Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday News And Views

Did Fox just announce a fat bike fork, or something else?
Fox Muddies The Fat Waters:

You may have seen the news yesterday that Fox Forks announced what was dubbed by some folks as a "fat bike fork" and by most media as a "27.5+ fork".

I've talked quite a bit about the "mid-fat", 27.5+, B+ thing here. I've said it was going to be a "thing" and now we see this announcement. Here's what it means, like it or not......

Fox Forks doesn't do anything unless they sell, (or can sell), OE (Original Equipment) contracts to big bike brands that can afford to pay Fox's tooling costs. Think back to 2007 when Trek paid Fox to tool up for 29"er forks for their Gary Fisher bikes. Fox stayed out of 29"er forks until that happened. So, based upon that history, it is reasonable to say that Fox has a lot of orders to fulfill to companies planning to unleash 27.5+ bikes on the masses. You can bet on this: 27.5+ will be everywhere post Sea Otter and into next year. Enduro bikes will be unleashed, bike packing bikes will be unleashed, and slack hard tail, AM type bikes will be unleashed. The bike industry is hoping this will be "the next 29"er" thing.

The last thing the industry banked on to be "the next 29"er" didn't really pan out. Sure, 27.5" bikes are everywhere, but in reality, they replaced 26"ers, and anybody looking for the next new thing was on to 29+, fat bikes, and other odds and ends. The fat bike craze has topped out, (yes's old hat now), and this 29+ thing, well it is too big. So 27.5+ will be the deal. It is seen as something that isn't so "snow/sand specific", so heavy, so weird, and maybe will fit a wider slice of the mtb market while being "different".

The dirty little secret? 27.5+ is just about identical in diameter to 29"ers. So, really what you have here is a 29 inch, 3 inch plus wide wheel that still fits all the industry knows about 29"er geometry. All they have to do is widen out a few things and there ya go! New! Shiny! Gotta have one!

You'll have a traction heavy, (pun intended), 29"er bike. Will it be fun? Yes. All bicycles can be fun. But don't get too rolled up in the marketing folks. Your current 29"er will be more nimble and faster, if that's what floats yer boat. Otherwise, have at it.

Gravel bikes are somehow evil, unnecessary, and sub-road bike?
So, The Road Bike Is Dead? 

A recent article on "Bike Radar" called
"Bend in the Road: The end of the road bike" laments the fact that road bikes, as a category, are marginalized into sub-groups, much like mountain bikes, but then seems to come around at the end by saying " All road bikes are no longer created equal. And that's a beautiful thing." 

Seriously, they could have just have written that two line paragraph they have at the bottom of the article and that would have been enough. The drivel that amounts to the bulk of the rest of the article is purely fodder for the bird cage. 

The notion that "road bikes" are based on "race bikes" is clearly lined out in the piece and that's the trouble with the industry. Of all bicyclists that ride roads, most are not racers. So, why would they need a bike optimized for racing? Or from another perspective, why would anyone want a bike based off a racing bike if they do not race? How is it that road racing is the basis for practical road riding? It just doesn't add up. Guys and gals that spend all day riding to be the fastest they can be is great. However; more people are out there than them, and these people are not interested in training 8 hours a day, nor will they ever race. How about a road bike for them? Maybe the "road bike is dead" should be rephrased to say that the "road racing bike is dead". If that is the case, I would say "hallelujah!" Maybe I won't have to install so many stem extenders, shorter stems, and comfy saddles since the bikes will start coming stock with them. You know, maybe if road bikes were not based on the very specialized task of road racing there wouldn't be so many sub-divisions of road bicycles. 

But probably not.......

Sweet Sixteen:

Mark Slate's design notes on a 29"er circa 1999
While all this hoopla is going on, let's go back to calmer times, shall we? Sixteen years ago, there were road bikes, mountain bikes, and hybrid bikes in most bicycle shops. Mountain bikes were 26" wheeled, road bikes and hybrid bikes were 700c. Shimano had unleashed another milestone XTR group, and disc brakes were the latest thing folks were arguing about. (In the mtb world, that is.) A little known fella by the name of Lance Armstrong would win the TDF, and in September, a new wheel size quietly debuted in the WTB booth at Interbike meant for a thing dubbed "29ers". 

You can read a great post on the WTB blog about this here that was posted yesterday for their Throwback Thursday post. There in the post you will see the actual bike that was in the WTB booth that year. Plus there you can read Mark Slate's actual note that appeared with the bike. 

Sixteen years ago 29"ers took a bow and, as you might realize, it took about six more years for them to finally come into their own. (See the Fox Shox story above as an example.) While WTB played a pivotal part in the 29"er introductions, the industry largely ignored their presence. Unlike today's "manufacture invented trends", 29"ers grew at a grassroots level for 5-6 years before the industry was forced to notice. Trek/Gary Fisher Bikes were selling these things like hotcakes by 2005, and other companies sales of 26"ers were either flat or declining. It was becoming clear that riders were into 29"ers, and that the industry had better get ther act together or miss the boat. And you know what? Some did. 

That's partly to blame for why it is that companies like Giant have abandoned the 29"er, for all intents and purposes, and have thrown in their hat with the 27.5 size. They don't want to miss out on the hoped for rising tide of sales connected with this "new wheel size". Other companies have hedged their bets with complete or partial lines in both 29" and 27.5" sizes. The "missing the boat on 29"ers" is the reason why fat bikes blew up so quickly this past year, year and a half, after many companies saw what QBP was doing in 2011 and 2012. 

Will there ever be another grassroots driven bicycle style/innovation/trend in the coming years? Not likely, since marketers are quick to jump on anything emerging as a trend and try to own it. never know. 

For more on the history of the modern 29"er, see my series page HERE.

Have a great weekend!


epicyclo said...

I like your comments about road bikes.

Racing does not improve the breed - to ride a lot of the modern "road" bikes you need the body of a trained athlete, and most of us are far from that.

Bike buyers would benefit from the realisation that it is not the bike that is fast, it's the rider. It's not like getting a sportscar and being able to just put the foot down.

grannygear said...

@epiccyclo…My modern road bike has a taller head tube length than my 'classic' steel road bike did, allowing my non-trained athlete body to be more comfortable, it rides very nearly as nicely, steers better, and is pounds lighter.

I don't know if racing inspired that, but the market did. It's a win for me. And while the rider is what makes the bike go, a fast rider would be faster on my 'modern' bike than they would be on my 'classic' bike.

I know I am.


Unknown said...

There are a couple things about the "road" bike. A couple of observations.
Race bikes are built for bike racers, not the other way around - the bikes are a marketing tool, r&d newest and best. People buy into the win or whatever lives strong. The next is, the person riding an hour or so per ride, lighter will be faster. After an hour or so, comfort beats weight savings. Light weight = race bike in most cases.

If you built a light, comfortable bike and put some someone rail-thin, fast, and on the podium holding a bouquet and getting cheek kissed on it, you'd would have the next Mad One. But chances are they would need a narrower saddle and longer stem.

Guitar Ted said...

@grannygear: You're being too hard on yourself. I happen to know you and you are quite fit compared to the general population. Yes- even more limber. I work in a bike shop next to a restaurant that is a buffet. I see the general population everyday. I know.

And I'm not so sure that the "market" inspired what was good for them, but maybe more that they inspire what will part them from their money easier. As David Pals says, if that is a visage of a skinny lad getting podium kissed, then they get racing bikes.

@David Pals: In regard to the "lighter is faster" vs "comfort beats weight savings"- Why are the two mutually exclusive? I don't see that when the Carbon Warbird, Felt's newest "gravel bike", and another I'm not at liberty to name publicly yet are all well under 20lbs. Yes- even with poofy tires.

Maybe in "most cases" you are right- it means a racing bred and born bike, but that is because that is the groove the industry's record needle is stuck in. The public- for the most part- doesn't have any other choice.

Unknown said...

Halleluja Rivendell!