Wednesday, July 08, 2015

They Killed It In 2016

Model Year 2016 "Yari" fork in 27.5 flavor
Yesterday a press release from SRAM/Rock Shox was published that detailed the firms plans for the 2016 long travel single crown forks. This is the product category that drives the bulk of the high performance mountain bike suspension market. Everything from the "weekend warrior" trail riders to the enduro racing scene and the more extreme, outback riding styles are represented here. Without a doubt, this is the category of fork that marketing managers and brands push as the "core mountain biking" category.

These forks will find there way to full suspension trail bikes, enduro racing rigs, and longer travel hard tail bikes. They will end up on ads, videos, and be prominently displayed in most shops carrying mtb product, much like high end road racing bikes are. XC and entry level forks are where most riders will end up buying in at, but these beastly forks are what we all would really want to have to justify. They scream "mountain bike!" what? Well, here's the deal. Rock Shox, who will pump thousands of these forks out to factories for Original Equipment spec, are not making these available in 26 inch wheel compatible models. In other words, the 26 inch mountain bike wheel is dead as far as performance mountain biking is concerned. 2016 will pretty much be that time marker we will all look back to and say, "Well.....that was the day the ol' 26"er went down."

Up until now, most fork and wheel manufacturers quietly carried top end 26"er product along with the burgeoning 27.5" and now well entrenched 29"er product. However; that day is over now with this announcement yesterday. SRAM holds sway in terms of front suspension spec over many companies and brands and the other fork manufacturers will, if they have not already, make high performance 26 inch product extinct in their line ups. It's all over now but the crying.

B+ has forced the front axle spacing to "BOOST" mode.
Boost Mode: The next thing I noted was that all newer options are being offered in the new 110mm front axle spacing dubbed "Boost" by the industry. Quick release front axles are quickly becoming relegated to XC or even entry level forks. So, if I were building new mountain bike wheels, I would insist on Boost spacing and 15mm through axle compatibility, or just a dedicated 15mm through axle. In a few years, 100mm spaced  front suspension forks and quick release compatible drop outs will be gone. You may as well get on this train now, 'cause it is leaving the station, and it ain't coming back. Oh, and through axle, 148mm, "Boost" spaced rear ends will also be more common, if not the defacto new standard.

This new axle spacing has been driven by the desire to stiffen bigger hoops by pushing out the hub flanges to a slightly wider stance, and to accommodate these new, plus sized wheels and drive train clearance issues that come with that. It is also why SRAM is really heavily investing in 1X drivetrains, which they believe will become the standard in the future. So, if SRAM gets their way, you can kiss those front derailleurs goodbye as well.

My take is that I was pretty sure once 27.5" was adopted by the industry a few years ago to pump up flagging long travel mtb sales, the 26"er didn't have long on this planet as a performance mountain biking platform. Sure, there were hold outs and places where 26 inch product was still offered. That isn't going to last though after this announcement. The Boost thing is long overdue. We've been playing within the same overlock dimensions since the late 80's when 8 speed stuff was unheard of. This isn't a new idea, not by any stretch, but it is a long overdue change. I've been saying quick release wheel attachment was something that has needed to go away for years now, and this looks like it will finally happen as well. Moving to the Boost standards will hasten that change. Finally, the only thing I see here that I don't believe will happen is SRAM's wish to kill the front derailleur and multiple speed crank off. With electronic shifting now starting to work its way into mountain biking, the front shift will no longer be an issue. It will shift, and heck, Shimano even figured out a program that will shift the front changer for you when you need it. It is clear that Shimano believes that front derailleurs are here to stay.  I also feel that trying to give riders a wide range of gearing with close ratio jumps between gears is going to be impossible with 1X systems.

It certainly is an interesting time for mountain bikes.

1 comment:

Shane said...

Great insight. I didn't see SRAM putting a nail in the coffin on 26s, but that makes total sense and is a good thing. If the Boost spacing takes off like you indicate I can finally see the light of having many choices for running 27+ or 29 wheels on the same frame- flippin' awesome! Will also be interesting how the 1x vs di2 plays out.