Chris Pomering, Engineering Manager with Trek Bicycles chats candidly about the good, bad and ugly of mountain bike wheel size developments.
The arrival of 650B feels like a push from the industry, rather than a consumer demand driven change. Do you agree?
I agree. There’s a great visual that really illustrates this for me that talks about the Formula One evolution, and how the cars have changed from the 1950s to today. It shows how wheel size, and cockpit size and air-foil dimensions have all evolved and adapted, and bikes are the same. As technology evolves, things change. Wheel size is one of those things.
How do you feel about certain brands pushing 650B as the answer for cross country use when 29 has been promoted as the fastest, best size for this style of riding for the past few years and has become so established in this arena?
My feeling towards that? That’s a good question. All our research, all our pro riders, all our experience tells us that 29 is truly the right wheel size for that style of riding if you’re truly looking for the fastest wheel size. I don’t know, everybody has their own arguments, but everything we have seen points to 29 for that application.
And do you think that holds true for all rider sizes? In particular, really short riders.
I think in the extremes, you may have to consider smaller wheels for smaller riders, but that’s definitely the exception to the rule. I don’t generally think it’s a fit story, so much as a rider preference story – how do you want the bike to ride, to handle underneath you. Generally you can overcome all of those issues and get smaller people into the right position for their preferred riding style on a 29er.
When it comes to the difference between 26” and 650B, it is really hard to discern the difference on the trail. If you blindfolded me, I’d struggle to tell them apart. Would you say the differences are as much theoretical as anything else?
From the engineer in me, I’d agree. I mean, it is very close to a 26 in measurement terms. And for 95% of the people out there it is such a fine tuning change that they won’t pick it up.
I guess that then begs the question, is it necessary? The benefit of a slightly bigger wheel is there, but it’s such a small difference, is it worth the overhaul of so many parts of the industry?
Personally, I think there are a lot of other technology advancements people could be working on instead of trying to run down this wheel size thing. I mean electronics, suspension technology… there are lots of areas in my mind that I think would better serve mountain biking than all the noise around wheel size.
Given that, if you had unlimited resources, what would you spend your time and money on developing?
I guess it depends on your philosophy on innovation. Are you taking a more incremental approach, or are you swinging for the fences, more of a blue ocean approach. For me, I’d look at everything; materials, electronics, new materials – I’d go in every direction if I could.
When you design a bike, what weight is durability given in the mix?
We’re in a really tough spot when it comes to developing new frames, because our durability requirements continue to grow. Compared to five years ago, we’re testing twice as many aspects and often for twice the duration than in the past. And at the same time, we’re of course making them lighter every year, so it’s not an easy job – but that’s why we don’t have monkeys doing it I guess. Durability is definitely a huge factor.
It’s an interesting move with the Remedy to have the same bike, with the same travel, available in two different wheel sizes. I understand the argument for rider preference, but for many consumers it could be be quite confusing.
Yes, it could be. I mean there’s the engineering answer and there’s the reality. Everybody can research on the internet and find their own perception of what they think suits them, and there’s a lot to be said for giving people a chance to decide what they thinks suits them. Different people preference different things; take a look at the road world – some people think aero is most important, others weight, other stiffness. There’s a lot to be said for catering to the preferences of those riding the bikes.
We’re starting to finally see the arrival of bikes designed specifically around 1×11 drivetrains. Talk to us about 1×11 and the potential here to free up frame design.
There is a lot of potential here. That interaction between the front derailler, the tyre, the frame… there’s a lot going on there at the point and we constantly beat our head against a wall trying to get around that and optimise it, so there is room for huge improvements here. I just converted my kid’s bike to a 1x drivetrain, and I’m just waiting for the parts to do mine too.
Is there an aspect of Trek that you feel the company should be most proud of?
On some ways I love how diverse we are, and it’s often only when I come to events like this that even I can appreciate some of the cool stuff going on that I mightn’t get to deal with in my role. There are so many areas we cover as a brand, we can have the saddle engineer in a room with a wheel engineer, or a mountain bike engineer. So there’s a lot of opportunity for great collaboration – you can really pool expertise. On the mountain bike side of things, I’m really excited about the race shop products, things like the Ticket and Ticket S. I think they’ll be great for the brand, we’ve always had more of a conservative image as a brand and I think these will be bikes that people will really aspire to ride.