There is this theory that too many choices can lead to detrimental results for individuals called Tyranny of Choice. I have personal experience with this theory and I can attest to the reality of it in certain aspects of my life. I definitely think there is something to it. So, what in the world does this have to do with bicycles?
Well, this article in Bicycling Retailer and Industry News caught my attention this morning. Sound familiar? It looks like a perfect "Tyranny of Choice" candidate to me. Too many models on sales floors that look similar and are spec'ed similarly just confuses customers. You end up with no choice made and a lost sale in many cases. This point was driven home for me several years ago.
I used to be a bench jeweler and jewelry salesman. (Yes.........really!) I was trained by an old sage jewelry salesman that told me to always continue to take away choices from a prospective client until only three choices remained. It was at three items, he reasoned, that people would be able to make a considered choice that they would be comfortable with. You may not agree with his theories, but I can tell you, it worked a trick every time.
I think this phenomenon also can extend to mountain bike wheel sizes. This "Tyranny of Choice" is why I believe things like 29"ers and especially 650B bikes will have harder times on sales floors alongside similar 26 inch steeds. Now it can easily be demonstrated how a 29"er is different than a 26"er. The looks and the ride of a 29"er distinguish themselves from 26"ers quite readily. This gives 29"ers some reason for being in the retail environment. 650B doesn't enjoy this marked difference or the ability to show it. A fine, subtle difference is certainly distinguishable to the seasoned rider, but new riders will be hard pressed to feel anything different from 26"ers on a bike ride back to back. (Yes, I have ridden all three wheel sizes and can attest to this)
My conclusion has always been that 29"ers have a "retail advantage" and it can be used to sell more product where the 650B does not hold this sort of quality and therefore will be a difficult choice for manufacturers and retailers to get behind. "Tyranny of Choice" in wheel sizes in the retail world can not be tolerated, and this for me is the biggest reason 650B will always be a very small niche market in the off road bike segment.