Monday, July 25, 2016

Wheel Madness

Go "plus" or 29"er, but will you really ever change one to the other?
I have been having fun lately looking around at the landscape when it comes to mountain biking. I stayed away from it all for a while after I left Twenty Nine, because I needed a vacation, a "clean break", and I was focused on my new gig 100%. However; enough time has gone by now that I feel better about taking a peek, and, well......I still get "Dirt Rag" every month, so that teases me to stay abreast of the latest stuff. Anyway, things have evolved a bit since I was last really paying attention.

You know, it seems to me that a good way to look at things concerning mountain biking is to put whatever you are looking at in a historical context, because when you do that, you begin to see a clearer picture of why things have come to the point that they have. Case in point- all these damn wheel sizes. It's enough to make you go batty, and really- is it all even necessary?

The other thing is that  I don't think I've seen more vapid, nonsensical comments about bicycles than I have lately. Things like, "all bikes are adventure bikes", which folks like to use against bike packing rigs, gravel/all road bikes, or whatever they deem "unnecessary" in cycling. You know, we get it. Of course "all bikes are adventure bikes". Duh! It's the reason we all started riding in the first place, most likely.

So, anyway, here's the thing folks, for years we had no choices. Historically you can go check this out. Just look at the past- 26 inch wheels only. 2.25" tires were the widest thing you could find easily. Everybody ran a NORBA geometry bike. If you don't know what that means, don't fret. It just means that all bikes handled pretty much identically one to another.

Blame it all on those pesky 29"ers.
Even full suspension bikes didn't deviate much, if at all, from the template for a mountain bike. Heck, folks would lose their religion back then arguing that riser bars would ruin the handling of a hard tail bike. We won't even get into the bar ends or not debate!

All that to say that it seemed to me that the lid was taken off Pandora's Mountain Biking Box when 29"ers came around. Oh oh! Now wheel size was in question. That had never happened on a large scale before in the modern mtb era. Then Gary Fisher unleashed this idea that fork offset was something to toy with. Look folks, if you don't know, please understand that fork offset was something no one thought about before 2007. Now? Heck, it is mentioned in nearly every mtb bike review you pick up these days.

That was all due to 29"ers. Wheels and geometry suddenly were all opened up for experimentation in a way that riders hadn't seen since the early 80's. Then fat bikes came along, and when those finally became viable, affordable bikes in 2011, things got pushed out fatter and wider on all fronts. Suddenly even road bikers were talking about fatter tires and wider rims. That brings us back to my original question, "why all these wheel sizes?" Well, it is because folks were digging all the new ways to enjoy cycling. More ways than ever before. Variety brought more interest, and that brought more sales and dollars. Manufacturers, eager to cash in, jumped on any trend they saw after letting the 29"er thing get away from them, in many cases. That won't happen ever again, by the way- a trend that grew organically and wasn't marketed down our throats. Heck, most brands had marketing guys back then that hated the idea of 29"ers and weren't afraid to say so. Now? Ha! Make a "plus" bike with Boost spacing? Get the factory on it, pronto! 

But is that a bad thing? Well, look at the flip side, we could all be riding 71° head tube angle, 73° seat tube angle 26"ers with 130mm stems and "broomstick" handle bars yet. Those bikes could all be running narrow rims with 2.1"er skinwall tires. I mean, they all are adventure bikes, right? Yeah........right. The reality is that almost all these plus sized, slack angled, different wheel size bikes are not only better at the jobs they are intended for, they are more fun. Maybe some choices will fall by the wayside, but c'mon! We aren't going back to "one geometry/one wheel size" ever again.

And that's a good thing. 

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