Modern mountain biking is evolving at the speed of adventure. The 40-year-old sport (with the clunker bikes of its early years long enshrined in museums) has matured and had children—and grandchildren. These new modes of biking jostle for attention, and with them, countless technological innovations smudge the lines between traditional cycling categories.
This is, of course, great news for cyclists. Riders who love shredding off-road have never had more options, and the exploration driven by enthusiasts has led to the rise of a whole new kind of bike. The new category, coined “adventure bike,” has pulled the prevailing trends in both road and mountain biking together, away from the more exclusive ends of the cycling spectrum.
This hybrid approach to bikes has gained incredible momentum in the past ten years, and it just keeps producing wild, exciting bikes. From gravel grinders to bikepacking rigs to powder-hound fatbikes, two-wheeled transports are enjoying a species proliferation. And as you’d expect, with all these new species has come the exploitation of new niches. Enthusiasts are seeing incredible benefits as so much more of the world opens up as a playground for a new breed of cyclist. While their steeds may make for a motley assortment, these riders all share one very important thing: a thirst for adventure.
But you don’t have to be out there blazing trails with these adventure cyclists to see the effects of their thirst. Spend a few minutes browsing MTB Project’s info-rich trail database—at mtbproject.com or on its handy mobile app—and you’ll discover not only the open secrets surrounding you but also the huge potential of this fan network. Fresh miles are being added, new country is opening up, rails are being converted to trails, and connections are being made. Awesome new adventure routes are being laid out for anyone to enjoy as riders of all stripes link up existing, bike-ready infrastructure and previously untrammeled terrain in surprising new ways. From gravel junkies stitching together favorite trails via sleepy “unimproved” roads to fatbikers bushwhacking and route-finding through the backcountry with GPS units, adventure cyclists are proving themselves an unstoppable force in the evolution of mountain biking.
A serious resurgence in cyclotouring has also emerged, with an allure of self-sufficient travel and exploration by bike. But now it’s more likely to focus on heading off-road over as much gravel and dirt as possible. It really is easier than ever to plan and execute a trip, not to mention pack for it. Whereas once you needed a touring bike that had all the necessary eyelets for racks to hold panniers and camping gear, now a new faction of the gear industry has grown up around the need for bikepacking bags. Building on an idea likely first put into practice with the early bikes that appeared some ten years before World War I, these bags allow you to take advantage of unused space with modular pack systems. Main triangles, handlebars, forks, and seatposts are all fair game. Which means that, whether you’re interested in an S24O (sub-24-hour overnight) or a trip-of-a-lifetime ride across America, you can make do with almost any kind of bike.
It’s this exciting “run what you brung” attitude that epitomizes adventure cycling and the new spirit of biking. Although the industry is busy chasing these riders, creating bold MTB and road-bike mashups like Cannondale’s wild new Slate, what’s most important for members of this movement is simply showing up and having fun. Cyclists haven’t shared such an inclusive sense of community since the turn of the twentieth century. It’s about time we all agreed on something, and who doesn’t like a little adventure?