What’s Hot for Summer ‘22?
Mountain bike technology is always in a constant state of flux. Brands innovate to keep up with riders who constantly push what current mountain bikes and bike gear are capable of. As bikes evolve and riding styles change, apparel and accessory brands work hard to keep up with the new status quo. These innovations usually fall into one of two categories: incremental improvement, or wholesale change.
A good example of an incremental improvement would be mountain bike sizing and geometry. For the last 5-10 years, bikes have gradually gotten longer, slacker, and lower. Head tube angles have stretched out, reaches have grown, and bottom brackets dropped lower to the ground. There wasn’t some switch that flipped and suddenly all Large enduro bikes had a 76° seat tube angle, 64° head tube angle, and 485mm reach. Instead, brands gently pushed the envelope with each successive model they released, slowly working towards more progressive geometry.
The flipside of this gradual change is wholesale changes like the jumps from 26-inch wheels to 27.5” to 29”. These weren’t small tweaks. Instead, bike companies designed completely new frames around these wheel sizes, tire companies had to design new tires, and wheel manufacturers had to re-tool to take the additional diameter into consideration.
So where are we right now? Are we about to see massive jumps in new technology, a new standard that renders existing bikes obsolete? Unlikely. Instead, we’re in a wonderful period of refinement and experimentation. Geometry numbers are mostly stable. Both 27.5 and 29” wheels have found their niches. So we’re refining already great bikes, instead of trying to come up with something totally unique.
All that begs the question, what’s new and exciting for this summer? What are the best mountain bikes of 2022? What’s worth keeping an eye out for?
Mixed Wheel, or “Mullet” bikes
An obvious trend that’s taken the mountain bike world by storm is mixed-wheel bikes. These bikes feature a 27.5” rear wheel, and 29” front. The “Mullet” name refers to the fact that 29” wheels are generally better for “business” (racing) while 27.5” wheels are more fun and playful (party). Thus Mullet bikes are “business in the front, party in the back. Mixed wheels made their debut on World Cup Downhill bikes, where the smaller rear wheel made it easier for shorter riders to push the bike around without buzzing themselves. But they’ve made the jump to trail bikes, and some class-leading all-rounders like the excellent Santa Cruz Bronson now feature mixed wheels as well.
In the vein of small additions that make a big difference for rider convenience, more and more bike brands are offering in-frame storage. For a long time, Specialized held a monopoly on this feature, but they held a patent on their latch system to secure the storage, not on the concept of storing things in a bike’s downtube. Now it’s catching on among other brands, with more and more options to stash your bike tools, tube, or burrito inside your downtube. It’s sleek, simple, and convenient, expect to see more bike releases with this feature this summer.
And, for bikes without in-frame storage, there are more and more options for tool storage in the front triangle. Some brands are offering tools integrated into water bottle cages, and many bike brands are including an extra set of bottle bosses on the bottom of the top tube to mount accessories to. So it’s easier than ever to ditch the backpack and carry everything you need for a bike ride in a hip pack and on your bike’s frame.
Better Safety Gear
When it comes to mountain bike pads and protection, historically, it’s been hard to tell if one helmet is safer than another. Now, thanks to independent testing, and innovations in helmet design, bike helmets are safer than ever before. The best mountain bike helmets all feature MIPS or another form of rotational impact protection. This feature barely affects weight or comfort but adds an extra layer of safety in a crash. And nearly every bike helmet on the market has gotten safer thanks to a combination of advances in materials, design, and testing. That’s exciting, better helmets mean safer riding and more opportunities to progress.
Some brands have had flip chips for ages, but recently more and more options to tweak how your bike rides and fits have popped up. That’s a very good thing for every rider. Being able to adjust your bike to work ideally for your body type, and your trails is a huge plus. So, shop for a bike with stock geometry that works for you, but keep your eye out for options like flip chips, seat stay adjustments, and headset adjustments that allow you to take that fit to the next level. Adjustments like this allow you to adapt your bike to every riding situation.
Headed to the bike park for a week? Set your bike up as long, low, and slack as possible. Entering a weeknight XC race? Firm up your suspension and steepen up that head tube angle and raise the bottom bracket for better pedal clearance. Flip chips and other geometry adjustments are an easy way to make a bike more versatile.
It’s a great time to be a mountain biker. The bikes currently on the market are more capable and versatile than ever before. And, there’s no wholesale change on the horizon that’s going to render your bike obsolete in just a couple of years. Instead, you can buy a highly adaptable bike right now that will serve you well, season after season, thanks to incremental innovations. Some of these innovations are obvious, like mixed wheel sizes and in-frame storage. And others fly a little more under the radar, like safer helmets, or adjustable geometries. Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong when shopping for the best mountain bike for you. So get that new bike, and get out there and ride!