2020 Pinkbike Awards: Innovation of the Year

by | December 28, 2020

Innovation of the Year

Sometimes it seems as if mountain bike innovation moves as quickly as a fat bike with a flat tire, while other times things seem to change far too quickly for anyone’s best interests. While 2020 might not have seen any standout innovations that change the sport for all of us as a whole, there were plenty of other notable developments over the past twelve months. Our shortlist includes alternative manufacturing methods like 3D printing, stash compartments in less-expensive alloy frames, consumer-ready data acquisition systems, recycled carbon wheels, and (relatively) lightweight e-bikes.

Which of our five picks makes the most sense to you?

Why they’re nominated

Love ’em or hate ’em, e-bikes have been the biggest change mountain biking has seen since someone put knobby tires or a suspension fork on their klunker. But ask anyone who’s not convinced and they’ll probably tell you the 150lb average weight of an e-bike is one of its biggest drawbacks. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but sometimes that doesn’t feel too out of line, with the extra weight of the motor, and especially the battery, doing a good job of making sure your e-bike doesn’t leave the ground too easily.

But there’s a new breed of e-bike that employs lighter, less powerful motors and batteries to help bring total bike weight down closer to an early 2000s freeride rig while still providing a worthwhile amount of boost. Two bikes meeting that brief are Specialized’s 38lb Turbo Levo SL and Orbea’s 35.6lb Rise, both of which are intended to be motorized, do-it-all trail bikes. The Levo SL gets a 240-watt Specialized SL 1.1 motor (with a cool magnesium motor casing) and a 350Wh internal battery that can be supplemented with a 160Wh battery in the bottle cage. Orbea has chosen to go with a customized Shimano EP8 motor that delivers 60Nm of torque (not changeable) from a 360Wh battery and an optional 252Wh add-on that’s said to bump range up by 70-percent.

A relatively light e-bike is still an e-bike, but the closer in weight they get to a traditional rig, the more fun they’re going to be.

Why they’re nominated

I mean, the title gives it away, doesn’t it? Revel is a small US brand with just three bikes in their catalog, but they’re on this shortlist because of their out-of-the-box wheels that combine clever manufacturing and recycled materials. The RW30 rims are made with thermoset carbon, but an advanced polymer is used as a binding agent rather than a more common epoxy. As Daniel Sapp described in his review, picture nylon holding the strands of carbon together. Fusion-Fiber is a product used by Revel for their rims, much like how Gore-Tex is used and licensed by many different companies to make various products.

The process of using Fusion-Fiber for manufacturing the rim is something Revel isn’t keen on sharing, but the (very over-simplified) process involves pieces of thermoplastic put into the mold before being flash-welded into a rim. That rim then goes through three different heating and cooling steps, and requires no sanding, clear coat, or paint when it pops out of the mold. Being a thermoplastic, Fusion-Fiber is said to be easily recycled. CSS, the company that makes Fusion-Fiber, can do it themselves by chopping it up into smaller pieces and melting it down to form parts that use short fibers, like stems and other smaller components. Actually, it’s said to be easily and infinitely re-moldable into something else, whether it’s in the bike industry or elsewhere.

Oh yeah, the wheels happen to perform quite well to boot!

Why it’s nominated

Why carry supplies on your back when you can put them inside a downtube? Riders have been using integrated storage since mountain bikes first became a thing, but credit has to go to Specialized for re-energizing the idea of on-bike storage with their SWAT system. Thankfully, other brands have joined the cause as well, including Trek with their own big hole in the downtube. But while Specialized’s hole can only be had on the fancy carbon frames, Trek has figured out how to do it on both their carbon and less expensive aluminum Slash frames. Expect it to pop up on future versions of other aluminum bikes as well.

That means that you don’t need to spend all the money on a carbon frame that, while being lighter, doesn’t offer much in the way of tangible performance benefits, and you still come home with one of the most useful features.

Why they’re nominated

When it comes to suspension, there are three kinds of riders: One will take a few minutes to pump up their fork and shock to an indeterminate pressure, turn dials that they may or may not know the function of, and then happily hit the trails without ever thinking about that stuff again until something is painfully wrong. Then you have the type who know what HSR or LSC are short for and how they might change their bike’s performance, and they happily tinker with them a bit before settling on a setting that feels pretty good. Finally, you have the turbo geeks who speak almost entirely in acronyms and tune their damper and spring rate before every and for every ride.

Now, companies like Motion Instruments and BYB Telemetry are bringing semi-affordable data acquisition systems to consumers, letting regular Joes geek out while getting the most from their bike’s suspension. Both use a smartphone app and include well-thought-out instructions on setup and how to understand the data, as well as being relatively easy to install. I’ve had a Motion Instruments kit for months now (overdue video review in the future, I swear) and can tell you that it’s a slippery slope; once I started using it on a Specialized Enduro, I couldn’t help myself from looking at the results to see how its suspension could be improved. The future is now, it seems, and you certainly don’t need to be a World Cup pro (or a turbo geek) to use it.

Why they’re nominated
New manufacturing techniques are beginning to pop up in the mountain bike world, including 3D printing and CNC’ing entire frames. These techniques have been proven outside of the bike industry and still have a ways to go before being considered ready for primetime, but the possibilities sure are interesting.

For now, you’ll find Atherton Bikes, Gamux, and Moorhuhn employing 3D printed parts, tubes and lugs, while Pole, ActoFive, and Alutech are manufacturing fully CNC’d frames. Hey, I never said they’d be inexpensive, did I? But just imagine buying a new frame with custom dimensions, having a file sent to you with everything needed to create it, then getting it made, er, printed locally while you watch. I suspect most of us will be on welded or baked frames for awhile yet, but the future sure is interesting.