Is mountain bike technology going the wrong way?

I’ve been riding mountain bikes for an awful long time and have seen some massive changes. I’m very much in favour of bigger wheels and intend to ride a 29″ wheeled bike this winter. This bike, a Trek Fuel EX8, was conceived at a time of change and if it had been built a few years later it would have been rather different. By modern standards it has a high bottom bracket so the pedals may be an inch higher than a new equivalent. The steering head is several degrees steeper so the front wheel is closer to you. As a consequence of this the rear end behind the pedals is short, making the wheelbase much less ambitious. It also has a mere 120 mm of suspension travel at each end. It rides well but not, I don’t imagine, as well as a new bike would.

The difficult to believe side of development is that, as time has progressed, weights have increased massively. The Trek is somewhere in the middle but a top end 30 year old bike may have weighed 11 kg compared to many bikes now weighing 16.5 kg! This is for a solely pedal powered bike, not an E bike and it seems ridiculous to me. I don’t want to lug such a weight uphill because it would undoubtedly slow me. Yes, with 150 mm or more of suspension travel and 29″ wheels I might expect to be a second per minute, or perhaps even more, faster on downhill segments. Most of my ride time, however, will inevitably be spent on level ground or climbing so for bragging rights on the downhills I’d need to pay a big penalty on the rest of the ride.

On a really steep climb I would also be at a disadvantage with the generally narrower range of gears. We have largely gone to a single front chain ring with a wide range cassette at the rear. The Trek, when new, had a 3X10 transmission with around 530% range from lowest to highest ratio. I replaced this with a single chain ring option offering only 418%. In addition the gaps between gears are considerably bigger so it’s more difficult to find the perfect gear.

Recently, whilst riding the Trek, I’ve uncovered another modern problem and that is transmission wear. I only rode the bike, with a brand new transmission, last winter for perhaps 40 rides or less. This year the chain started to skip on steep climbs and I noticed how stretched the chain had become. I replaced it and it wouldn’t stay on the chain ring so today I tested the bike with a new chain ring on my local trails at Healey Nab. At first thing seemed OK but on the steepest climbs I was getting chain skip only in the lowest ratio of the 10. It means that I’ve had to order a new 11-46 tooth cassette which will arrive in 3 days. I will be happy to ride again but not use the lowest gear in the meantime. I enjoyed my 3 laps of the hill, sliding around on the wet ground. I set off too hard and on laps 2 and 3 had to slow to allow recovery. It worked and I could have continued for a couple more laps without reaching absolute exhaustion. I also need to replace the press fit bottom bracket because it’s very loose. Needless to say a bottom bracket from 25 years ago, which wouldn’t fit the Trek in its current guise, would have lasted twice as long or more.

For my next ride I will probably go to Birkacre. This area was the site of Luddite riots in 1779 against Richard Arkwright who’d automated the yarn spinning process. The riots were unsuccessful because Arkwright took his technology to Derbyshire. You can read all about the events in this excellent account.

The lesson is obvious. You may dislike technological change but opposing it is unlikely to bear fruit.


  1. I think weight has been going up as many mountain bikers these days seem to care little about the uphill or fast rolling/lumpy trails. Many seem to dawdle up a boring fire trail using the dinnerplate 50T rear cog to the top, only taking joy in bombing the double-black downhills (I think this is another reason for the eMTB boom).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. kirkmtb says:

      I fully concur!


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