If you are a bike designer from a competitive bike company, you should stop reading because I will explain the past and the future of mountain bikes here 😉
First we need to understand where the mountain bike industry comes from. The bicycles were firstly intended to be ridden on man made surfaces. At some point someone wanted to ride the bikes on trail. Here is where it gets complicated. The rider experiments a lot of problems and tries to resolve them one by one. The first thing is to make the tire air volume bigger to make the riding safer and comfortable. After that we have seen a huge variety of new innovations from high end suspension to a electric drivetrain, yet still simple new innovations makes the riding easier and safer. A good example of a simple innovation that makes descending safer is a dropper post. What comes to bicycle geometry it has developed on DH bikes but for XC bikes it has not changed a lot throughout the years. The reason might be that people got used to a certain geometry and it’s not easy to learn new stuff. Although the riding has become more progressive and people are looking for a different thrill. I believe that the XC geometry has been adopted from road bikes.
Where did Pole start from?
I had a huge crash at Jyly 2011. My grip slid off the handlebars when I landed a step down too short on a downhill track. I dislocated my hip and had to recover from that. I had to ride a XC trail bike for a while and the bike just felt wrong. A DH bike is a nice bike to handle even on flat but it’s seat angle is just wrong for pedaling. XC bike feels wrong for me in any way (by no offence to anyone). I think that the normal XC bike is just too much of a road bike. On a XC bike I feel that I’m on a juggernaut-cannonball posture even you are riding less than 25km/h and at downhill I’m scared because the front wheel is too close. This posture is not good on a technical trail because the balance is not easy to keep when your hips are bent. What I did was altered my K9 DH001S so that it was more to my liking. I installed a 140mm fork and put the slackest headset (-2°) to compensate the head tube being lower. This made the bike’s seat tube more upright so that you could pedal the bike. This video has been filmed on 30.9.2013 at Jyväskylä Finland. In the process I started to love uphill climbs and Enduro competitions.
Why big companies are not following us already?
Big companies are not interested in things that are not easy to explain. I see many reviews where it’s said that the bikes are slacker and lower but they really aren’t. The big companies want something that is easy to sell to masses. New school geometry is not like a new standard like boost or 27.5″ which is pushed to the market. A new thing is going to be pushed to market if the dealers see something that is easy to sell. Ebikes are a good example of new stuff what is easy to sell because you can make anyone climb a mountain with a help of a motor. That expands your market and you hardly need to learn anything new. The dealers are even selling the illegal kits to make the bicycles to motorbikes to make a sale. A new geometry is hard to sell because you need to learn new stuff. For big scale this is hard because there will always be something lost in translation. This is one of the reasons why Pole is not going to be sold by anyone who wants to. We are very strict how our products are sold.
So why don’t people demand the change from the big companies?
Many riders are not engineers and they don’t know about mechanics, physics etc. Also you need to have a desire and passion to push these ides forward. Also many of the bicycle engineers are not riders so they can’t understand the riding as well. Engineers tend to focus on making the bike lighter and cheaper to manufacture. Also it’s about history and what people are used to. You could ask as well why XC is not catching slacker head angles? For XC bikes the slack geometry should be a no brainer. Most of the XC bikes are steep. Why is that? The XC bikes are pedaled most of the time on gravel roads anyways and there are no tight turns what so ever. So that’s that with the short wheelbase if anyone still thinks the long wheelbase is too hard to turn. The aerodynamics does not have a big role either. Every now and then you see a video of a racer who enters the “technical section” of the track. The racer is in trouble because the bike has rather a road bike geometry (short and steep). The stem is long and the weight is on the front. He tries to put his weight to the back but because the short wheelbase, the bike’s angle on a drop is too steep and the bike slings the rider over the bars because he’s arms are stretched out. The other scenario is that the front end does not give him a hint where it’s going because the short trail and the handlebar turns suddenly 90°. We need to remember that road bike geometry is defined by UCI and there is not much wiggle room there to get innovative. I would not imitate road bike geometry on mountain bikes. How many of these OTBs would have been avoided by longer and slacker bike?
What’s the big deal then?
It’s just a simple solution to a problem that most of the riders don’t even know that they are struggling on. By changing the geometry of the bike, we move riders weight to a right position between the axles and change the posture of riding more upright. This makes it easier and safer to ride. Safe + easy equals to more speed, it’s that simple. Sometimes innovations are not very complex. Actually, the best innovations are simple, just like Huck Norris.
Does the new school geometry fit anyone?
Short andswer: yes. Some people catch on the geometry immediately but some people need a couple of runs or more. We changed a lot of things along the way when we started to find the new school geometry. Because we changed the bike overall the riders needs to change their riding style and timing. The rider’s body movement on a longer bike should be more up and down from the center of the bike. The idea is to stay between the axles and don’t hang back. If you need to rise your upper body on a steep track, you can put handlebars higher. Some people would want to shorten the chainstays but that hardly helps because it just takes the weight off the front wheel but your body is still on the same posture. This means unstable ride. The right thing to do would be to make the bottom bracket lower but this is mechanically quite hard without changing the bike too much.
Suspension needs to be more sensitive and differently tuned for a longer bike because your weight balance is just different. It makes a huge difference on the weight balance between the axles when we push the rider a few centimeters forward in the cockpit and make the front center longer. Of course we compensate this also by adding more length to the rear center as well. All together there are many things you need to look differently but it’s not as hard as it sounds like. Beginners get on with this geometry very fast.
Why Pole is using the stock offset on forks?
If you don’t know what fork offset is, you don’t necessarily need to read this part, but if you want to understand, read this first. I tried different offsets and what I found was that the short offset makes the bike unstable in slow corners. In fast speeds it’s ok but I rather add more wheelbase than make it shorter. The short offset works if you have good stamina and power on your hands but when you are descending long your hands gets tired and when you enter some tight and slow switchbacks it’s harder to stay on the bike. Therefore I rather made the head angle slacker and take the 51mm offset for the 29″.
I think that the 29″ is a no brainer. The traction is awesome and it just makes the bike go over a lot of stuff easier, which means faster and safer rides. Last summer I experimented some crazy options as well but I feel that the 29″ on both ends is more consistent and it makes your life a lot easier not to have to deal with different tire sizes. I’m trying to find simple solutions to make the bike easier and safer to ride because that equals faster rides. My fun comes from reliable rides. I’m trying to make the bike feel like you are flying a fighter jet. One line rather than skipping all over the places.
After Seb Stott mentioned the longer stem length on Bikeradar review of the EVOLINK 140 I have been asked a million times, what stem length should you choose. My take on this is that if you don’t have grip on your front wheel, you need to add support to the front. This means that if your SAG is right you need to add low speed compression. The reason you don’t have grip on front that the fork does not give you support when you are pushing it. The stem length depends of your height and your arm length. I changed my stem from 35mm to 40mm on a size M bike. This is a minor change but I’m between the L and M so this change gave me the best balance between the sizes. Seb is over the L size so he definitely should add some reach to his bike.
Here are some clips from various levels of riding on Pole bikes (Pole means “pedal!”). You can spot Matti Lehikoinen riding there as well.
0:08 Santeri Siltala (Men Elite) – EVOLINK 140 L
1:14 Onni Rainio (14yrs) – EVOLINK 150 XS (1st)
2:38 Kaisa Härkonen (Women Elite) – EVOLINK 140 S (2nd)
2:54 Suvi Vacker (Women Elite) – EVOLINK 150 S (1st)
4:19 Leo Kokkonen (me) (Men Elite) – EVOLINK 140 M (3rd)
4:46 Juhani Kettunen (Men Elite) – EVOLINK 150 M with 29″ wheels (4th)
And a very tight Switchback from the same competition.
My guess is that we have five years until the entire industry adopts our geometry.