Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chasing The Next Trends

Circa 2007 Haro Sonix w/650B wheels

So, a lot of folks are going to start to wonder, "what's next" in terms of mountain biking. Why? Because we seem to get bored with the latest and greatest at warp speed anymore. You know, "that was soooo 27 seconds ago!". That attitude scares the bejesus outta marketing wonks, and the general public. So....once the newest stuff hits, the next trend is always being looked for, and here is what is going to hit you all upside the head in the coming months and years.

29"ers, once the bastard chile of da mountain bike world, is now "normal". That's bad. Bad for marketing "cutting edge" products. Long travel 29"ers are very problematic, the short chain stays/tire clearance/triple crank clearance trifecta being nigh unto impossible to achieve with big 29 inch diameter wheels. So, the marketers have decided for you that 120mm-130mm is going to be the limit for travel on 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes.

What are you going to do if you want 5" of travel and beyond with "big wheels"? You will get the "compromise wheel solution" called 650B by their supporters. (I still like 27.5"ers, but that's just me.) Why? Because the marketing wonks have latched on to this solution big time. Trust me, you will hear a lot about this wheel size starting next spring for the 2013 model year. I can't even make any hints right now, but I have actually seen some things, and it is coming. Long travel, 650B- is going to be "the next big thing" in mountain bikes.

Plug In- Charge Up- Tune Out: The other "big deal" you are going to start hearing a lot about is electronic shifting for mountain bikes. That's right- you won't have to tune your bike again, and shifting will be by buttons that won't fail you......well, that is until the power goes out. The only two cables on your bike will be hydraulic lines to your brakes. Yeah, and by the way- that will be an 11 speed set up too. I expect that the range of gearing will stay constant- 11-32/36, but the jumps between gears will tighten up even further. Shimano is really big on the tighter gear ratios right now, so look for that to happen instead of a wider gearing range.

The death of 9 speed will be hastened by all of this with Shimano and SRAM dropping 8 speeds to bare entry level rigs, and 9 speed will be the realm of cheap "mountain bike shaped objects". Real mountain bikes will all be 10 speed systems, or the aforementioned 11 speeds.

Fat-bikes: More than just for snow.
Real. Fat. Tires.: You are going to hear a lot more about "fat-bikes". Not only that, but some are going to start showing up that will be designed for tasks outside of snow/sand riding.

I expect someone will crack open a box someday soon with a fat-bike specific suspension fork. I can see dual suspension fat bikes being sold, (tinkerers are already making convincing examples from 29"er FS bikes), and more materials technology is going to be thrown at this genre' of bike to help make wheels lighter, stronger, and more fun and capable.

There may be some drive train tweaks that will make the bikes work with wide range triples, 9-10 speed cassettes, and 100mm wide rims with 4.5" rubber. I also expect to start seeing someone offer a conversion, or an outright designed 170mm internally geared hub. Belt driven too. Accessories for fat-bikes will start to appear like fenders, racks, and components designed to work in a wide range of temperatures and severe conditions. Tubeless tire systems and tubeless ready tires may even be a possibility.

Those are the things you're going to start hearing a lot more about in 2012 and beyond.......


Dave said...

Agreed on all of the above. Perhaps the 650b size can be the "bridge" by which all mountain bikers get along again!:) I think the now widespread acceptance of 29inch wheels is going to make it much easier for the 650b to find it's way into homes of riders that want that 29er feel, but with longer legs. For me, I'm sticking with my 26 inch wheels on my "big bikes".

Dave said...

Not feeling the either one of those changes. I guess i wouldn't be surprised about 650b, but isn't it enough to keep the long travel in 26? Look at all the stuff those folks have invested in gear. Yeah, the same was said about 29ers, but I'm not sure the 650 has that much of an advantage to be worth it for most.

And the fat bike suspension seems like the answer to a question nobody has asked. Again, the benefit there seems questionable. More weight? Suspension on a bike with heavy wheels/tires that are their own form of suspension?

Guitar Ted said...

@Dave (#2): Yeah, if the whole 650B thing fizzles, it will be because the riders don't see the advantages. Worth noting also is that many long travel rigs can, (and have been), retrofitted with 650B wheels and tires anyway. This may make purpose built 650B bikes not necessary to many riders. What will be a big deal is the proprietary components that will become available for the wheel size.

Fat bikes do have "suspension", but much like a car tire, that suspension is undamped. It needs damping to be useful, (more so), in off road situations that are not sand/snow dominated. So, to that end, a suspension fork is necessary to control those big doughnuts.

Doug M. said...

does this mean a major fork manufacturer will offer a 650b-specific suspension fork? thus far, that seemed to be the most limiting factor for the wheel size. but i ride my 650b Soma mtb rigid, so what do i know :-)

Velocodger said...

My buddy JM's Pugsley was a hit at Moab. 2 guys working in bike shops there ordered Pugs after watching him ride up impossible stuff. I am a convert, too. The tire is the suspension again, just like in the 80s. What was old is new again, just more so!

Small Adventures said...

Interesting thoughts...

Hope you and yours have an awesome and safe Christmas,GT :)


Randy Harris said...

I just imagine my mountain bike with electronic shifting, maybe it's because it is a rigid singlespeed. :)

Leslie said...

Actually, I'm patiently awaiting the arrival of my 650B Bombadil frame... more old-school MTB (no suspension, rim brakes instead of disc); will be used more as a touring/exploring bike, not a hard-core XC or DH bike. I'd ordered it before I even knew about Jamis and KHS and others getting into the 650B market. It's not like 650B is 'new', it was around when US roadbikes were 27" wheels before 700c was a standard, and MTB's were klunkers... Between Rivendell and Pacenti, I'll be okay even if it doesn't 'get bigger'; but it'd be good if it does.

Have to admit, I think it makes more sense, to have 26"/650B/700c all in the mix, so that you can pick a well-designed bike for your leg-length, without a bike designer having to compromise for getting a short rider onto a bigger wheel or a tall rider onto a shorter wheel. Ideally, I think the three sizes should be even across the board (or perhaps, a 30/40/30 split) (well, not counting 36"... are we going back to pennyfarthings?).

Anyway, I think there's room for the three... good to have choice.

Dave said...

GT, thanks. Great point about the undamped nature of all that unsprung weight. I gotcha now. :-)