Saturday, July 22, 2023

Fat Tires On Gravel: From Krampus To Gryphon

 The Experimental Phase - Part 1

 Continuing on with this series concerning my thoughts and experiences with 29+ tires and gravel, today I am going to tell the story behind one of two ideas I had to mimic the Mukluk/29+ idea I had seen work so well at Odin's Revenge in 2014. You can go back to read that post here

That year, 2014, was a pivotal year for alternative wheel sizes. But first, we have to understand one thing about bicycle design that, without this innovation, none of what followed would have happened. That means this innovation is very influential, and to my mind has been the biggest influence on bicycle design in the last 30 years. What is it? 

The disc brake.

Without the disc brake, alternative wheel sizes and tire sizes would have been hindered by having to make a frame and fork for each wheel size instead of allowing for anyone to slap any sized disc wheel in a frame to  'just see what would happen'. It is arguable that 650B for MTB, 650B for gravel bikes, all "plus-sized" tires, and fat bike conversion wheels would have never happened without the disc brake. 

So, a shout out to disc brakes for, at the minimum, making all these niche wheel choices possible. Following is one example of a story that would not have happened without the disc brake's existence on bicycles. 

A "spy-shot" of a 650B+ WTB Trailblazer sent to me in 2014.

Not long after the 2012 (I think it was this time period) Interbike show I got a message from 29"er pioneer, Bob Poor which tipped me off to an idea he had for a 650B tire that was wider than most and due to that, it had an overall diameter which approximated a 29" wheel. This was all hush-hush at the time, but the word was that WTB was the company that was going to push this idea forward.

During late 2013 and into 2014 I kept hearing bits and pieces of news that led me to believe that 650B+, as it was being called, was actually going to happen. The idea was that many then current 29"ers could convert to a fatter, more plush ride by simply swapping in a 'B+" wheel set. Initial tires for this size were set to come out as 2.8" wide and on wider rims the ride was claimed to be transformative. 

I made mention of this development, which was to be released at Interbike in 2014, on my blog in August of that year. I got so much blow-back, saying the idea was preposterous and would never happen, that a "spy-shot" was sent to me to prove that the idea did, in fact, exist already. And as we all know, it still is around these days, albeit in a much less popular form.

This all led up to myself getting one of the very first sets of "B+" tires made. A set of WTB 650B X 2.8" Trailblazers. This was a significant development for myself in terms of gravel riding, but that would take some time to evolve into what became, for me, the most successful use of 650B+ wheels. 

Much wheel swapping between bikes in my stable happened. The whole idea was that you could put these B+ wheels into almost any 29" frame and make it go. Well.....not really in reality. No, that did not pan out 100%. In fact, I had three 29"ers in which the rear wheel would not work in my possession alone. This raised a question. What other 29"ers existed that this idea wasn't going to work out on? So, it was obvious to me that the promise of the B+ idea, at least in its conceptual form, was not what it was cracked up to be. Not 100%.

That's not to say it was a bad idea. But it was an idea that, in the end, got its own frames and forks which made the fitment issues with 29"ers go away. Meanwhile, I came to the conclusion that this was a wheel for things beyond singletrack. 

One of the first bikes I tries 'B+" tires on was my OS Bikes Blackbuck
The Fargo Gen I with the B+ wheels.

After a while my experimentation led me to try these new wheels and tires on my Gen I Fargo. One ride on that set up revealed a couple of things. First that the bike didn't really accommodate the width and lowered bottom bracket resulting from the wide tires and slightly smaller diameter of the B+ wheels. Secondly, Holy cow! Was this idea a home run or what

Forget about mountain biking on B+ wheels and tires, this entire set up for bikepacking would be the bomb, and I knew this immediately. A non-suspension corrected frame was 100% the only way it would ever really work, in my mind, at least. So, with that thought in mind, I looked for something that would do what I was thinking. There was nothing commercially viable at that point though. Yes, I could go custom, but that was outside of my means. 

But that attempt was the seed that grew toward a result that has been manifested in my Gryphon Mk3. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. A lot happened between 2014 and now which factors into this story. 

Next, The second idea I had and its eventual demise, but with an element to it that made a big difference to this story.

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