Since the wheel was invented, men have never been stagnant. Men began to move further, build tools, erect monuments, cities and build numerous civilizations. The humble wheel helped ancient men conquer territories, discover minerals  and wage war. Wheels helped in starting the industrial revolution, flew people around the world, put a man on the moon and made cars as the primary vehicle around the world. Wheels helped humans to be mobile.

1820's foot-powered Draisine. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

1820’s foot-powered Draisine. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

The wheel has also connected man and machine it in its purest form. A man-powered mechanical vehicle that can go places. When the bicycle was invented, it had an enormous effect on society, in terms of advancing modern industrial methods and culture. Several parts of components hat played an essential role in the automobile development were initially invented and intended for bicycle users. These components include ball bearings, chain-driven sprockets, gears, tension-spoke wheels and pneumatic tires. Bicycles were invented and introduced in the 19th century in Europe. And as of 2013, the number of bicycles is more that billion around the world and as twice as many  as automobiles. The bicycle is the principal means of transportation in many countries and regions. Bicycle also provide a popular form of recreation for both children and adults, fitness, low enforcement and military applications, courier service and competitive racing.

The development of the bicycle over the century is outstanding.  From wooden frames with steel and now,

A penny-farthing. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

A penny-farthing. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

aircraft grade aluminum, titanium and carbon fiber are being used as frame materials for modern day recreational bicycles and high end racing rigs. From pushing the bike with the rider’s own feet while steering the form wheel, to a mechanical crank attached to the front, chain drive and presently hollow bottom brackets, combination gearing and the new electronic shifting on racing road bikes. From the penny-farthing that uses wire-spoke wheels with solid rubber tires, we now have carbon fiber mountain bike wheels, aluminum wheels, tubeless racing wheels and three sizes of 26”, 27.5” and 29”. Add to that, modern bicycle suspension systems and disc brakes made riding bicycles more fun, faster  and more gnarly.

Focusing On Adventure

Bicycles will always be part of my life. Since I was young I really liked to ride E.T. edition  bike with learner wheels. Once the learner wheels were removed, I never looked back. From the E.T.  Bike, I moved on to cruisers up until 7th grade and upgraded to a cross country mountain bike from 8th grade up until I graduated from college. I started from a Chromoly, rigid frame, with a Suntour group with a 3×9 gearing, Araya aluminum rims, Panaracer tires and Tioga handlebars. Mountain biking was very new then, but I was really into it and attack the trails with gusto. Through the years, I’ve changed my Chromoly frame from to an oversized aluminum frame to accommodate a front suspension and then upgraded to a full suspension bike by 2004. I can’t help notice the many changes in bike technology since my last ride 3 years ago. I am no expert, but I had my share bike wisdom from riding and talking to people within the mountain bike scene. In my opinion, there are three important  factors that every newbie, experienced or expert need  to consider in building or buying bikes – the frame material, wheel size and shifters. Let’s compare.

Electronic Or Mechanical Shifters?

K-Edge Ki2 Electronic rear derailleur. Image courtesy of bikeshopliquidator.com

K-Edge Ki2 Electronic rear derailleur. Image courtesy of bikeshopliquidator.com

Electronic shifting is a road bike territory, but there is no doubt that in a few years, it will penetrate the gritty and the gnarly world of mountain biking. All throughout the 2000’s, Bicycle component giants Shimano and Campagnolo used Mavic’s pioneering ideas in developing electronic groups  for their pro racing teams. And in 2009, the cycling world finally had a taste of a new electronic group called the Shimano Dura Ace Di2. By 2011, Shimano released the Ultegra Di2. Everyone who tried and used the new group were full of praises. The system is powered by a lithium ion battery and the system was wired.

The servos were installed in the Derailleurs and was updated up to 11 speeds and lighter weight and improved ergonomics.  Small mountain bike companies created a different range of products that will accommodate the electronic mountain bike variants. The Newport Park Bicycle Shop, Kedge and Fair Wheel bikes have showed their conversion using pod shifters and custom pulley cages. Advantages over mechanical system includes:

  1. Automatic trim function that eliminate chain rub.
  2. The rider will not need to change hand positions when shifting.
  3. Allows effortless and accurate shifting in any difficult riding circumstances.
  4. Reduces the Drivetrain shock.

Disadvantages include

  1. No manual override when the battery goes kaput.
    K-Edge pod shifters. Image courtesy of bikeshopliquidators.com

    K-Edge mountainbike electronic pod shifters. Image courtesy of bikeshopliquidators.com

  2. Reliability issues.
  3. Very expensive.
  4. Weight issues.

Why would you use and ride mechanical shifting? One argument is its weight over electronic shifters and more importantly is its price. This system has been in use and manufactured for a long time, the sales volume is high, thus the cost is less upfront, although this system will require a bit more maintenance over time (housing, tuning and cable replacement). If you broke a specific part or when you crash your bike, any shop would likely have replacement parts and it will be cheaper. Plus,  they are more fun to work on. All disadvantages of the electronic system is somewhat not present on mechanical sifters. Again 2 factors, price  and parts availability. Mechanical system will totally engage you with your bike.

Wheels, Wheels, Wheels!

Currently, there are three wheel choices for mountain bikes – the original 26”, the new and in-between size 27.5 (650b) and the role of the three, the 29” or 29r. I have tried all three wheel sizes back to back to back. So many pieces have been written about these three wheel sizes in different mountain bike magazines and reviews. It will not hurt to compare the wheels sizes from a personal, non-magazine type opinion. By default, we represent the cycling masses and regular riders. There have been many controversies that surrounds these three different wheel sizes and surely you’re wondering which wheel size will best fit you and your riding style.

26", 27.5" and 29" wheel assemblies. Image courtesy of http://wvxtreme.com/

26″, 27.5″ and 29″ wheel assemblies. Image courtesy of http://wvxtreme.com/

The 26” wheel. This wheel size is considered the standard in mountain biking and probably the wheel size that you have on your mountain bike. No question that this wheel offers maneuverability and is more flexible than the other two wheel sizes. This is because al advancements in and bike geometry have been modeled on this wheel size. The wheel has evolved for many years and the front, rear and center balance is very ideal. Very excellent on steep climbs and easier to accelerate because of the somewhat small turning radius. Descends are sometimes scary since the wheel will not roll over ruts and rocks as compared to the bigger wheel sizes.

The 27.5” wheel. The feel and look of this wheel is proportional. You will not be able to tell that you’re riding  this wheel unless you see the print and specs on the sidewall. It does not feel tall as the 29r and rider position is very comfortable. The ride feel of the bike is very close to the 26er and no hard work is required when riding. The bike can attack trail and on descents, the rider will feel relaxed. Its maneuvers good and its still flickable and I can still do jumps in style. I like it.

The 29” inch wheel.  The first thought that I have with this wheel is the standover height but I was wrong. The lower bottom bracket compensates for the large wheel size, thus the center of gravity is just right, I can say that a rider will fell centered  riding a 29r. The big wheel is best on descents and it smooths out the trail, roots and rocks. It offers the best traction among the three, but not as maneuverable and flickable as the two. Cruising speed will take more effort, but once up to speed the bike will hold momentum nicely. Steep climbs is harder but again, it rolls over the trail like butter.

Carbon Fiber or Aluminum Frames?

Carbon fiber and aluminum are the most popular bicycle frame materials used today. These two will have its advantages and disadvantages. I’ve started on Chromoly frames and then shifted to aluminum frames because of the weight and it does not rust. I’ve been riding aluminum frames for the longest time and I have never broken an

2013 Ibis Mojo SLR. Image courtesy of mtbnews.com

2013 Ibis Mojo SLR. Image courtesy of mtbnews.com

aluminum frame. There are signs of stresses but it holds it on. Carbon fiber – just about two weeks when my cousin lent his Ibis Mojo to me to review. It may be unfair to compare because of  the riding time, but let me give my impressions and some known facts about the two materials.

Most high end bikes are made of carbon fiber. Advantages include:

  • Lightest of all frame materials
  • Stiff
  • Strong
  • Good shock absorption
  • Will not rust or corrode
  • Can be molded to any design

Disadvantages

  • Very expensive
  • Can fracture or crack
  • The stiffness and strength will depend on the design

Aluminum is the most widely used frame material as of the moment. Advantages include:

2014 Norco Range Alloy. Image courtesy of bicyclingaustralia.com.au

2014 Norco Range. Image courtesy of bicyclingaustralia.com.au

  • Can be light as carbon fiber frames
  • Strong
  • Stiff
  • Goor for climbing, sprinting and descents
  • Will not rust or corrode
  • Not as expensive as carbon fiber

Disadvantages:

  • Harsh on rough trails
  • Fatigue is imminent
  • Not easily repaired
  • Can have weak joints

Damage susceptibility is arguable because it will depend on your riding style. There is no doubt that almost anyone would like to have a carbon fiber bike because it is made of high tech materials and it’s very light, but again the frame material will not make any difference  to an actual ride. If your intention is to save weight than carbon fiber is your best bet. Yes, it is also more comfortable than an aluminum bike and you can easily do jumps and can zoom in rails without any issue. There is also the cool factor that a carbon fiber bike can give but buying a carbon fiber frame will not make you faster – discipline, dedication and training will make you faster. Or maybe I don’t have the money for a carbon fiber bike myself. Nuff said. Go out and ride!

 

 

 

 

About Author

Jon specialises in research and content creation for content marketing campaigns. He’s worked on campaigns for some of Australia's largest brands including across Technology, Cloud Computing, Renewable energy and Corporate event management. He’s an avid scooterist and musician.