OPINION: N+1 IS DEAD

We all want another mountain bike but we don't really need it

OPINION: N+1 IS DEAD

By Ron Koch

If you’ve been riding and buying bikes for any length of time, you have surely heard the whole N+1 theory. For those who have not, it goes something like this: the number of bikes you should own is N+1 with N standing for the number of bikes you currently own. In other words, you should always own one more bike than you have. It’s a long-running joke that we all use to rationalize the purchase of another bike. Well, the time has come for the N+1 theory to die, because all you really need is one bike.

THE HARD TRUTH

The evolutionary curve of mountain bike development has flattened. Instead of giant leaps in geometry, suspension design, and even components, bikes are making incremental gains because everything has matured and is really, really good already. So good that the days of needing a highly focused bike that’s only good for one discipline are pretty much over.

Now we find ourselves overusing terms (yes, even we are guilty) such as “versatile,” “quiver killer,” and “capable.” Sure, there are still one-trick ponies, such as downhill and dirt-jump-style bikes, but in between those are bikes that are impressively adaptable and supremely fun to ride. The spectrum of the modern mountain bike’s ability is now incredibly wide.

When I’m not testing bikes for the magazine, I spend the majority of my time riding trail bikes with 120mm-140mm of rear-wheel travel because they do everything so well. I can climb with the kind of speed that tickles my XC funny bone and ride some fairly steep and technical descents with decent speed and control.

Modern geometry combined with long-travel dropper posts and grippy tires allows me to ride down stuff I used to walk on riding what we called enduro or freeride bikes a decade ago. I’m pretty sure I could slap some ultralight race wheels and tires on and go racing on some of these bikes. It wouldn’t be the bike holding me back.

If the gravity side of riding is more your thing, the modern enduro bike can fill a lot of roles. These bikes now pedal so efficiently that a big backcountry adventure ride is not out of the question, and they are capable enough to take on a downhill race at an amateur level. If climbing and pedaling are more your idea of fun, look no further than the modern cross-country bike. The level of suspension and geometry progression is simply stunning these days. Efficiency is off the charts, and descents are no longer sketchy, white-knuckle affairs. They’re actually fun now.

And ebikes? Yeah, I know a few riders who have both mountain bikes and electric-assist versions, but guess which one they almost always ride? That’s right, the ebike. Sooner or later, the mountain bike gets sold and that money is rolled over into an eMTB upgrade. I’ve seen it happen time and time again.

ONE AT A TIME

No matter how many bikes you own, you can only ride one of them at a time. Unless you are ultra-disciplined, the following process inevitably plays out: You ride your favorite bike until it hits a state of disrepair that makes it no longer fun to ride. Human nature is to grab your next favorite until the process repeats itself. This goes on until you get to your last bike. Then comes the day when they all need fresh tire sealant, and they are creaking and suffering from spongy inconsistent brakes.

Instead of riding, you spend the better part of a weekend getting your N+1 fleet up and running. If you had one bike, you’d be far more likely to stay up on basic maintenance.

Then there’s the benefit of being intimately connected with a single bike. You know exactly what it’s going to do and how it’s going to react out on the trail. There is no getting used to things. It feels like a well-worn shoe every ride.

NOT AS I DO

I know what you’re thinking. How many bikes do I own at the moment? Well, nine if you don’t count the two I plan on buying. I need these bikes in case one of my multiple personalities wants to race cross country one day and ride bike park laps the next.

And what if it snows? Gotta have a fat bike for that. And how about the group of friends that now only rides electric-assist mountain bikes? It’s not much fun trying to keep up with them on a regular mountain bike.

And then there are the subcategories of bikes that have a unique character and style that brings a smile to my face every time I ride them. Sure, I only need one bike, and N+1 isn’t necessary any longer, but I still want them all.

 

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