Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The 36er is Real

Last month, I wrote about the Ridiculous Bikes' 39er, a monstrous but fictional XC mountain bike. After I ended that by saying "Right now, somewhere in America, a bike shop sales manager is trying to explain to a customer that he can't actually buy a 39er XC bike. And somewhere else, in a major bike company's marketing department, someone else is asking 'why not'?" a Retrogrouch reader pointed out that while the 39er may be fictional, the 36er is for real.

Yes - I know that Coker has made its Monster Cruiser for some time now, built around 36-in. wheels (which are also available for large unicycles), but I don't know that too many people take the Coker very seriously as more than a novelty beach cruiser.

DirtySixer, which is currently on Kickstarter, is billing itself as the only big bike for really tall people. More than a novelty, the DirtySixer is meant as a serious bike for extra-large riders who can't get bikes to fit them.

Yes, that's Shaquille O'Neal with a custom DirtySixer. On the left is
creator David Folch. The 36er looks downright "normal" next to Shaq.
I've long believed (and written a number of times in this blog HERE , HERE, and HERE) that wheel/tire size should ideally be a function of proper bike fit, and not a fashion trend. When I see people who barely top 5' trying to ride a 29er because some bike magazine or industry cheerleader has convinced them that everyone needs a 29er, I just shake my head. Likewise, when I hear that many in the industry would be happy to let 26-in. wheels fade away because 27.5 and 29ers are "the future" (or some similar rubbish), I have to wonder how they plan to serve smaller riders properly.

On the other end of the scale, really large riders can also have difficulty finding a bike that truly fits them when the largest wheels available are 700c/29-in. (those are both ISO 622). Granted, building an extra-large frame around 622mm wheels should present fewer problems than trying to build an extra-small one on the same wheel size -- but it does present issues. Loss of triangulation (and therefore strength) in the frame can be one problem. Visually speaking, a humongous frame on small wheels can look a bit weird and out of proportion. But also consider that a big guy at 6' 6" probably carries a lot of extra weight, too, and think about how that weight is distributed or centered over such an unusually proportioned bike.

I know that Rivendell makes some of their models in gargantuan sizes. The A. Homer Hilsen, for example, can be ordered as large as a 71 cm frame! Grant Petersen designs his larger frames with an extra top tube to help add strength. Such designs might be a perfectly acceptable way to go - but to my mind, the larger-wheel concept seems to have a lot going for it.

DirtySixer has gotten some good testimonials and endorsements - including one from the NBRPA (National Basketball Retired Players Association), and retired NBA stars like Bill Walton and Shaquille O'Neal.

After looking over the information and the testimonials on the site, I have to say that for riders over about 6' 6" or so, this could be a welcome development -- assuming that rim and tire makers can keep them supplied. Looking for replacement tires could prove difficult as there aren't many choices out there (the aforementioned Coker tire offers a couple styles, but there isn't much else available), and it's doubtful that many local bike shops would have such tires in stock.

Now, if they really want to see the industry step up with more tire choices and availability, they'll have to push 36er as a hot new trend. Everybody should have one! Of course, if that happens, you'll be able to hear my dismayed groan from space.

I sometimes take to ridiculing bike startups on Kickstarter, pushing old ideas or pointless gadgets as something new and innovative. But I'm inclined to think that DirtySixer might be a worthwhile enterprise. I mean, bikes in these gargantuan proportions are never likely to represent more than just a fringe of the marketplace, so it's unlikely that many of the big bike companies are going to invest a lot into it. But for that small segment of the population who would benefit from such a thing, it would be cool to see the idea succeed.


  1. Steel framebuilders were and still are free to offer many different sizes (from 14 to 18). Mass manufacturers are lagging behind in this regard so badly that I even don't know where to start. Their XXL offerings can barely match 60 cm frame in traditional geometry, so even >185 cm tall rider with short torso, long legs and arms won't sit properly on such a contraption. That is another stone in the garden for modern state of the industry. You try to find big frame in stock if you're in the market for new bike.

    Just for example. That's me, dwarfing 60 cm frame, which fits me properly but sits on the utmost bottom of "it fits" paradigm. I'm 188 cm. Now, looking for at least 62 cm frame as my N+1 stable.

  2. Well, I do have long legs for my height.... ;-)

  3. I'd be curious how they arrived specifically at 36. Was it to leverage the marketing potential? Is it proportionally related to the other sizes, a steady progression? I will say that Shaq makes a good argument for a truss fork!

    1. That is a good question - how they arrived at 36. I cannot imagine there's much marketing potential to leverage, though, as bikes that large would be serve such a small slice of the pie -- and to make bikes for average-sized people with 36" wheels would just be really cumbersome and full of compromises. Coker's Monster Cruiser is the only other bike I'm aware of with 36" wheels, but I believe it's not intended specifically for huge riders, as it can be ridden by most average-sized people - so in their case, I think the wheel size is mostly novelty (I could be wrong, but that's how it's always appeared to me).

    2. unicycle wheels come in that size, which is what they use right now

    3. Marketing-wise, I was just thinking that a yard diameter was a bit like a footlong hot dog--the "leverage" comes merely from being able to refer to a larger unit of measurement. But if unicycle wheels come in that size, that's as good a reason as any.

  4. Thanks Brooks for your article. You covered very well the reasons for a proportionate wheel size adapted to the height of the rider.
    Why 36" ? Well because it existed and we were able to refine it.
    Tires: There are a few good tires, one made by VeeRubber that is bicycle specific and very good in the dirt. There are a few good others and some more are on their way.
    Ask me any questions about the DirtySixer. I'm based in Santa Cruz and can offer test rides to the interested (tall) customers.