650b or the now in fashion 27.5in is the new wheel size on the block.
We here at Defcon Cycles have been dealing with the size since 2008, back when Kirk Pacenti was just starting to get the wheel rolling on getting this wheel size back to the public.
Since Kirk has brought it back from 2007, the size has gained tremendous momentum, with MY2013 being the biggest year yet for the size, with a few major players getting on board the size and getting the products out to the public.
Names and brands such as PACENTI, Scott, Fox, Rock Shox, Turner, Maxxis, Magura, X-Fusion, WTB, Kenda, all have products out now or will be releasing them for MY2013.
This is just the beginning, we will now see a big push into the All Mountain catorgry of bikes, which is where many believe that the wheel size may sit and be most adaptable for the intended application. Riders can utilise a bigger wheel, without too much compromise on frame and suspension kinematic designs.
We spoke to Kirk Pacenti re a few things that have led to the re-evolution of the wheel size,
DC - Kirk, Firstly lets shoot for a bit of
background on your history and experience in the bike Industry, what
have you been doing since
jumping on two wheels?
KP – I’ll give you the abridged version of my career; I started out in bike shops like most everyone else in the bicycle industry, but I really don’t have the right personality or mindset for working in retail. I much prefer to work ‘behind the scenes’. I landed my first real industry job in 1994 working for Bontrager Cycles (Santa Cruz, CA) as a fabricator and framebuilder. After Bontrager (SC) was shut down and moved to Wisconsin, I worked for a short while for Giro helmets, just up the road from Bontrager. From Giro, I moved to Seattle, Washington to work for a small contract frame maker, Match Bicycle Co., building Schwinn Paramount, Rivendell and Hampsten frames among others. After Match shut down, I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to work for Litespeed and then Later, Lynskey Performance. I was also running my own company during this period.
DC - Who, if any of those guys/company’s that you
have worked with, provided the best inspiration from a design
perspective, that has
helped you get to where you are today?
KP - Keith Bontrager was a big influence. He
taught me more about the framebuilding process than anyone else. The
system he created was as close to an ISO process that I’ve seen and in
my opinion is better than any other system I’ve seen for manufacturing
Tim Isaac, of Match, taught me a lot about frame geometry and how it works, as well as having a strong influence on my getting involved with bicycle castings, lugs, fork crowns, bb shells, etc. Coincidentally, after Match closed up, Tim became the Director of Engineering at Litespeed and hired me on to work as a custom frame designer in 2000.
DC - So how long did it take for the first PACENTI Tyre come to life after the first thought of bringing back the “B”?
KP - I first learned about and conceived of the 650b mountain bike tire in 2004. But after a couple years of trying to get other tire makers to produce 650b versions of their existing tire designs, I partnered with Panaracer to make my own, Pacenti branded, tires. I designed the Neo-Moto™ in late 2006 or early 2007 and received the first shipment of Neo-Moto tires in July of 2007… just five years ago!
DC - What were your biggest hurdles early on?
KP - The biggest hurdle was getting the word out and educating people about 650b wheel size. Fortunately, my main customer base happened to be custom framebuilders, they “got it” right away. In fact some of the most renowned suspension designers were interested from day one. The only thing holding them back was a fork from Fox, Rock Shox or Manitou.
DC - Lets skip ahead to 2012, we now have many big brands starting to release 650b products for MY2013, can you pick one brand/product that will have the biggest impact on the future and why?
KP Having forks from the big three US fork makers is going to have the biggest impact. Product from these suppliers will cement 650b in the mind of the industry as a viable option to the other wheel sizes for mainstream consumers. Once these forks become readily available, I think the floodgates will open, and every bike brand will have a 650b option for 2014, if not sooner.
DC - We have seen a World Cup XC win on 650b very recently, that must have been a buzz for you to see, and unexpected for so many people to see it as well?
KP - That was pretty exciting; I had no idea that Scott was testing the 650b wheel size. What is even more exciting to me though, is that world-class athletes like Frischknect, Shurter and Vogel are proving the very benefits 650b has to offer that I intuited as a frame designer almost 6 years ago.
DC - What has/will come out of that do you think?
KP - I think the fact that Scott has tested and is winning on 650b bikes will force the other big makers to take a serious look at 650b wheels for future product lines. One immediate a very tangible effect of Nino’s win on a 650b bike in South Africa, was that I sold 1,400 rims the following Tuesday. The European (distributors) are really paying attention.
DC - Many are saying that the All Mountain Market is where 650b will sit,
why would that be, and do you agree?
KP – I agree that trial bikes (120 – 140mm) is the best place to start simply because it’s the biggest part of the market. But I see XC and Endurance racing (12+ hours) following close behind. Personally, I would really like to see 650b become competitive in DH, but we have a little way to go on that front.
DC - Do you think that 650b will have a place in smaller MTB markets such
as Aus with the distros and dealers having to stock a 3rd size?
KP - That’s hard to say. Australia is a small and a difficult one too. If I am not mistaken, it’s expensive to import product into the country as a distributor. Sometimes consumers can order products on line for less than the distributor can buy them from the manufacturer.
DC - What do you think may need to change to make 650b products more accessible?
KP - Not much really. It’s just going to take a few big bike brands to bring 650b bikes to market and everything will fall into place. If Scott, Trek, Cannondale offer 650b bikes in the next year or so, the rest of the industry will follow their lead. Once that happens, all major tire, wheel and component makers will be offering 650b products in their catalogs.
DC - Pacenti Cycle Design seems to be bringing
products to market that just seem right, eg your TL28 rims, wide, light,
tubless ready and
eyletted. Whats your inspiration for bringing these products to market?
KP - Thanks, I am glad you think so. I design products primarily for myself and the way I ride, [I suspect I am not too different than the average mountain bike enthusiast]. I also spend a great deal of time riding and thinking about bicycle components. By paying attention to trends, keeping an open mind and thinking about where those trends might lead in the next 2-3 years, you have a great starting point for a product today. For instance, the TL28 was created because I like the way wider rims perform, but since I don’t do huge jumps or drops I don’t need the extra strength [weight] that comes with the typical 28mm wide rim. The TL28 seems to be ahead of the curve in this regard (AM wide, XC light), but wider and lighter rims are becoming the norm now. As for eyelets, I just like them. Besides, I have never heard a single complaint about a rim that comes with eyelets; only complaints about rims that are otherwise a good product, but “would be better with eyelets”.
DC - Whats next for Pacenti Cycle Design?
KP - We plan to expand our tire and rim lines and eventually offer hubs and complete wheels. We’ve got a couple top-secret products in the works, but it’s too early to discuss them at this point… stay tuned!
Thanks Kirk, Great to catch up, and we look forward to working with you closely for the Aussie market.