Sunday, August 25, 2013

Are 26 Inch High End Bikes Dissappearing?

The demise of 26 inch mountain bikes and entry level full suspension bikes, and what the market wants to push down our throats now.

I recently came across an observation while working at the bike shop that there were no high end 26 inch mountain bikes for sale. All the top models are now featured in the 29er variety, one of three new wheel diameter sizes introduced to the market in recent years. The other size, 650b, is virtually the same wheel size as a 26 inch wheel only differing in two milometers.  Rumor has it that soon my shop will sell an altogether new wheel diameter size that will be introduced to the market by next year. 27.5 inch wheels will soon become the middle child of this latest wheel diameter craze, smaller than a 29er but larger than a 650b size wheel. With so many new wheel sizes being introduced the trusty 26er bike is given the backseat my most major bicycle manufacturers nowadays. 26 inch models are now featuring low end components and are becoming mountain bikes designed with the path and pavement crowd in mind. It seems that if someone wants a serious mountain bike, 26 inches are no longer an option. But why?

Why fix something if it ain't broken? What was wrong with 26 inch mountain bikes in the first place? For over 15 years, the only mountain bikes I have ever owned have been 26ers. I never had a problem with my 26 inch bike. The smaller wheel size always made for stronger wheelsets that could take the abuse of a rigid fork. Replacement parts were always easy to find from tubes, wheels and forks for 26 inch bikes. It is still the most common wheel diameter in the world, so if my mountain bike were to brake down on me while traveling, I would have a better chance of getting it fixed abroad. So why do so many manufacturers inadvertently want to get rid of 26 inch bikes?

Some bikes are so well made that they can last years, even decades or rigorous abuse, before finally falling apart.  Mountain bikes, namely good quality earlier models, are an example of this. Besides a flat repair and an occasional chain replacement, these bikes will take a beating and keep coming back for more. The fact that some of these bikes are so well made has become a problem  for the bike industry to keep selling new bikes to people when their old bikes work just fine. At the same time cycling has increased in popularity in the last few years, drawing in a crowd of new consumers who are none the wiser about which wheel size will suit them the best. So now the whole bicycle industry is capitalizing on this, selling consumers on the advantages of 29 inch bikes, whether those advantages are real or not. It's hard to ignore the  incredible claims spewing out the mouths of industry professionals who sold out their own companies to the darkside monopolies long ago. From greater speed, less rolling resistance over obstacles and greater uphill traction, all of these claims have been made about 29ers outperforming 26ers. The more people who say it, the more opinion becomes fact. The whole thing sounds like "The Emperor's New Clothes" parable, with 29 inch bikes instead of invisible clothing being the case here.

How about the average consumer? Has everybody bought in to all the hype? Apparently not, as requests for 26 inch bicycles are at an all time high, and experienced riders are disappointed when they are not stocked on the shelves. At the bike shop where I work at I even had a guy who returned a 29er for a lower end 26er because the 29er didn't feel right. The 29er sucked up all the trail imperfections which made bunny hopping at his usual spots on the trail impossible. At the shop I can't seem build 26 inch bikes fast enough as they are always selling out. Meanwhile the 29er and carbon fiber road bike shelves sit nice and pretty, scoring only a few sales a week. I build the bikes that make the store a profit, since the other roadie geeks who work with me are all too eager to manage the other inventory, geeking out and polishing every shiny new road bike as it comes out of the packaging box.

Another type of bike that is going away is the entry level full suspension bicycle. I had a chance to buy a Mongoose Otero in 2010 for a little over 500 bucks. Now that price won't even cover the costs of some of the new hardtail bikes being sold.  2010 was the last year were we saw 26 inch, full suspension offerings by Mongoose, Diamondback, Airborne and a few other notable companies which sold their products at a very affordable price point.

For those of us who still love our 26 inch bikes, there is a silver lining to all this,  although it might be a temporary one. High end 26 inch bikes are probably being sold for a song on Craigslist as we speak, as well as other outlet websites and stores. Now is a great time to pick up a gently used, good quality 26er rig as these bikes are expected to drop in value for a little while. So take advantage of this opportunity while it lasts, before the industry gets nostalgic or the 29er and all other metric wheel diameter fads fade away. As for me, I'll be holding on to the good 26 inch bikes that I already own, and if I see a great deal on a new mountain bike, I'll happily buy it in the 26 inch variety. Stay tuned and subscribe from more updates and industry down low's from A Bicycle's Point Of View.

1 comment:

  1. This blog post is from a year ago, but it looks like you called it Johnny. I was just looking at Giant's website and all their dual suspension mtn bikes are either 29ers or 27.5 inch wheels. I have a 26 inch Giant Trance X now, and have no interest in upgrading it if the only options are the two larger wheel sizes. I'm betting the reason they do this is to force us to upgrade to a whole new bike eventually. Basically by making the parts obsolete and no longer available.