Presently, plus-sized bike and component design is all over the map, with wheels and tires being offered in 26, 27.5 and 29-inch sizes. Bike makers are struggling to find a unified voice with which to purpose the plus bike. On the furthest ends of the spectrum, Trek is selling it as the rebirth of the high performance hardtail trailbike
, while Rocky Mountain
is pushing it as the ultimate back-country touring fun machine. But, most of the plus bikes (real and imagined) at Sea Otter were shamed into the nefarious realm of “fat bike lite.” The truth is, nobody, even the mighty Trek, knows where plus is headed – as evidenced by the ironic surety of everyone's marketing spiels.
Don’t make the mistake of passing plus off as a revenge of the nerds. All the key suspension fork suppliers are on board, which represents a huge investment on their part, and is the strongest indicator within the industry that the concept has legs. With mountain bike sales relatively stabilized worldwide, the success of plus bikes, however, must come at the expense of sales in other categories, and the most likely losers are lightweight, 100 to 120-millimeter-travel, dual-suspension cross-country trailbikes. They are too chubby to seriously compete in XC events, while enduro's self-destructive evolution into a "Hyper-technical He-man slugfest in the woods," has eliminated the category from being a viable competitor there. So, the short-travel XC trailbike has been relegated into the recreational back-country bicycle that we used to refer to as the "mountain bike."
Traditionalists will argue otherwise, but, the plus bike promises to be a far more capable and easier to ride option for that role than its predecessors, and it may be able to do so at a more economical price. Fat bikes taught us that huge, low-pressure tires can empower a rider to roll up and over almost any terrain, while doubling as an effective suspension. On the opposite side of the spectrum, 140 to 160-millimeter-travel enduro racing bikes taught us that, if we were willing to pay the premium price for technology, a lightweight carbon chassis with supple suspension and wide, super-tacky tires could be trusted to do the same job, but with greater precision and at a much more exhilarating pace.
The unrealized potential of a trailbike designed to take full advantage of the plus-sized wheel is to find the happy medium between the two extremes: A supple, low-pressure tire that can deftly grip and traverse almost any surface, combined with a basic short-stroke suspension chassis that is enhanced by the wheel's small-bump sensitivity to provide performance that, at present, can only be obtained by employing expensive, long-stroke damping systems. Plus bikes are little more than curiosities today, but they have the potential to displace all of the categories that span the gap between dedicated XC racers and the 140 to 160-millimeter-travel enduro bike.