Revolution #28

The delivery man just keeps giving today. He has been three times today and the latest package had Revolution Magazine issue 28 in it. This one has flown all the way from Australia but it contains a heap of content I pigeon posted their way.

There is a short interview with Ian Ritz of Chromag, a think-piece on the new wheel size, a two-page injury recovery tip sheet, and a double page Santa Cruz advert which features me hucking meat in Sedona from February’s trip. I figured I’d include something worth reading other than bloggy blurbs, so here is the wheel size story.

BATTLE OF THE BACK DOOR
Is 650b Just Right or is it All Wrong?

Words by Seb Kemp.

————-

It’s here. The front line of the war of the wheels has reached us. Sort of. While people still try to fight off the growing hordes of 29er evangelists a secondary front of wheel size insurgents have snuck around the back and are kicking in your backdoors. Yep, the 650b is here.

Rumors and speculation have abound on the internet about the introduction of another wheel size – 650b or 27.5” – and slowly concrete evidence of its widespread adoption has been surfacing. I could drone on and on with my thoughts on wheel size and my hate for 650b-ists but instead here is a round-up of thoughts and opinions of various influencers and game makers.

SYSTEM OF SEMANTICS

A standard – in mechanical, scientific or production terms – relates to sets or systems of universally accepted norms, measurements, or models. Based on this definition, the plethora of “standards” in mountain biking might seem a oxymoron, especially if we look at the variety of standards in wheel sizes. However, they really are all standards. 26” and 650b are both standardized yardsticks, 25mm apart in diameter. Just imagine if every wheel builder made wheels different sizes each time they built them; how would we find tires to fit if we ordered a wheelset and one was 25.9” and the other was 26.3”?

Perhaps the problem is the term “standard”. The above is a semantic argument but it does perhaps point out that “industry standard” is not the most accurate term to describe the changing bicycle components landscape. Sure, we don’t have a standardized wheel size for mountain bikes any more but the sizes we have all match the design parameters of a preset measurement.

650b is yet another standard that feels to some like it is being pushed into a marketplace where consumers are resistant to having standards pushed on them. One person we spoke to, who wishes to remain anonymous, pointed out that Easton’s announcement of the new 35 bar and stem combo (35mm bar clamp diameter) was greeted coolly at first, when the word standard was associated with it – but since Easton has stepped back from that one dirty word and emphasized the mechanical advantages of their “system”, customers have warmed to the idea.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

“[Laughs] I think it’s funny. It’s a never ending cycle to find more money.” – Carter Holland, owner of Black Market Bikes and rider of all sorts of bikes.

Carter’s statement seems to echo the sentiments of some of the riders we spoke to over the weekend. The average guy on the street who perhaps feels “the man” is trying to bleed him dry. However, innovation doesn’t have to always be driven by the profit motive all the time. Man wasn’t put on the moon and the iPad3 wasn’t developed because of the need to make a dollar. Was it?

“It’s funny to see people talk like it’s a conspiracy and that the industry wants people to buy more stuff. The goal of everyone I know that works at a company isn’t to sell stuff and trick people into buying it; they just want to improve our experience on bikes. I think that’s what’s happening. It is a little crazy that there are three sizes now – kind of confusing perhaps.” – Shaun Spomer, head of VitalMTB’s evil internet empire and former ringleader of Littermag, the counter cultural pamphlet that promoted rebellion, anarchy and resistance to the system.

JUST ONE MORE TIME

One wonders perhaps what will happen when a new rider walks into a bike shop for the first time and is bombarded with a confusing collection of digits and numerals – all of which, to a gaper, could be utter nonsense or utter meaningless gobbledegook.

“I’ve met riders who don’t know what 29er even means. It makes sense to us mountain bikers who are indoctrinated into the system of signs and language, but what about the novice rider? They don’t care or care to know, yet.” – Mark Jordan, former magazine editor turned marketeer for Fox Shox.

But this difficulty and challenge isn’t just for the customer on the street; there are issues for the local bike shop too.

“I wonder about the shops. What about the inventory they have to carry already and now they’re having more product forced onto their floors. The industry needs to think about and support those guys.” – Paul Guebara, DT Swiss communications manager and good samaritan.

“On a professional standpoint I’d like to see the wheel size thing settle down a bit if just to make my life easier.” – Jeremiah Boobar, SRAM product chap and rider of mountain bikes.

“I think it will be interesting to see what happens. I think we need more sizes though [laughs].” – Andrew Shandro, X-Games ice biking champion, fatherly freerider, and owner of fast legs.

DISBELIEF

“I’ve owned 26 and 29 but my personal feeling is that it will settle out in a few years at 27.5.” – Cosmic, a real world rider we met with an out of this world name. I would point out that he had dreadlocks, wore spandex and had the look in his eye that he has spent too long tripping on his own medicine.

“It’s the first time that customers have ever come to us asking about product rather than us marketing it.” – Pete Stace-Smith, legendary nice guy, 70s mountain biker and Norco’s media liaison.

Is it a case of Goldilocks’ porridge? 26” is suddenly regarded as too small, 29ers are just too big and clumsy, but 650b is just right: the middle ground, the compromise, the best of all worlds.

There is a high chance that this is true, however, it didn’t work for 24” – the grotty little half way house between BMX and MTB freestyling – so there is perhaps chance that it won’t for 650b.

“Why is everyone so eager to just drive nails into the coffin of 26” wheels? What did it ever do wrong? It never hurt anyone or did anything wrong. 26 inch is good, 29 inches are good, so why? Why?” – Mike Ferrentino, Santa Cruz Bikes communications warrior.

Ferrentino gets at an important point: larger wheels don’t have to – and most likely will not – replace the 26” wheel, but rather they will supplement it. The constant refinement of frame design is helping us learn that each wheel may have its place in the market.

“Personally I own a lot of 26” bikes and I love them – they are fun to ride. I’ve ridden 29” and they are awesome too. So I’m not really sure what the purpose of 650b is. Do we need another wheel size? Really? What is wrong with 26 and 29?” – Ian Hylands, professional photographer and child of the North Shore.

TAG, YOU’RE IT!

So who is in and who is driving it? That remains to be seen but it appears as if it is the Europeans and late comers who are most keen to jump on the mid-sized wagon wheel wagon.

European riders, magazines, and brands were very skeptical about 29ers when they first came out. In fact, it has taken them up until about four months ago to find out they actually really like them. However, no one likes to be proven wrong, especially by oneself. In order to save face, the Euros appear to be extra-eager to take 650b into their bosom. This way they can get their cake, eat it and still make it look like the 29er riders were wrong all along – even though everyone has been every nice and held off on saying “I told you so”.

But it isn’t just troublesome Europeans that are happy to swing a baguette over the top tube of a 650b bike now; it’s also all the companies that showed resistance to building 29er bikes and waited till it was too late. In the North American market, for the last two years now, if you weren’t building 29er bikes you were feeling the hurt. These companies don’t want to miss the gold rush but most of the good stakes have been claimed by companies who invested the time and money in developing good 29ers earlier.
The late adopters to 29-inches are even more earnest about 650b, leading them to prematurely ejaculate at the orgy. SCOTT is one company that was slow on the 29er market and has a big Euro following. Obviously, they are one of the main culprits for the 650b charge. Norco and Rocky Mountain were a little late to the game but did build good 29ers when they did. However, both these companies announced full 650b commitment for model year 2013. Norco will abandon the 26” version of the popular and excellent Sight and the Range bikes and only offer them in 650b. A brave a possibly stupid move. Rocky Mountain are resurrecting their ailing Altitude and giving it the full 650b make-over, with models expected to fall to the middle wheel size sooner rather than later.

Big companies like Trek and Specialized got it right with 29, both in timing and product, and don’t seem to be bothered about this new wacky wheel size – but we suspect they have got eyes and ears to the ground and a finger hovering over the big red button on the product presses if 650b does happen to take off. Giant are a manufacturing company so will watch and see what gets ordered and built in their factories before stepping into the ‘tweener’ age. SRAM, Fox Shox, X-Fusion, DT Swiss and Sun Ringlé, amongst others, have developed 650b specific product, bowing to the demands of the bike brands with buying clout.

Some of the component companies I spoke with were cool to the idea of 650b. Easton is saving resources at the moment and has no plans to develop a wheel with a whole new wheel size; Mavic says they could produce a 650b wheel soon if they wanted but we won’t see anything before at least 2013; and Continental is playing the waiting game, more eager to get their existing product honed before fiddling with a possible stillborn wheel size.

TO ABORT OR ABANDON SHIP, THAT IS THE QUESTION

This conversation won’t end just yet and the battle has just begun. The rules of engagement are not yet clear and the battlefield is still undecided. The victor will be decided in the LBS and on the trails, maybe not this year, maybe not next but one day. Perhaps.

“Everyone makes too much of a big deal about it. It’s all good. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t then don’t use it. It is like abortion, if you aren’t for abortion don’t get one.” – Joe Parkin, Bike Magazine’s editor and former roadie (in both meanings of the word).

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5 thoughts on “Revolution #28

  1. Nice write up Seb. Interesting to see that some of the bigger wheel companies seem to want to hold back on it- Probably because changing equipment to make different sizes cost them the most.

    Also seems a little weird to me personally that the world has settled on 650b, why not make it 27.5, right in the middle, if it is really worth setting a new “standard”?

    I’m about to buy a 29er, so 650b is bound to be a success!

    • Thanks Mark,
      I wouldn’t necessarily say some companies reservations about this other wheel size is be about cost to them. They have tried all the wheels and configurations (they probably rode 650b years ago) and found that it really does not seem to make any benefit to riders. 26 and 29 have their advantages (and disadvantages when compared against each other), but 650b doesn’t really solve the compromises you have with either. It is not the best of both worlds in any shape or form.
      My opinion is that 650b is a dud but that lots of people will be dubbed into it.
      Seb

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