It seems there is room in between.

As many tire, rim, frame, and fork manufacturers have seemed to have found out in the last year, there is much room in between. Between the existing chainstays and seatstays of existing 29er frames? Perhaps. What I see however, is the room in between existing tire sizes. Pacenti showed the world there was room in between mtb wheel sizes. Many balked. Surely those who did regret balking as they look back. Many of those likely did not want to miss out on the next wave which we are seeing now, the 27.5+ craze that is occurring. It is interesting to say the least. For those of us who were interested in the Krampus and the 29+ platform that was unveiled in 2012, we saw, as we did with the introduction of 29ers and fatbikes, that there was room outside of what we had been familiar with. It seems that the industry intends to show that there is still plenty of room in between what we have been familiar with. Although I agree to some extent, I feel that it is not necessarily giving us much different, or even any appreciably better experiences. By delving into the areas in between what cyclists have been familiar with, it merely blurs the lines between those bicycle types/platforms/intended applications and removes the distinction that was previously assigned to the different bicycle types we have grown to love. It is very possible that the reason why most bicycle frame and part manufacturers make decisions to delve into the spaces in between is because there is little risk and it can be marketed as more versatile. It could be compared to making a bunch of different variations on the spork. People are familiar with spoons and they are familar with forks. While both are better at performing the specific,  intended application they were designed for, it’s easy to pretend that you can now do away with your spoon and fork and just have many different varieties of sporks going forward. Many of the different types of bicycles that have come about recently are seemingly spork-like. Yes, in the backcountry, if you can only bring one utensil, you can get by with carrying just a spork. It will not be as useful at tasks where someone would normally prefer either a fork or a spoon, but it will get you by for a short time. I love many of these spork-like bikes, because I love the backcountry or just long rides where I desire to roll over many different types of terrain and bring a bike that isn’t going to be too specifically applicable for any one of them, but will allow me to be somewhat comfortable on all of them. The “Jack of all trades, master of none” dilemma.  It’s good to have these bikes, but here is my issue with them: The aim at the in between market provides a false sense of ingenuity and stifles true research and development in areas we have not yet explored for cycling. I applaud Surly and others that have released new platforms outside of the familiar which other manufacturers balk at. “Yes, others may try to utilize that platform 3 to 5 years later, or design something in between what was available previously and your new platform, but that is similar innovation to designing another type of spork instead of creatively designing a new utensil that will change the way we look at what we have always done.” 0Y9B0417 Surly released the Extraterrestrial tire this week, a 26×2.5 touring tire. We have had 26×2.5 DH tires for years, and we have had larger volume touring tires for years, but not anything like this to the best of my knowledge. Surly also has the 26×3.0 Knard and Dirt Wizard tires, but they are bigger and designed for off road riding. What are your thoughts on it? Is it in between what has been available previously or something completely new and innovative?

4 Comments

  1. Smithhammer

    I’m of the belief that having more options is always better than having fewer. Market demand will decide what is ultimately useful and worth keeping in production, and what isn’t.

    Likewise, having a bike that can accommodate a variety of tire/wheel options is a good thing, imo. Sure, some of these bikes may just be fairly uninspiring “sporks,” but some of them are truly versatile Swiss Army knives.

    I don’t really see how any of this ‘stifles innovation,’ however. Not everything needs to be an earth-shattering innovation – sometimes its just a matter of noticing a potentially useful option that doesn’t currently exist. I love that I can run Nano 40’s on my Fargo and transform it into a fun gravel bike, or run a 2.5″ in front, with something just slightly skinnier in the back and have a very capable off-road, extended touring bike. In fact, as soon as Surly offers the ET in a 29″ (which I’m hoping is just around the corner) that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

  2. Smithhammer, thanks for the comment!
    I agree with you that it is very nice to have options, but the which options are the ones we would prefer to have? Many of the people I ride with choose to have one road bike, one xc bike, and one enduro/trail bike. Many of us however (myself included) willl likely prefer to primarily ride a versatile Swiss Army knife type bike, even if they can also be viewed as somewhat uninspiring sporks. My primary bike is a Salsa El Mariachi with rigid fork and a 29×3.0 tire up front. You are correct that this will prove especially true for those of us that are testing out the new wheel/tire standards that have recently come about, as well as those that prefer to have less “horses for courses” and more of a “generalist” type bike. Being able to change wheelsets and have a very different experience on the same frameset is very appealing and the Pivot Les Fat continues to catch my eye because of how well they implemented this, along with the ability to maintain the same geometry for all wheel types. That is innovation in my mind. I agree with you also when you said, “Not everything needs to be an earth-shattering innovation – sometimes its just a matter of noticing a potentially useful option that doesn’t currently exist.” The part about “doesn’t currently exist” is the key part for me however. Surly has developed many products that, at the time didn’t currently exist, such as the Pugsley and the Krampus. Salsa is the same, with the Fargo and other models that were considered “not normal” bikes. That Fargo should fit 29×3.0 tires up front by the way. I am running the Fargo fork on my El Mariachi and really enjoy trying different setups with it. It sounds like you and I share lots in common with our approach to our primary rigs. Salsa and Surly surely were not the very first to think outside the box, or even develop the types of bikes that were seen at the time as “not normal”, but they were the first major manufacturers to take significant risk in investing in them as they brought them to the masses.
    It sounds as if you think the ET is a new innovation rather than an “in between” solution, which is how I am leaning. I like Surly continuing to come up with new ideas like they have with this tire. Not sure how many they will sell at 26″, but it might be quite a few for those who have 26″ touring rigs and want to use them for more applications. I am also looking forward to a 29″ version.
    Regarding stifling innovation and market demand, there are market structures and in place in this industry that have proven that they can wait for those who risk much more to produce something unique to see how the market reacts to the new products, then make their version if they think it will be profitable. This is a safe and potentially a wise approach financially, but 29ers, fatbikes, and dropbar mountain bikes prove that our industry benefits greatly from creative risk takers pushing into the unknown.
    I will leave you with this quote about demand, improvement, and innovation that I read recently.
    “Demand innovation explains how market structure often protects incumbents from the need to improve. Customers in every market want better, cheaper and faster services. But in many industries, the existing rules and practices effectively protect suppliers from having to respond to the full force of these competitive pressures.” – Joe Kennedy (2013)

    • Jeff Brooks

      I am currently in the market for a new MTB and have been looking at the Salsa Pony Rustler which runs a 27.5×3 and can also take a 29″ wheel also. It’s the same frame as the Horsethief so it’s kinda like having two bikes.

    • Smithhammer

      Agreed with just about everything you said, Nick. Outside of the custom realm, Salsa and Surly continue to be two of the larger(er) manufacturers that are still truly willing to take risks and offer products that there is clearly a desire for, but that the big bike companies aren’t willing to take risks on, until they are convinced of market viability. Fat bikes are a prime example – the Big Three continued to dismiss fat bikes as a short-lived fad, until it was undeniable. And then lo and behold, they suddenly all had new fat bike offerings. Personnally, I prefer to stick with, and support, the innovators.

      But I think you misinterpreted my comments about the ET – I definitely don’t think it’s a major innovation at all, just another niche, “in between” tire size that I think has real usefulness. Likewise, I would also love to see more tires in the 4.5″ range, for those of us running bikes with 5″ tire platforms year-round, but who don’t quite need the full floatation of a 5″ tire for summer trail riding. A 4.5″ tire would be my preferred summer option that I could run with my existing rims, without having to build up an entirely new wheelset to run 4″ tires instead. Another “in between” niche that I think is worth more exploration.

      Keep up the thought-provoking writing!

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