Disc brakes are without doubt one of the most important innovations in mountain biking, they really do allow us to ride differently. When I first started riding a mountain bike cantilever brakes were pretty much as good as they got. Getting the best performance out of them was a bit of a dark art, but in hindsight we’re talking about them either being next to useless, or a tiny bit better. Oh, and that was in the dry! Try using them in the wet and all they really did was wear your expensive rims out. Magura made hydraulic rim brakes at this time, and these were seen by many to be the ultimate stoppers, but they still weren’t great. Then everyone thought they’d won the lottery when ‘V-Brakes’ arrived, and yes they were considerably better than canti’s and much cheaper than the Magura option, but they still relied on a rim that was rarely clean, or straight.
Hope were actually making a mechanical disc brake before the introduction of the V-Brake, but it was mainly popular with touring cyclists. There were a few early adopters mountain biking, but the brakes didn’t come cheap and you basically had to work out your own way to mount them because disc brake mounts hadn’t even been invented yet. Luckily though the word started to spread, mounts started to appear on forks and frames, the technology got better, and then all of a sudden disc brakes started becoming common place at DH races. Once you’d tried a set of disc brakes you were never going to go back, and so it’s no surprise that the rest is now history.
Many of you probably aren’t even old enough to remember the original headsets that we had to deal with, and if that’s the case you should count your blessings. All headsets used to be based around a threaded steerer tube on your forks, and a ‘quill’ stem. The headset itself was basically two big threaded nuts, one of which was meant to act as the lock-ring in order to stop the whole thing coming loose. I say meant because they constantly came loose, even the ones that supposedly had some ingenious feature that was meant to cure the problem.
Basically everything about the design was rubbish, but somewhat incredibly when Dia Compe first introduced their revolutionary threadless ‘Aheadset’ it wasn’t universally accepted overnight. I suppose it boiled down to the fact that you needed a different fork steerer and stem, plus it almost seemed to0 simple and good to be true. Thankfully though it didn’t take too long for everyone to see just how great the system was, and now, many years on we don’t even bother with the ‘A’ part of the name, we just call this design a headset.
It’s hard to imagine it now, but I still remember reading articles in magazines about whether or not suspension was a waste of time, and I’m not just talking about rear suspension either, the validity of suspension forks was even being questioned. To be fair those early forks were heavy, unreliable, expensive, and offered about 50mm of terrible quality travel, so I suppose it’s not really so surprising that people were questioning the need for them. I spent a grand on my first ‘proper’ bike, and that was a fully rigid steel hardtail with an XT groupset. And people say kit is expensive these days?
Anyway, despite years of what can only be described as fairly awful suspension, we still managed to come to the sensible conclusion that suspension can be a massive benefit when it comes to riding off-road, especially if you want to go fast. As much as I still love a hardtail (I’m afraid fully rigid is a step too far for me), I really wouldn’t want to be without suspension, it has just opened up so many new doors. Also, imagine how boring it would be if we couldn’t geek out and lust over the latest and greatest bits of suspension.