There is a new category of bike being pushed now that I find interesting for several reasons. Based upon 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes, these bikes are meant for a different rider than the typical 29″er rider.

A 2010 Fisher Bikes Montare “Dual Sport” bicycle.

Whoops! Did I say this was a “new” category of bike? Well, that really isn’t true if you consider that Gary Fisher Bikes has been doing their “Dual Sport” models for several years now. In fact, it was the Dual Sport line that pretty much revived the 29″er line up at that company, whose 29″er bike line was on “life support” in 2003 and in danger of being axed from the line up. I would submit that this is a “new” category when you consider that now, in 2010, Gary Fisher Bikes isn’t the only company that is doing such a bike. While not called “Dual Sport” bikes by other companies, these bikes are clear in their intent for riders. (Editor’s Note: I had originally written this piece before the news last week that Gary Fisher Bikes as a brand is no more. The Dual Sport bikes will now be found at Trek retailers under the “Gary Fisher Collection” moniker for 2011 and beyond.)

Marin’s Point Reyes 29″er.

These bikes are billed as the “one bike that does it all” bike for consumers who are looking for a bicycle to cover their urban/commuter/bike path needs while being capable on off road terrain as well. Okay…….maybe not “capable” in terms of the full on 29″er freak, but certainly able to cover multiple types of terrain reasonably well. But hold on a minute! haven’t we been down this trail before? I think that in a way, there is a bit of “deja-vu” when it comes to these bicycles that I like to call, “29”er lite”. Not really full on 29 inch wheeled mountain bikes, but bicycles based off of 29″er design and bent to a multi-purpose application. Kind of like what happened in the early 90’s in many ways.

Back then, the mountain bike was taking cycling by storm. The problem was that at that same time, the designs companies were rolling out for mountain bikes were getting more and more performance/NORBA influenced which left a lot of average cyclists wanting something not quite so aggressively set up. These folks were into the idea of recreational, multi-terrain bicycles that could be used to go on rides in the city to rides in the woods, and anywhere in between. Cue the entrance of 700c wheel based bicycles with flat bars, mountain bike components, and a more relaxed geometry than what was found on the typical road bike of the day. There were several designs based upon this idea, and some were even more mountain bike than pavement oriented, (most notably the Diamond Back Overdrive), but they were not well understood. Dubbed “hybrid” bikes by the industry, these eventually became more and more pavement oriented bikes, losing any semblance of off road-ability that they once had.

Raleigh’s Misceo 2.0.

Now we are seeing a re-emergence of this idea for a bicycle that can be a “go anywhere-do anything” bike for the masses. 29″er freaks and “niche-chasers” need not apply, but the average citizen who has a taste for some adventure while wanting a practical machine may find something appealing here. Does it make sense? I don’t know. From having worked in a bicycle shop myself all these years now, I can say that there are a lot of customers I have come into contact with that could certainly use a bike that could cover the multi-terrain card. Seeing pavement bikes in my work stand clogged with mud and grass is one clue, to be sure! Having a vast network of back roads and crushed rock roads is another. Perhaps city dwellers with rough streets and a penchant for the unbeaten track will see these as a way to solve the problem, that used to take two bikes, with one bike.

It will be interesting to watch this category in the future. Fisher has had great success with their “Dual Sport” models, so perhaps the rest of the industry will too. It may be that these “29”er Lite” bikes might just be the answer to many cyclists needs, and then again, it may end up being a “jack of all trades” bike that isn’t measuring up to expectations of off road performance while being light and nimble enough for urban duties. At any rate, it is a category that may end up being a catalyst for parts and accessories that will find their way on to less expensive 29″ers for off road at a more reasonable price than we see from most companies.