14 October 2016

Is This The Year Of "39er"?

Bigger is better.  Height makes right.  Size matters.

You've heard all of those ridiculous notions before.  Of course I don't believe any of them:  If I did, I never could have undergone a certain medical procedure that has allowed me to become, completely, the person I am.

There was, however, a time when I believed "bigger is better", "height makes right" and "size matters".  When I was a kid, I wanted to "graduate" to bigger bikes.  That meant going from a bike with 20 inch wheels--like most "choppers" and other kids' bikes of the time--to one with 26 inch wheels, like the kind found on three-speed bikes.  Later, I would believe--as many other people did--that 27 inch wheels were one of the things that made ten-speed bikes "better" than other kinds of bikes.

Now we have "29ers"--which are really just 700C wheels with wider rims and tires.  That size is used mainly for mountain bikes, though I have heard of a few other kinds of bikes made with it.

Not to be outdone, Patrick Ng has designed a "39er":

Yes, that bike has 39 inch wheels.  Of course, such a bike cannot have the same frame dimensions as a 29er, let alone a 26 inch mountain bike or 700C road bike.

As an example, the chainstays measure 637 mm and the total wheelbase is 1487mm.  To put that into perspective,  a typical 29er has chainstays of about 440 to 465 mm and wheelbase of 1160 to 1220 mm.  Touring  bikes with 700 C wheels have similar dimensions, while racing bikes are shorter.

Perhaps the wildest part of this bike's design is its steering:  The handlebars are nestled inside the main triangle and control the fork by a pair of cogs linked with a chain.  The handlebars are so placed to give a riding position roughly similar to that of a 29er bike and to prevent massive toe overlap with the front wheel.

Perhaps you are scared or appalled by this bike. Or you might want to be the first kid on your block to have it.  If you're of the latter category, you're out of luck:  This bike is no more than an artist's rendering of Patrick Ng's whimsical design, and there are no plans to produce it.

This bike, however, is not the first far-fetched machine Mr. Ng has designed. Check out his Ridiculous Bikes--Roost Carbon:

Only the 28 inch wheels bear any semblance to current standards.  Its 188 mm rear axle spacing (vs. 130 on current road bikes and 135 on mountain bikes) is needed to accomodate the 13-speed cassette with a range of 11 to 53 teeth.  And, with its 1500 mm wheelbase, I can only imagine (as if I want to!) how it handles.

Patrick Ng may have designed these bikes tongue-in-cheek, and we can laugh at them. But one thing we should have learned in recent years is that no idea is so ridiculous that it won't become an industry standard.

If anyone decides to produce 39ers, the marketing campaign could include one of my favorite Queen songs:

Now, if someone wants to outdo Mr. Ng, he or she would have to design a "49er".  That person could get rich by linking it to a certain San Francisco sports team.  Of course, it would have to be painted red and gold!


  1. I think I could get into the Ng 39er. But I would rebuild it a bit: drop bars, a higher gearing than what the version seems to have and big slicks. In other words, a road bike for Conan the Barbarian. I have one very big bike, a German Torpedo made in 1936. It is a civilian version of the bikes the German Army used at that time. I have to measure it. It's stored in my studio now. I do remember that the overall length is 2.2 meters, and that it weighs 28 kilos. It has drop bars and extremely low trail. Stable as a plow. One must shift paradigms to ride it. You don't just ride it, you pilot it, operate it. It has been said that riding a bicycle is the closest you can come to flying. A light road bike with a good fit is like having wings. These big machines are like aircraft. I ride a 9-kilo steel rod bike and for contrast, once a week, the Torpedo. I would love to ride the 39er once a week.


  2. Leo--When I was coming of age (as a cyclist, anyway), we always heard, "lighter is better". Your comment shows that it's sometimes true. Other times, the lightest bike isn't the best for the purpose. And there are those occasions--as when you ride your Torpedo--that a heavy bike can give another kind of riding pleasure. At worst, it is a nice counterpoint to your lighter bikes.

    The first mountain bikers (Gary Fisher, Joe Breeze and friends) certainly weren't riding the lightest bikes they could find on those Northern California fire trails 40 years ago: They were bombing down Mount Tamalpais on (then) 30- and 40-year-old baloon-tired Schwinns!

  3. There was a typo in the above: the Torpedo weighs 18, not 28, kilos.