Have 29"ers "jumped the shark"? Maybe. I wonder.
Here's what you have to do for your line in 2012 and beyond to be "one of the cool lines with a two-niner" these days. ("Two-niner" is cool, racer lingo for the bigger wheel size, by the way. When marketing wonks start using the term, it is another sign that 29"ers have "jumped the shark").
|Get Yer Carbon On|
It Ain't Nuthin If It Ain't Got That Carbon: First and foremost, you'd better have a look at the catalog and pick out yer carbon hard tail at the Chinese carbon factory. Maybe make a few tweaks to a standard version, call it your own, and press go.
Carbon is the buzz word of the day, and now "two-niners" are the "next big thing". Marry the two and you are in like Flynn. Or so it would seem. It is my deal to keep somewhat of an eye on things regarding 29"ers, and boy howdy! I can't count how many brands are hitting the market in 2012 with a carbon fiber 29"er. Some of them will be pretty spectacular. Well engineered, and well thought out frames with unique looks and features.
However; I can't shake the feeling that many are also from the same "mother mold". Too familiar in many details not to be, many of these bikes will have to be differentiated simply by spec and graphic treatment. Kind of like the aluminum crowned, carbon legged fork deal that cropped up three or four years ago.
However you think of that, the fact remains: Get a carbon hard tail in the line up, or go home. It seems that this is what the steel single speed was to the 29"er market back in 2007. Back then, it seemed everybody that brought out a 29"er would only dip into the waters with a single speed, while geared bikes were rare as hen's teeth. Talking about anything with dual suspension was out of the question back then. Like I said, 29"ers were only a "niche" thing, something only found in "certain areas" of the country. Not anymore!
Essentially, you need to squeeze 100-120mm from the rear end for travel. Most companies are going to offer some form of a modified single pivot, swing link bike. Mated with the de riguer hydro-formed tubing up front with a tapered steer tube, you will have most 2012 suspension offerings covered as far as basic technologies go. Most will come with 120-130mm forks, but curiously, only a few are going the full 140mm up front. Finally, through axles replace quick releases front and rear with most folks opting for the 15QR front/142mm X 12mm rear set ups, although there are exceptions to that.
The muti-pivot bikes that are out will remain, but newer designs will take more time to develop. Look for those to start popping up at shows next summer. Yeti has a Switch type already prototyped, and others will be showing up soon. Expect more "dissimilar travel" bikes, with less rear/more front. This due to the difficulties many designers are seeing with getting more than 120mm from the rear of the 29"er without doing really weird things with their set ups. (Although LenzSport has been figuring this out for years already)
Gettin' Continental: Add into all this the onslaught of European brands set to swamp unsuspecting folk with big wheels, and it seems as though my prediction that 29"ers will simply just become "mountain bikes" is closer than you may have thought only a couple of years ago.
What's It All Mean?: Well, for starters, it means that 29"ers will soon be enjoying everything that 26"ers have had all along. All the best tire technologies, suspension designs, fork tweaks, and wheel technology will simultaneously be available in 26 and 29 inch wheel sizes.........for a while. Sooner or later the market will dictate a sea change, and either one or the other wheel size will decline in popularity and therefore, in terms of supporting technology. Think I'm crazy?
Already we are hearing that certain companies will stop producing high end 26 inch wheeled mountain bikes. Really. It seems very strange to me, but that's going to happen folks. If the market seems to pick up on that, and be okay with it, look for that to be the sign that 26 inch stuff will begin to get less attention from the component manufacturers. If full suspension trail and XC bikes take over sales from 26 inch FS, then the nails are in the coffin.