Please Pass The Chips?

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There is orange Cheeto dust mixed into the grease on the flip chip I slide on the end of this review bike. That's what happens when I try to combine simple pre-boarding and quick geo-adjust. It takes me about three minutes to exchange my flip chips, another three to finish that bag of Cheetos, and I'm out the door on a bike that feels more aggressive and incredibly composed than it did six minutes ago.

If the bikes sitting in my garage right now are any indication, we're entering a golden age of geometry and suspension tuning, and I'm all for it.

We've had geometry adjustment options on most frames for years, but for a long time those options were clunky and uninspiring. You can take half an hour, screw in an inaccessible bolt, and cut something important, all with the aim of adding or subtracting a quarter of a degree to your tube angle. We had options, sure, but it felt like choosing between white and yellow bags of Santitas corn chips. They are not that different.

I'm always happy when the bike comes with a bag of extra sheets.

Image: Cy Whitling

Or you could get out a pad of graph paper and a slide rule and try to figure out which nine similar options make the most sense for the day. Of course, some brands cheated on it – Evil made a point of letting you choose between low and low, no high boys there! And sometimes a bike will hit the market with a strong geometry adjustment built in. But now, finally, smart repair chips are common!

You get chips, I get chips, we all get chips?

Look at the big three. Automatic trail bikes from Trek, Specialized, and Giant all have adjustable headsets that allow riders to adjust the reach or headtube angle, as well as flip chips elsewhere on the frame to adjust wheel size, bottom bracket height , and more. And none of those flip chips work. They all make real changes to the way the bike fits and handles. We are not talking about a third of a degree and a subtle change in the progression of the suspension. We are talking about 10 mm of reach or two degrees of head tube angle.

flip chips

The flip chips in the new Giant Trance X are very nice and easy to replace.

With their Ride-9 program, Rocky Mountain has long been on the receiving end of “many options, with no discernible difference between them.” But the new Altitude brings four usable flip chip slots, plus another chip to adjust the size of the rear wheels, and accessible headset cups. That's a solid display that gives riders an incredible amount of freedom to shape the Altitude to their vision.

Are you sure? Guacamole costs more!

Yes, flip chips are always changing more than what is advertised on the box. Loose seat tubes and head tubes, chainstay length affects suspension travel, and access changes change the stack along the way. Not a single change to the bike happens in a vacuum. But, frankly, many brands have figured out how to make bikes that perform very well regardless of the setting. No heavy flip-chip bike I've ridden has had settings that felt uncomfortable, no. prohibited combinations. Instead, all of those changes work in tandem to make bikes better suited for certain routes or riders. It's a lot easier to make a bad bike ride with the wrong suspension or tire setup than it is to play fast and loose with your flip chips, so it's less bad to mix it up.

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The flip chips on this Canyon Spectral were also very helpful.

Of course, flip chips add weight and complexity to the frame. They are another potential home for creaks, and extra hardware doesn't usually make bikes lighter. But if Giant can sell me a Trance X that costs $3700, has a reasonable design, a reasonable weight, and a bunch of changes that make a significant difference to the way the bike rides, I'm signed up! I'll have a full review of that bike soon, but for now, I'm amazed at how versatile it is, and a lot of that versatility comes from its chips.

What if you don't like chips?

There's a part of me that dreams of a utopian world where every new mountain bike has an accessible headset built in, a flip chip for 29 or 27.5″ rear wheels, and maybe another link to adjust the head tube, seat tube, and BB . height. That's the part of me that likes machine-generated flows and Taylor Swift.

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Did SRAM's UDH kill the seat height adjustment chip? Privateer's new 161 dedication comes with Transmission drivetrains for added refinement.

Image: Cy Whitling

But there's another part of me that understands that an important part of what makes mountain biking cool is how different our approaches are. And that difference in preference is reflected everywhere from the style of trail building, to the music selection, to the type of customization that brands offer to their bikes. That's the part of me that enjoys janky trails that I'm not good at, house band shows, and grocery runs.

Mountain biking requires general fitness and requires people to walk a straight line between the crank and the crank. That balance adds depth and value to this absurd work.

I'm not at all arguing that bike design needs to converge into a totalitarian ideal where each brand offers the same bike, with the same adjustment options, and the same specifications. But if I'm given a choice between two identical frames, when someone has some tuning chips and forces me to use what they do? I always reach for the one I can play with.

So yes, types of bikes, I would be as a side of chips with my order!



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