The bases are loaded for 2023 but unfortunately not all in a good way. There’s a ton of back ordered Covid stock burying shops and distributors in things they can’t sell at a point where none of us have any spare cash to spend anyway. There are a whole number of vulture capitalists attracted by the Covid cycling craziness who are going to want to pull their ‘investment’ out of companies that have quickly gone from being ripe to roadkill.
The Russia/Ukraine war that’s being used as the scapegoat for a lot of issues shows no sign of calming down. China is opening up Covid restrictions in terms of foreign travel, but it’s still causing massive economic and productivity issues in a country that’s chaotic enough after decades of exponential growth started topping out.
We can’t even forget all about that for a few hours on a MTB World Cup weekend by listening to the hooting and hollering of everyone’s favorite howler monkey Rob Warner. Not only are Rob and Red Bull no longer providing top race coverage, but the UCI and Discovery channel have dramatically changed the format of the MTB racing itself.
But while a lot of things are up in the air, what positive things can we predict – or at least hope – to see in the next 12 months?
We can’t officially tell you any details yet, but a quick Google will reveal details of SRAM’s soonest to launch MTB gear tech. It represents a really interesting and significant acknowledgement that the equipment attached to the frame is now starting to become more important and expensive than the frames themselves. Just like in cars/planes/ships etc. SRAM’s already seen e-bike motor may appear for real this year and that’s likely to emphasize another direction they’re really pushing. AXS shifting, Flight Attendant, Shockwiz, Tirewiz, etc – all the digital calibration and helper tech they’ve introduced isn’t designed to help experienced riders who already know what they’re doing. It’s designed to give new riders or those who have limited mechanical sensitivity or consciousness the ‘least worst’ suspension/tire setup or gear change. Given the ‘auto shift’ patents already linked to their motor it looks like that’s the direction they’re taking with e-bikes too and that mirrors similar plans from Shimano.
Speaking of the Japanese giant who still supply the vast majority of stop and go gear to the bike world, surely we’ll see something new from them this year. Please. I suggested that we’d get a new generation of Di2 electric gearing to match their changes on the road but there’s been nothing. Well nothing apart from Scott showing a neat Di2 battery carrier/charger head as an insert on their new Scale hardtail frame. World Cup pit chat is that after several years of new Saint DH group prototypes floating around, that project has now been stopped too. I haven’t seen their LinkGlide extra durable groupsets on a single bike or even heard of anyone speccing it either. The only murmurs come from all sorts of patents involving linked dropper posts and shifters, auto-shift systems for e-bike motors and some suspension linked systems. All interesting stuff, but not the bread and butter brilliance that they’ve created such a loyal following with. But then despite mixed reception of their new 105 Di2 groupset, they’re still by far the dominant force in road and town/utility cycling. Both of those alone are vast compared to the MTB market and if Saint, Deore, SLX, XT and XTR all still work fine, where’s the incentive to invest in a sideshow to their main business? So perhaps we should be looking more to companies like Tektro and Microshift to become SRAM’s innovation competitors in the off-road game?
Yeah we know if you’re a home mechanic routing everything through headsets – or even through frames – sucks in terms of servicing. The way control lines can cut through fork steerers without you realising isn’t great either. But if you’re designing frames, then not having to make holes for different pipes and cables (that different countries feed in through different sides) is a real win. It’s also faster to do in a factory – which saves production costs. Bold, Scott and Digit have all got a lot of positive attention for hiding their suspension in the frame too, and there's always someone trying to get a gearbox bike to work well.
Finally, and most importantly, however many complications internal routing can cause out of sight, it looks neater on a shop floor to all the people who are new to MTB and intend to deal with servicing in the same way as they would a car.
So yes, internal headset cable routing might be the new ‘press fit’ bottom bracket in terms of people eventually realizing it’s a total sh*t show but for now you’re going to see more of it not less. Especially with more roadies coming into the sport through ‘gravel’ and both Shimano and SRAM putting out designs for ‘close to bar’ brake routing.
Some gravel events are basically road racing on dirt and that’s what a lot of people want and why combining aero and small knobbly tires is now a thing – and why most of the pros at the first Gravel World Champs actually used road bikes. Lots of other folk are already trying to push gravel bikes into more challenging terrain than they’re naturally designed for though. Cue bigger tires, slacker geometry and more weird suspension systems than I’ve seen since early 90s MTB. To the point where the latest ‘aggro gravel bikes’ are a lot heavier than a 29er race hardtail and still nowhere near as capable on rougher terrain and no quicker on smoother surfaces either. If we can just lose the skin suit and bulging veins vibe behind flannels and bike bags then I reckon we’ll see far more people realizing flat bars, not riser drop bars are the future for actually enjoying riding off-road.
I’m not going to argue the toss about the changes that are going to happen with UCI racing in 2023 in terms of coverage and commentators. What is obvious though is that Discovery/Warner Bros aren’t going to invest heavily for eight years without trying to make the most out of it in terms of visibility and new viewers.
Given that most enthusiasts have become experts in trying to piece together coverage since the days of Freecaster TV, they’re not the ones the new broadcasters will be bothered about. No, just like with gravel, e-bikes, easier to work e-tech etc, the growth will come from fresh new recruits to our dirty little corner. The fact that they’ve already brought marathon XC, enduro and e-enduro into the mainstream mix also makes it much more inclusive and attractive to a lot more riders than pure DH and XCO.
What that’ll actually mean in terms of how many new people start putting race numbers on or just joining us on the trails to have a go themselves is impossible to judge right now but surely it’ll make some difference.
There’s a big cull coming
I’m no economist but the basics of the current situation are that there is too much stuff sitting on shelves that companies need to squeeze cash out of before they die. Some companies have the reserves to hold their breath longer or didn’t dive too deep in the first place. Other companies, went too deep, have shallow lungs or have vulture capitalist investors who want their cash back standing on their back. Those are the companies who will snap first in terms of slashing prices just to get some sort of return, because even a loss that keeps the lights on for another month/week is better than no cash at all. And while the bike industry is always full of rumors, if some of the things we’ve seen turn out to be true, then there’s a huge yard sale coming that a whole range of companies/brands/shops/media/sponsored riders/influencers etc. won’t survive.
It’s up to you whether you support the things you really value now or wait for the closing down sales not long after.
Wrapping it up
So those are my broad brush predictions for what we can expect to see during 2023 and obviously we’ll keep on top of the pit shots, patent applications and any other gossip we can pick up to keep you ahead of the game.
What I’d concentrate on for now though is making the most of what you’ve already got. Because the truth is that current generation of bikes are pretty damn sorted – which is why a lot of the tech we’re likely to see will be designed for new riders not experienced enthusiasts.