A Portlander Sets Out to Remake the Mountain Bike
Dirt and grit gumming up your works? Steve Domahidy, a cofounder of Denver-based Niner Bikes (which pioneered the now-standard 29-inch wheel) and a recent Portland transplant, aims to design away many of cycling’s maintenance woes with his new company, Viral Bikes.
Tell us about your bikes.
We build mostly mountain bikes but are getting into gravel or adventure bikes—you know, off-the-pavement bikes. Sort of bikepacking bikes—like backpacking, but with bikes. It’s a very popular trend in the industry.
What makes Viral’s mountain bikes different?
My bikes have a central gearbox, which is mounted in the middle of the frame and completely contained. So all of the gears are located internally; you can’t see any of them. My bikes don’t have chains either; they have a belt, like in a car. The traditional drivetrain, or derailleur system, is a system that is over a hundred years old and is pretty antiquated. It’s not really the proper application for bikes that get into the dirt, the mud, the gravel, the elements, really even for commuting. A drivetrain that is internal makes way more sense. It’s completely sealed from the elements, and no dirt can get in. It’s constantly lubed inside, and there’s zero maintenance on it. It always works.
Does anyone else do this?
Not many in the US. People are just starting to get wind of what it is and why it’s better. People pooh-pooh new technology. Since I started mountain biking in the ’80s, it’s always the same. Every evolution of the mountain bike comes with people who say, “It’s too complicated! It’s too heavy!” But I believe that this is the next shift, so I’m taking a leap of faith.