Over the years the popularity of mountain biking has declined. Looking at the trends there is a decline going on for over a decade. There are hope, last few years the statistics seem to be in our favor.
Is mountain biking dead? No, even though the sport isn’t as popular as it was in the ’90s there are still many mountain bikers out there. Trends show a decline but there’s still much activity.
The sport was extremely popular in the ’90s and halfway new technologies started to emerge. Carbon frames, suspension forks and rear suspension to name a few of them. Brakes have evolved tremendously and frames have come a long way. The bikes looked futuristic and everybody needed one, even just to show off. Some say the sport got too technical, making it hard for people to decide which type of bike they need. It isn’t as accessible anymore like it used to be.
Mountain bike trends over the years
Let’s look at the numbers to get a better idea of what’s going on here. You can see that people are slowly searching less for ‘mountain bike’ but it’s not really that bad. The spikes have to do with the seasonality and peaks around August. Over the last few years the search volume seems to stabilize and in some cases increase, this is a good sign. This data only covers the United States and depending on where you live, data will vary.
So let’s look at the trends for ‘mountain biking’. The trend is downwards just like the graph above, though it’s declining slightly more and doesn’t show any signs of recovery unlike ‘mountain bike’. Hard to explain why this search phrase is doing worse. Maybe people are more interested in a mountain bike for recreational use, and mountain biking is a phrase that people use who are into trails. However, you can safely say that owning a mountain bike isn’t the same as mountain biking, some never leave the pavement.
Downhill mountain biking is more irregular although you see the trend going down a bit in the last few years. I’d say nothing to worry about, it peaked in 2009 and looks pretty stable in the last few years. So that’s a good thing.
Now let’s see what happens if we look more into specific search phrases like a mountain bike helmet. This is a weird one, the search volume is increasing, but how’s that possible? This is a weird one, the volume search seems pretty high compared to the other phrases, so I guess mountain biking isn’t dead at all.
Back to mountain biking trends but now we’re going to have a look at the last 5 years. It doesn’t really look that dramatic at all now, sure there is a minor decline but looking at the graph it seems rather stable. Yay, it’s not dead!
Overall there is a decline in search volume but it’s not as dramatic as it used to be. Looking at the last graph mountain biking hits 75 the last years which is pretty good. I don’t think there’s a reason to worry about it especially looking at the past 5 years, people are still searching a lot for ‘mountain bike’ and it’s pretty stable. If you type “MTB” you’ll notice an upward trend over the past 12 years! It could also be that people mean to look up something else (Mycobacterium tuberculosis, M&T bank?). It’s hard to say and for this reason, I left it out.
When looking at other trends you often see the same movements, assuming there were fewer people searching back in 2004 how reliable is the data? Google trends don’t show the absolute search volume but the intensity, this means that the data from 2004 is valid and has nothing to do with fewer people who had access to the Internet compared to this day. I just wish we could get the actual amount of searches, but alas it’s Google’s little secret.
Global mountain bike market is growing
Looking at the global market, mountain biking is on it’s way up and is expected to grow close to 10% between 2017 and 2021. Mountain biking tourism is growing and acts as a catalyst for economic development. It’s an environmentally friendly sport (given you’re a responsible rider), healthy and nonpolluting. Trails are increasingly added according to Trailforks so maybe we’ve now left the decline behind and mountain biking has a bright future ahead. It certainly looks way better than a couple of years ago! Here’s some data from Bicycle Retailer, you can read the entire article here.
- Retail sales of 29-inch mountain bikes grew $36 million last year
- MTB’s accounted for $600 million in sales at IBDs
- Road bikes went down by 5% to $424 million in IBD
- Cross/gravel bikes were up 15 percent to $66 million
Technology keeps improving
If mountain biking was truly dead, manufacturers would be bankrupt by now. This doesn’t seem the case at all and bikes slowly get better every year. We now see electric mountain bikes emerging which is great for older riders who still want to enjoy the thrill of a ride. Besides older riders, it’s an opportunity for less able people to experience the sport.
The clunky mountain bikes fro the ’80s are no match for what we have today. I can’t imagine climbing a mountain on my first bike, yet I did it back then. Frames have evolved, wheel size radically changed (I still have a 26″ in my garage) and every year bikes get lighter.
The future of mountain biking
According to the industry, mountain bike sales are at a healthy level, the sport seems to be in a good place.
Like I said, every couple of years manufacturers improve their tech. E-bikes are in huge demand at the moment and also made its introduction in mountain biking. It’s safe to say you’ll see more of them the next few years. It may feel a bit like cheating but they are great for people who aren’t in shape because of various reasons. There are a few concerns like where they can legally be ridden or conflicts between non- and E-bikers getting in each other’s way. Another question is how E-mountain bikes affect trails, there’s a risk of trashing the trails by irresponsible riders causing more conflicts.
Bikes will get stronger and lighter and hopefully more affordable. 26″ are disappearing rapidly and replaced by the 27.5. It’s still possible to get 26″ wheels but it’s getting harder. For many riders going from an older 26″ to a 29er is a big step, people that stay on the fence might go with a 27.5 eventually. You can see them becoming more popular every year but this is purely anecdotal, I don’t know the real numbers.
There’s also a matter of online vs offline. Bike shops can’t offer the same prices as online stores and some are forced to close. I’d hate to see my local shop going out of business as they offer service I just can’t buy online. Retailers need to find a way to connect to their customers in order to keep in business. My local shop is a prime example, it became a place where people meet like a community space.
Extreme sports are in decline
I hardly come across younger mountain bikers, I guess the average age is mid 30. I hardly see kids riding trails these days but I see an increase in older riders. Many extreme sports are declining in popularity, just look at skateboarding, windsurfing, kitesurfing. They all show a huge drop in popularity. When looking at video games, Xbox, Playstation you see a steady trend. Kids go out less these days, play more online games and hang out on social media. Maybe extreme sports aren’t cool anymore, I don’t know.
If you look at cycling, in general, you see a huge decline over the years, so rest assured it’s not just mountain biking. Who cares about trends anyway, mountain biking is a great sport and as long as you keep doing what you love no trend is going to take that away from you. Overall looking at the data there’s nothing to worry about, the industry is healthy and sales out going up. You might personally even see an increase or decrease, it all depends on where you live and the facilities in your area.