Monday, December 19, 2011

29ers and Downhill

As many of you nerds loyal blog readers know, I have spent a lot of time messing with long-travel 29ers. Alex Morgan and I (independently) built the first 29er "downhill" bikes in 2005 (Exiwolf 2.3 FTW!) and did several iterations of the high-single pivot design that rode pretty well. I also got involved somewhat in getting WTB to make the now-discontinued Kodiak and Dissent downhill tires. Since 2010, several bikes in the 130-140mm travel range have come out that could be used as very light duty DH bikes from production companies, as well.

But I think what momentum there is is going away. As I said, WTB has discontinued both of the existing dual-ply tires - and there's nothing else on the market right now that will handle an aggressive rider on rough terrain. Maxxis is reportedly doing a tire, but that's still vaporware right now.

Why aren't people rushing to ride big wheels on downhill bikes? There are a couple of reasons involving fit and the expense and difficulty of redesigning suspension setups to make the wheels clear, etc, etc. But that's not the main problem, in my mind.

Neither 29 or 650b is going to catch on for long travel rigs - because gravity riding is turning into chairlift-served BMX, at least in CO. Trails with groomed, man-made features are super popular, gnarly techy rock trails, much less so. And it's pretty obvious why - getting air on easy, safe jumps and whipping around berms is fun for beginners (and, um, the rest of us too, of course), whereas technical rocks/roots/ruts/offcamber really only appeals to a select group of highly-skilled weirdos (full disclosure: I am one of those weirdos, except for the skills part).

So the future of DH/FR is endless rows of tabletops, slopestyle courses, and wooden stunts/drops with groomed transitions. Roll-over and bigger wheels don't help much with that kind of riding, and the parts and infrastructure for 26" already exist - so I don't see any other wheelsize taking any significant share of that market.

I think WTB saw this and that's a big part of why they yanked the Dissent and Kodiak (which makes me a bit sad, I played a small role in getting those tires made 5 years ago). The future is groms getting big air on A-line or some approximation, not chunder and slimy roots at 12mph.


Dwayne Hunter said...

The XC scene is going the same way here on the East some areas. The good ole' gnarly rocky trails that I grew up on are being "improved" by groups with machines and turning them into smooth, flowy trails with little more challenge than seeing how fast you can go. The idea of learning how to make your bike corner is being replaced with berms. Pisgah is still there but even some it's trails are being "improved" (ex. Squirrel Gap...RIP). Sure, safer rides are bringing more people to the sport but do we have to cut off our nose to spite our face?

Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged, I like those jump lines at Winter Park. I first started Dh on steep nar and still enjoy that but jumps are by far my first choice where I have one.
I haven't ridden a burly 29" wheeled bike but do ride 29" wheels for everything but Dh. From that background I agree that 29" wheels don't seem like an advantage for jumping.
Art Schwadron

Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged, I like those jump lines at Winter Park. I first started Dh on steep knar and still enjoy that but jumps are my first choice where I have one.
I haven't ridden a burly 29" wheeled bike but do ride 29" wheels for everything but Dh. From that background I don't see how 29" wheels would be an advantage for jumping.
Art Schwadron

Anonymous said...

Come to Europe Walt!

I'm pretty sure the trail maintenance schedule goes like this in the French Alps:
i)Check trails are still there.
ii)Check signage
iii)Open trails and enjoy the madness.
Massive braking bumps, roots and blown out turns everywhere, it's fantastic. Not sure 29er DH would take off even here though, the trend is very much for 5-6inch all around bikes, would be hard to get through the perception of 29ers being slow turners.

(Fix-the-spade from mtbr)

Anonymous said...

The reports of Squirrel Gap's death have been greatly exaggerated. Consider that it was once a logging ROAD and remember that it will return to it's chundery state of bliss eventually. If it hadn't been 'killed' it WOULD be dead, as in eventually unridable or closed because of runoff.

Grant Blankenship said...

Dwayne, I feel you on the ambivalence toward all the machine built trails back east. We just finished up the majority of a completely machine built trail here in my neck of the woods and all the rootless flow seems odd at first. That being said, the oldest section we built is starting to return to a state recognizable as singletrack. You can't get totally past the root layer, no matter what the IMBA guideilines say. Over time the newly exposed roots get bigger, erosion exposes more rock and presto, real live trail built along contour lines.

Mike said...

Walt- sorry about the hi-jack

Anon commentor- Most of Squirrel was never a logging "road," it was a logging railroad grade and is why it's such a great contour trail in many ways. Also, prior to the trail work (which was professionally done and mostly by hand), a vast majority of the trail was perfectly sustainable with light maintenance. Again, the work done was mostly great, but the trail absolutely would not have eroded down the side of the mountain except for a few small sections in the middle and the portion leading from Horse Cove to SMR.

Holy Rant batman!

Mike Brown
Pisgah Area SORBA

Joey B said...

Don't tell Mike Curiak that 29 DH is dead!!