Singletrack Magazine Issue 115: Augmentation

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The shape of things to come

Jason Miles predicts the future of bikes and riders after gorging on too many ginger biscuits and sci-fi films. 

Can mountain bikes get any better than they are right now? We all know that manufacturers have to keep making mostly pointless changes to keep punters like you and me buying them, but honestly, are there really any more big improvements that can be made?

Can brakes get any more eyeball-poppingly powerful? Can tyres become any more grippy, strong AND faster rolling than they are now? What about suspension? Seems to me that there aren’t many true innovations left in the world of forks and shocks. 

Maybe there are. Maybe I’m about to be corrected. But unless bikes start to do something truly amazing, I reckon what we’ve got now is as near to the absolute zenith as we’re going to get.

Incidentally, my mate recently rode a very hard and very long mountain bike race on an island in the middle of the Irish Sea. He was riding a well-travelled, six-year-old hardtail frame made from metal tubes with a five-year-old, non-tapered steerer fork that had a 9mm quick release holding the front non-Boost wheel on and a double chainset. (He’s a tightwad luddite.) And though it seems incredible he didn’t finish last on a bike like that, he actually won. If you believe everything you read and hear then you might assume this feat of athletic endurance would be impossible unless he was riding a less-than-four-months-old, eight-grand carbon wondermachine with Boost this, dropper that and progressive what-have-yers. 

Anyway. Have we, therefore, had near-perfection for a while, and has everything else that has driven us to sell our kidneys and chuck our much-loved old stuff on eBay, been nothing but a con?

Maybe. Or maybe my mate is a genetic freak and just wanted to tear everyone else a new bottom more than anyone else did. 

Which brings me sort of haphazardly to what I wanted to talk about. Where do we go now if we assume that bikes can’t get any better? What if you’ve got the best of the best bike and you’ve invested in all the mountain biking-specific gear that’s designed to make you faster/comfier/smoother? You’ve got the go-faster, left and right foot-specific socks (I have no idea why they are specific to each foot), the shoes with an 11 out of 10 stiffness rating, the cassette that would allow a kitten to ride up a 20% gradient and all the rest of the Fresh Goods that You Need to go with your wondermachine. What will we be upgrading in the future?

Ourselves, that’s what. 

All that stuff about ‘mechanical doping’ with hidden motors inside bikes in the crazy ‘they’re all bloody at it’ world of pro cycling? 

That’s nothing pal. Wait until people are sawing their own legs off. 

Let me take you on a journey into my caffeine and biscuits-induced vision of the future of mountain biking tech (almost entirely influenced by a film I watched the other day where an almost-dead person’s brain was placed into a sexy and extremely deadly robot body)…

I suspect that the Constant Upgrade Syndrome so prevalent in the world of riding pushbikes is also quite common in the world of body modifications, so years from now we will have all moved on from sleeve tattoos and intimate piercings and will be well into replacing entire limbs. Maybe there will be a second-hand market for old, basic limbs like there is for used pairs of bib shorts. Revolting. Who wears a pair of used cycling shorts anyway? Have a word.  

Our new limbs will be lighter and much stronger than our old ones and will look cooler as well. We’ll all probably have a range of specific activity-biased extremities and protuberances to choose from, so for your average (modified) bikey Joe they might have GPS devices and the like built in. Maybe your new arms could steer your bike automatically while your augmented cyber legs, set to cruise control, do all the pedalling. Don’t like wearing helmets? That’s fine, because in the future you’ll be able to have a reinforced skull complete with amazing robot eyes with vision that goes red with targets – just like a Terminator.

Don’t worry if you normally start to get sore after a couple of hours on your bike – when The Future arrives you’ll have a carbon fibre arse that fits your saddle perfectly. 

How about All The Gear types with big bank balances? Everyone knows that regular human bones are rubbish when they get crashed hard enough, so your entire body could be pepped up with an exoskeleton, encasing your vulnerable body in some sort of super-strong, crash-proof chassis. 

All of this is going to happen. Trust me. But will humans ever really understand why there are left and right foot-specific socks?

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