Many years ago I remember venturing into a bike shop and checking out an all new 29" wheeled mountain bike. It was still a niche bike at the time and many people (including bike shop owners) said it was trash and would never take off. Little did we all know at the time, but it would be the start of the "wheel wars" that still rage on today. Once some people decided that 29" was too big and 26" was too small, 650b was thrust into the mountain bike spotlight as 27.5", the "tweener" size. As all this was happening the old 26" wheeled bikes slowly began to disappear. By the 2014 model year most brands had little to no offerings in the 26" size and it was declared dead. Wander into a bike shop today and find me a well spec'd 26" wheeled bike..... I bet you can't.
In recent years, during the time when all the fat and plus offerings were flying off the bike shop racks, Surly quietly introduced a new bike..... the Instigator 2.0. It came with 26" x 2.75" tires, or "26plus". As with most friggin-cool things from Surly it took a while for the idea to catch on (just like the Pugs fatbike, and the Krampus plus bike) and now people have noticed.
Over the last year there have been a handful of 26x2.8" tires come to market and wider 26" rims, all slipping in under the radar with me quietly watching things unfold. There were threads popping up on mountain bike forums with people stuffing these 26+ wheels into 27.5" bikes with enough clearance. It made sense after all, if you were on the short side for a 29er and liked 27.5 but wanted the traction and cushion of a plus bike you could build a 26+ (with about the same wheel diameter as a normal 27.5" bike) or if you just happened to prefer the smaller wheels it made sense too. Here is a nice graphic from Jamis breaking down the sizes.
Manufacturers have taken notice and now for 2017 you can buy a 26+ bike off the showroom floor. Norco has built a new line of Fluid hardtails with 26+ wheel options over three component levels. Haro is building entry level 26+ bikes. Jamis is building 26+ bikes in both steel (with the Dragon series) and aluminum (Komodo series). Just to name a few.
Its an exciting and confusing time to be buying a new bike, and it likely a nightmare for bike shops trying to stock all wheel platforms over a variety of component builds, let alone a decent tire selection. Some might not agree but I like the idea of a 26+ bike, it would be perfect for vertically challenged people (like my 5' tall wife) who want gobs of traction and cushion from a plus bike. I'm a holdout for my 27.5+ bike for trail riding and can see the advantages of 29+ for bikepacking / gravel grinding, but would love to try out a 26+ rig on some "Shred the Gnar" type trails. Horses for courses I guess, and with all the options... the choice is really yours.
The first piece of "Bric's Ultimate Bike Build" has arrived. A good old Lefty MAX 140. A lightweight, easily modified, coil sprung fork in need of some love. I got it for a song so I can't complain about it needing some work. Rebuild is going to be cheap anyways.
Some people get nervous ripping down suspension components, especially Cannondale's proprietary Lefty fork. Not me. Bring that shit on. Having rebuilt my fair share of motorcycle and dirtbike forks over the years makes this stuff seem like a breeze.
Started with this oil leaking mess.
An hour later I'm looking at this.
Internals are in good shape, needle bearings are good as well. Its going to need a seal kit and the foam isolator on the rebound damper shaft. I'll grab the appropriate spring for my weight as well and some decals to return it to its original glory. I'll also need a steerer tube adapter but need to sort out what headtube I'm going to build my frame with. One step at a time.
The perfect bike.
Does it exist? I once thought that my 26er hardtail was the perfect bike for me. Then my 26er FS bike, then my hardtail 29er, then my fat bike. Its hard to say what the perfect trail bike is, especially given personal preference and riding style, terrain, etc. This year I found myself riding my fat bike all year when my aluminum 29er cracked. I got a warranty replacement after a bit of debacle which sat in a box for a while while I happily continued to ride fat. I ended up selling the brand new warranty frame with my fork and some other bits so I could afford to build a nice set of 29er+ wheels for the fat bike.
The 29er+ wheels did not disappoint. Lighter than full fat and faster rolling. Retained SOME of the cushion of the fat. Grip was great for summer conditions at the ever sandy trails of Turkey Point. Hmmm, could this be the perfect bike for me? Whats not to like? The fat bike was built for snow, longer chainstays and lower bb meant stable and predictable. With the 29er+ wheels it was still stable and predictable just a bit quicker.
I began to think...... a 29er+ bike with a suspension fork, shorter chainstays, proper bb height, and better gearing might be my "perfect bike". I built the bike in my head.... 80-100mm travel, 2x10 drivetrain, 435mm chainstays (I loved my Scout 29er with 433 chainstays, holy shit it was fun), 83mm bb shell, 150 x 12 mm rear, 4130 cromo double butted frame fillet brazed, 30ish lbs weight.
A guy can dream right? No one makes this bike, and 29er+ is so niche I doubt anyone will, especially with the 650b+ offerings coming out for "summer fat" and no problems fitting in a 29er suspension fork. Suddenly I saw the light. It was a 'field of dreams' type moment. The voice in my head said "build it, then ride the shit out of it".
All I can say right now is that bikecad has been busy lately and tubing has been specced. The torches are waiting to be refilled and my brazing stock is being looked at. Parts are being stockpiled. I have not built a frame since 2009 so it will be nice to get back into the swing of it. Mitering, filing, brazing, measuring. Mans work, no mulling about what frame to order and what compromise I'm willing to take.
Looks like 2015 will see the first ever "BricWerks" bike roll out of my garage and onto a singletrack near you. I'll leave you with some photos from my 2009 frame build just the whet your appetite.
The Bric...._ mountain biker, road rider, heavyweight gear abuser. Built like a brick sh*thouse. No bike is safe.