OPINION: Importance of the headtube angle

The world of mountain bikes is constantly changing.  Suspension can be tuned better than a piano, seat position can change faster than the stock market, and there are more tire choices than beer choices at Pick N Save.  So you walk into your local bike shop (ah-hem…we happen to recommend ours), looking for a new do-everything and go-anywhere mountain bike.  Where do you even begin?

Well, it can be easy, if you want it to:

“Hey man, I need a new mountain bike.  I have 79 minutes before I need to be on the trail, help!” You cry.

“Where’s your favorite spot to ride?” I ask.

“Greenbush and Hartman Creek.” You respond.

“Hardtail or full suspension?” I quickly ask, as I notice you checking your watch.

“I really don’t need rear suspension for the riding I’m looking to do, plus I want ‘jkldfjdsajklfj‘ for my drivetrain, and the wallet won’t open wide enough to get that on a full suspension rig” You bellow.

“Perfect, check out the Salsa Timberjack or the Specialized Fuse, they both are great options for your specific needs”

Simple.  You head to the trail with the Salsa because you like the color.  You even get to the trailhead early, just enough time to take a selfie with your new bike.

But, but what if you want to talk about which bike is best for your riding today? Best for your riding next year? Or maybe best for riding you didn’t even knew existed at this current point in our discussion, standing in front of a couple bikes at the shop? This is where the decision can get as in depth as you want, because the world of mountain bikes contains a lot.  Components.  Shock rates.  Suspension travel.  Wheel and tire size.  And, more looked over than your neighbors one yard decoration for Christmas, the geometry.

This, in my opinion, is the most crucial aspect of a mountain bike.  It, for the most part, will determine how the bike climbs, how it jumps, and how much confidence it will unknowingly give you, the guy or gal who is hoping to not launch over those pretty new handlebars.  Specifically, let’s chat about the head tube angle of a bike.  This one makes the big difference.  This one determines if your bike climbs like your pushing a shopping cart up a dirt hill or descends like your bike is a voodoo doll and the evil person controlling it locks your front brake up randomly, especially when your going down hill at a fast clip.  So with this in mind, let’s revisit our discussion and let’s say instead of 79 minutes, you have 91 minutes to get to the trail head.

“Hey man, I have just under two hours to get a new bike and get out to the trail, can you help me out?!” You exclaim.

“For sure, where are you headed today?”

“Greenbush, it’s one of my favorite spots to ride.  I really enjoy the rocks and roots.  I’m looking for a versatile bike to ride there and maybe some new spots in the future.” You calmly describe.

“Oh great! Greenbush is a blast, good place to keep a smooth pace and let the bike work for you a bit.  Where else are you thinking of riding? Have you checked anything out outside of Wisconsin trails?”

“Hmmmmm…no I haven’t, I’ve heard great things about some trails in Minnesota and the UP though, have you ridden there at all? I want to get into some technical riding, I like going downhill fast!” You admit.

“Ya, I’ve ridden quite a few miles up in Marquette and Copper Harbor.  I’m a huge fan of the Specialized Stumpjumper for those trails.  Plus it can handle everything in Wisconsin fine too.  A bit overkill, but it’s one bike to do it all.  Would you like to give one a spin?”

“Sure, I have a little time.” You mention.

So, you take the bike out into the parking lot, roll off a curb or two and notice the bike handles great.  You begin to picture yourself riding some gnar and get even more pumped.  Congrats, you just decided that your wallet is big enough, because instead of buying new seat covers for your gas guzzler, you want to drop it all on this perfect-for-you bike.

Ya, but where did we even talk about the head tube angle as being the most important part of the bike? Ah-ha! We really didn’t, except right here:

It’s so important to the ride of your mountain bike, that you literally just bought the perfecter bike for you because of it.