Retro vs Modern: Evolution of full suspension MTBs

From 70mm of undamped terror to today's superbly dialed machines

Video
In the past five years, the modern mountain bike has evolved drastically. So how do the newest full suspension rigs stack up to the originals?

In the past five years, the mountain bike has evolved drastically. So how do the newest full suspension rigs stack up to the originals?

Here at Mtbr, we’re privileged to have access to the latest and greatest. When we hop on a bike that’s just five years old, it’s obvious just how much better those annoying incremental “improvements” have made modern mountain bikes. So what about if you went back even further, say 25 years? In this video by the Global Mountain Bike Network, Neil Donoghue does just that. In one corner of the ring, a 1992 Trek 9000. As any old-timer can tell you, this was not one of Trek’s finest. It used a simple single pivot design to achieve 70mm of travel using a shock that consisted of simple a rubber elastomer.

Since the rear end has no damping, the bike would top out when descending, and bob horribly when climbing. The only bright spot was the fork, which was a Trek branded unit made by Showa that offered a whopping 40mm of travel.

Today, you’re hard-pressed to find a full suspension mountain bike with under 100mm of travel. Other differences include bar width, stem length, axle diameter, wheel size, and geometry. So…pretty much everything.

That raises the question, is it still possible to rip on a vintage mountain bike? Of course! Just watch Neil. Granted, he is a world class rider. I wouldn’t expect most riders would be able to ride a 25-year-old bike without stacking it.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Mtbr

Mtbr.com is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.


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  • erik peterson says:

    I owned 1 of those–what a POS! Inchworm on the climbs, brakes were good for 1 downhill run & then had to be adjusted. the swing arm bolt snapped constantly–usually downhill–my dealer took it back for a carbon9200 or 9500 (???) hardtail which delaminated shortly there after & the bottom bracket fell out-ya, good times! Thanks Trek.

  • Greg Jetnikoff says:

    By 1996, Santa Cruz had built the Heckler. 4″ of travel and very well damped. It would still measure up today ( as a single pivot design). Not as good as the virtual pivot design later, but VERY functional and superb handling, as both a DH ( then ) and xc bike. BTW as far as I know I still being ridden today…

  • UncaJohn says:

    Why they compared those 2… eras with the Trek 9000? I would also like to see a more honest comparisson among a San Andreas and.. whatever…
    The San Andreas still rules.

  • spzero says:

    this was laughable. We shredded on rigid and hard tails back in the day breaking components all the time as we used and abused them, its all about the rider. We were used to the geometries back in the day so it didn’t feel terrible but I always put shorter stems on everything I owned I still do today as I came from a bmx background and it felt better.
    Yeah a nice bike helps but I wouldnt have ridden that bike back in the day. More travel on the back than on the front what a stupid idea for anything other than downhill monsters even then I’d rather have more upfront or equal.

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