At the 2016 Sea Otter Classic, we couldn’t walk into a booth without tripping over a new plus bike. For a brief moment, it seemed plus tires (2.8″-3.2″) would relegate “normal” width tires to the trash heap of mountain bike history. But as we all know, hype doesn’t always accurately reflect reality. I for one, felt pretty “meh” about the early plus bikes because most I tested were awkward, cumbersome, and frequently hamstrung by lackluster tires. There were, however, a couple standouts, namely the Ibis Mojo 3 and the Rocky Mountain Pipeline.
No new product is perfect though; manufacturers continue to work on improving frame geometries, and tires continue to get better too.
When we returned to Sea Otter in April of 2017, we noticed a distinct lack of new plus bikes. E-bikes and slightly-less-plus 2.6″ tires had shoved plus bikes out of the limelight and off the stage. But again, a trade show isn’t necessarily indicative of the market as a whole. With that in mind, we asked our readers about plus bike ownership as part of our annual gear survey.
In 2016, we published a lengthy infographic all about plus bikes and tires. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out below. Our results show that, at the time, just 4% of our readers were riding plus bikes. A little over a year later, the proportion of riders on plus bikes increased dramatically to 20.1%. Around 4% of respondents are riding a bike they converted to run plus tires, likely a 29er to 27.5+ conversion.
Most surprising, however, is the fact that nearly 16% of our readers are riding a dedicated plus bike. Considering plus bikes have only been widely available for about a year, that’s rapid adoption.
Two percent of respondents weren’t sure if they had a plus bike or not which is completely understandable. Plus is an admittedly mushy term, but basically it covers tires from 2.8″ to 3.2″. At least 2% of you don’t know — or care — what size tires your bike runs.
Of course, that leaves 77% of respondents who are not riding plus bikes.
Alright, time for some predictions. Will the rate of plus bike adoption continue apace? My gut tells me probably not. For one, we aren’t seeing companies debut the sheer quantity of plus bikes that they did just a year ago. After a couple seasons of cooling off, 29ers — especially long-travel bikes — are back en vogue. Although how long that will last is anyone’s guess. That said, there are plenty of companies offering plus builds or at least plus compatibility on their bikes. Thanks to Boost spacing, which increased tire clearance on frames and forks, a 27.5+ tire will fit just about any new 29er frame today.
Anecdotally, from conversations with people in the business, plus bike adoption is somewhat regional. Our data for last year’s infographic didn’t bear out any regional bias, but we collected that data at the beginning of the trend. Similar to fat bikes, plus bikes excel in certain terrains and not in others. With a narrow range of applications, plus bikes will eventually saturate those markets. Everyone who wants and can afford one, will have a plus bike.
And finally, the emergence of 2.6″ tires looks to halt further plus adoption. This crop of tires offer increased traction and better damping compared to 2.3″ tires, but do so at a lower weight than a 2.8″ or 3.0″ tire. The 2.6s are also more likely to fit on a 27.5″ trail bike, where the taller and wider 2.8s might not.
To clarify, I don’t think plus tires are going anywhere. They offer some distinct benefits and more importantly, people like riding them because they’re fun. But far from taking over, plus tires are just another option on the overstuffed mountain biking menu.