Monday, 24 October 2011

29 Inch Wheels a MTB Necessity?

I'm going to be blunt here and put my opinion out there.  I don't like odd new trends. And the influx of 29 inch wheel mountain bikes is just that, an odd trend.  I notice with interest many of the blogs I follow (particularly) in the US that 29ers are on the rise.  In fact it was quoted recently in What Mountain Bike that 29 inch tyres are now outstripping 26 inch tyre sales.  This is quite a staggering statement when you think about it.  Baring in mind that the majority of mountain bikes are still 26 inches and cover a greater range of bikes in most manufacturers range.

But why the sudden influx of sales?  Is this a passing thing?   It would seem not, as 2012 would seem to be the real push with the 29er range with most bike manufacturers having one or more models that you can buy.  Wheels, tyres and spares are becoming more varied and accessible.  It looks like 29ers are at the front of serious bikers minds when they are considering their next purchase.

What I don't get is why.  Is it just natural curiosity or do people believe that this is the future.  Sadly, I think its a case of something new to buy syndrome, why bother getting a 26er again?  I wonder how many of those people actually stop and think whether there is a real need for them.  Arguments have been raging over its pros and cons; they role better when at speed, are more stable, verses their lack of agility and weight.  There appears no overall advantage to either, its just an alternative.  Its not like full suspension where there are obvious advantages.  Weight always went against Full sus but these days its becoming a very weak argument as they are so light these days.

There is nothing about them, that would even tempt me to buy one.  Not yet anyway.  For now they just look ridiculous, ungainly and ugly and I can't see any need for them in my twisty trails.  Manufacturers are still trying to get over the whole problems of geometry too, so its not even a very sorted concept if you ask me.  In some cases suspension is less to cope with the altered angles a bigger wheel has on the frame.

I've come to the conclusion that some people still think that 'bigger is better'.  After the years of working in shops with bikes you would not believe the amount of people who are only small trying to fit themselves on the biggest frame they can, as if they got something smaller they would be looked down on.  You can see this with people who buy cars or houses.  Its a child like thing that they 'must' be better, showing off their new big toys.  The only way I often made these people see sense was to a like it to buying new clothes and ask the question 'would you buy your clothes in xxxl when you where only a medium?'  No was always the answer.  Are big wheels a 'bigger is better' influence?

Would you buy a 29er when 26 do the job as well?  I guess that is up to you.  You may have gone and tested one and been impressed and inspired to buy one.  But take heed, take a new 26 wheel bike out, test a few in fact and tell me then whether its really worth the jump up in size.  Its all too easy to get giddy over something new and novel over what you already have and not be objective enough.

I suppose what ever happens I shall be seeing more on the trails in the next few years (not seen any out yet!) and if its still getting people out and making them grin then I will still count them as part of the biking family.  Just don't expect to see me following the crowd.



I am the only kid on the block who doesnt have a 29er. I think I was the last to get disc brakes too. From an Engineering point of view, they talk about approach angle and what not but I believe the real reason is everyone wants a new bicycle and going up to a bigger wheeled bike is just the excuse they need to justify it (to their friends and themselves). With that said, my next bike will be a 29er. But I will roll my eyes a little when I buy it.

It's just amazing how its caught on so much! In the UK they are still a rare item but then maybe we like things more compact?! As someone who still owns a hardtail I probably come across as a technophobe, but this is not the case. I think full sus is great I just like not having to maintain the pivots. That said I may get one for summer use and keep my hardtail for winter.
I guess fashion and being left out is something noone wants. It doesn't mean we have to like it. I'll probably be in your shoes in a few years time. I wonder if I'll be so dead against them then?!

Wins World Cup races though. Also, remember the reaction to 9 speed? V brakes? Discs? Full Sus? Change can be good.
Having ridden one, I can see the benefits on some terrain. Apart from tight techy stuff it is definately easier to ride. Was as quick on a rigid 29er on local trail as on my old 5" travel full sus. Whether that is useful to everyone is debateable, but you can't dismiss them entirely. That's the opinion of a guy who's newest bike is from 1999 btw!
Another thing is that a 6'2" guy like me probably looks more 'normal' on a 29er, finally not having to ride something that looks like a gate. 29ers in larger size look much more in proportion.
Will I get one? Maybe. I'm waiting for the geometry to finally settle down, and then I may take the plunge. Those carbon Niners look hot!

I am not quite sold on the concept either, even though I just started ridding one. The motivating factors for me was: Kulhavy winning most of the 2011 world cup season on one, all the guys in my race category who are beating me are ridding them as well, and there are also some amazing fast riders I respect a lot and they have all love their 29ers. So off I went and jumped into it. Thus far I have not noticed any improvement with "ease of rolling over stuff". I actually think it's quite awash since 26ers are much easier to be "light" on which also helps rolling over stuff. The biggest improvement is grip and traction. It's very noticeable. Steep climbs are much easier and fast turns require less braking. Other than that, most of the time, I miss my 26er...!

Cheers for the comments guys, you make some valid points for and against them. I'm going to over look guys winning on them as they'd probably win on standard size wheels! Got to say its a point I didn't stress on Matt but I agree if you are tall 29ers look better. Oh and I have to admit, the Niner range are some of the sweetest out there.
I've continued to watch you blog posts on your new bike with interest Syl. It's perhaps a shame that you've not fallen in love with it, despite it being a very nice bike.
I will hold out though until I'm convinced 29ers are technical advance rather the next must have. More gears, oversized bars, stems, headsets disc brakes have all made sense for the progress of the mtb. 29ers just seem like uneeded choice.

I was sponsored in 2010 by Singular; a UK based company that primarily makes 29'ers.
I got into the larger format in 2007 when I saw a complete bike for sale at a ridiculously low price. I figured if I didn't like it I could resell it for more than I paid. At first I didn't really notice too much difference, but when I went back to 26" wheels a month later I couldn't believe how much I was getting hung up on rocks and roots.
I was not exactly open minded about 29'ers either; I'm 5'7" (on a good day!), and the trails I ride are tight, twisty, and technical. I was sure they wouldn't work for me.
The point about Kulhavy winning the World Cup is that was one of the key points critics had with 29'ers; Sure regional Pro riders can do well in the States, but what are they riding and winning with at the World Cup? The argument goes both ways.

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