The Founder of 36Pollici Talks Challenges, Advantages of 36-inch MTB Wheels and Bikes

Luca is exploring the advantages of 36-inch mountain bike wheels through his bike brand, 36Pollici, while solving problems along the way.

Pollici is the Italian word for inches, and it also means thumbs because that’s how logical the imperial measuring system gets. The folks at 36Pollici are working to be the first producer of a full-carbon-fiber 36-inch-wheeled mountain bike, and we hope to get more than our thumbs on it in the near future. There are a few other 36ers available today, but the massive frames are quite heavy, which is where the carbon option from 36Pollici may have an edge. I spoke for an hour with Luca, the founder of 36Pollici, over the phone in Italian, and here’s what I learned.

Before digging into any possible advantages of these massive wheels, let’s consider some potential challenges for the brand and the platform. The number one hurdle with this new wheel size is that there are virtually no existing components to build it with. Apart from some beach cruisers, all 36er bikes out there use the same tires from Vee Tire Co, and the tread is decidedly XC-focused. Only a few brands make rims this large, and 36Pollici had to ask the team at Bright Racing Shocks to make a rigid aluminum fork to fit. Similar to when 29ers were first being produced, it may take a minute for components to catch up if this wheel size rolls into the future. Finally, there are no standard alloy or steel tubes long enough for this bike, so those also have to be sourced and designed around proper ride characteristics and durability. With the carbon bikes, this should be less of an issue.

In addition to the build, there are some important geometry considerations with these larger diameter wheels. For starters, the rider can’t be perched higher off the ground, as that would cause the bike to handle poorly and make for awkward dismounts, so the bottom bracket height needs to be roughly the same as with any other wheel size. In order to make the low BB possible and wrap the tubes around these massive tires the frame’s seat tube has to be fairly long — which precludes the use of a dropper post for most riders. The chain stays also have to be fairly long to accommodate that massive diameter which will certainly affect how playful the bike can feel. The reach looks to be short enough that there is likely toe overlap with the front wheel, which was also an issue with the first 29ers before frame designers started stretching the front triangle and slackening the head tube to bring that tire away from the rider’s feet.

These enthusiastic frame engineers will need to dig deep into their creative cave to sort out pivot placement if they ever want to give this thing some squish. There’s very little space for forward movement at the rear-wheel, and the headtube is already about as short as it can get with a tapered steerer tube — leaving little space for linear telescoping suspension. A linkage fork could possibly work if it doesn’t travel rearward. While these frame nuances aren’t deal-breakers by any means they may relegate the bike to a narrower style of riding on smoother trails or gravel.

Knowing these challenges, the folks at 36Pollici have pushed on, believing in the possibilities of their carbon wagon platform. Not all inventions are born of need, and this one seems to be coming more from curiosity and passion, which is certainly admirable. Their first frame iterations were made of aluminum with carbon seat and chain stays, but those bikes weighed too much for their given intentions. They have since laser-focused on a featherweight monocoque carbon frame and will also make a steel option in the near future.

During the design phase, they were able to cut roughly 100mm from the chainstay length, making the bike more maneuverable with each prototype. The first bikes, with carbon rear ends and alloy front triangles weighed 14 to 15 kilos (30-33lb) fully built. With the means in place to make a carbon frame in Italy, and the lightest parts possible, they were able to cut the bike weight down to 12.3kg (~27lb). For reference, Nino Schurter’s full suspension 29″ race bike weighs a reported 10.58kg (23.3lb) No one said this was meant to be a race bike, but that’s quite a difference. Part of that weight discrepancy is in the tires, with each of them weighing roughly 1,200g despite their XC puncture protection and tread pattern. The 36Pollici team is working to design a tire of their own to work better with the desired use of their frame and hopefully expand its possible use cases.

Platform upshots for the 36er are fairly straightforward: the bike has a better roll-over characteristic to smooth out the trail, and a larger traction patch to grip the earth. These are the same advantages we saw with 29ers, now super-sized. Some of the folks who have reviewed this bike so far said they didn’t notice that it was rigid because the massive tire circumference makes trail obstacles feel so much smaller. Once rolling, those large hoops should also create the sensation that they will keep spinning fairly fast, somewhat reducing the drag-sense from the tire’s added weight.

For now, the 36er will come in one size to fit most. One of the founders is 5’9″ tall, and he says the bike fits him perfectly and will work well for someone far taller. He also mentioned that with the BB so far below the hubs you truly feel like you’re riding in the bike rather than on it. This clearly follows the story arc of taking 29er advantages and augmenting them.

36Pollici says that one reviewer who raced the bike in a local Grand Fondo was super impressed by how smooth the ride feels without suspension, as the long tubes and spokes offer a good amount of forgiveness. That same rider also mentioned a bit of lateral flex in the rear triangle, which is something the engineering team is currently working to stiffen up.

In summation, there are several challenges to move this project forward, and we look forward to seeing how it shapes up. 36Pollici plans to start selling bikes early in the 2022 season, and hopefully, they will have one to send over for review.