According to the mountain biking app MTBProject, our Colorado backyard contains 9,515 miles of trails for riding off-road. Choosing the right bike for the terrain is passion work for Sports Garage Cycling owner and mountain bike expert Brad James. For over 25 years, Sports Garage – “SG” to most – has been a quiet epicenter of mountain biking technology, introducing Boulder to many influential boutique brands including Santa Cruz Bicycles in 1999, Yeti Bikes in 2004, and Pivot Cycles in 2008. We sat down with James for a crash course in full suspension mountain bike design and functionality.
“One major hurdle to falling in love with Colorado mountain biking is having a bike that actually helps you develop the skills you desire,” James says, “and that means choosing the right technology for the job.”
Sports Garage planted roots in mountain biking technology when the doors opened in 1994, with service stands where customers could pay to do work on their own bikes or learn from an expert. That heritage survives today in Sports Garage’s nationally recognized service center, where bike tuning goes far beyond the basics, as home to Boulder’s only suspension lab. James noted that “for many, suspension is what makes a mountain bike a mountain bike.”
So what is suspension? Or frame geometry? Or a dropper? It makes sense to us that before there is a guide to mountain biking, there should be a guide to your mountain bike.
- Suspension: Squish. Soft-tail. Rear travel. All of these terms refer to the fact that the front triangle and rear triangle of a mountain bike move independently, and literally “suspend” the rider. The suspension design of a mountain bike absorbs the roughness of the trail, and dampens the impact of hitting rocks, roots, and uneven terrain. In addition to the design of the frame, the two main components of a suspension system are the rear shock (1) and front fork (2). Rear travel is often quoted in inches or millimeters, and you may hear someone say, “This is a five-inch travel bike.”
- Front Fork: The front fork takes the majority of the rider’s weight and can vary diameter and length of travel, or how far it compresses when you ride over an obstacle. The technology in a mountain bike front fork is not significantly different than that in a dirt bike.
- Drivetrain: The drivetrain of a mountain bike most commonly includes one (“1x build”) or two (“2x build”) chain rings in the front and a “cassette” of rings in the back. The evolution in drive train technology has given riders lighter weight equipment with a wider range of gears, ideal characteristics for climbing Colorado mountain trails.
- Frame: Mountain bikes, like other types of bikes, are made of several materials. The majority of full suspension mountain bikes on the market today are made from either aluminum or carbon. Referred to as the “carbon layup,” frames are carefully engineered for the right amount of flexibility, strength, and durability. Frame geometry refers to the angles of the frame, the length of the sides of each triangle, and how this impacts the way a rider fits on the bike.
- Dropper Seat Post: Some would argue that the dropper seat post—which truly began coming of age late in the first decade of the 2000’s—is the most transformational mountain bike evolution. Using a lever on the bars, the saddle “dropped" to a height lower than the proper pedaling height. This allows the rider to get into a lower athletic stance, with her weight further back over the rear tire. The outcome? More stability at faster downhill speeds on rougher trails.
Business Biography Info:
Sports Garage Cycling is dedicated solely to alternative surface cycling, with one of Colorado’s largest mountain bike and gravel bike demo programs. Perhaps known more officially as a “dirt shop,” the team at SG believes in preserving the legacy of the local mountain bike shop. The stated core values of the business include rich experience, long term relationship, and technical expertise with job descriptions for every position including, “Must love to ride…must actually ride.”
Owner Brad James and his wife, Elorie, who also works in the mountain biking industry, explore trails not only in Colorado but across the western United States, spreading the “play together, stay together” gospel from aboard full suspension mountain bikes.