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Rolling back the years – how mountain bike tech has boosted adventure.

Once upon a time, sometime between the Sony Walkman and the Discman, mountain bike adventure was rigid steel frames, toe clips and panniers — the unbreakable ingredients of any long-haul trip. The romantic dream was an endless dirt road stretching out across Patagonia as far as the eye could see, winding onwards through an enchanted, wild landscape. The cold light of reality though was more like hours of grinding hell, battling a wind that no photo could ever convey to those sitting on a sofa at home, mug of tea in hand. That was then.

Twenty tears later the face of mountain bike adventure has changed; today it’s 150mm of suspension and hacking down singletrack that few have rolled before, the air around us thick with endorphins. Today, adventure mountain biking has never been healthier and more rewarding and we have the tech heads and the boffins to thanks — thanks geeks! As riders we have the passion for adventure, but it’s the geeks that have empowered it. Without them, their ideas and their R&D developments we’d still be riding cantilever brakes and friction thumbshifters. The geeks have empowered us with truly versatile bikes that can ride anything, anywhere. 

In my 3 decades of mountain biking, I’ve ridden a fair few remote corners of the planet — from Argentina to Afghanistan, Lesotho to Lebanon— in search of adventure. I’ve zip tied my broken pannier rack back together deep on Chile’s Carretera Austral and carried my 150mm travel rig to the summit of Ethiopia, and more. It’s not all been easy, but over the years the bike I ride has evolved with my riding style. And while cantilevers and rigid forks played their part in our sport’s development, today’s technology-laden trail bikes have never been so perfect for adventure, even if that’s not exactly what the designers had in mind. And in turn, the versatility of these bikes is changing what we expect from adventure.

Adventure used to be all about the grind. It used to be battling the elements in search of cathartic purity. For some it still is, and that has its place. But for me today’s adventure is about riding new places how I want to ride a bike, how I ride trails at home; combining curiosity and a sense of exploration with the true rewards of mountain biking — the exaltation of flow, the weightlessness of airing a roller, the joy of escaping the daily grind.

Once we chose components that were a compromise — weight penalties versus wilderness-surviving strength. Now we have the best of both worlds; components that deliver true performance and resilience in the world’s toughest places but without the weight. Need to throw your bike on your back for a two-hour hike? No problem. 

Today, reliable, plush suspension turns any trail, from Nepal to Alaska, into a playground and helps keep you out of trouble in places where a fall could mean a three-day donkey ride out to the nearest hospital. Himalayan descents are rendered non-stop wonders by the power of reliable disc brakes, relegating memories of forearm cramp and wet rim brake uncertainties to a bygone era. And 4000 metre high passes are conquered by lung-saving low gear ratios delivered by the oily end of truly tough but light weight drivetrains.

And in the meantime these same tools still allow us to lose ourselves in fresh experiences and places and to learn something new about ourselves — the essential ingredients of adventure that keep us coming back for more, however hard and gritty it was last time around. Yes, adventure was once about gritting teeth and endurance to look back at the endeavour with a smile. Now you can smile all the way through it. Thanks tech guys!

Dan Milners MTB setup

 

Dan Milner is a professional photographer who rides Shimano XT-equipped Yeti bikes. Follow on @danmilnerphoto