Standards, standards, standards. Either we’re awash with them and they’re all valid for different reasons, or they don’t exist at all i.e. there is no longer any such thing as a standard, just loads (and loads) of different specifications.

It used to be that all bikes were alike (or at least very similar). Bottom bracket shells were 68mm, handlebars were 25.4mm thick at the stem (unless you were Italian), front hubs were all 100mm OLN. But with the increasing technological complexities of mountain biking these “standards” have gone out of the window.

Take wheel sizes for instance. Up until 5 years ago there was pretty much only one size mountain bike wheel you could buy: the old faithful 26 inch. It was strong, it worked, and it was ubiquitous. No-one was moaning that the 26″ wheel was destroying the fun they were having on their bikes.

But then along came the 29er – a whole new wheel size to shake things up. It promised better rolling over the rough stuff, greater stability on technical trails, and improved traction for cornering. It could make you a whole lot better at riding!

Many people weren’t convinced. They argued that a bigger wheel was bulkier, heavier, slower to accelerate, and didn’t turn as well through tight switchbacks. There was absolutely no need for a bigger wheel they said. It was just another way to make us all get new bikes.

In response, the industry turned to 27.5″ (or 650b) wheels. Not a new standard, but a very old one, now re-vamped for the modern market, and aimed fairly and squarely at the 29″ doubters. It promised all the benefits of 29″ with the flickability of the 26″ wheel. They sold like hot cakes. It seemed as if the dust was finally settling, leaving the most suitable tread pattern behind.

But over the last year (or two) we’ve seen the introduction of plus sizes. You can now buy 27.5″ or 29″ wheels with wider rims to accommodate extra-wide tyres: the Specialized 6Fattie runs a 27.5″ x 3″ tyre as standard, though it can run narrower tyres if needed.

My new bike (a Trek Stache) has 29+ wheels. The tyres are 3″ wide and look like giant rubber rings at each end of the bike. The actual diameter of the wheels, with air in the tyres, is closer to 32 inches!

One ring to rule them all - could this be the perfect wheel size?
One ring to rule them all – could this be the perfect wheel size?

So, this begs the question: why? What’s it all about and where will it end? Are we destined to be shifting from little wheels to big wheels and then back again, and will we all end up riding 39ers?

Well, some may say it’s marketing hype; that the manufacturers have to introduce new standards, new size wheels etc. just so they can keep selling us more stuff. I’m not convinced that’s entirely true. I think that at the heart of changing standards lies a desire to create the ultimate mountain bike, and I think we may have reached the end of the trail when it comes to wheel size changes.

Spiritually, plus-sized wheels take us right back to the beginning of MTB. The fatter tyres add extra bounce to a bike, and with it extra fun. They remove the need for complicated and expensive suspension systems (as well as a whole lot of weight). We’ve come the point where a modern hardtail is as far away from, and simultaneously as close as ever to, the clunkers from the early days of the sport. It’s once again about a simple machine blasting along trails for the sheer hell of it. The circle has finally been squared.

We now have slack-angled, short-ended hardtails, with balloon tyres to provide extra suspension as you scream down the hills. They’re light, skippy, fast, highly capable and joyful hoots of superb fun to ride.

They’re also low maintenance and so make for a low-cost, year-round, mud-loving machine, requiring fewer expensive visits to your chosen suspension replenisher.

So, when it comes to wheel sizes, it might just be that we’ve finally done with new standards. Like Frodo on Lord of the Rings, we’ve found one ring to rule them all, and it’s a 29+ size.

 

The Handbuilt Bicycle show presents the work some of the UK’s (and world’s) best custom bicycle frame builders, and plays host to some of the best component manufacturers from around the globe. It’s a festival of bicycle fanaticism and, if you love bikes and engineering, then there’s not a show in the country that can compare.

Here are a few pictures of the things I was most impressed by:

 

20 Problems for Modern Mountain Bikers

1. You can’t fix your brakes because you’ve forgotten to pack a syringe.

2. You have to wait at the end of every descent because one of your group is still riding 26″.

3. You’ve just stolen an awesome KOM but you’re unable to make your Strava ride public as you’ve ridden too many “off-piste” sections.

4. You don’t have the right size tube and that 29″ one isn’t going to fit into a 26″ wheel.

5. Your GPS dies, there are no road signs in this field, and none of your group can navigate by the stars.

6. Phytophtora ramorum (Sudden Oak Death) means you have to buy one bike for each trail centre to prevent cross-contamination. (At least that’s the excuse you’re giving your partner)

7. You spent the entire ride filming your front tyre. You even missed catching Dave going over the bars and falling off the side of that cliff.

8. You can’t nip out for a sneaky ride because your wife/husband/boss is following you on MapMyRide, Endomondo, and *add appropriate sports tracking software here.

9. You’re unable to purchase your favourite tyre because you can’t remember what the exact rubber combination was or how many threads per inch it had.

10.  Two of your bladed spokes aren’t aligned properly and are definitely slowing you down.

11. They haven’t invented a negative length stem yet and your bike is still too long (or so your mates keep telling you)

12. The countryside seems devoid of wildlife since you upgraded to a Hope rear hub.

13. You’re convinced that your poor lack of control on the descents is due to the wrong viscosity oil in your lowers.

14. You’re not sure what the advantages of integrated headsets are, whether they’re better than semi-integrated, and what the hell all this has to do with zero stack.

15. You can’t go riding as your 860mm wide bars mean you’re unable to get the bike out of the house.

16. Fat people beat you in races. Apparently that’s ‘enduro’ which has nothing to do with endurance.

17. You’re not sure which tyre you’ve punctured – the outer or the pro-core inner.

18. Your partner has left you. The SRAM XX1 cassette was the final straw.

19. You live in Surrey and aren’t sure if ‘all-mountain’, ‘freeride’, and ‘gravity’ are terms which reflect your riding style.

20. You have to pedal home with your knees around your ears. Again. Reverb.

Shop Ride: Cader Idris.

One of the best things about working in a bike shop is being able to blow off the cobwebs after work with the guys you work with. One of the best things about working in a bike shop in North Wales is that the rides after work can be properly epic. Yesterday’s “Shop Ride” was no exception – a jaunt up the local mountain, Cader Idris……

Thanks to Tegid, Charlie, Joe, Swanson, Rhys, Steve, and Burnsy for a fun ride.

Thanks to the weather for being so kindly changeable.

On learning to ride.

I can clearly remember learning to ride a bike: I first pedalled unaided in a small park in a small town in the midlands when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I might not be able to recall the exact time or location, but I can picture it in my mind like I was there yesterday. I can still see the tall cast-iron gates of the park, the tarmac path winding gently downhill below the overhanging willows, bushes to one side and grassy park to the other. I remember my dad laughing at my expression when I realised I’d cracked it. The feeling of exhiliration I experienced that day must have made a big impression to have created such indelible memories.

This week I had the pleasure of teaching someone else to ride – a 10 year old local lad who’d been struggling to get going for the last couple of years and had been dissuaded from trying by taunts from his mates who could already ride.

At first he struggled to even balance the bike whilst stood astride it, and was completely lacking confidence in his ability to make progress. We started slowly, with me supporting him at walking pace, pointing out how balance is achieved by steering into the fall, and gradually speeded up to the point where I was running alongside and struggling to keep up. In the end, it only took about an hour to get him pedalling unaided, and another half hour for him to conquer turns and gears.  (Mind you, his braking technique still needs a little work!)

Teaching someone else to ride got me thinking about how sometimes we take cycling for granted. Imagine you never learned to ride a bike – perhaps the opportunity might not be there, as it isn’t for many kids all over the world.  (Recently at Coed y Brenin we had an army group with some African recruits – one of the guys there was in his twenties and had never ridden a bike before. He soon picked it up and had an awesome day on the trails)

As a regular rider it’s easy to be complacent about cycling. You become obsessed with the bikes and equipment you’re riding, or focus solely on the quality of the ride from a performance perspective. Often there’s very little thought about the simple pleasure of riding itself. Even the scenery can become just a blur as you speed along.

It’s also easy to forget just what a thrill it was to learn to ride and to first ride alone. That feeling of freedom when, as a kid, you realise that you can go pretty much anywhere – distance becomes (almost) no object. You’re finally in control of where you go and when you go there. I remember long lost summer holidays spent cycling all over the county – into the city and out into the country. No-one seemed to worry about us getting lost, and we rarely seemed to get any punctures.

Over the years since I first learned to stay upright on two wheels I’ve ridden many thousands of miles. I’ve raced, toured, and commuted on a whole plethora of different bikes, across many different countries. I’ve coached people to improve their mountain biking skills, and taught kids how to ride safely on the roads. All in all, my life has been pretty much dominated by the bicycle.

This week though, working with a young lad just starting to ride, reminded me that possibly the greatest gift I ever received was being taught to ride a bike. Thanks Dad.

 

 

ZipTyre – THE answer to the 26″/29er wheel size debate!

There has been much controversy and plenty of debate over the last weeks and months over the varying wheel sizes available in the sport of mountain biking.

Once upon a time everywhere you looked there was standardisation: everyone was riding 26″ wheels. Then, thanks in no small part to the perseverance of Gary Fisher, 29″ wheels started to gain a following. Over the last couple of years they’ve made a large impact, with 29er equipped bikes winning XC races the world over, and most manufacturers (even Orange!) adding at least one 29er bike to their range.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the news hit that Nino Schurter had won the opening round of the UCI World Cup on a 650B equipped bike!

It turns out that Nino was travelling with a rack of bikes with every variation of wheel size thinkable – some £30,000 worth of kit in bikes alone.

So….where does that leave the rest of us? What does the average ride on a limited budget choose to ride nowadays? 26″ for flickability and big air? 29er for smooth rolling over the rocks and endless momentum on the rolling trails? Or something in between – the best of both worlds or a double compromise – 650B?

Well, after very little research and a few half days of development, Wheelism is pleased to announce the launch of the ZipTyre – a variable depth tyre using the latest in Zip Technology to allow a single bike to run anything from 26″ to 29″ with only a single quick modification.

One bike can run 26" on some gnarly trails, then with a quick zip and some extra air it's an XC race bike on 29"
One bike can run 26" on some gnarly trails, then with a quick zip and some extra air it's an XC race bike on 29"

Here’s how it works…..

Zip Tyre - Ultimate Expandability for Perfect Trail Adaption
Zip Tyre - Ultimate Expandability for Perfect Trail Adaption

Boundless Ultra Lightweight Latex and Sidewall Hollowfill Inflatable Tech Expander (BuLL/SHiTe ©) rubber with Singlepull Zip-Release means it’s quick and easy to move from one size to another.

Folding Internal Rubber Kink-Offs (FirKOff ©) expand during pumping to allow the overall diameter of the tyre to change, meaning there’s no need to swap wheels.

Run 26″ downhill, then pull the zip and race the same bike in XC. Want to ride Enduro-style on 650B but use 700C for the commute home – it’s all possible with the Zip Tyre!

The system has a number of unique benefits:

  • Cheap – save thousands on new bikes. Run just one bike with any wheel size!
  • Lightweight – all it takes to change wheel size is added air. Hydrogen adapters are also available for extra weight savings.
  • Versatile – there are tyre options to allow you to run 26″/29″, 26″/650B, 650B/29″, 24″/700c, and we’re working on duo-zip width adjustable tyres so you can run the same tyre as 700c/18mm on the track, and then switch to 26″ x 2.4″ for some gnarly trail!

Of course, any new and innovative technologies are soon imitated by other manufacturers and we’ve already heard that there are similar options in the pipeline from some of the top names in tyres – Marxxis HiLow Roller, Contimental Rubber Queers, Spaceialized Round Controls – to name but a few! There’s even a rumour circulating that Brompton are developing their own tyre for the ultimate Downhill City Bike.

So, put the credit cards back in your wallet and save some room in the bike shed – get yourself a pair of ZipTyres – available from all good bike shops (as soon as I find my sewing kit and and a bit of spare time)

Time > Money

I get paid about £10 an hour. (Bike trade!) That’s £2.50 for every 15 minutes.

This morning I got up 15 minutes early, which meant that by the time I’d climbed the Bwlch I had enough spare time to face this choice: carry on down into Dolgellau on the main road with all the traffic, or head off into the hills on this sweet looking bit of drovers’ trail.

Choices, choices.....
Choices, choices.....main road with traffic, or off-road over the hills?

Easy. When you’ve got spare time it isn’t really a choice at all is it?

No choice at all.
No choice at all.

So…..that extra 15 minutes I’d made was spent adding value to the commute.

And, it seems, value looks a lot like this:

Value added.
Value added.

Now, because I’d taken a detour from the usual route, I had to climb over the hills to Llanfachreth. It’s a steep old climb, but at this point the sun began to shine and I began to question the very nature of life itself…..why is it that I’m blessed with the best commute in the world?

Welcome to Llanfachreth
Welcome to Llanfachreth. What's it all about?

Eventually though, all good things have to come to an end, and so it was with my commute. Fortunately, the end of this commute was a quick and windy road downhill to hit the trails at Coed y Brenin for the final bit of the ride.

The end trails.
The end trails.

So, what did I learn today?

Well, I realised that money isn’t everything, and it doesn’t really matter that I only get paid £10 an hour – all the £2.50s in the world couldn’t ever buy back those 15 minutes this morning.

Time > Money.

New Course Dates for Spring 2012

I’ve added several new dates for MTB skills coaching and bike maintenance courses for March and April 2012 -check out the calendar for full details.

As per last summer I’ll be running some basic skills short courses on Saturday evenings at Coed y Brenin, and these will start this spring and run throughout the year. The idea of the short courses is to provide a cheap and quick way to improve your skills whilst you’re already at the trail centre for a ride. These short courses will be £20 per person and last approximately 2 hours.

Resting.

I’ve been off the bike for too long.

A bad cold followed by a week away snowboarding, swiftly followed by a heavy bout of flu has left the bike(s) festering in the shed.

That said, the forced absence from the saddle has provided the opportunity to actually get in the shed and do some long overdue maintenance.

My trusty old steel rigid Webster MTB has now been fitted with some lovely flared drop bars from On-One, the mudguards on the commuter road bike have finally been secured properly using an array of cable ties, the Wheelism tourer is polished and ready for a long ride, and my classic old 531 road bike is back to its original Campagnolo Record configuration.

Wheelism Tourer - shiny, shiny, and ready for a long ride!
Wheelism Tourer - shiny, shiny, and ready for a long ride!

All in all, a lot of good news from the shed then.

The best news though – I’m finally feeling better. It’s ride time!

Christmas Present Panic?

If you’ve missed the post and you’re still stuck for a Christmas present for that special person, why not consider a Wheelism MTB Skills Coaching Gift Voucher?

Wheelism Gift VoucherThe vouchers can be for any of our courses (MTB Skills, bike maintenance, or guiding), for any amount (how much do you love them?), and can be sent to them via email to arrive on Christmas Day!

Drop us a line, or give us a call to order.