Every year for the past few years Pinkbike have been documenting what equipment people are riding on Whistlers opening day for the season. Whilst clearly not representative of the general mountain bike population, it does highlight some interesting and perhaps worrying trends that can be seen at bike parks, races and trail centres all over.
Forks by manufacturer
The forks chart shows that things have remained fairly steady, Pinkbike don't say how many people they asked for information, but we can assume its going to be smaller number than would be truly representative. However anecdotally, this does seem to be roughly accurate from what we observe on the trail.
Shocks by manufacturer
Here we see Fox have taken a dive from 2015, this does come as a surprise, particularly as Fox X2 Float only showed 6.78% usage. As this shock is fitted to quite a few DH and enduro bikes we would of expected this to be higher.
Brakes by manufacturer
Clearly Shimano have suffered to SRAM in the last few years, also noticeable is the drop in non Shimano/SRAM offerings.
The data is only for derailleurs but we can take a fairly safe bet that this is paired to a same brand complete drivetrain in most cases.
What can we take from this?
Ultimately, not too much, due to the small sample size and the fact it's only in one place (Whistler bike park), which will attract a certain type of rider. However, taking a look around at what people are riding and nothing really looks too out of place. SRAM have been eating Shimano and Fox's lunch for the past few years, with the other players being squeezed out. The most pronounced being in the drivetrain market where it really is a choice of SRAM or Shimano, with SRAM taking 76% of the numbers, growing from 42% just 4 years ago.
Is this bad?
On the face of it, it could be easy to say "SRAM make better products and/or at a better price" but things aren't quite that simple. In the last few years a few trends have shown through within mountain biking which are all linked in changing the way the industry works:
- Direct Sales
- New Standards
- The Rise of the complete
Direct sales from brands such as Canyon and YT shook up the industry. Now it was possible to get a great spec bike that rivaled the boutique brands, but at a huge cost saving. This was done by cutting out the middleman (the local bike shop) and sending directly to the customer. They also seem to run very lean, in some cases customer service and quality control taking a hit to keep costs down. SRAM have cleverly been able to sell brands the complete package: suspension, brakes and drivetrain. This benefits the bike company as it streamlines production (only one point of contact) and it's possible SRAM offer the parts at a cheaper price whilst still making the same profit if they only sold a few components.
Over the last few years we've seen a number of new 'standards' which have been claimed to improve performance of mountain bikes. These include:
- Boost (front and rear)
- Super boost
- Metric shocks
- Trunnion shocks
- 35mm bars
- 11 speed
- 12 speed
- 27.5" wheels
- 29" wheels
Whilst some of these clearly make a difference to how a bike rides (26" to 29" for instance), many make such little difference that it doesn't even seem worth it. In isolation, these aren't too bad for instance - have a tired 3x9 setup and want to go 1x12? New cassette, shifter, chain and ring and off you go, but when you want to change something more substantial things get ugly. Got a 29er complete from 2013 that you'd like to get a new frame for? More than likely that would mean new shock, new forks, new rims, new drivetrain, maybe a new dropper and a host of brake adapters and other bits to try and get your old parts to work. It's pretty easy to see how many people would just look at buying a whole new bike when faced with the challenge of getting older parts to work on new bikes.
The Rise of the Complete
The amount of bike manufacturers offering frame only options also seems to have dropped, and those that do are often uncompetitive - Canyon offer their Spectral carbon frameset for £2,249 but you can get a carbon complete for £2699. You'd easily be able to sell the parts from the complete for more than £450, making the frame only option redundant. At the time of writing, the Strive carbon frame is the exact same price (£2699) as the entry level carbon complete! This isn't just true of the direct brands, a Transition Scout frameset goes for $1,999 , and the cheapest complete for $2999.
When it comes to new bike time, it's much easier to just start again with a full build, get the latest standards and all for only a little more than a frameset. This however has led to the marginalization of parts such as Hope brakes , MRP forks or TRP brakes coming as standard on completes.
These factors combined have allowed for SRAM to take bites out of both Shimanos drivetrain market and Fox's suspension. This would be fine if it was #JustCapitalistThings but the way SRAM have moved to intentionally bring in standards with such little consumer benefit which locks out other vendors is something to be wary of. Competition is always good, and the drivetrain market in particular is pretty binary, with the suspension market being full of lots of also-rans rather than people in position to topple the big 2. Having one player control nearly the entire mountain bike components market will only stifle innovation and allow that company to push whatever agenda it has onto consumers, with little alternative.
What can Fox and Shimano do?
To be able to keep up with SRAM, Shimano and Fox are going to need to either drop prices and so either profit or quality or join in supplying the complete package to bike frame companies.
Fox are arguably in the weaker position as they only really have influence in the suspension, dropper and clothing sectors where as Shimano have the drive train ,brakes, wheels, pedals, dropper (although has anyone even seen a Pro Koryak dropper post let alone bought one?) and finishing kit. Fox cleverly bought out the floundering Marzocchi a few years back and have used the name on more budget products, widening their market appeal. Fox could look at buying Hayes, Clarks or best of all TRP to get some brakes in their lineup, they wouldn't even need to rebrand them in the same way they did with Marzocchi. This would be cheaper and quicker than trying to build up a new brake brand from scratch, which would take years. Drivetrain wise they only really have the option of buying out Box or starting their own, both SRAM and Shimano have had years and years to refine their shifting and whilst reviews of Box parts has been largely good, there doesn't seem to be a rush to drop one of the S's yet.
So what could Shimano do? Realistically they only really need a good suspension wing to complete the circle. They do have a history of purchasing other companies and whereas Fox are limited with options for drivetrain producers, there is quite a few Shimano could go after. DVO and Cane Creek are maybe a little bit too big, but they both have good followings and produce overall decent products. Öhlins were recently sold to Tenneco. MRP would be a good shout as then would also bring in chain guides, but at the moment their suspension range is quite small. Best of all would be Xfusion, they have a wide range of forks and shocks to suit all types of bikes as well as a dropper that people actually use. Alternatively of course they could produce their own forks and shocks, but Shimano are famous for moving slowly so who knows how long that could take.
So will we see a future where the only choice of forks you'll have on your enduro bike is between a Lyrik and a Yari? Mountain bikers tend to like to stand out from the crowd with 'popular' brands such as Trek or Giant being looked down up by snobs on their Yetis or Santa Cruz so anything seen as being common will automatically get shunned by a small section of the community. Shimano have managed to get the jump on SRAM in the burgeoning E-bike market by making a popular motor, with luck this is a sign that things may start to even out over the next few years.
*Forks the 2019 number also doesn't seem to add up to 100%.