Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saturated Fat, Fat Tubeless And More

When brands like Ellsworth start making fat bikes, you know the market is saturated.
With Interbike firmly in the rear view mirror, we can safely assume that most all of the fat bike related news has been sprung for 2016. I've been looking at all the introductions and following is my own analysis of the recent weeks of news.

First of all, with the fat bike market flattening off last year after several years of stratospheric growth, it was quite a surprise to see more brands introduce fat bikes. Brands like Raleigh and Ellsworth, companies you might not think about at all when it comes to fat bikes, entered the fray. Out of all of these new introductions, I recognized that most were either on the high end of the pricing scale, or they were on the lower end. "Mid-level" priced bikes were also introduced, but not like we have seen in previous years. Interestingly, most current brands in the segment seem to have softened their retail prices, some by a little, others by a lot. Even components, which are fat bike specific, are coming down slightly in price.

This all points to a market, in my view, which is getting pretty saturated. This might sound a bit harsh, but with bicycle sales flat to shrinking, and retail outlets becoming fewer by the year, it seems to me that this would point to many of these brands cutting back on fat bike production in the future. Then you have to ask the question, do fat bikes ever become the "ordinary man's mountain bike"? Because if they don't, then I cannot see how they will sustain the offerings currently available into the future.

Heller Bikes Bloodhound
Then their is Heller Bikes. I mentioned them before a couple of times, but this new brand has a compelling story, as it turns out. The brand is trying to lure the internet buyer who shops "direct from China" with its lower pricing enabled by Heller Bikes use of "catalog frames and forks", also known as "Open Mold" frame and forks. These are designs that Asian manufacturers make to entice potential buyers from the biggest brands all the way down to the bargain shopping consumer with an internet connection.

This has been a growing segment of the bicycle economy for the last five to six years. The only issues people have with these lower priced options are parts compatibility issues, warranty issues, some failures, and return issues which are complicated by distance to the Asian sources and language and culture differences. Heller Bikes seeks to give the consumer a tested product with a warranty, and seamless customer service based in the USA, while still offering attractive pricing, albeit not as low as direct from China. Still, that warranty, parts compatibility, and service have to be worth something. It looks like the Heller Bikes Bloodhound fat bike frame and fork in carbon fiber will run about $1250.00. More than direct from China, but about a grand less than many carbon frames and forks run.

This could turn out to be a revolutionary tactic. A "middle man", as it were, doing the behind the scenes testing of product and streamlining of the interfacing process with consumers for direct from China products. Sort of like what On One/Planet Bike Planet X does in the UK now.

My Other Brother Darryl rims by Surly are tubeless ready!
I've given Surly the raspberries in the past for charging high prices for ordinary, non-tubeless technology in rims and tires. Well, I came across this podcast recently, and within the banter, there is an interview with Surly's Thor, a product engineer, and he lets on about much of what we can expect from Surly soon.

First off, the new OBD rims, (seen at the left here), are tubeless compatible. The design was fussed over to give riders the optimum profile for mounting the tire yet being able to seat the beads of a tubeless ready fat tire, presumably with a hand held pump! This is fantastic news, and what must be in the future for all of Surly's rims. But these tubeless ready fat bike tires they speak of? Is this coming from Surly?

According to the information in the podcast, they are already out there! At least all the 4.8 Big Fat Knards are sporting Surly's new tubeless bead design. Apparently, this will be a running change with all their fat bike tires, and I would assume the "plus" sized fare will also become tubeless ready in the future. But that's not all.....

Surly is reportedly going to offer a tubeless kit, with a new design, nylon reinforced rim strip, valve stems, and sealant. So, a complete system from Surly is in the works, and we can finally have the kind of tires, rims, and tubeless bits that I felt Surly should have had all along. This is a big, big deal, especially if it works as well as Surly's Thor seemed to describe in the podcast. Kudos to Surly! I'll gladly be paying for these parts when they are out .

That's my take on thing fat now. Again, it's just my opinion, and you need to think things through for yourself. However; I don't see or hear anything at this point to make me feel differently about these subjects. Got another opinion? Hit me up in the comments.


mcasey said...

Hi Ted, isn't Heller another QBP bike brand?

Guitar Ted said...

@mcasey: Yes it is.

Michael Lemberger said...

I believe it's On One/Planet X, not Planet Bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Michael Lemberger: Whoops! You are right, of course. I'll strike that and make a correction. Good catch!

Ben Welnak said...

Re Heller. LaMere Cycles has been doing this for a few years already.