|Looking more "normal" all the time.
That is until Fisher Bikes, who doggedly stuck to their guns despite almost loosing 29"ers to Trek's inner hatchet men, were starting, in 2005, to see 29"ers make inroads on their 26"er product. Slowly but surely, others took notice. More companies were making token 29"er efforts, and they were higher priced, due to the small supply of 29"er specific parts, and specific frames.
But it didn't seem to matter. Customers came and bought the things, and within three years, it was evident that 29"ers weren't going away. Specialized and Giant finally caved in, and then it was on. Since 2009, 29"ers have been the hottest bicycle category next to road bikes, and in the mountain bike category, the 29"er was the only growth area. And you know what? Even with more numbers, the "premium" prices never went away. Didn't have to since demand was often out-stripping supplies.
Now it seems that the industry thought to track 29"er sales. Ya know what? They are still growing as a category, but now it seems that the forecast is for a leveling off. All this despite a slower economy, and all this despite a generally shrinking, or at best, staying even, mountain bike category.Plus, those bigger prices will likely fade away with the leveling off of demand.
This all was brought to light recently by "Bicycle Retailer and Industry News", in whose latest issue is laid out the skinny on the sales figures in the industry. A few things stand out to me now.
In hard tails and to some degree, full suspension bikes, 29"ers have carved out a huge piece of the pie formerly owned by 26"ers. Interestingly, only full rigid 26"ers showed any increases, but keep in mind, these could be commuter/urban bikes that have more mountain bike-ish leanings. Who knows. These categories and reported numbers can only really be seen as "guidelines", not "hard and fast rules", after all. That said, you can draw some conclusions in trends. Obviously, 26"er mountain bikes as we once knew them are fast becoming an anomaly in the market place. The 29"er rules here.
The industry as a whole has pretty much decided for you that 29 inch wheels have too many issues to get around to make a true all mountain bike with 5-7 inches of travel. The front ends would get too high, the tires, (if they existed), would be too heavy, and the way the geometry of big travel 29"ers would lay out isn't conducive to good handling. In other words, you folks out there that have been pining away for "shorter chain stays and slacker angled long travel 29"er bikes" will get your answer. It is 650B.
Oh yeah, and I think this is why the 29"er Maxxis Minion, shown at Interbike, hasn't materialized yet. They aren't going to make many of those, because Maxxis is probably getting hammered to do a 650B Minion, and Kirk Pacenti just announced a 2.4"er 650B tire which is set to be on these bigger travel 650B bikes. The industry wants 29"er growth in the AM market like they have gotten in the XC/Trail categories, and 650B is their "savior", by the looks of it.
The final thing that stands out to me from the article is the category of full rigid 29"ers has shrunken. I find that a bit funny, since at one time, that was all you could get for 29"ers. Now it seems that with the advent of the ultimate suspension technologies being applied to 29"ers, folks see no appeal in the fully rigid ride, or at least companies spec'ing bikes don't have to push those rigs any more. Probably the latter.