Production Frames: Good Enough?
Today I'll take a look at the other type of frame sets available out there for 29"ers. The "production frames". If you missed the first two posts in this series you may want to scroll down and catch those first. Essentially what I have done is to define and discuss the custom frame choice. Today it's the production bikes turn.
Production frames are those that are designed with a specific goal in mind, but not tailored to a specific rider and their personal needs. As such, there are compromises made in regards to fit, form, and function to varying degrees. What these compromises are exactly and how they impact your particular riding style and body type can vary widely from one production frame to another.
This is what makes production frames a tough call for a person trying to make a choice on a new bike. Well, that is assuming they know or care about subtle differences in the first place. The vast majority of folks are not going to buy a bike based on those types of criteria. It's too mind boggling and it's easier to base your decisions upon recommendations, price, and heck, even color! That's why sites like mtbr.com, Twenty Nine Inches, and even this blog (to some extent) exist, so folks can gather recommendations and views on different bikes. This makes their decision easier, or validates it, and having to go through an arduous process of elimination is avoided.
Are production frames "good enough"? Well, many times the answer is a resounding "Yes!" I have spoken with several custom builders that have told me that the vast majority of their production varies very little in terms of geometry, tubing spec, and details. This tells me that a lot of us are after the same things. If a production frame company taps into that, (which a lot of them are doing), then much of the performance factor will be there. (The part that matters two months after you buy the bike) What little details remain are what differentiates one brand from another. Then there is that whole perception thing, but this is about production frames, so I'll keep it on topic here!
Then there are production frames that are really cheap. How do they stack up? Well, some are "home runs" and some are just "ho-hum". Keep in mind that although price doesn't always reflect the level of value, it is an indicator of what you might expect. A notable exception would be the Karate Monkey, which is still one of the best handling 29"ers out there four years after it's introduction. (Probably has the most copied geometry of any 29"er too!) It's a relatively inexpensive frame, but packed with value. Some other contenders in the production frame world exist now too, but I'll not get too far into that today.
The best thing to do is to examine your riding style, your expectations, and your budget and make a decision based upon those parameters. Chances are there is a production 29"er out there for you now. Although, that wasn't the case just a few years ago!
Tomorrow I want to get into more 29"er specific territory and see how custom and production frames are tackling the specific challenges of making a 29 inch wheeled bicycle.
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