The 2010s has been a banner decade for the sport of mountain biking. The technology and terrain have made huge leaps, such that riding bikes on dirt has never been more fun or challenging.
It’s tough to overstate how much this past decade (2010 – 2020) has contributed to the sport and the experience. I’d have to go back to the 1990s and the true heyday of the sport (pre-Team Volvo Cannondale) to find an era with equal impact. The revolution of carbon fiber frames, 1x drivetrains, 29-inch wheels and dropper posts have transformed how we ride. In turn, trail building has evolved to complement the capabilities of bikes and riders alike. Plus, the smartphone era has made the experience more social and inclusive. It’s impossible to imagine what the 2020s will bring to top the era that’s about to wrap up.
In celebration of this decade, these are the 20 best bikes, gear, apps and trends (in no particular order) that defined the 2010s:
1. The Following by Evil Bikes (2014)
I built up The Following in 2016 after hearing so much about it. After riding it and synthesizing all that I’d read and experienced, it became pretty obvious that Evil delivered the most innovative and influential bike of this decade. It represents the tipping point for 29-inch wheels as the superior standard, such that they are now being used in World Cup Downhill. The frame geometry is designed for the wheel size and for downhill handling, making the most of its 120mm of travel, yet it climbs incredibly well. Most manufacturers, from the big three to the smallest boutique builder, have been influenced by The Following in one way or another. Plus, it’s a direct-to-consumer model, which is indicative of the decade’s business trends.
2. Shimano XT 12-Speed Groupset (2019)
This is the decade of one-by (1x) mountain bike drivetrains. SRAM pioneered the design, and Shimano was late to party in 2018 with its XTR M9100 group. But the first to market doesn’t always prevail (see Facebook, Google, etc.). Shimano followed up with the new XT M8100 group this year, which features the same gear range (10t – 51t) and Hyperglide+ technology for half the cost. The rear derailleur, for example, is $115 vs. $257, and the cassette is $160 vs. $390 for XT and XTR respectively. This is serious bang for the buck. While XTR is for spare-no-expense competition, XT is a slightly heavier group intended for hardcore trail (fun) riding.
3. Fox Transfer Dropper Seat Post (2016)
Where would we be without dropper posts? Rhetorically speaking, we’d be going over the bars and breaking collar bones a lot more often. The Fox Transfer is my go-to dropper post for trail and enduro riding. It’s not light, but it’s incredibly smooth, reliable and easy to install. The low-profile stock lever is also the best I’ve used. It takes up very little space, and the actuation is quick and consistent. You can easily adjust the post by a couple centimeters at a time to get just the right height for the terrain. It’s available in four drop options: 100mm, 125mm, 150mm and 175mm.
4. ENVE Carbon Wheels (2007)
While ENVE wheels first hit the scene in the late aughts, they came to define wheel design and innovation in the 2010s. The company also pioneered the idea of a $3,000 wheel set, which became much more common in recent years. ENVE was acquired by Amer Sports in 2016 for $50 million (an exceptional exit for the cycling industry). Despite this, the company continues to innovate and maintain its leadership role. Within the mountain biking category, it offers nine different models from XC to trail, enduro, fat bike and DH with multiple widths to handle a range of tires and riding styles.
In the early ‘90s, the tire combo of choice was the Panaracer Dart and Smoke, which were front- and rear-specific treads, respectively. For the 2010s, it was the Maxxis Minion DHF and DHR. You found these spec’d on the top trail bikes in the 2.3-inch width and enduro bikes in the 2.5/2.4-inch versions. It’s a very aggressive tread that provides superb traction and flat resistance at pressures as low as 18 psi. They aren’t light and don’t roll easily, but that’s not why you run Minions. These are downhill oriented (hence the “DH”) while being all-mountain capable.
6. Specialized S-Works Epic Frame (2017)
This is Kate Courtney’s 2018 World Championship frame, back when she was riding for Team Specialized. It is also the platform for my endurance racing setup, which I rode in both the Park City Point-to-Point and Breck Epic. With the ability to choose any XC frame, this is the best in my opinion. First, it’s incredibly light. My build with a dropper post weighs 22 pounds, five ounces. Next, the 100mm of rear suspension is just enough to handle big descents while also being super efficient for climbing in and out of the saddle. Finally, it allows for two full-sized water bottles within the main triangle.
7. Smith Forefront 2 Helmet (2013)
As mountain biking became more aggressive, the protective gear needed to evolve. The original Forefront helmet lead the way with increased protection on the sides and back. It was one of the first enduro-style helmets, which are designed to be used with goggles. With the Forefront’s unique honeycomb Koroyd inner shell, it offered a new level of impact protection. I also like how shades can be securely stowed under the visor when it’s flipped up.
8. Oakley Prizm Trail Lenses (2015)
Oakley’s Prizm Trail lenses, which are offered on a range of different frames including the Field Jacket (above), are specifically designed for the changing light conditions of mountain biking i.e. going in and out of the forest, where you encounter varying levels of sun and shade, often at high rates of speed. These are tuned to the trail with increased contrast and medium light transmission.
9. Shimano XC9 Boa Mountain Bike Shoes (2017)
While the Boa closure system was first introduced on bike shoes in 2003, it took a while for shoe designers to properly integrate and implement the technology. The old ratchet system held on for a while. Recently, though, Boa’s dial-and-cable system has become the standard. If you watch WorldTour racing, you’ll often see riders reaching down and adjusting their shoes to suit an upcoming climb or sprint. This is because (a) it makes a difference and (b) it’s so easy. In particular, Shimano nailed its Boa integration with the XC9. It is by far the most comfortable XC shoe I’ve ever worn, yet it’s incredibly stiff for maximum support and power transfer.
10. RaceFace Next R Cranks and Cinch Spindle (2013)
This decade saw an explosion in bottom bracket standards, along with 11-speed and 12-speed chain standards from both Shimano and SRAM. This can make it tough to invest in a great set of cranks, as they may not be compatible with a future bike. Not so with the RaceFace system. The light and super stiff Next R carbon cranks use the beefy 30mm Cinch spindle, and RaceFace offers a bottom bracket to fit any frame. The chainring is swappable and mounts directly to the crank using a standard bottom bracket tool. They range from 24t to 42t and have versions for all chain types.
11. Crank Brothers Stamp Pedals (2016)
Over the past five years or so, I noticed a number of friends switching from clipless to flat pedals to reduce crashing risk. Personally, I started using them for downhill mountain biking a couple years ago. I figured if I’m going to be taking air in the bike park, it’s best not to be attached to the bike in the event I need to bail. It took a few days to get used to my feet moving freely on the pedals, but then it felt quite natural, both pedaling and in the air. I tried a few different models, and the Crank Brothers Stamp provided the ideal platform size and feel. They’re also quite light.
12. POC Coron Air Carbon Spin Helmet (2019)
The proliferation of downhill bike parks like those in Whistler, British Columbia, and Deer Valley Resort in Utah have made the full-face helmet a key piece of gear. I’ve tried many, and the POC Coron Air Carbon Spin offers the best combination of protection, comfort, ventilation and weight. It fits and breathes incredibly well. Fortunately, I haven’t had to test its protective qualities, but POC is a market leader in designing protective gear for both cycling and skiing.
13. Assos T.rallyShorts_S7 Bib Shorts (2016)
After a friend broke his femur when his rear wheel washed out and he fell hip first on slickrock, I started riding with hip pads religiously. When Assos introduced the tRallyShorts_S7, it immediately became the only mountain bike bib that I wear. Because in addition to the removable hip pads, the Swiss company makes the most comfortable chamois and integrates the highest-performing fabrics. These can be worn alone for XC or with over shorts for trail and enduro riding.
14. G-Form Pro-X Knee Pads (2012)
Advancements in protective gear was a big theme in the 2010s. One of the pioneers in this area was G-Form. The company’s proprietary SmartFlex padding is soft and flexible, making it comfortable to wear in any condition. When it’s impacted, though, the pads stiffen to absorb the shock. If I’m not XC racing, I’m wearing the G-Form Pro-X Knee Pads. Yes, for every ride. I’ll typically climb with them on my shins and then pull them up to my knees for the descents. There is zero downside because they weigh almost nothing and don’t interfere with pedaling in a meaningful way. I put these to work several times this past season. I also wear the elbow pads when I’m in the bike park.
15. GoPro Hero8 Camera (2019)
This was the decade of POV video footage. My first camera was the GoPro Hero3 Black in 2013, and I’ve owned every model since. The most recent Hero8 Black evolves past the protective case, effectively making it smaller and easier to use. The mounting tabs flip down from the bottom and hide away under the camera. Like the Hero7 Black, the killer feature is Hypersmooth, which stabilizes footage using software that makes it look like the camera was mounted on a gimbal.
16. Flow Trails
The perfect flow trail is designed such that pedaling and braking are optional, thanks to perfectly sculpted berms and jumps. You’re at one with the forces of gravity, traction and momentum. It’s one of the best feelings you can have on a mountain bike, and it’s one of the biggest trends of the decade. Starting with bike parks and expanding to cross-country trail networks, flow trails have exploded over the past 10 years. One such trail (pictured above) is Tidal Wave at Deer Valley Resort, which debuted in 2015. It’s an intermediate trail with a couple dozen mid-size tabletop jumps and berms to connect them. Like many of the world’s best flow trails, it was designed by Whistler-based Gravity Logic, which itself has had a huge impact on the sport.
17. Trust Performance Message Suspension Fork (2018)
This is the decade when we solved rear suspension using a variety of linkage designs. Suspension guru Dave Weagle is credited with many of them, including The Following by Evil Bikes (above). Most recently, though, he turned his attention to front suspension. Weagle co-founded Trust Performance, and after many years of secrecy and development debuted the Message suspension fork last year. It applies the same linkage principles to the front wheel. Unlike telescopic designs, the Message is more sensitive to impacts from different angles and doesn’t suffer from stiction or premature loading when setting up for a turn. I’ve yet to ride the fork, but the reviews have been very positive.
18. Garmin Edge 830 Cyclometer (2019)
Mobile computing and data science have had a transformative impact on cycling. Garmin’s 800-series cyclometer evolved through several iterations, arriving at the Edge 830 as we wrap up the decade. In addition to capturing and processing heart rate and power meter data, which it uses to calculate VO2 Max and other key performance metrics, the killer feature is called ClimbPro. This provides a real-time, graphical representation of a given climb with current grade and both distance and vertical feet remaining. It enables you properly gauge your effort, which is critical in a race scenario where you’re unfamiliar with the course. Inevitably, this will be the only screen you’ll actually use in a race.
19. Trailforks Mapping Application (2014)
In the old days (pre-2010), you stopped by the local bike shop to buy a map and get some intel about the best bike routes. The TrailForks app turned this local knowledge into general knowledge. Thanks to smartphones, open source software and crowdsourcing, everyone has access to detailed trail maps…for free. One can spend hours in the app, both on desktop and mobile, linking together trails and creating epic routes. Plus, there is an app for Garmin devices, so TrailForks can be used in real time while you ride.
20. Strava Fitness App (2009)
Strava is most commonly known for its competitive elements, which have been the source of much controversy. But this narrow view misses the big picture. While competing with friends and strangers is central to my Strava experience, it’s a small part of its overall value. First and foremost, Strava makes cycling more social. Given our busy lives, we can’t always coordinate riding schedules. Strava enables us to share our solo efforts and receive feedback in the form of comments and kudos. This validates our suffering and provides motivation to keep training. It is also a ride log that stores every mile ridden and vertical foot climbed.