Tuesday, May 12, 2015

So, Are 26 Inch Wheels Going The Way Of 27 x 1 1/4"?

Are all old 26" mtbs destined to become townies?
Years ago, Niner Bikes Chris Sugai made what seemed like an outlandish statement in a video he appeared in from Interbike. He claimed that in a certain number of years, (five, I think), that the 26" wheel for mountain bikes would be dead. People thought he'd lost his marbles. However; although it may have taken a while longer than he thought, it appears that he may be right. (By the way, there is also a good rant from Chris on 27.5"ers out there as well.)

Anyway, I always figured that 26" wheels would be the domain of down hill oriented riding. That all changed when the "enduro" thing came around and every five inch to six inch travel platform that was formerly 26" wheels suddenly became "new" with the 27.5" wheel and the "enduro tag". It was "new" and you had to get one of these. What got missed in all of this was that the 26" wheeled bikes were almost identical to the 27.5" bikes besides the wheels, which were marginally different in performance. Marketing? Forced obsolescence? Whatever it was, it pushed 26 inch wheels off the radar and onto the back burner of mountain biker's consciousness.

I predicted a few years ago that when companies quit introducing new products like wheels and forks in 26" versions, that the 26" platform was going to die. Well, it is happening now. Forks are being introduced and there is no mention of a 26" version. Wheels are being produced with no mention of a 26" option. Only tire companies are quietly keeping pace with new 26" options to match their newest 27.5" and 29" rubber options. It won't be long before even this begins to stop happening for 26" wheels. Even down hill bikes are beginning to be more and more the realm of the 27.5" wheel. I would never have had thought that.

I wonder if in five more years or so that the tire rack at the local bike shop will have lots of tire choices and a couple hooks off to the side with the 27 X 1 1/4" tires, old 26 X 1 3/8ths tires, and the "old" mountain bike standard of 26" tires. It sure seems that things are headed in that direction now.


Doug Mayer said...

And yet in some circles, there's still a big cheering section for 26. Kona even made a new 26 bike last year (Process 167). I've only ever had 29 & 650b but ride my wife's 26 once in a while; it's fun!

I think there's a few niche markets that will keep 26 rims & tires alive, though not for high-end MTBs: touring, cargo, dirt jumping and trials.

Guitar Ted said...

@Doug Mayer- Certainly there are fans, but what does that matter when future product offerings are obviously shrinking? Sooner rather than later, those folks will be scrounging e-bay and Facebook pages dedicated to selling used gear to get replacement parts to keep there rigs going.

Just like there are 27 x 1 1/4" tires and wheels available to this day, I foresee that 26/559ISO tires and wheels will be whittled down to a very few options in the future. The days of the 26 inch wheel being a big part- or any part of- modern times mountain biking have past. That's what I am seeing here. It's a big deal in mtb history that isn't really being noticed.

sniffer said...

I've put the 26in away ever since I got a fatty. With the experience I have riding the same trails there is no comparison. Sure it may be heavier, but the benefits are just overwhelming. 29,29+,4"&5". Are just too damn awesome.
I can understand maybe the 27.5 for downhill (extreme) but I ride my 4" over the same trails as my 26" full sus.
Fatties are not just for snow. Many will realize this soon. (Maybe 45deg north should take note)

youcancallmeAl said...

Probably and that is exactly what is disgusting about the industry.

desmoducati said...

There may still be life left in the 26" size. Recently a couple of potentially influential developments have surfaced. Although not a true collaboration we have a well respected designer and a tire manufacture announce a frame and 55mm 26" tire purported to be an optimization for all road performance and comfort.
Jan Heine of Bicycle Quarterly and Sean Virnig of Rawland Cycles are the principles involved. See this blog post from Jan (https://janheine.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/the-enduro-allroad-bike/)or the Spring Issue of BQ. And the frame Sean is designing around this new tire here (http://ravn.rawlandcycles.com/).

Guitar Ted said...

@desmoducati: Not a mountain bike in the modern sense. just another niche of a niche that fits right in with what I am saying today. Thanks though.

L o'L said...

It's already happening. Couldn't find a basic 26" MTB tire at the REI in Albuquerque a couple weeks ago.

Will T Smith said...

I believe the era of "performance oriented" 26" mountain bike frames is just about over. Bigger wheels are better and there are now a littany of sizes to choose from: 29er, 27.5, Fat (4"), Super Fat (5"), 27.5+, 29+. The market is speaking clearly and this is what people want to buy.

I do think it will be a LONG time however before part offerings for traditional 26" MTB gets whittled down to the Schwinn road bike level. And of course, there are kids MTB bikes as well.