With Interbike on the doorstep, I wanted to give my thoughts on where I think big wheeled bikes stand going in. Of course, I may have a totally different viewpoint coming out the other side of this, but I really don't think so. Here's what I see going on from where I sit.
First things first: Anybody who doesn't think this European blast of 29"ers isn't going to amount to anything better reconsider that position. Here's a couple of reasons why. The first comes from my earlier post this month on my thoughts about Eurobike where I described the effects of World Cup racing on 29"ers and the manufacturers getting behind the wheel size in big numbers:
"It all added up to what may be a perfect storm of sorts for fans of big wheelers. Not only were the people interested and curious about 29"ers, there was plenty of product to satisfy that curiosity there at the show. (Eurobike) This will now be an interesting thing to watch: That being how the European cycling community reacts to what they have now seen and tried at the show. If the dealers sell through the hard tails they are testing the waters with for 2011, I think it will bode very well for 29'er aficionados all over the world. More components, more bicycles, and more designs will be produced. Already we are seeing several new tire designs being promised at Eurobike 2010. "
I really believe that component choices and tire choices will proliferate due to this happening. Secondly, my contributor from Europe to Twenty Nine Inches, "c_g", recently e-mailed me his thoughts on what is happening "on the ground" there in Europe and all signs point to 29"ers not only sticking around there, but becoming a "big deal" of sorts. The mindset of the press, the manufacturers, and even the riders has become one of encouraging and support towards the wheel size, which is a huge change from the apathy noted as recently as last spring.
So, the bottom line there is: Europe will heavily influence the 29"er scene in the coming months and years.
Next we have a burgeoning long travel/AM/DH niche that is showing stronger signs of catching some legs and growing beyond just being a curiosity. Down hill pros are starting to take a serious look at 29 inch wheels and with a few more component and tire developments, I believe we will start to see some serious usage of big wheeled DH bikes in some big events that have courses suited to 29"ers.
I'll admit two things about those thoughts up front. #1: I didn't seriously believe it would happen as recently as the beginning of this year, and #2: It will be awhile in coming. Unless we get blown away at Interbike by some new Rock Shox Boxxer 29"er or a Fox DH 29"er fork, some serious 2 ply DH tires, and a few more rim choices beyond the excellent Sun Ringle' MTX-33's, then I just think the pros will sit and wait. I don't think there is any doubt that some of the better riders are looking at 29"ers and thinking seriously about the prospects. In fact, I've read quotes to that effect already. So, it's coming, but maybe not just quite yet.
Who'da thunk it!
Then there is the already established long travel 29"er scene, which is where I believe the growth will be in big wheels as far as bikes, components, and tires in the coming year. There are a lot of rumors floating out there about single crown and dual crown forks in the 140 plus travel range that are being tested and once they hit, there are designs already in the can from the major manufacturers waiting to use them. Tires will be there, rims will follow, and long travel 29"ers with 5 + inches front and rear will soon be as commonplace as 26"er models.
Another thing "they" said "would never happen" in 2005 is coming true right before our eyes.
And what about 650B? A well known mainstream cycling media writer recently Tweeted that he thought 650B was a "flash in the pan". Brutal? Maybe.....but that is looking to be accurate. For what ever reasons you want to bandy about, 650B just doesn't seem to be doing anything beyond the "niche of a niche" predictions I had for it going in back in 2007. (When the wheel size was heralded as the next thing in big wheeled mountain biking) Pundits proclaimed that 650B would be where 29"ers were in 2007 by 2010. Then the economy went south, and so seemingly did any hopes for the 650B wheel to take root. Again, you can tie this lackluster enthusiasm for the "B Wheels" to anything you like. But when Pro mountain bikers from the Woman's ranks go to 29"ers, and when long travel bikes with 29 inch wheels actually do work without compromising much- if anything, and when the whole of the European continent summarily disregards 650B, (the birthplace of the wheel size, for cryin' out loud), then one has to wonder if the standard really isn't just a "flash in the pan".
Interbike may breathe some life back into the 650B wheel, but unless there is some big component news, a few new 650B models shown, or a new tire or two, I will have to say that the wheel size is slipping into the shadows at a rapid pace. Sure, it will be around, but the reality seems to be that it will not be something very noteworthy in the years to come. And I want this to be clear: My thoughts are in regards to 650B mountain bikes specifically. The road side of 650B actually shows more signs of life, ironically.
Finally- will there be a belt drive 29"er that makes sense? Interbike is going to be the show where a "new development" in belt drive single speeding is set to debut that promises to fix some of the short comings of the much ballyhooed Gates Carbon Belt Drive. I am going to be looking at this very carefully, because #1: I am a skeptic when it comes to replacing anything on a bicycle with well over 100 years of successful use. (ie: The Chain). #2: I am very skeptical when something new makes claims about the "shortcomings of _____" when those alleged "shortcomings" are not at all a problem. So it will be with a very careful eye that I will look upon this "new development" and you can bet that if it does work, I'll say so. Look for my take after Interbike.
Okay, that's enough of my ramblings. I've got to finish packing! I will be in Vegas in less than 24 hours............