Remember the Walkman? We all thought it was pretty fine too…
We now have three wheel sizes for mountain bikes; 650B, 29ers and (for the time being) 26” too. When 650B first appeared, predictably, there was a wave of outcry: ‘Why do we need another wheel size?’. ‘We don’t want another standard.’ ‘It’s marketing driven hype.’ ‘They are just looking for ways to make us buy new bikes.’
The time has come to cut the hysteria. 650B is here and it’s a good thing. It’s evolution and it’s improvement. Let’s look at a few basic truths.
We don’t always know what’s best for us.
We like what we’re accustomed to, but that does not necessarily mean it’s the best solution. For years we’ve adored the 26” wheel, even for cross country racing. We swore by its handling, its acceleration, its strength. Take a look around now at any World Cup cross country race, do you see many 26” wheels?
I can point you to countless reviews and opinion pieces that dismissed suspension, disc brakes, 9-speed, and 10-speed as unnecessary. Sure, our bikes ‘work’, but so did the horse and cart.
Innovation, by necessity, often needs to be industry driven.
The criticism that 650B is industry-driven rings hollow too. For one, people have been running 650B bikes for a long, long time – it’s not a new wheel size.
More importantly, most of these big developments NEED to be industry driven. Yes, there are some innovations and developments that can be driven by consumers, namely the small modifications we make to our bikes that eventually become mainstream (for instance, running single chain ring drivetrains or wider bars).
But when it comes to the bigger developments, the legions of engineers, designers and product managers out there are in a far better, and more informed position than Joe Punter on the trail, to put positive innovations into place.
Take, for example, the 142x12mm rear axle, an innovation that has greatly improved frame design. How the hell was that meant to be consumer driven? Did you hear many folk standing about on the trail demanding a bolt through axle arrangement for their rear axle? No – we were happy pissing about with flexy quick release skewers. But when the clever engineers at Syntace came up with a better option, we adopted it wholeheartedly and our bikes are better as a result.
We could point to countless other examples, but you get the idea; we consumers simply can’t drive innovation in general, as we lack the skills, vision or manufacturing capacity to implement it.
Bullshit does not sell.
Finally, and this is where consumers play a big role, bullshit does not sell. Bike companies and component manufactures do not produce crap any more – the era of flip-flop Shimano shifters or plastic SRAM derailleurs is gone.
As consumers, we can communicate with each other in ways never possible before. If something sucks, your mates, their mates, and everybody in your social network will know about it no time.
Products very, very rarely make it to market without a serious amount of research to back up the benefits they offer. 650B is the same; frame designers and engineers with brains that dwarf our own know that they can create bikes that we will benefit from with the utilisation of this new wheel size.
So there you have it. And remember – no one is going to force you onto this wheel size. In this age of infinite choice and online retail you can bet your bottom dollar there will continue to be a supply of 26” bikes and parts ’till long after your old frame has bitten the dust.