Thursday, February 04, 2016

We Always Knew It Could Be This Way

Gary Fisher had it figured out right away.... (circa 1999)
Take a quick glance at this image of a bicycle drawing. Would you believe it if I told you this was a current idea, waiting to be developed by some small brand that wanted a short rear end, long top tube hard tail? You could easily be forgiven for thinking just that, as this rendering is very contemporary for today's tastes in 29"er hard tail design. But here's the kicker- it is a drawing from 1999. 

Gary Fisher, who had just gotten a few sets of the unprecedented Nanoraptor 29"er tires to play with, was busy designing a 29"er frame set with WTB's Mark Slate and Steve Potts. Fisher knew he wanted a shorter rear end, a long, low front end, and a suspension fork. He wanted a front derailleur as well because you just had to have one. It would be some dozen years or so before SRAM would introduce a 1X drive train with gearing that was anywhere close to a triple crank set's gearing. That kind of nixed the short chain stay deal. Gary tried a modded front derailleur, but of course, everyone but a few visionaries thought that Mr. Fisher was out of his mind. It would all be deemed as a totally impossible thing to do with those "wagon wheels". Subsequently, many compromises were made which didn't do 29"ers any good, but as we all know now, they were overcome one by one until today.

I haven't written much about 29"ers here since, well, there wasn't a whole lot to say in recent years. The industry had its attention diverted elsewhere. However; I've been casually observing a trend in the last few years. 29"er FS designs with very good geometry numbers and performance that was knocking the socks off of riders all over. Brands like Banshee, Kona, Lenz, Transition, Santa Cruz, and Evil were dishing out stuff that was hearkening back to the stuff Mr. Fisher had floating around in his brain back 17 years ago. Only thing was that now it was actually possible to pull this stuff off. 

The new Hightower (29"er) from Santa Cruz.
 Tuesday it was all over the web that Santa Cruz had introduced a new bike that had this "forward thinking geometry". (<===HA!) Interestingly, you almost miss in all the hoopla that this bike is a 29"er. It was almost as if Santa Cruz doesn't want you to think about that part. In fact, one description of the bike from a journo who was flown in to try one out in South America said something to the effect that he didn't think about the bike being a 29"er the whole time he was riding it. Then he went on to say that he had a rough relationship with 29"ers, (well....all big time bike journos say that, don't they?), and that this bike was convincing him they weren't all that bad for him. Gee, welcome to 2009, Sir! Anywho......

The thing is that now, after a short pause to have some flings with other off road ideas, the bigger brands have started to come around to the idea that maybe these 29"ers "can do", and that nothing is really impossible for 29"ers, except maybe that they don't fit a lot of women and smaller riders all that well. Ride the biggest wheels you can fit on, and that seems wise.

Somewhere in a fancy suit and tie, I imagine Mr. Fisher seeing all of this and that a wry smile curls his handlebar mustache a little bit. It could always have been this way. He saw this years ago, and so did Devin Lenz, and a few others who "got it" years ago. It isn't anything new. But really, nothing is new in the bicycle world. We just have the ways and means to actually make it work better now.

Note: This post was inspired by the head cheese at TNI these days, Grannygear, and a post he did recently on the state of 29"ers in 2016. Read it HERE.

1 comment:

Velocodger said...

FYI, Craig Smith of Metalsmith in Sacramento was doing the long top tube thing in the Eighties.