In 5 years time we all will be riding a 29″ bike. This is not by choice but a simple and unfortunate matter of economics and market choice.
To think I’m a ‘hater’ of the big wheel is probably an accurate description especially when my opinion is not based upon experience. The nausea in the bike industry builds up inside when I hear wheel sizes being the next ‘best thing’, the MTB media, especially journos bark on about how much time you can save on section of track, how smooth the ride is, and how the bike feels slower but you’re actually going faster. In one word, ‘poppycock’.
15 years ago mountain bike tracks were a lot different, and the terrain in which the bikes traveled on differed too. V-brakes were a revelation, more than 53 mm of fork travel was confined to the Sunn-Chippie race team and handle bars were lucky to measure anything more than 650mm. I’m not going to discuss the evolution of DH World Cup tracks here, but the tracks we the common people rode, i.e. you, me, your mates and your older sister, bridleways, farm tracks (like Owen’s Mad Track in North Yorks), 4×4 tracks and the odd bit of homegrown single-track was run of the mill especially when your only means of stopping was in the strength of your fingers. As time went on so did advances in bike technology, hydraulic damping was developed, geometry was looked at closely and disc brakes became the norm. A notable progression in bike technology was being noted, and the way in which previous ‘exclusive’ technology became available on much cheaper bikes meant that the playing field was beginning to get leveled.
The transfer of seeking to ride technically harder tracks could be subconscious or it was a deliberate move by riders seeking to push limits, but no doubt the ability to hit bumps harder and to leave braking later was attributed to having a bike that didn’t feel like it was going to implode as soon as the tempo increased. The tracks we build and look at riding on a daily basis are subject to the bikes we ride, I wouldn’t look at a DH bike on a track with intense climbs on it, nor would I expect to perform at Val Di Sol on a XC hardtail. Our ability to ride bikes on difficult terrain at higher speeds, through compressions, rooty off-camber corners and square-edged rock gardens is attributed to the development of mountain bikes through out the last 20 years.
With a dwindling world economy especially in the leisure classes of the Western World and a saturated market, bike manufactures needed something else to boost their shareholders wallets? It was a realisation to encourage the emergence of a secondary bike industry already in a marginalised market. “We can sell the same amount if we tweak the market, imagine selling the same bike, the same components twice…a whole range of new tyres, wheels, frames and forks…” Cue the birth of 29″ wheels. All of a sudden a new market within the industry emerges and the profits begin to flourish.
Giant Cycles 2013 in Australasia import and distribution program is one of the most cynical catalogues I’ve read in recent memory, only one 26″ bike that’s not a DH bike. No longer do I have a choice of what bike I can ride, I’m being marginalised the outer reaches of what I want to ride and how I want to ride them. Did I ever need more of an excuse not to ride a Giant? Will the Big-S; Scott and others head in this direction too? I hope not, but hope does nothing to exonerate market forces.
The terrain may seemingly flatten out on big wheels, but no doubt in a few years time we’d be wanting more challenging terrain, where line choice is not a simple matter of the size of your wheel’s radius.
However, the media-slaves, which only groom the hype and further poor science, will no doubt prove me wrong with metaphysical data. See the following clip:
It seems that rational thought was temporarily suspended and replaced with opinions that were grounded through a mixture of dog vomit and cat piss. When will we see the MTB media actually start testing and reviewing on a more scientific basis, rather than the supposed ‘feel’ and then back this ‘feel’ with ‘bad science’? The lapdog journo industry have access to testing bikes that only a few of us dream of owning, yet after extinguishing the smoke and smashing the mirrors, the tests reveal nothing, a void that has been being left gaping open more times than Bella Donna’s fridge door. The ivory towers of reviewing bikes needs to be demolished. How many times have we ridden our own bikes down the same track and all of a sudden it ‘felt’ faster? Has anything changed? Which way is the wind blowing? What did you eat the night before? Have you paid your bills? Did you receive a work bonus? Did you just recover from an injury? All these things no doubt enter our minds when riding, and in many ways we try and leave modern life’s bullshit behind but invariably it catches up with us in one way or another. Take a look at how the pro’s perform, if we were all riding equal, and all capable of 100% accuracy and having a race track dialed then there would be no competition, just a bunch of people on a mountain side that can get to the bottom in the same time. Saying that a 29″ bike is faster than a downhill bike on a down hill section of a trail is nonsense. Was it a scientific test? Did they use the same rider, leaving at the same point, with no wind, no other exterior influences? Or did they use two different riders, leaving at different points, with variable wind conditions and many other exterior influences? Please don’t insult my intelligence.
Does 29″ really give you that much of an advantage? Such an advantage that 29″ bikes are now winning races? No. Was there a top 25 29″ bike in the downhill world cup this year? No. Was there a winning 29″ on a euro-enduro round last season? No. Riding courses where bike handling skills and psychology is prime to top competition there is yet again another void staring right back at us, the advantage that the media has us believing that big wheels are faster are not coming true. The magazines drape the pages with corpses of advertising, and when the results are played out in the real world there is nothing to see. The begging question comes to light, if I bought a 29″ bike would I then be more competitive? Quite possibly yes, maybe I’d nudge closer to the podium, but no doubt the riders that I nudged to get there would be forced into the 29″ bandwagon. If everyone is riding the same wheel size the advantage becomes zero, and we are back to where we started, a bike industry selling us dreams impossible to yield, and another empty wallet.
Even if Aaron Gwin let it slip that he has been testing a different wheel size recently, what difference will that make to a man who has won more World Cups in a two seasons than anyone on the current circuit? Maybe his pay cheque may fatten again with the increased sales in another bike market.
Without the progression in MTB’s we would be riding mediocre tracks in mediocre environments. When all of us are riding 29ers we will be longing for the technical hit, and then suddenly trails will again change. In one hand the emergence of bikes that travel faster over terrain will become more apparent, and in the other hand there will be the trail builders, shovel swingers, course designers and youths in the wood longing to slow you down so line choice, body position is crucial to speed.