Too Many 29"ers? A Question Of Market Saturation

Walking the floor of the Interbike show this year I heard a few vendors voice a concern that I hadn’t heard before. “There are too many 29″ers”, they lamented. Too many? Yes, they were serious. It seems that many in the industry see the 29″ers rise as “over” and the plateau is here, with a decline in the near future being imminent.

Is this a clear view of the 29″ers future? Well, I think it is closer to the truth than not. Think about it. The market can only grow at the expense of the “pie” that now is owned by 26 inch wheeled mountain bikes. At best, (without any hard numbers to rely on) 29″ers can only be getting a fraction of total mountain bike sales in the adult category. Take out “mart” bikes and the statement still stands. All one has to do is walk into any bike shop or take a look at the show floor at Interbike to get a clue to this phenomena.

The market for 29″ers may be getting saturated, but I don’t think it’s quite “there” yet. Take for instance the longer travel categories. All mountain, free ride, and down hill categories are lacking in 29″er choices, and it could be argued that even if they were available, they would only account for a small pittance of those type of bikes in terms of sales. Still, the 29″er could grow into that area. Less expensive 29″ers are a sorely lacking category as well. I believe it is this fact that really is holding back the 29″er from at least a slow, steady growth in market share.

Take a new mountain bike customer for example. To get into the 29″er models available up to ’07, a person would have to cough up about 3 times their budget to be able to play. They probably opted for a $350.00 mountain bike instead. Now with the advent of some lesser expensive choices, I believe 29″er sales will grow. Not astronomically, but grow none the less.

If the business for 29″ers is to grow, I feel that the manufacturers will need to expand more into the sub $600.00 realm. Of course, it could be an instance of the industry eating it’s own, since those sales would likely be coming from their own 26″er piece of the pie. Perhaps this is why manufacturers are reluctant to enter this category. Nothing to gain, so why try.

Whatever the reasons, 29″ers are most likely going to take their place on showroom floors as the “other” choice in mountain bikes. Sure, there will be parts and accesories coming we didn’t have before, and a long travel 29″er or two will be mixed in with some budget 29″ers that were not available until now. However; it is likely that the big boom is over and 29″ers will only see small bumps up in sales over the next few years. The mountain bike “pie” will have to grow if 29″ers are to show any big market gains, in my opinion. That or 26″ers will have to go the way of the dodo bird, and that isn’t going to happen anytime soon!

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No Responses to “Too Many 29"ers? A Question Of Market Saturation”

  1. Cloxxki Says:

    Out of, say, a million mountainbikes sold a year (I have no idea how many millions are sold), now around 10,000 will be 29″. Let’s say Again a million 26″ers are made this year, and an additional 50,000 29″ers. Unless the market finds more customers, or manaages to sell multiple bikes to one rider, the market is saturated. With 29″ers? Perhaps, but only if you can’t sell 50,000 of them. Those 50,000 may well be gone by February, leaving the market with 50,000 26″ers no-one will buy.
    It just depends how 29″ develops versus 26″. Whether dealers are putting the 29″ers on the floors, whether riders will special-order them from their LBS. The total amount of MTB’s sold will likely not rise much if at all from the addition of the 29″ category. Brands will best leave out a 26″ model for every 29″er they add, unless they expect to grow in the new season.
    How many 26″ riders will enver convert, how many kids will buy a 26″er when they outgrow their current one?
    Racers are still starting to adopt the adult wheels. If they end up never winning, and dropping in numbers back to zero, of course that will make selling 29″er harder. Better not replace all 26″ models in your line-up just yet.

  2. Graham Says:

    Hmmm….if that’s what the industry insiders are saying out there than it seems rather short-sighted on their part. LIke Cloxxki, I have no numbers, but I would make the following observations:

    1) Would anyone even think of buying a 26 inch single speed bike anymore? I may be crazy, but I think that just about every single speed rider in the D.C. area is on a 29er. 26 inch is dead in this category to my mind (granted it is still a relatively small category).

    2) How’s Fisher doing with it’s lineup of 29ers compared to 26ers? Of all the companies out there they have the most comprehensive line of both types of bikes. I’m betting that any growth in their revenue can be attributed to the investment they’ve made in the 29er. I’d love to see the revenue graph of each category for Fisher over the past three years.

    3) You still can’t find, but one or two 29ers in 90% of the shops out there. Unless the shop is very large or caters to the cycling freak and not just the ‘every-man’ rider you’re not likely able to buy a 29er without a special order. I don’t see how the market can be saturated if there is nothing but special ordering going on. The bike freak market may be saturated, but there’s still a long way to go before most people come in touch with a 29er and have a chance to give it a try.

    Anyway…just a few thoughts to say…No Way! I hope. Nice post.

  3. Guitar Ted Says:

    Graham: I happen to know that Fisher sells more 29″ers than 26″ers…….above $1000.00 πŸ˜‰ (That’s one of my points, as you may remember- nothing cheap to buy in 29″ers)

    As for shops not having 29″ers, that’s more of a dealer problem than anything having to do with customers choice. You sell what you believe in, and obviously dealers don’t believe in 29″ers in the high end of the market. (Owing to the fact- again- that nothing has been available for cheap in this category)

    Finally, the long travel/ down hill/ dirt jumper segment of mountain biking will always be dominated by 26″ers until (and if) big hit components for 29″ers become available that are reliable and affordable. Even if that big “if” happens, 29″ers will always play second fiddle to 26″ers in that area. Even though it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Thanks for the compliment and for your comments. πŸ™‚

  4. Martin Says:

    Interesting topic.

    I’ve been in conversation with a good friend who has been living in Germany for 25 yrs. He was looking for a new bike and I told him to look into 29rs, he got interested real fast based off the statement I told him I would never go back to a 26r. He then contacted his local bike shop and the owners convinced him the 29r is currently just an American fad that doesn’t really fit the European riding scene or market. Having lived in Europe myself for 10yrs I understand this high brow stance his bike shop owner has taken, yup they can be kinda snobby sometimes but they are still good people.

    My experiance in Europe in hindsight says the 29r is a great wheel format for them to use. They have miles and miles of double track forest roads and well maintained trails thru their forests that just beg for big wheels to carry momentum down. I really wish I had one while I was there.

    The Europeans have always been slow to adopt American technology and trends, I saw a standard two year lag. But when they do start to dabble then adopt the technology they go gangbusters for it. They were slow to adopt MTBs back in the early 90s but know their show room floors are litered with them, they said full squish wasn’t efficient but they have them now in big numbers. When MTB hit the scene the US of A dominated the world in offroad racing, now its the other way around. Same could be said about snowboarding we made it extremely popular now the Euros are all over it and so is the rest of the world.

    The bike industry will start selling more 29rs when the Euros catch on, right now there is a small niche market in the UK, France and Germany but its still in its infancy. The recent Eurobike had many more 29rs on display than years past but I don’t think they got as much interest as they should have. They are still sitting on the fence letting us do all the developement, but I’m pretty sure they will be assimilated like I was.

    The German bike shop owner also said something I found extremely funny in his email to my friend. “The tight single track in the Alps is nonconducive to the large and slow turning radius of the 29r wheels.” I LOL everytime I think of that statement because now I live in the land of corn here in Omaha where all the considerable single track trails we have are tighter and more technical than anything I saw in Germany, Austria, Italy and France. Although Omaha definitely doesn’t have the elevation gains and beautiful forests…then again Colorado and Wyoming are 7hrs away and they definitely ride 29rs there.

  5. Desert9r Says:

    I agree that the Market is not saturated, although it seems like it b/c the majority of 29er out ther now are the ss/rigid/hardtail/xc bike, What about am/fr/dh/dj markets? I out So but dj niner!

    One think about saturation, a Tony Hawk 29er? I was hoping they would wait atleast 1 more yr!

  6. Oderus Says:

    I remember this conversation 15 years ago when the “full suspension” market was “saturated”. I fully expect 29ers to go the same route as it’s 26″ cousins. Expect to see geometries tweaked, wheels to change, suspension designs to come and go. Prices will come down as well. Right now, a lot of bikes are overpriced (because vendors can get away with it) but some are priced to move (redline, haro for example). Yeah, the prices will start to come down and more people will start to get on them. Hell look at road bikes, there must be 3 times the number of road bike companies out there and that market is still going strong. That’s a market that is saturated for sure yet it doesn’t suffer. 29ers aren’t going anywhere. I sold 3 of my 26″ mtb (kept my Klein) and got 2 new 29ers cause I love em and I can ride faster and better on them. I am doing my part to spread the word of my joy. I have sold a handfull of Fisher, Niner and Salsa bikes to converts and they are all being ridden by folks who appreciate the difference. Just keep spreading the word!

  7. GF Says:

    Guitar Ted knows what he’s talking about. I agree, actually I believe that, over time, 29ers could take more than a substantial bite out of the 26″ market. I ride an 08 Haro Mary, and as soon as this type of gear is cheap enough, it will take off. I have no doubt.

    With people like Fisher and other high end brands supporting the cause, it may have alot more momentum than is being foreseen.

    Actually, my belief is, that 29ers will become another size of bike to fit the tallest of us homosapiens.

  8. Rollin 29 Says:

    It is not over until the fat lady sings.

    The fat lady in this case is Mountain Bike Action magazine.

    Mountain Bike Action unfortunately wields more influence than most of us care to acknowledge.

    With Specialized on board a 29-inch shoot-out is surely in store.

    I am positive a huge number of 26-inch riders who are unaware of the 29-inch wheel size will become very familiar with it once these reviews appear.

    Then the urge to upgrade will kick in and independant bike shops will receive demand for the 29-inch wheel size whether it is Specialized or Fisher or Haro or others.

  9. Guitar Ted Says:

    Rollin: I agree that print media holds some sway in this arena, for sure. The thing is though, it’s not the trend maker/breaker that it was in the early 90’s. I submit to you the huge popularity of 29″ers in the Mid-West first as an example. We’re not really a region that the print media caters to, either in terms of trails or in the equipment we use to ride them with. (This has slowly been changing over the years, but the balance is still heavily “coastal”)

    I think trends are still dictated by print media in other areas to some degree; however, this forum and others like to it are swiftly taking up the pre eminence that the 90’s era rags had. (That’s a discussion for another post though)

    To the point you make: Mountain Bike Action may or may not validate the 29″er in editorial terms, but it doesn’t really matter in the long run what myself or anyone writes about them. As I have always stated since I started riding these big wheeled contraptions, “Ride one and see for yourself.” Once folks get a chance to ride their friends bikes, or demo bikes from a company, or see them at races and festivals, the jig will be up for 26″ers dominance of the mtb scene. It’s already happening right now.

  10. A Bold Statement: 26″ers To Fade Away » Twenty Nine Inches Says:

    […] the responses we recieved from the recent posts about the 29″er market, it would seem that many are believing that a much wider audience for […]

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