Mountain bikes have made leaps and bounds in the last few years.
Larger diameter wheels have pretty much become the standard across the various disciplines. Wider rims and plus-size tires (no, not fatbikes) allow unprecedented traction and side-hill control. Front derailleurs have finally gone the way of the dodo in favour of the 1x11 drive train system, and not a moment too soon.
A lot of these advances and market changes are due to one simple word within the mountain bike industry: enduro.
“Enduro” was first used by Italians to describe a long distance auto or motorcycle races; it was a test of endurance. Somewhere in France around 2003, enduro races for mountain bikes began to pop up. Thirteen years later, the enduro phenomenon has spread across the world appealing to mainstream mountain bike riders, not just the elite downhill racers. Wherever races are held, the format is always kept consistent; multiple stages of timed descents with un-timed uphill climbs in between.
Enduro bikes are an evolution of the “trail” class (typically 120-140 mm of suspensions travel). At the other ends of the spectrum were long travel, heavy gravity bikes or lightweight, pedal-efficient cross-country bikes. As enduro grew in popularity, the mountain bike industry was flooded with demand for a bike that could climb reasonably well, but descend with speed and confidence. The modern enduro bike has about 160 mm of suspension travel as opposed to 120 mm or less for cross country or 200 mm or more for downhill.
And so there’s your silver mountain bike bullet, happily able to cross between disciplines and shred trails whatever the terrain. But not so fast...
Just like skis and snowboards that claim to “do it all,” enduro bikes have limitations. Yes, they can hold their own on any type of terrain, but they can’t climb as fast as cross-country bikes or descend as fast as downhill bikes. I’ve heard plenty of semi-pro riders talk about how they only need one bike these days, one that’s as good for riding bike park as it is for Lost Lake trails. But talk to any bike mechanic and they’ll tell you that frequent bike park riding will age an enduro bike exponentially faster than its downhill cousin. With a skilled rider at the helm, the performance between the two may be comparable, but the durability is not. The people who say that their bike can do it all (including a full season of riding bike park) either replace their bike every year or sink an astronomical amount of money into maintenance and parts.
I recently bought a Transition Patrol, the flagship enduro-style bike of the brand. I even took it up for a couple of laps in the bike park over the weekend to test the theory that it could do everything. I felt incredibly agile on both the ground and in the air, as well as feeling surprisingly stable in the rough stuff, but if I want to keep my enduro bike in pristine running condition, I’ll hang on to my downhill bike for the abuse the bike park likes to dish out.
Vince Shuley doesn’t bring a knife to a gunfight. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email vinceshuley.com or Twitter @vinceshuley.