Looking back at downhill bikes when I first started riding really puts into perspective just how far they have come in recent years. It’s not quite as bad as looking back on those imitation bird winged contraptions that man was building to try and take flight, but it’s clear that most downhill bikes back in the day were heavy, fragile, and barely worked for their intended purpose. It’s amazing to me that racers still shredded so hard on those rigs.

But have we really made that much progress?

There’s an awful lot of hype and banter regarding bike weight on forums these days and it really makes me questions riders’ priorities. Bikes used to weigh in around 45 pounds on average and these days that is considered morbidly obese by anyone with a 1000+ post count. Some people’s builds are taunting the 32-34 pound range and some are bragging about that target being hit with “realistic parts” but realistic compared to what? Thirteen hundred dollar carbon road brake calipers? Just because something is a production part doesn’t make it realistic. Realistic means more than just being able to buy it from a local bike shop online mega-store so long as you have the credit card to swing it.

Realistic parts are bits that should be able to take the abuse of downhill without immediately cowering in the warranty bin. Realistic means that it works, regardless of price.

We certainly have made progress though. There is no denying that. We no longer run the sad, heavy excuse for a bottom bracket, inherited from ancient road biking catalogs, that blew up bearings and sheared axles on a near weekly basis:

no thanks.

no thanks.

We no longer really bother to ask frame manufacturers if their rear triangles will clear 3.0 inch tires thanks to advances in tread design, casing reliability, and better rubber compounds:

Gazzarhea

Gazzarhea

We no longer run gigantic wide spread rims that give our tires flat profiles and end up denting in on the sides of the stupid things anyway:

Double the wieght, half the strength.

Double the weight, half the strength.

We no longer feel the need to chafe our assholes on over sized and repackaged fat-grandpa saddles that got in the way more so than doing anything to aid in controlling the bike:

Love seat... prison love?

Love seat... prison love?

Aside from a rare few courses where the rocks are as mean as a woman scorned, we no longer have to run repackaged scooter tubes and have even gone so far as to swing the pendulum completely opposite and can most often get away with running no tubes at all:

Pinch-Proof (except installation)

Pinch-Proof (except installation)

And we no longer feel the need to run a modified moto-trials fork that weighed more than most modern race frames:

Monsterous indeed

Monstrous indeed

Hold on though.

The Monster T was actually a really good fork if my fuzzy memory serves me correctly. Sure it was heavy but you never heard of them breaking, they rarely needed service, and they did their job of eating up hits. Dare I open myself up to the attacks of the vicious e-community by uttering the shear heresy of saying lighter is not always better

Modern downhill bikes have spent several years cutting the fat from the ride but I’d say that in retrospect, they cut all the fat a while ago and have since dipped into cutting away the muscle of a downhill bike.

A modern cross country race bike is somewhere around the 20 pound mark and is ridden in a fashion often similar to cyclocross- barely more than road biking on a dirt surface with dismounts substituted for actual riding over technical terrain. To be trying to cut downhill bikes to be in the low 30-something pound range and expect it to work over the terrain that is often found on modern World Cup (or even local, regional) race tracks is absurd. I suspect the driving force behind this bike anorexia is a general lack of skills and the attempt to foolishly compensate for that by lightening up the bikes.

Downhill bikes could just as easily be back up to 45 pounds using today’s technology, and they would be nothing short of amazing. We’ve cut the weight of shitty saddles, rims, drive trains, and so forth but shouldn’t we reinvest some of that weight back into places where it would do us all (from beginner to professional) some good?

I’m not advocating a return to Monster T’s but it would be sweet if the Fox 40 damper cartridge didn’t look like an insulin needle inside of am empty 2 Liter. Imagine how well your suspension would work if the oil volume and flow were increased by a couple hundred percent. Your already good fork would be amazing if your damping circuits were beefed up and were granted the oil budget to get their job done. Imagine if your shock felt the same on the first three hits out the gate as it did crossing the finish line of a 6 minute track. Imagine if your tires had casings that didn’t pinch-flat at the drop of a feather and had big nasty dirt destroying claws for cornering and braking knobs so that you could brake harder and later and hold your line through every corner. Now imagine that your downhill bike lasted an average of two full seasons of abuse without feeling like a tin can full of nickels.

Your bike should be heavier. It would be better.

The trend has already started in this direction with shocks getting bigger bodies and larger piggy back reservoirs (and god forbid, moar shimmz). Forks are getting more reliable and more realistic damper adjustments. Cranks are heavier now than they used to be a few years ago but you never see some one coasting down the hill with a crank in their hand any more. Frames are built with gussets in the places they are needed and not just splattered on every junction. Things are getting better but until the marketplace starts to accept a few extra ounces here and there for an overall better functioning package and starts demanding performance over weight savings as the primary priority, companies will just continue to offer stuff that is just too light.

Stop being such a coward. Your 32-34 pound “downhill bike” is little more than an impractical trail bike. A scrawny wolf in sheep’s clothing, unable to really do the job it was built for.

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