Why am I still riding 26" mountain bikes? Aren't they crap?

26" aint dead.

All of my bikes are 26". I have five working machines, going back to a 1996 Orange Clockwork. The latest being an On-One Fatty that is four years old. On average I buy a new - or different bike - every three years. So how come I've missed the 29", 650b and 650b+ revolutions? Why am I still on the old crocks? I've saved enough to buy a new bike after all.

Why? It's not because I think it is all a marketing fad designed to suck money out of us. I like change, to a degree. Ever since I started mountain biking back around 1992, bikes have changed pretty much every year. Indeed, none of my bikes are static museum quality pieces. I've gone 1x on four of them, and three have dropper posts. They all have hydraulic brakes and 800mm handlebars. Most I've upgraded to ten speed, even though some started out with only 7.

Why have I not changed then? Because to me there has been no jump to light speed in terms of bike design, certainly with hardtails, my preferred bike style. I fancy a new PACE or Whyte 905. Yet I look at them, and think they look exactly like my ancient Orange Clockwork. Boingy forks, disc brakes and triangular frames. Sure the tyres are bigger, but I have a fat bike; I've got big tyres already. My 26" bikes can take 2.5" tyres anyway. My Orange is reasonably slack angled. And really, what's with the weight of bikes now? The Whyte must be 2.5kg heavier than my old PACE, and that's no lightweight. And those 50t rear cassettes are ugly chunks of iron. For aesthetics 42t is enough for me.

I've ridden the odd 29" and 27.5 bikes. They were bikes, just like my old crocks. None of them seemed substantially better. As, really, they wouldn't - my newest bike is only four years old, with modern geometry.

My issue is that if I bought a new bike it would be better, yet somehow the same. It would look the same as my current bikes. I'd be changing just for the sake of changing. All of my bikes work fine as they are. I'd be 2.4657% faster on the trails, sure. And I'd be in the 27.5 club.

I've just changed my PACE RC303 to ten speed Deore. It cost all of £120 to do. Cassette, chain, rear mech, front ring and shifter pod. Come on! How cheap is that. I've been out on it. It climbs really well with a 42t rear. The bike is now even lighter - sub 26lb. Lightness helps on climbing, so a virtuous circle. A neighbour of mine actually asked if I'd just bought it. How can I buy a new bike, or justify one, when my existing ten year old one already looks new to people?? OK it's not as forgiving on the downhills as a modern bike, yet it's still been around Afan, Coed-y-Brenin and Swinley relatively recently. I've even spent ten days on Snowden on it.

Have to say the cost of 26" stuff does appeal. New, tubeless tyre from Michelin? £17 to you bought from my local Decathlon, not the internet. Entire groupset for £120? Sure. Even the forks, a set of ancient 454 Pikes, which I bought used ten years ago and have not serviced in 25,000 miles, only cost £100 to be totally rebuilt professionally - and that included custom machining of parts. The groupset went on without faff - no tweaking of cable tension at all; just worked out of the box. The forks are, literally, new.

Ancient, ten speed PACE RC303 hardtail

What I am doing instead of looking to buy a new bike, is riding different places. My aim for 2019 is to ride as many trails along the North Downs way as I can find; from Farnham to Dover. I've already ridden around Puttenham, Swinley and popped down to the QECP. OK, they are all essentially A3 based, but I had to start somewhere. My 26" bikes are all perfectly fine for that. They'll be fine for most other places.

If a bike breaks, or I spot a funky design, or, God forbid, I start to ride more trail centres then a new bike will be a must. I'd not go out to buy a 26" from eBay. After my fat bike, and 5" tyres, extra width does appeal. And again an awful lot of 650b bikes struggle with 2.5" - I'd want the option of 2.8" at least. Oh, and forget the silly prices - £3k hardtails, or £7k full suspension bikes are out. It would be nice if it looked different - Trek Stache perhaps?

Actually I'm looking at Bird in Hampshire right now. They seem to have managed to get the price/design/specification spot on. Although saying that, an older Turner 5-Spot appeals. Watch this space....