Thursday, April 18, 2013

Racing for Mountain Bike Innovation

I love what competition does for any industry, sector, etc. It speeds up innovation. It causes people and organizations to stretch and reach for innovations and ideas that otherwise might never have entered someone's mind let alone made it to a drawing board.

Look at the technological innovations that happen in F1 racing. Exotic new materials and technologies are developed to wring every last drop of power and efficiency within the confines of the rules. Not all these technologies will trickle down to our personal vehicles, but a surprising number of them do.

Photo by Martin Pettitt
First, the high-end boutique car makers start to use the technologies, then the more mainstream manufacturers throw it into their "halo" vehicle, then a decade later, we see a more practical, cost-effective version in our own vehicle.

It works much the same way when it comes to bikes. Manufacturers use their mountain bike racing teams for R&D. If they see something that works, it trickles down to production. Fortunately, it seems the gap between mountain bike R&D and production is getting smaller and smaller.

Part of it may be the fact that mountain bikers are an inquisitive bunch. Maybe you could call it gear obsession? Either way, we watch carefully for new technologies.

I don't have numbers to back this up, but anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that a higher percentage of active mountain bikers follow and try to keep up with new technologies and trends than in the auto industry. I rarely meet a mountain biker that doesn't have an opinion on single-speed drivetrains or 650b wheels. I could be wrong, but that's the way it seems.

Why is this?

My personal opinion is that the gap between the typical mountain bike rider and the typical mountain bike racer is not perceived to be that large. When you look at auto racing and all the money, it seems so far fetched and impossible. When you look at riders on the World Cup Circuit, they seem more... like us. More accessible. More down-to-earth.

Photo by JMDGolfman

Obviously there is a huge skill gap. There is a reason we all aren't sponsored and racing around the world, but because this gap is perceived to be smaller, the gear and technologies used on the race bikes also seem more accessible. It's easier to see how it works, how it helps the racer, and how it could also help us.

Photo by Steven Wilke

Average Joe mountain biker wants that new piece of gear ASAP after seeing his favorite racer flaunt it on the international racing circuit and that's where capitalism steps in. Because people are following the new mountain bike technologies more closely, the market for these new technologies develops more quickly.

Yes, I know there are other factors in play like less regulation, less complexity, scale, etc., but I think a big reason that mountain bike technologies trickle down faster is because mountain bikers pay closer attention.

What think ye?

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