Okay, hear me out as this may come off as somewhat of a contrarian viewpoint, but 2020 wasn’t really all THAT bad – especially if you’re taking a bird’s eye view of the history of human life on this planet. In our own little two wheeled bubble, it may even go down as one of the best years the bicycle industry has ever seen, and not just in a dollars and cents / moving units sense. Rather, because the Covid – 19 pandemic turned a great deal of people on to outdoor sports in general. In addition to cycling, surfing for example has seen a massive surge in participation with surfboard availability being backlogged for months. Regardless of the specific activity, a great many people turned to new (to them) outdoor sports as a way of getting exercise and letting off steam without needing to rely on other people like they would with team sports.
As a reminder that life in the here and now isn’t so bad, let’s start with what is widely deemed the worst year in human history – 536, when volcanic ash covered the entire earth for two whole years, leaving people in darkness 24 hours a day and causing crop failure which resulted in mass starvation all over the entire world. Not long after that, in 541 the Bubonic Plague took out an estimated 100 million people. Fast forward to 1349 when the Black Plague wiped out half of Europe’s population and lastly, in more recent times we could consider the Spanish Flu, which killed 50 million people in 1918. Simply put, Covid – 19 pales in comparison. Technical and medical advances have allowed us to manage large scale crises far better than anyone ever dreamed of 100 years ago and the numbers show, even if it all feels like a giant clusterf*ck. This isn’t an attempt to belittle what anyone is personally suffering through during this particular crisis – rather, just a few things to consider and help put our current situation in perspective.
Back to bikes …
If you follow mountain bikes or the bike industry in general, you may have noticed it’s become increasingly difficult to get parts and complete bikes these days. This is due not only to supply chain disruption and shipping delays on the manufacturing side, but also due to a massive spike in demand for bikes. People who once participated in team sports are moving over to individual sports at an unprecedented rate. With cycling considered an “essential” industry, bike shops are doing better than ever and so are bike, component and apparel manufacturers. Take a look at your local online market place such as Craig’s List – if you’ve tried to buy or sell a used bike over the last few months, you may have noticed that the prices are sky high. Beater bikes that would normally not garner any interest at under $200 are selling for $800 in no time flat.
What does this mean for the sport?
Well, on the positive side, more demand brings about better technology at lower prices. There is a direct correlation between more people buying bikes and improved bicycle quality at lower and lower prices. Heck, the same can be said for higher priced bikes too. When brands on the product side sell more product they have increased funds to pour into R&D efforts. There is also the fact that more people riding results in a demand for better access to trails and more of them. An uptick in people participating in the sport means more people maintaining trails, donating to trail building efforts, etc. More newcomers also increase the likelihood that some kid who may have never mountain biked, and if it weren’t for this giant friggin’ mess, could be the next Sam Hill!
It isn’t all rosy …
More newbie mountain bikers inevitably means that we’ll need to be patient as we see busier trail systems and fuller parking lots, while keeping in mind that all of these people are helping the sport in one way or another even if it might be hard to see that on a surface level. This message might not go over so well in the surfing world where more people surfing quite literally equates to surfers getting less waves. So we can be collectively thankful that singletrack is a lot less ephemeral than a wave breaking in the ocean, which only last a few seconds. Also, less staff in parks means more trash on the trails, so hopefully we can all pitch in a little bit more by picking up and spreading the right message – pack in, pack out…
Lastly, bikes again!
As you may have already guessed from the overall tone of this rambling, I do want to end on a high note, so I may as well go out doing what I do best – geeking out about bikes. 2020 was the year where geometry became so balanced, suspension kinematics got so efficient and components are now so well refined that there are a host of damn good contenders for “one and done” bikes. I’ve been cynical about this idea in the past, but a lot has changed in a few years. There are now a slew of mid to long-ish travel 29″ bikes that are up to task for huge days in the saddle, chairlift laps on seriously rugged terrain, and just screwing around with friends on everything else in between. Most of these bikes have modern geometry, efficient suspension AND an amazing value. Here are a few: Specialized Stumpjumper EVO, Transition Sentinel, Canyon Spectral 29, Evil Offering V2, Commencal Meta AM 29.
At the moment, the only problem is getting ahold of one. Be patient, pre order one and cross your fingers that it arrives in Spring so you can have a much better year in 2021 than you did in 2020.