Thursday, June 07, 2007

Frames: Custom, Stock, or Budget? Part IV

29"er Specific Challenges and More:

Today in installment four of this series I am going to focus in on the 29"er specific challenges that frame makers face and also give some thoughts on some other things.

Frames that incorporate 29 inch wheels have had an evolutionary effect on mountain bike geometry in the last three to four years. Immediately it was found that front end geometry in particular was going to have to be "29"er specific", as it were. Trail figures were higher- too high, if typical 26 inch bike geometry was used. A geometry package that had been developed and used for over a decade in the mountain bike world. Something had to be done also for the smaller riders. Toe overlap became an issue. Even clearances for rear tires and chain stay lengths gave early designers fits. Much of what had become standard in mountain bike design was now up for re-evaluation now with 29 inch wheels in mind.

The custom designers were the first to tackle the challenges as they were, and still are, able to quickly react to the necessary changes. Manufacturers were somewhat slower, but really the big hang up was the suspension fork, which needed a specific modification to the off set of the fork crown before the manufacturers could really address the challenges effectively. That said, other manufacturers took unique takes on solving the problems. Intense, Salsa, and Surly come to mind.

Even with the fork manufacturers change to longer off sets, many geometry factors are still in flux. Some frame packages hit the nail squarely on the head, while others are a bit quirky and perhaps miss the mark a bit. The devil is in the details, so any frame out there that hasn't been thoroughly thought through will not perform at a high level. Meaning it won't be "26"er like", since most are striving to regain handling characteristics lost in the translation from 26 inch wheels to 29 inch wheels.

The bottom line here is that unless a forward thinking designer was at the helm during the developement stages of any 29"er frame, their probably are deficiencies in regards to handling. And even some of the bolder designers have overshot the mark here and there. The good news is that the geometry is being refined at a fast pace and I suspect that within three years we will see a set of figures for geometry that almost everyone agrees upon.

Now for something completely different! Going back a bit, I found this excellent missive from the keyboard of Walt Wehner that explains what I was trying to aim for in regards to custom designed bicycles far better and with a much more pertinent viewpoint than I could ever have. A must read for this series!

A word on value: One of the things that gets glossed over or completely ignored in all of this is value. It's a term not necessarily tied in with price. It's also not really defineable in concrete terms. What is value, or more appropriately stated: what is valuable to a customer is going to be different from person to person. For some, value equals low price. For others it's highly featured product. For others, it is all about performance. I think most of the time it is a balancing act of all of these things and more. The graet thing is, we are free to choose. It all boils down to this: we are really a bunch of spoiled brats. To have the opportunities we have for choice in 29"er frame designs, much less anything else in our culture, is astounding and taken largely for granted. After all, as I stated in an e-mail to a prominent 29"er designer, "We all could be riding Flying Pigeons". (Not that it would be bad, just that it would be an example of limited choice from a time gone by)

Okay, that about wraps this subject up. If you have any comments, qustions, or concerns, please post a comment.

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