What role will innovation play tomorrow? The example of mountain bikes with 29″ wheels.

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It’s a fact: 29-inch diameter wheels are becoming more common in mountain biking. First, they’re better for XC (cross country) performance and tracks, responding to the need for stability and the increase in DH (downhill) and enduro speeds. But all this, and it’s very important to specify, in the context of the competition, is gradually being adopted by most brands on their production models.

So, what lessons can be learned from this?

Let’s take a brief look back. A few years ago, the standard diameter for mountain bikes was 26”. As mountain biking has never ceased to innovate, enormous progress has often come from the world of competition, and this progress has been made with frames (geometry, or the arrival of carbon), suspension (travel and adjustments) and everything else we call « peripherals » in cycling: transmissions, disc brakes, tires, and so on. Bikes have become very « efficient » in every respect. But that’s not to say that the average price hasn’t taken a considerable leap forward too, with an enduro bike at €3,800 being considered as a mid-range bike today.

29-inch wheels appeared a few years ago. Manufacturers quickly caught on, but often kept two ranges. Such as Specialized for example (one of the world leaders) who started by offering two product lines on certain models. One in 26, the other in 29. Then came the 27.5 – proof that the 29 seemed a little extreme. The end of the 26-inch, the original format, was nigh. Companies focused on 27.5 and 29. Even on compatible models for both sizes.

In absolute terms, the 29 provides more performance, more speed in off-road conditions, but you lose feel, handling, weight and acceleration. The space requirement is also not negligible when it comes to transporting the bike. The purpose of this analysis is not to determine the value of 29”, but to put the consequences into perspective. The first, is that you will no longer have a choice.

In a way, mountain biking is reminiscent of the windsurfing industry, long-since blinded by competition and which was to be lost in large part because the products were less and less aligned with the customer’s needs, and because they were constantly being renewed. The mountain bike industry doesn’t hesitate to innovate, but to what extent is this permanent innovation from the highest levels still justified? A bike is an assembly of components. If you look at forums, wheel size is hotly debated. And at a time when constant renewal of equipment is also a source of question (we look to consume less, or differently), this is a subject which makers will have to focus on in the perspective of real Corporate Social Responsibility policy (CSR legislation will make it mandatory), the question may arise.

We also need to think about it in the sense that purchasing behavior is likely to change. An enthusiast may end up choosing to keep their frame (geometry depends on the size of the wheels) for longer, and turn to accessories manufacturers to make it last over time and adapt it. In Australia, for example, the 4×4 market works a lot on this principle. People keep their vehicles, often rebuilding them at very high mileages.

Until now, innovation has been oriented towards the search for performance. 29” wheels are going in this direction. The same was true in kitesurfing. Go faster, jump higher, until you can’t hear the shouting anymore.

  • How will we consume tomorrow?
  • What role will innovation have, other than to make us buy the “latest”?
  • How will “production” integrate environmental protection?
  • In which direction will purchasing behavior go?
  • What criteria will replace pure performance?
  • Will sporting brands have to engage in a fundamental debate on their role?
  • Faster, higher, stronger. In short, always more. Are you sure about that?


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