Monday, June 8, 2009

Something is missing... the 29er world. I have been ruminating on this for a while now. A recent peek at the Gary Fisher Superfly 100 pics that are flying around the net brought it back to mind again.

I assume this frame provides 100mm of rear suspension travel, hence the '100' moniker. It is obviously a race oriented bike and it will be pretty costly, all carbon and all with chi-chi lightweight parts on it.

Lets look at the evolutionary timeline of 29ers in the marketplace as I see it, anyway.
  • 29ers hit the mass market and single handedly revive the hardtail market. Folks actually get OFF of 26er FS bikes and go backwards in technology due to the bennies of the bigger wheels. Even full rigid becomes reasonable.
  • FS 29ers begin to get around. The Lenz Leviathan 3.0, the Racer X, etc hit the market with 3" or rear travel. They are equated to 4" or more travel 29ers in overall trail 'feel'
  • Naturally we want more...4" travel 29ers are everywhere and allow for a real trailbike experience on big wheels.
  • Some want more travel for an all mountain feel to the 29er. The market dips its toes in the deep end of the pool with bikes right at the 5"-6" range...DW Sultan, RIP9, Lenz Behemoth/Lunchbox, WFO.
  • Bikes get heavier, frames get heavier, forks get heavier, wheels get heavier, tires get heavier.
I wonder if there is a mis-focus here? Think about the best part of the big wheels: they allow you do do more with less contraption to the bike as a whole. The rolling performance, the forgiveness, the stability, the smoother ride...they all add up to the point where a steel hardtail is a fun bike again, even for old guys like me. But the gap between the hardtail and the 4" travel FS 29er is too empty IMO.

Let us say I want to do some endurance racing, long trail rides, typically not too techy, but not paved either. I value climbing performance but the rides/races are going to be very much more fun on some kind of FS, especially since I will use this bike for training rides and fun days too.

A hardtail is just about right, but FS is a very nice perk and if it is done right, is a welcome feature. So let us look at the FS bikes out there.

I don't want it to be heavy. 29 to 30lbs is stinking heavy for a race day bike if you are doing lots of climbing. Lets face it...most 29ers ARE big frames cuz we are big people, typically. I know that the frame is not the best place to lose weight overall but beginning with a 6.5-7lb frame is a big hit. I cannot afford the latest carbon scoots, what with 2000.00 dollar gruppos on them and 7K price tags. My Lev 3.0 is just over 28lbs with some decent parts, nothing too fancy. 27lbs is a good sweet spot to shoot for.

So, let's go shopping for that bike.

As we said...scratch hardtails. Yeah, a Ti hardtail would be smooth, but a really nice Ti frame is still a hardtail and costs a bundle. Forget 4" travel 29ers. OK, maybe the Superfly 100 will be a lightweight, fast pedaling fiend, but $$$$$ is the thing here. The bulk of stuff like the Big Mama, the HiFi, the new offerings from Rocky Mountain, Voodoo, etc, all tip the travel scales too far into the red zone. 4" of travel on a 29er is way more than most folks need in a race and or a fast feeling trail bike. My Lev with 3" of travel only hit it's limits on Porc Rim on Moab. The Racer X and the JET9 dance around the mark. The Lev 3.0 I have is very close.

So what is in the middle? Softails are almost there. The Dos Niner, the Curtlo frames, the Siren Song...they nearly fill that gap but not quite. What I want is beyond a bike that feels like a 'hardtail with a low pressure rear tire', the comment made about most softails.

Somehow this comes closer to my idea of what I am looking for:

Look familiar? Sure looks like the Superfly 100 to me. I know the Scalpel had teething issues with frame breakage, but the overall concept is what grabs me. Picture a Scandium 29er with a true pivot at the BB, maybe a set-up like the Big Mama with a shaped seat stay to allow for no pivot at the dropout. Give it a shock set-up with a short rocker so the shock is not a stressed frame member like the softails...maybe even the old K2 type look with a swing much travel? 3" as a max. Maybe 2.5". Enough to feel like a real FS but not enough to slow you in other ways. What is that sweet spot? What is the limit? I bet it is lower than most would think.

Keep the frame weight down as much as reasonable. If it is not light, stiff and fast, it will be dismissed as not enough travel to make it worth the effort. Make it affordable. Price it around the cost of a Big Mama or Dos or in between? Why do I keep using Salsa terms? Cuz I think they could do it perhaps better than anyone right now. What would the love child of a Dos and a Big Mama look like? I am not sure, but I would like to ride one and right now there is nothing like it except in my fevered brain.


Fonk said...

Bah! Hard tail all the way! :) I'm loving my steel hard-tail 29er. Maybe as I get older that will change...

grannygear said...

It may change or it may not. As great as a hardtail is, it cannot cover rough ground like an FS can, and if it does, it is passing along a pretty good beat down to the rider.

There are things an FS provides that a HT cannot and vice versa. Options are good, are they not?

Fonk said...

Indeed. I'm sure one of these days I'll get around to getting a FS. Probably not for a while though - after my bike-buying spree last year, I think the wife is going to keep me locked down on bikes for a while... :)

Anonymous said...

I smell what you're steppin' in...

grannygear said...

@Siren...ahhh, is that good or bad? :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with your thoughts. I have an Air 9 which is great, but I crave for a little suspension in the rear. I have debated over the Jet (haven ridden several jets) yet for the added weight and limited suspension the bike just doesn't (I can't explain it) make enough difference with the added weight for me to buy one, over my hard tail. (Those builds you see on mtbr with xl frame at 25lbs I don't buy in the real world)
You are on spot your thoughts as to what is missing in bike frame and price range... personal issue on spending same on mountain bike versus Off Road Moto.....

Anonymous said...

Ah, good thing. I'm right there with you... and I've got an idea cooking. Just takes time & money at this point! ;-)

Jason said...

Great post. I'm with you.

Lynn said...

2" Dos Niner, Carbon Chainstays. Problem solved, the people rejoice.