an effort to keep mountainbikers off the bridle paths” …erk. Then a post a while back where someone opined while arguing for 2×9 “who rides natural trails anymore anyway, we all just go to trail centres”. double erk. So, aside from the attitude some folks have to their existence, they’re all good.

    “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”
    But then the cockpit becomes even more cramped at just the point you want it longer?
    Long stems (with the saddle ‘equivalently’ stretched out backwards to ‘balance’ my overall weight positioning) have there place I think, but they do have their drawbacks

    Length should be in the top tube, not stem or post layback (thank you Mr G Fisher) πŸ™‚

    And where is “Hyperglide” in this list??? πŸ˜‰

    The introduction of Hyperglide was a bit before my time πŸ˜‰

    IMO, balancing long stem through layback post is fine until you get out of the saddle then you have a bike with a short top tube and much more weight over the front than you might want. As you say though, it’s horses for courses…

    Gore-Tex, “new” merino wool, similar “high tech” fabrics.

    Riding in a soggy, wet cotton tee shirt or 2 hundredweight rain soaked, old school wool knitted jumper is just not fun. Army surplus fatigues or horrid, chaffing cotton drill shorts are not good either.

    Suspension forks had a bigger effect on my riding than anything on that list.

    Shimano’s sealed cartridge bottom brackets back in the early 1990’s. Very easy to take for granted nowadays.

    Great list, spot on
    My 90s GT talera was an lesson in half assed compromise, but I didn’t know any better
    I would agree with trail centres too. One way, interesting trails? Love em. Back in the day if we found one remotely interesting corner on a bridleway we thought we’d hit the jackpot.

    “* not entirely true”

    i disagree!

    You forgot wide riser bars. You know? A handlebar at the right width to match your shoulders, something even roadies worked out years ago is more comfy, and makes it easier to manoeuvre the bike around, unlike say; flat bars the width of a Mars bar duo…

    Something else a little before your time Jon, but all hail the Aheadset! The threadless headset was so good that we’ve all immediately forgotten the pain of trying to adjust your headset with giant spanners. And if your headset loosened on a ride, tough. (Unless you carried the aforementioned giant spanners with you).
    Ironically, the patent runs out on it this autumn, so will that mean that we’ll see Shimano back in the headset game?

    And I’d like another vote for clipless pedals.

    Even better than wide riser bars – wide low rise bars/flat bars with a decent sweep. I still see loads of people with the front of their bikes set up stupidly high due to the ‘fashion’ for riser bars.

    Horses for courses on most things – your bike needs to be set up to fit *you* rather than having this weeks favoured size of parts on it.

    So, what *was* good about the good old days? As I rode around Glentress on Tuesday evening on my steel (853), rigid (carbon), singlespeed (well, it has no gears) bike I wondered about that. Steve on his Orange Five and Ross on his full-carbon whippet-boy bike might have wondered the same thing. Now we have so much choice available we forget that the simple wonder of the thing is grown men riding round the forest and having the time of their lives. Technology – yeah, but.

    See the bottom-bracket thing though? No, square-taper is king. Granted, cartridge square taper. But square taper all the same.


    Clipless pedals

    Allen bolts – the fact I can stip down 90% of my bike to it’s component parts with a multitool is pretty cool.

    Lightweight-ness, all the cool stuff got light enough that you could actually use it on long rides, disc brakes, suspension, big tyres etc

    “And if your headset loosened on a ride, tough” unless you had a kona impact πŸ™‚
    “the patent runs out on it this autumn” presumably CK, RF, Hope etc pay a fee to use the design so prices will be dropping post autumn? (he naively asks)


    Thomson seatposts.

    Plastic liners in cables.

    Riser bars.

    Are 24 hr races new technology, or plain idiocy? Either way is good, yes?

    brillaint .enjoyed that

    How about rapid-fire shifters? And decent lights for night-riding? Plus another vote from me for the internet…

    Still using Race Face non-lock-on grips here. No slippage in several years on my 2 bikes πŸ™‚

    Disk brakes. I’d lose the suspension, lock-on grips, short stems etc, but I don’t want to lose disk brakes.

    All hail, the adjustable seatpost. For it has allowed us to descend unto the depths of hell, faster than we could ever imagine! That and it stops thou twatting thou holy nads on thine saddle. Certainly beats lockon grips!

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