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5. Carbon, QR Bolt-Thru Axle, Big Wheels

5. Carbon, QR Bolt-Thru Axle, Big Wheels

Here's our list of the 15 most influential products/advances that have changed mountain biking, but do you think we've missed any?



Stronger…lighter…faster. An impressive strength to weight ratio is a key ingredient of any great product, because after all we want our bikes to be strong, yet at the same time we want them to be light. When it comes to achieving that there aren’t many materials that can rival carbon, especially when used correctly, and there is no doubting that it has helped pushed our bikes on to the next level.

At first carbon was only really used on XC bikes and equipment, and many would never have imagined it, but now it’s used everywhere right through to DH frames and rims. It might not come cheap, and may never do, but they are some truly incredible products that are made from carbon, and without the material we’d never have had the pleasure of those products.

QR Bolt-Thru Axle


Originally bolt-thru axles were only found on DH forks, and none of them were quick to use. You always needed at least one allen key, if not several, and although the oversized axle massively increased stiffness compared to a simple QR axle they never looked set to break out of DH use, simple because of the faff factor. That all changed though as soon as companies started to produce tool-free bolt-thru axles, and boy are we glad they did.

Bolt-thru axles transformed trail forks, making them so much stiffer, and the same can be said, albeit to a lesser degree, for the rear end of bikes. It’s not just about stiffness either as the piece of mind that a bolt-thru axle brings is definitely welcome too. It might sound a bit over the top, but we really struggle to get our heads around riding a bike with a QR front wheel these days, it just doesn’t seem up to the job. Personally I could have probably lived with an old fashioned bolt-thru axle, even on my trail bike, but the QR tool-free ones are obviously far easier and quicker to use, and more importantly they got the masses onboard, which in turn meant that the manufacturers started making almost everything bolt-thru.

Big Wheels


Finally, we definitely can’t leave out the whole subject of big wheels. Whether you are into them or not is kind of irrelevant in this context, as is the question as to what (if any) wheel size will come out as the leader in years to come. You see we think the introduction of big wheels is almost an extension of what I was saying about the Angleset. The Angleset helped make bike companies really take a look at how bikes could be made better in terms of geometry, they helped throw the old fashioned rule books out of the window, and the extreme end of that was to throw the wheel size rule book out too.

At the end of the day we want to have fun on our bikes and ride fast off-road, so why should we spend years and countless amounts of money trying to makes bikes as good as possible for that use, but then limit ourselves for no apparent reason by saying that we have to stick to one size wheel, which must be 26″. You have to admit, it does seem kind of crazy. We have experimented with so many other things, so why not wheel size? You might not agree, but it’s now happened and one way or another our bikes will be better for it in the end, even if they do have 26″ wheels.

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  1. Alex

    Good trip down memory lane there! I only have the big wheel to go and I have ridden through all of those. I remember the days doing uplift in Scotland using Magura HS33’s, 2 runs and the pads were gone in the rear. Then spent the rest of the day riding with only a front brake.

  2. Ratty

    Love em or hate em SPD’s have got to be in there haven’t they?

  3. Richard Lee

    Interested in mountain biking

    1. Gabe

      Confused by your actions.

  4. Big_Tim

    Bar ends, Bullet Brothers Derailleur spring devices,cotter pin cranks and the colour purple. All at the pinnacle of mountain biking brilliance.

  5. MS

    I still don’t understand the fascination with riser bars. They don’t accomplish anything that a different stem size or position couldn’t and they yield less usable real estate for devices like lights & computers.

    1. Gabe

      Bit more “give” in them. Nice for clunky wrists. And the fact that before risers EVERYONE ran 12″ wide bars on a 12″ long stem. Yes you can achieve a good position on a wide flat bar with a high stem. But no one really thought too, until they saw some guy flying past them with mx bars on.

  6. MS

    Also, indexed shifting was by far the most important advancement in MTB history.

  7. PumptrackTim

    The Aheadset really was amazing at the time, thank you Dia Comp.

    But, nothing has changed the way I ride more than a dropper post. Best innovation of the last 10 years for me.

    1. Hancock

      I disagree a little, good tyres and disc brakes have taken me up over and down places that I would probably have died horribly on on my old Marin with the cantis and #ahem# knobbly tyres. Being able to turn and stop properly lets us get to places where that dropper is useful!

      1. PumptrackTim

        I know what you mean, but they got gradually better and better along with suspension. Dropper posts as an invention arrived and changed things immediately, more efficient and less hassle.im still on my first, while god knows how many types of tyres I have used. I spent my formative years on a Marin too; the brand of a generation.

  8. Bartimaeus

    Cheap LED lights… night riding for all.

  9. Gabe

    I was with you all the way up to dropper posts. Just cos every fashionista with a bank balance has one, doesn’t really mean they changed the sport. So you can now save literally 5 seconds at the bottom of climbs, which you’ll probably end up paying back over the course of a really long ride (the only sort of ride where droppers are usefull anyway?) cos they add a fair chunk of weight, right at the top of your bike. Yes there are situations where they might get you to the finish line literally seconds faster, but game changing? Personally I don’t think so. But thats just me. Who doesn’t stop and regroup at the bottom of climbs anyway when you’re just out with your mates?

    Same for qr-thru axles. No actual real time saving if you are handy with the allen keys, quite often adding time as the mechanism gets jammed up (anyone who doesn’t believe me, try removing a maxle from a fork with bent lowers. Mole Grips may be usefull…and yes the expander wedges were free) Plus added weight, reduced stiffness, possible mid ride loosening… Perhaps they took off at the same time as everyone started converting to thru axle, but can you really be sure which was the cause and which was the effect? Its standard practice in MTB that if a product takes off, and can’t really be improved, release a tool free version and watch the wallets open. Other than that I reckon this is spot on. Apart from possibly overlooking SPD’s, short stems, the “hardcore hardtail” and purple anodized everything.

    1. Ed

      Gabe, some good points there, but you clearly haven’t really used a dropper post cos if you had you would know that you don’t use them in the same way that you raise and lower your seat with a QR seat clamp, and that’s the beauty of them, and they have changed the way we ride. It’s hard to explain, but basically on a favourite loop of mine I used to drop my post three times, but with a dropper post I must do it at least 20 times, I don’t have to compromise in any situation. A yeah I do stop and regroup with mates, but you use one of these mid-section, and they help flow no end.

      1. Gabe

        I will admit I don’t own a dropper post. A mate of mine does however, although the most use it sees is usually me, extending it all the way, sitting down, pressing the button and either saying “wheeeeeeee!” or “that cost you £250 that did” depending on how annoying I’m feeling. Perhaps the fact that it is so clearly obvious to a user of droppers that I am not one, suggests I really should try one out properly. But I don’t really see it adding £250 worth of joy to my life. (£250 I do not have since some arse half inched my dh bike) I will also admit that where I ride I rarely sit down especially as I’m now confined to the hardtail, although this may change now that I have promised to join a different mate of mine who recently dislocated his hip in morzine in some “serious cross country time” to help him heal all better n stuff. But as I say I do know a guy who uses one. And I haven’t noticed a serious change in his riding since it appeared on his bike. Perhaps he feels warmer inside.
        Good article tho.

      2. Eoin

        That is the misunderstanding with dropper posts until you own one: it makes climbing better. Your seat will be way higher than you are used to on fireroad climbs, allowing much more efficient pedalling. Yet it will be lower than you are used to in descents. You basically get rid of any compromise you used to have. And to add on to Ed’s philosophy, they probably helped bike design overall by allowing for shorter seat tubes, and thus better stand-over.

    2. Ramollo Camollo

      Hey Gabe.. I started using the dropper post then stopped because I couldn’t use it properly (too many levers and my head just exploded). Then I swapped to single chainring and put the thing back on (I found a used one for €100, that’s around £90, far away from the £250 you’re talking about).
      As Ed said, you use it DURING the descent, not at the end, where you stop to wait for your friends.
      Here in Italy, we have several tracks where you go down for say 5 minutes, then you need to pedal uphill for a couple minutes, than descend 5 more minutes, than again pedal for a few more minutes and so on. Sometimes, this pattern is followed for 40/50 minutes (when you go up up up a mountain, for example).
      Considering this, let’s say that I find myself dropping and rising my post around 20/30 times, allowing me to keep pedalling from top to bottom with far less effort than those who need to pedal standing up (because the post is low) or pedalling slowly sitting down on low posts, which doubles the effort, because your leg is not optimally extending.
      This means that I ride seamlessly for the whole duration of the descent.
      Obviously, if you talk about xc trails, you don’t need a dropper post, you just keep the post high.

      1. Gabe

        I see your points, and droppers have certainly developed a large fan base which does speak in their favour. I just find myself thinking that the times where your seat is raised for short periods, mine would stay lowered to somewhere between my knees and ill stand up the whole time.All other things being equal, my bike should feel very slightly nimbler yet also more stable than yours, due to lower weight and lower center of gravity. Nit picking I know.

        Then when your seat comes up for long periods (more than a couple of minutes of sustained pedalling on fairly smooth terrain, probably aimed uphill), i will probably take the time to stop and raise mine too, and then be glad I’m not lugging around as much excess weight as you whilst complaining about climbing whatever we are climbing.

        I can see a atrong argument for droppers if your riding involves long climbs broken up by numerous short but technical descents, as it would indeed be a bit of a faff to stop and drop my seat after its been up for the last 15 minutes, only to stop and put it up again 30 seconds later. But then I don’t know many people who ride like that. I dunno, maybe I’d “get it” if I tried one. Maybe I’d try one if they didnt make my bike heavier and my wallet a lot lighter for a benefit I’m not sure I really believe in. Till then my seat will be spending 90% of its time low.

    3. WAKi

      Gabe: Aspect nr1 where I live now, dropper posts changed the way people ride trails. We have max 100ft altitude differences and constant ups&downs, we don’t have a single downhill longer than 20 seconds. But we do have some “explicit” terrain features. I might be using my dropper 100 times or more per 2h ride.
      Aspect nr2 – In southern Poland where I lived, there are 3000ft mountains and very often you climb for 30-60 minutes non-stop. Downhills are quite consistently down-pointing, not so much ridge riding. There having a dropper is a questionable luxury.

      Aspect 3 – I ride with standrad post from time to time as a mean of deliberate practise because that forces me to move my arse around the bike more. After feel like after a yoga class. Then having it not exactly where I want for seated pedaling forces me to stand more which is only a good thing. Droppers make at least my arse, heavy and lazy over time. Just like plenty of travel…

      Aspect 4 – weight? bulls balls. If it weighed 1kg, I’d be still worth it for my trails!

      1. Gabe

        Aspect 1) This is exactly the sort of riding where I imagine a dropper being of some benefit.

        Aspect 2) This is the sort of riding most people seem to claim their dropper really helped with. I wonder if they are trying to justify the large cost, while still trying to fit in with the new “Enduro Cool”

        Aspect 3) As I mentioned earlier, I have recently been forced into riding my hardtail everywhere I used to take 8 inches of suspension. Must say it has certainly given my skills a bit of a polishing up. And is way more fun than I remembered. Except I keep sitting on my rear tyre…

        Aspect 4) Bulls Balls. Haha. Yeh. You’re probably right.

  10. seb

    I can’t believe you guys didn’t put the Narrow Wide chainrings. They render the clutch derailleur and the chain guide almost obsolete!!!!!

    1. dave

      Seb, I do believe the narrow wide is a great invention but definitely does not make the clutch derailleur obsolete. Actually the recommend you use the clutch with the narrow wide set up. Maybe makes the front derailleur and shifter obsolete.

  11. Packer

    Agree with most of this.
    However, Aheadsets have not changed mountain biking. They simply made one small aspect of bike building/maintenance slightly simpler.
    SPDs – now there’s something that really changed things.

  12. Eoin

    I actually think in a few years we will look back in anger at chain devices considering the massive weight savings brought about by narrow-wide rings up front. Arguably, (i dont fully believe in this myself) chain devices slowed down the progress of 1x setups for quite a long time, and when you look at the truly insane prices being asked for a bit of plastic+bolts and 2 rollers, which didnt really work all that well…

  13. Leon

    V-brakes ? going from little cantilevers to V brakes was like using a product from the future for me , I used to think to my self why would you need more ?!?
    yeah they were superseded by disk brakes but for a while they were revolutionary

  14. Jonny_Who

    Great article and agree with all the bits I’ve tried particularly the Aheadset and remember threaded the steerer with many a sweary adjustment. I haven’t tried a dropper post as I’ve long been used to setting my post 1″ below ideal height which barely affects pedalling and allows me to easily slide off the back or stand up for the techy bits. For me it still remains a luxury option. Sticky tyres and suspension changed everything, Super Tacky High Roller and decent forks up front have saved me from many a faceplant.

  15. Steve

    A lot of stick.in.the.muds. on here already.. I really cannot see how you can’t agree with Droppers & Tubeless.. I was completely against Droppers until i bought my Fuel Trail bike.. I couldn’t work out why it didn’t feel as fast on my favourite local descent.. until one day in the Forest Fo Dean, we were messing on the DH tracks we knew so well on our big bikes.. and i put my seat down.. and totally railed everything..
    I feel sorry for Ed having to convey the emotion over, but it really is a game-changer.. you can just enjoy he trail more, jump things you would normally skip out as you didn’t have your seat dropped at the time.. it really does just make you flow in a whole new way.

    And as for tubeless.. 2.5 years and 2 punctures sounds a similar story to Ed’s.. il never go back.

  16. Dan Smith

    It’s challenging to keep the list at 15. I bought my first bike in 1983. 15 gears, friction shift and freewhee. Kind of what a BSO is these days. I would add freehub/cassette vs freewheel. Moving the bearing outboard for increased support. No more bent rear axles to end your ride! And definitely SPD pedals, that was a game changer. To be fair the headline said “changed” not “the best”

  17. Mr Ed

    Right Big wheels are not new . Look up Geoff App from South of England , he’s been designing 29ers from the late 60’s on . Garry Fisher admits that 29er would be the wheel of choice from the word go but they could not get the Nokia Tyres that Geoff was using . Secondly I’ve been using Road rear mechs for neigh on 20 years and found them far superior to MTB mechs for not dropping your chain ( Tiagra mostly on a 1 X8 or 9 setup with a 11-27th cassette) the clutch system is a piece of faff to go wrong with your over priced Shimano kit . Fed up of SLX and the ilck costing a bloody fortune . Bring back the days of LX rear mech costing £35 not £90 and a set of Marzocchi Z1 for just over £200 .

    1. WAKi

      I started riding in 2001, by then Marzocchi Z1 had MSRP that was the same as todays Rev or 32 series. It was like 1000£ like for instance Psylo SL. Z1 for 200£? what? Two years ago I wanted to buy a used Z1 from 2001-2003 for my HT, found one in a mint condition. It went for almost 200£!

      SLX costs 45 without clutch, and 70 with the clutch. I am le petit Luddite, but c’m on…

  18. ronin

    squish and stoppers. these two things have progressed the sport and its riders to insane levels of speed and skill.

  19. Marcus Foley

    Personally I have loved using my ‘dropper’ post the last few years, tho’ I reckon the way most riders use them they should really be called ‘raiser’ posts ‘cos in my experience the seat is down most of the time for fangin’ and goin’ for it and then you raise it to ride up a hill. Maybe a ‘name changer’ article could be a good thing, I mean FFS why on earth people call SPD’s (or other) ‘clipless’ is beyond me, I guess it all started because back in the day they called ‘straps’ clips. I reckon strapless peddles sounds so damn better. Any one else got bugbears in the nomenclature department?

    1. Gabe

      Bottom Bracket. Most bike parts names are at least vaugely descriptive of what function they serve. Tell someone who doesn’t know much about bikes that their bottome bracket needs replacing and watch for subtle signs of the internal struggle over whether or not to accuse you of just making parts up. It helps if you suck your teeth a bit first.

  20. Eoin

    I will add that I am not at all sold on carbon as a game changer, simply because you can easily build a top end DH or enduro race bike without a single piece of carbon. Then again I have never ridden a carbon frame/wheels/bars so I could be wrong.

    I also find it interesting that no one has mentionned linkage layout when it is such a big topic when discussing bike performance and in all marketing.

  21. tom

    My bike was the business with a Club Roost bar fitted :-)

  22. Lev Lev

    Some of the comments on here feel like they belong in the singletrack forum!

  23. Gaz

    +1 for George’s comment. While CK’s headset’s a incredibly well done didn’t they refuse to pay for the “Aheadset” license, hence the funny o-ring solution? As such that’s the last pic that should be there.

    As for Gabe et al above – I’m not reading all that s***

    1. Gabe

      soooo, you’ve either read it already and decided it is shit. Which is fine, everyone has their own opinion. Theres no need to feel ashamed about disagreeing, although I am usually right about everything. Theres certainly no need to lie about it…

      Orrrr you have not read it as you say, but have somehow come to the conclusion it is shit anyway. Which would be foolish.

      Take your pick.

      Sorry, this comment is a bit pointless really but I’m on my lunch break and have literally nothing better to do :) Happy trails.

  24. Massimo Amodeo

    The demise of the square botto bracket and spd are Way more relevant than a switch on a derailleur.

  25. mark

    things that changed mountain biking?

    surely whistler/the shore and rampage/bender need to be on the list.

    an angleset hasnt changed biking. neither has a seatpost

  26. Jay

    In my 24 years of riding and racing a mountain bike there are many things on that list I still have not used. Where are tubeless rims/tires/sealant and clipless pedals. Now those have positively affected my enjoyment of riding a mountain bike! I will never use a dropper post.

  27. Yetifan

    Gabe, I hate how they look, I hate how they can cost £100 to service, I love what they do. I was sceptical, but I find it so awesome on an up and downy trail. There are rides when I don’t use it, there are traild where I use it tons. If you’ve never had one, you won’t miss it. If you have and it breaks, then you will.

  28. neviscycles

    The biggest risers I’ve ever owned were on my 1988 British Eagle! They must have had 80mm of rise. :-) So risers don’t deserve a place. Freehubs definitely do. Splined bottom brackets as anyone who’s experienced the horror of square taper BB working loose will understand. Remember when your lowest gear was 28×28? Then suntour brought out microdrive cranks and steep stuff became feasible. What about sloping top tubes? Kona maybe to thank for that one. How could rapidfire shifters not get a place? Maybe folk have forgotten running thumbshifters upside down so you didn’t have to half remove your hand from the bar to change gear. Basically all those things that changed mountain bikes from being heavy touring bikes should be on the list cos it’s those developments that made it mountain biking and not just rough stuff touring.

  29. Mike Kay

    not sure if X1 should be up there, thick thin rings maybe but you dont need 11 speed to get that

  30. Eoin

    XX1 deserves it’s place for the extra wide range cassette. 11-36 might be enough for many, but some areas require a larger range. XX1 and it’s popularity will hopefully show SRAM and shimano that there is a big market for wide range cassettes.

  31. Mike.

    The Camelbak.

    Without a doubt the best thing. I have used, and loved, most of the 15, but it used to sit ill with me that I’d spend several hundred pounds to try and get a lighter bike, then strap 2 kilos of water and 2 kilos of bottle cages, tubes, pump, tools etc in a seat bag and top tube bag ( though they did help to carry your 21″ frame up slag heaps). 4 kilos is 8.8 pounds. Add your day kit. Name another invention that strips 10 pounds from your bike for 50 quid, and lets you ride all day…

  32. pisher

    bigger wheels are a way of revenue making and are bendey.

  33. vrh

    ahhhhhh…..alum. rims have to be the most important development, you have to remember the Japanese (Araya) only made them because of the beach crusier fad.

  34. Victor R. Hanson

    alloy rims are by far and the most important mtb inovation…..and it only happened because of the beach cruiser fad….

  35. WAKi

    Tubeless is often a problem when you have a good strong rider who likes to fool around whipping and drifting. A guy who can really push the bike down to the ground will burp the sealant all over the place. Tube stabilizes tyre additionaly. Then you must have wide rims and quite substantial sidewalls, Hans Dampf at least. If someone is not so fast and just rides along for most of the time he can run away with most of the stuff. Then certain combinations of tyres and rims just don’t go together, if you are not going 100% proprietary UST. And going proprietary UST is half-stupid as the rims like Mavic are medievaly narrow and most of proper UST tyres are heavy.


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