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Back in the day, it was all so simple. To unobservant eyes, mountain bikes all looked the same. Two wheels, rigid frame. To modern eyes, sure they had amusingly croth endangering top tubes, way-too-narrow bars, tiller-like stems. But essentially there was one design, and it was used for everything.

Everything? Well, if you rode and raced in the 80s and early 90s, it would have to be. The same bike you’d ride trails on every day (if you were lucky) would be same bike you’d race at the weekend. And the race might include a cross-country component, a downhill component and a trials component. And maybe in the summer you’d take the same bike over to the continent, or Wales, or Scotland, to ride up and down some real mountains (chairlifts? Pah!). One bike. And it would do everything. A bike to conquer mountains. A Real Mountain mountain bike.

Technology didn’t actually change all that, though. Not at first. What did change that was an increase in the popularity of our sport. Which meant that more people of different abilities and interests came into it, and attempted, quite naturally, to make the bikes work for them. This allied to a sudden increase in the market for innovation, and there’s where technology took a hold. And bikes started to change. Slowly at first, pushing against the innate conservatism of the consumer space, and then more quickly. The range of innovations became quite startling. Front suspension. Disc brakes, rear suspension. And – all important, this – specialisation. There were mountain bikes for riding around on, sure, but there were some which were much better at cross-country racing (stiffer, and more uncomfortable). Better at downhill (actually, these ones were pretty hopeless at mostly anything else, weighing more or less the same as an ocean-going yacht). Some were better at four-cross or trials too. An increase in the number of available wheel sizes didn’t help.

And suddenly there were many bikes, and they wouldn’t do everything.

Then things reached a tipping point, it seems. The slow and seemingly inexorable expansion of our mountain bike world slowed. There is only so much experimentation a bike can take, after all, before it actually becomes more difficult to use, given that it needs to accommodate the peculiarities of the human body to actually work at all. And designs began to fall towards a seemingly happy medium. And seemingly disparate disciplines began producing bikes that made a funny kind of sense for other disciplines, too. Which can only be a good thing for everyone. And bikes started to become jacks of all trades once again. And there were all-new Real Mountain mountain bikes.

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About Singletrack

International Adventure: Southern nights, endless trails: Rickie Cotter's truly epic trip down the length of New Zealand, complete with beautiful watercolour illustrations by Beate Kubitz. UK Adventure: Be careful what you wish for…" We nearly broke our editor while riding some of the Howgill Fells remotest singletrack. Classic Ride: The Dark Peak: The riding around Hope Cross in the Dark Peak is definitely on the ‘must do’ lists for every UK mountain biker. It's a Classic Ride for a reason. Not ridden it for a while? NEVER ridden it? Then you need to get yourself to the Peaks... Grouptest: GPS Units: David Hayward puts six GPS units through torture to see which is the best for trail use, mapping, Strava and finding yourself again. Bike Test: Proper mountain, mountain bikes: Barney looks at three 160mm bikes from Focus, Scott and Specialized designed to get you up the big hills and back down again with fun and style. Racehead: Scotland the awesome. TweedLove and the Fort William World Cup are proof of Scotland’s superiority over all - at least for a month every summer. Last Word: A question of perception. Tom Hutton and Matt Letch go head to head in discussing how mountain biking needs to be presented to the wider world if we’re to increase (or even defend) our trail access. And, as they say, much much more: Product reviews, columns, tests and random burblings for all!