Monday, December 20, 2010

More On The Beginnings Of The Modern 29"er: Part V

It's winter, the "off-season", and I don't have much better to do than to delve back into this whole deal again. I wanted to lay some groundwork as to the "pre-history" of the "modern 29"er" as I call it. (You can read Part IV here)

Why The Nano And What Happened Afterward: As we have seen in Part IV, WTB was being pressured to make the first true, 2.0-plus 622ISO tire with a mountain bike tread. No tire this large with this aggressive a tread had ever been proposed, much less built before. Questions as to whether the mold machines in Asia could even handle such a tire were very real and were considered seriously. This on top of whether or not WTB could ever recoup their investment into such a tire in the first place.

These questions and more were what drove the choice of the first tread pattern to be used in making this new 700c based mountain bike tire. Wes Williams wanted to see something like WTB's immensely popular Velociraptor tires become the new tire for 700c mountain biking. However; when he visited WTB in 1998 to pursue his dream of getting a mountain bike tire in 700c, he was shown something different. Charlie Cunningham, (who was a founder of WTB and was still working there at that time), showed him a prototype 26"er tire called the Nanoraptor. It was a racing tread with lots of smallish, low height tread blocks. Not at all like the big-blocked Velociraptor tires. This was the tread design WTB had in mind for the new, bigger diameter mountain bike tire.

Was it a fear that the mold machines wouldn't accept a bigger, blockier tread design? Actually, this is a valid point. 29"er tires have been limited in this regard until very recently, so it may have been a contributing factor to getting the Nano made instead. Was the bigger, more aggressive design not appealing for other reasons? Perhaps. It very well may be that Mark Slate, WTB's head tire designer, may have thought things through and foresaw that the Nano would be a better "first impression" for the 29"er format than the other choices he had at hand.

No matter in the end. WTB made good on the Nano in 700c size and by early 1999, the first prototypes were in the hands of Gary Fisher and Wes Williams. (See this post for more detail) Very quickly things started to move forward in the back round of mountain biking. Wes Williams made several "29"ers", as he dubbed them, early on. It was an obvious step up from his 28"ers, so it only made sense to call the bikes fitted with the new tires 29"ers. The moniker caught on with the early supporters, who included Bob Poor, a fellow who was one of Wes' friends, and internet saavy. Bob hopped on and also started a website that pronounced the benefits of 29"ers to a world-wide audience. Things didn't take off right away, but a small ground swell of riders that believed in the concept and were involved in the internet culture began to make small inroads into the consciousness of the mountain biking's cutting edge riders.

Meanwhile, Gary Fisher was busy doing his own testing, having prototypes made by Steve Potts, and later, by Trek. Gary had the first primitive suspension devices, modified 26 inch forks, and was also instrumental in working out design issues with components like the front derailleurs, and geometry for the big wheelers. Finally, in 2001, Gary Fisher Bikes introduced a 29"er mountain bike in their line up. Across the pond, Nishiki also jumped in with their "Bigfoot" model. 29"ers were commercially available for the first time.

That wasn't the end of the story, and the 29"er story is still being written to this day. In my next post on this topic, I will touch upon "The Early Days Of 29"ers". Stay tuned for that. Then I will offer up a closing post on this series.

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