It seems everyone is jumping on the 29er bandwagon. The big wheel bikes are flying ‘off the shelves’ and it seems just about everyone you talk to is upgrading (or would like to upgrade) their bikes to join the ranks. So what exactly is the big deal?
- By Neil Gardiner, Ron Koch
A couple of years ago, mountain bikes with 29-inch wheels (instead of 26) topped the ‘freak bike’ category. That changed when designers created big-wheel-specific components with modern tech, making larger-wheel machines that were stiff and light enough to gain a foothold in the cross country and trail-bike categories. Bike manufacturers also refined geometry and made strides in handling (common 29er beefs have included sluggish cornering and slower acceleration due to increased inertia).
The bigger wheels have three main advantages: better traction, increased stability and greater ability to roll over obstacles. You can ride trails that would normally rattle your fillings on a standard hardtail with more comfort and control. In fact, 29ers are so smooth it’s not uncommon to see fully rigid models. Cross country racers have embraced them, and as a result companies are making 29er components lighter, stiffer and higher-performing than before. According to Burry Stander, “Whatever the hype, or what anyone says, everyone will be faster on a 29er”.
2012 has seen the big-footed craze expanding into dual suspension ranges. The weight factor of bigger hoops has been more or less addressed, but there is still the issue of extended wheelbases and unsuitable linkages causing the dualies to be unwieldy. The thing is, even the raciest 29er full sussers double as pretty capable trail bikes, with the extra stability and grip. So any maker who has not bred a full on race machine may have spawned a runt. All said, hardcore thrill seekers will still opt for a 26″ bike.
Stage racers beware. If you’re looking for a 29er to conquer a multiday event, bear in mind that the larger wheels need smaller gears. Some races, especially those in the Western Cape, feature steep, loose climbs, so unless you’re Kevin Evans, expect some hurting if you’re on a 2×10 ratio, stuck in 28×34. Look to SRAM’s XO cranks for a 24-tooth ring compatibility, or opt for a triple.
What does all this mean for you? For growing numbers of riders of all sizes, the positives of 29-inch-wheels outweigh the negatives. If you find the standard mountain bike twitchy and unforgiving, test-ride a 29er – you might join the crowd finding out that bigger really is better.
And just when you are getting to grips with 29er, along comes 27.5. (Also knows as 650b)