Thursday, July 18, 2013

News Season Part 3: Fat Bikes & 27.5"ers

Big & Fat
Your Fat Bike Is No Longer Weird:

This week was a "time stamp" week in the world of fat bikes, (which admittedly is a tiny world at this point), due to the announcement of two new models by two of the "big three" companies in the cycling industry in North America. Those companies are Trek and Specialized. (Could Giant be far behind?)

First up- the Specialized Fatboy.  This is an aluminum and carbon fiber forked rig that will come in at two spec levels. The deal here is that Specialized says it is for "snow racing", and so it has the more radical hub spacing of 190mm rear/135mm front. Kind of a surprise to me there, but it will easily clear the biggest tires out there now and Specialized claims it will clear a 5"er. (Do they know something we do not?) At any rate, what you see for tires here are not what the bike will come with. Specialized is doing their own tire. That's really the biggest news to my mind here.

Specialized says it will be a tire based upon the Ground Control, (a great tread pattern for all-around dirt riding, by the way), and will come as a 120TPI tire in a 4.8"er width. That's as big as it gets now. Specialized also developed their own branded hubs and rims for this bike. They are going with a 90mm rim that has no bead hook, just like their upper end Roval mountain bike wheels. If the bead seat is a big enough diameter, this should make their tire spread out even that tiny bit more which should get that Ground Control Fatty just about as wide as a Bud & Lou on a Clownshoe 100mm rim. Bonus: The rim weighs 795 grams too, which is significantly lighter than a Clownshoe rim.

Trek returns fire....
Well, I knew for a few months that Trek was prototyping fatbikes up in Wisconsin, as an eyewitness who was there on other business noted them being scurried in and out of doors there during his visit. When would the leakage occur, was the only question. Well, over in Europe Trek is doing its first Trek World showings to dealers and one of the U.K. lot took a pic and posted it online. Leak detected!

Here's the "Farley", what appears to be an aluminum bike with an aluminum fork reminiscent of the steel Sawyer 29"er fork. (Little curved brace inside the legs just above the tire there.) Looking like a Stache on steroids, the Farley doesn't otherwise inspire any "gee-whiz" commentary here. It is noted here that the tires and rims are Surly fare, which if this is stock spec, is curious. There may be a connection here though.....

There is a rumor floating out there: (Note: I said "RUMOR"- the following is not at all verified by Trek or Salsa officially): The rumor states that Salsa's Beargrease carbon bike is built by Trek. IF that is so, then a connection to Surly componentry makes sense on the Farley. (NOTE: I have been informed this rumor may have started with an errant April Fools prank. So there is that.) Otherwise, I would think that Trek would use a Bontrager branded rim and tire, and perhaps like Specialized, their components are not yet ready. Either way, this looks like an entry level fat bike offering from Trek which will give Salsa fits as far as trying to find room on dealer showrooms.

It must be stated again that little yet is known about this Trek, so other than the fact that it is a fatbike, everything else here is still in the shadows. I expect we'll all know the truth in a few days though.

What Does It All Mean?: There is much dusting up on the forums, as you might imagine, about what all of this means. Some say this is good, some that it is bad, some say fatbikes have "jumped the shark", and others say they are only getting cooler. Many folks lament the "big guys" getting into their deal, but on the other hand welcome the proliferation of parts that more models in the marketplace bring to the table. It's also hoped that this will help drive prices downward on bikes and components.

My Take: I really do not care about what is "cool" or what has "jumped the shark", because if that mattered, no one would even think to ride a bicycle these days. So I leave that for the punters to dissect. As for the "big companies" getting into this- Obviously dealers of these companies have been exerting some influence as they see QBP brands Salsa Cycles and Surly increasing productions and choices every year and still running out of product. This all during the "off season", when Trek and Specialized dealers would be killing for a bunch of $1800.00 sales in November. To my mind, this is the "real reason" these bikes are seeing the light of day.

But the bikes- what about those? Well, I do not know much about the Trek, so I will withhold my opinion only to say this: It doesn't look all that special. It's merely "okay". But then again, I could be easily missing fine details that would change my mind on this. The Specialized is very interesting if only because they have actually expanded choices in fat components. The tires should be amazing. Specialized does a pretty good job with  their tire line, and I have high expectations for this 4.8"er. The rims are also intriguing, and if Specialized is smart, they will offer those rims and tires in the aftermarket as well. My hope is that Trek is not just recycling more of the same ol' Surly stuff on their bikes. Nothing wrong with Surly, but Trek is missing an opportunity to advance fat biking choices and make their product more than a "me too" bike if they do not pursue their own tires and rims.

And what about the other company in the "big three"?  I wouldn't be surprised to find out they already are making a fatbike for someone......

Trek Slash 27.5"er
What is that you are hearing?

That's the death rattle of the 26" wheel for performance mountain biking, that's what. Manufacturers continue to scramble to "not miss out" on the "next big trend"- 27.5 inch wheeled mountain bikes.

The latest brand to push 26"ers to the curb is Trek, who just announced six new 27.5"ers to their 2014 mountain bike line up. These bikes are all longer than 150mm in travel, and make perfect sense for a smaller wheel, which keeps the front end height in check, for one thing. It doesn't really matter that these have slightly bigger wheels, what matters is that 26 inch wheels will probably be gone from performance mountain bikes by 2015, definitely by 2016. Every company will move to 27.5"ers in long travel bikes, and many will have XC hard tails in this size as well. It's not "if" it is going to happen. It's a matter of time now.

This year Rock Shox and Fox offered all 2014 product across three wheel sizes, but I bet for 2015 many 26 inch options will disappear. When that happens, it is a defacto death strike to 26" wheels on high end, long travel mountain bikes. The rest of the market will follow suit. It is odd to think that the once "only wheel size" and predominate performance choice in mountain biking for almost 35 years is going to disappear, but I believe that is what we are witnessing here.

Just wait till all the mart bikes start showing up with 27.5"er wheels!


FatKid said...

Nice summary! I guess I was expecting more innovation from the big guys when it comes to fatbikes, but it is what it is.

Also, the "Salsa Beargrease Carbon is made by Trek" thing was an April fools joke from this blog:

You know what they say about good satire...

Guitar Ted said...

@FatKid: I've seen that rumor mentioned recently elsewhere, so that's why I included it. Gotta be careful with those April fools deals. They can take on a life of their own that the author never intended for them.

Steve Fuller said...

Big guys = Safe choices. If they are going to get into a market, they want/need to sell a lot of bikes to make their investment back. Best to minimize the investment by going with something fairly well proven, especially when you are not the first to market. It will be interesting to see if the market has a lot more growth left in it.

Guitar Ted said...

@Steve Fuller: Good point! I agree with you there. I feel that maybe the market for fat bikes is ready to move upscale a bit. We'll see....

Steve Fuller said...

Mark - Carbon from Salsa is definitely an indication of that to me (as are those prototype HED wheels that were being bandied about earlier this year). I think the bigger question is how many more bikes can be sold. (and more importantly how many will actually be used more than once or twice after they are sold).

Personally, my next jump would be either Carbon or Ti, with the latter getting the preference in my case.