Interbike Q&A with our Tech Editor – What’s hot and what’s not

Editor’s note: After the show, I chased down our new tech editor, Eric McKeegan, and asked him what he thought of the show and what kinds of products we’re likely to see more of in the next year. 

What are five products that you saw at the show that you’re really excited about? 

Nukeproof Mega TR

Yes this is a 26-inch trail bike, not 650b. Whatever. You can tell from just looking at it, above, that it wants to rip some trail a new one. The 150mm front end is matched with a 130mm rear, so it should pedal like an XC bike, but the slack angles, wide bars, and general bad-assery should make it go down like a much bigger bike. Overall it looks like more fun than most riders could handle.

New Bell helmets

Bell has more helmet history than just about anyone, but over the last few years they seem to have slipped into a bit of a second tier below some of the more progressive helmet makers out there. No longer. Three new helmets for 2013 signal Bell’s return to the top.

There is a new skate-style helmet, the Segment ($60), which uses a flexible shell and segmented EPS foam to create a helmet the conforms to more head shapes than the average brain-bucket.

At the other end of the market is a carbon fiber full-face helmet, the Full-9. Available in five colors, including this white and black model. Yes $400 is serious money, but carbon doesn’t come cheap, and this is also full of features not found on any mountain bike helmet I’m aware of. The Full-9 is internally wired for speakers (not included) and sports an integrated camera mount. If that isn’t enough, the cheek pads are easily removable via magnetic attachment system, and should things really get lopsided, first responders can inflate an internal airbag to help slide the helmet off your head.

Probably the most relevant helmet to broadest cross section of riders is the Super, a brand new trail/all-mountain helmet. Video-camera mount, goggle compatible, extra coverage for the sides and back of the head—this isn’t a warmed-over XC lid. Seven colors from matte black to bright green should keep everyone happy. The worst thing about this helmet? It won’t be available until May 2013.

Diamondback Mason

I actually got to ride this bike, not just look at it and it’s worth mentioning again. This “not XC geometry” hardtail 29er niche is getting bigger, with offerings from Trek and Kona joining the established players from Canfield and Banshee, not to mention custom builders like Black Cat and Bystickle. The promise of aggressive trail manners without the expense or complexity of rear suspension is pretty compelling.

Brake Force One disc brakes

These are pretty interesting from a purely bike geek standpoint. With quite a few excellent discs on the market now, is there room for a $500 brake using a technology abandoned years ago by other manufacturers?

Designed by an under-25 wunderkid, and manufactured in Germany, Brake Force uses a closed hydraulic system and mineral oil reminiscent of old Magura brakes. A special valve switches between moving a high volume of oil to a low volume as the lever is pulled. This means the pads travel quickly to the rim through the beginning of the lever stroke, and move more slowly after engagement for more power. They are stunningly light and available with various colors for the lever, caliper and hoses. We expect a set for review soon, check the pages of the mag for more info in 2013.

Norco Range

Instead of settling for a single full suspension platform for 650b wheels, Norco developed two: the 140mm Sight trail bike, and the 160mm Range. (Read our first ride impressions here.) While I wouldn’t call the 650b market “crowded” in the 140mm-150mm market quite yet, there are quite a few bikes to choose from. Once you get into the longer-travel, all-mountain category, your 650b choices are still limited.

With a completely new frame, the 2013 Range shares only the headtube from last years 26-inch model, which has been discontinued.

Norco has been perfecting their licenced version of the FSR rear end for years now. I’ve been impressed with every recent iteration I’ve ridden, and I don’t expect any less with this bike. This bike is tops on my list of bikes to review for the magazine ASAP.

Everyone is talking about it, so what do you predict for 650b wheels in the coming year?

Unlike 29-inch wheels, which had a Big Three brand behind them to start (Trek’s now retired Gary Fisher brand), 650b is being driven (at least in the US) by small to midsize brands. KHS, Jamis, and Ventana have been talking and building 650b bikes for a few years, and Scott, Norco, and Rocky Mountain have pretty incredible-looking 650b bikes for 2013. So far Trek, Specialized, and Giant aren’t on the bandwagon, but they are sure to be watching its progress closely.

The big stumbling block for 29er growth was always tires and forks, but 650b seems to be over that hump already. Fox is leading the suspension charge with the excellent 34 in both Float and TALAS forms, and upstart X-Fusion has a broad selection of forks in 32, 34, and 36mm stanchions for XC to all-mountain use. Rock Shox is still holding the line with 32mm 650b forks in the SID, Reba, and Revelation lines. Suntour and Formula are in the scrum also.

As for tires, pretty much every tire manufacturer will have 650b treads next year. There should be plenty of selection for everyone, regardless of riding style. A number of things at Interbike stood out to me. First, Maxxis will have a 27.5 High Roller II in a sticky rubber DH casing. Second, Michelin, who was very late to the 29er market, will have tires available in the excellent Race’r and Grip’r treads. Finally, Schwalbe has a new ‘tweener casing called Super Gravity—perfect for when a DH tire is too much, but XC tires are too little. As expected it will be available in 26-inch size, but unexpectedly in 650b too. Schwalbe has gone from a minor player in the mountain bike market to a serious force in OEM arena, including what seems to me most of the new 650b bikes.

So the product is out there, the question is, will it sell? I’m going to say yes, for a few reasons.

First, it is new and different, which are always compelling reasons to take a look. Second, some of these companies are killing 26-inch bikes from their trail bike line-ups, in effect making the consumers’ choice for them.

Most importantly, 650b will sell because it is a good idea. The 26-inch wheel won’t go away, but for most people these wheels just make more sense. They roll better on smooth terrain, float over chunk well, and unlike 29er wheels, allow long travel to be packaged into a bike that doesn’t have a DH wheelbase.

Are they all the benefits of both 26-inch and 29er with no compromise? Of course not, we all know that, regardless of what some marketing copy claims. As unsexy as it sounds, they are a compromise, which is why they are going to take over the trail bike market, which is itself a compromise between XC efficiency and all mountain capability. 

What is a trend or product that you would really rather see go away?

The 130mm-and-up 29er trail bikes with 32mm forks. Fox made a fork just for these bikes, and it has 34mm stanchions. These bikes should be spec’d with them.

If you could ride any bike at the show, what would it be?

One of the very powerful e-bikes, the more motocross-like the better.

Besides bikes, there are a lot of softgoods and accessories at the show. What were some that you are most interested in?

Yeti has a new line of apparel, which seems like an odd move to me, but the shorts look pretty awesome, and have three liner options for various levels of padding, from none to full-on euro bib-short chamois action. They also have a pretty awesome looking softshell hoody, perfect for fall weather around here.

Can software be classified as a softgood? The new smartphone app from Fox looks very awesome. Enter the product code from the back of any 2013 fork, get a recommended pressure setting, air up your fork, use your camera to check the sg measurement, readjust as needed. The demo I saw was very easy to understand, and should be a hit, considering all the poorly set up suspensions I see on the trails. 

Interbike is known for hijinks and after-hours fun. Do you have any highlights from the week to share? Keep in mind this is a family magazine.

The Double Down Saloon is a long walk from Treasure Island. Getting a ride back may have kept me from giving up and sleeping on a bench. Ellis Island Casino has karaoke every night and really cheap beer, but they seem to dislike anyone actually having fun, unless you are an 80-year-old Elvis impersonator. And as a reminder, if you go to a club of any kind, pay cash. Plenty of shady types are after your bank card numbers.


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