It’s pretty clear- 29ers are here to stay. Not just a fad, the big wheels of the 29er have evolved from being a side show curiosity to a standard tool for discriminating XC and endurance trail riders for some time now. I was a holdout for some time, but eventually came around as well, with the recent acquisition of my first personal 29″ wheeled steed, the Wolfhound Retrosled. Try hanging on a group XC ride with some lycra-clad XC hammer-heads on their 29″ steeds sometime, and you’ll see for yourself that the larger wheels have the ability to move quite swiftly. Having spent some time my personal 29er, I’ve found that cranking out laps at our local XC spot seem to go faster than my high-zoot 26″ wheeled titanium ride of years past with the same amount of effort, even with my fully rigid set up.
However, I didn’t exactly jump into the 29″ waters right away. I had the opportunity to try out a few 29″ rigs before choosing to go with the bigger wheels for a custom XC bike. The first time was during a trip through southern California, when I joined MBA alumni Richard Cunningham on a ride on his local turf. Not only did I get a guided tour of a sweet trail, but RC convinced me to try it on one of the many bikes populating his garage- Niner bike’s WFO.
It was my first time on a real trail ride with a 29er, and I was fairly impressed. Corning the bigger wheels took a bit of getting used to, but I was having a good time on it, on a fun trail I hadn’t ridden before. The biggest drawback for me at the time was a bit of toe overlap with the front tire; however, this could partially be attributed to the fact I was running platform pedals. However, the ride was convincing enough that I was ready to give the big wheels another try.
The next 29er I had the opportunity to throw a leg over was the Fisher Rumblefish, a few months later. Somehow I managed to get a paid gig shooting photos of myself riding it for Trek/ Fisher. At the time I wasn’t yet sold on the big wheels, so my attitude was something like, “sure, send me a bike, and I’ll get it done.”
After I got the bike I took it out to the local river front trails in Edmonton, Alberta. Seeking out the rootiest sections of trail I could find, I did my best foot out-flat out drifts through every turn I could find, and banged it over every obstacle on the trail.
At the time I was still unconvinced that I’d like rolling on the larger wheels. When I’m out riding, I live for the descents, and my favorite experiences on the trail involved jumps and turns— 29ers are not known for their prowess at either of those. However, the Rumblefish handled everything I could dish at it solidly. I even found it to corner reasonably well, and I was pretty comfortable on the bike right away. I also didn’t have any issues with toe overlap this time around. (I was clipped in for the record) Although I wouldn’t want it as the all arounder in my quiver, I began thinking that as a dedicated XC machine, it might just be the way to go- especially for a hardtail.
It turns out that I really like the big wheels on the hardtail. With fast rolling Kenda Small Block Eight treads, it hauls on the hardpack. However, that doesn’t mean I want to take it to the jump park.
Of course, there’s always going to be the guy that has to take it to the next level, and ride the crap out of it. Take this clip, which just hit the net recently:
I totally dug this edit. The guys at Oak Bay made their point soundly- you can rip on a 29er. Maybe though, we should be more specific- Andrew Sherry can rip on a 29er. However, while it is clearly possible one can shred a 29er, but a good rider can rip it on anything. Sh*tbike, anyone? Or consider the trend in fixed gear freestyle- they’re basically BMX bikes now, but with no stand over whatsoever, and overbuilt road bike wheels… the same size as the wheels on a 29er! (hmmm…)
No matter what your mindset is regarding the big wheels, it is obvious 29ers are here to stay. It does what it does, and does it pretty well. If I was to ever get back into XC racing, there is no question I’d choose the 29″ wheeled platform.
For me, picking the big wheels from the quiver for the day’s ride signifies intent- 29=XC, and that means it’s hammer time, and I’m headed out to stomp out long miles of mellow trail. On days like this, I’m not out to rip turns, but to sweat.
I’ve owned bikes with almost every wheel size at this point, and the reality is that each one does something well, and is better for that purpose. 20″ BMX bikes spin and are super easy to maneuver. 24″ are fun and great on the track, and a nice compromise between 20″ and 26″. 26″ wheels are still my favorite, and are the do-it-all challengers. 700c gets you there the fastest from point A to B for the road. That leaves its dirty cousin the 29er as the road bike of the dirt.
And if you’re a new rider to the sport? That’s up to you, friend. Pick your wheel size based on the trail experience you’re looking for. If you are like we were, you’ll find that it always changes, and there isn’t one bike that does it all exactly the way we want it. Eventually, you’ll end up with a solid quiver to choose from. However, if I was only going to have one bike? I’m all about the all mountain.