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Are 29″ bikes right? | The Question

From Dirt Issue 105 – November 2010

OK, so 29″ bikes have been around for a while now, but there suddenly (especially in American) seems to be more and more support and enthusiasm for them. But are they right? Of course in some circumstances they will ride better than 26” wheeled bikes, in others not. But I just can’t help thinking that…well…it’s just not the done thing.

So, are 29″ bikes bikes right?

DICKON HEPWORTH – MD JUNGLE PRODUCTS

Undoubtedly a lot of people think not. Pretty much everyone who have ridden a well designed 29’er with decent geometry think they are right…very right. In fact they get slightly evangelical about them – ask Seb Kemp and Syndicate team riders Josh Bryceland, Steve Peat, Greg Minnaar about theirs. There’s also a lot of bad 29’ers out there, by which I mean geometry wise. Manufacturers are getting it right now as demand increases, but early 29’ers were mostly awful handling barges. That puts people off.

Riding a recent 29’er with sorted geometry/frame design is a whole different ball game. You can’t just shove bigger wheels on a frame and expect it to feel good – head angle, chainstay length, wheelbase, etc. all need to be re–jigged. More accessible carbon manufacturing has helped a great deal in allowing frames to be shaped more easily to accommodate these changes. And from an aesthetics point of view, (which is still important right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be asking this question!) 29’ers are also looking more ‘normal’, even for the more vertically challenged out there.

As you have pointed out the main thing is to remember is that in some areas they ride better, and in others not as well. So it comes down to your set of circumstances – what type of riding do you do, on what terrain – and even what style. They are very right for a lot of people. The majority of riders who have an issue with 29’ers have never ridden one. So quit forming opinions on stuff you’ve never experienced and go ride one. If you still don’t like it then that’s cool. But you might just find that you do.

CY TURNER – OWNER/MAIN MAN AT COTIC BIKES

I think now fork makers are doing proper offset 29er forks so frames can be designed to handle well, they’re right for some people and types of riding. For technical riding, jumping or slopestyle where strength, wheel stiffness, weight distribution and frame packaging are paramount, I don’t think they’re up to much as they require compromise in all of those areas compared to 26″ wheels.
However, for trail riding and XC racing – particularly if you’re over 6ft tall and especially if you’re 6ft 5in+ – they offer advantages in comfort and rolling resistance and the compromises in frame packaging and weight distribution like long chainstays become advantages for taller guys. It’s horses for courses basically. If people are using them to get out and enjoy riding bikes, I couldn’t care less what size wheels they have.

For Cotic, I am looking at a 29er. This has been largely driven by picking up distribution in the USA and Germany where they’re mad for them. It’ll be a frame similar in concept to the Soul, but based around running between 80 and 120mm 29er forks, in place of 100–140 on the Soul. First prototypes are ordered, and I have to say that being 6ft 3in, the one in my size is looking pretty nice. Whether I’ve hit it right and whether I like it remains to be seen, but it is something I’m actively working on.

NICK LARSEN – HEAD HONCHO AT CHARGE BIKES

Well the thing is…when I first saw some 29ers coming off the production line in a factory that I was checking out in Asia nearly five years ago I thought that I’d better give it ago, to see if it was something that Charge should be getting into. I eventually got riding on 29″ wheels in early 2007, and try as I might, I really couldn’t see the appeal. On the tight, twisty stuff it felt like a boat compared to my 26″ wheeled bike, and despite persevering, the only advantages I could find were when riding the boat on fire roads and less technical tracks…where it was undoubtable that the 29er both carried speed and momentum better and rolled over the rough stuff easier. However it’s the more technical and tight tracks that I actually crave, seek out and have the fun on, so to have a bike that I felt was not so good on those tracks, was not something I was after. Who cares about going faster on the boring stuff? Basically these bikes were in fact fat tyred, flat barred cyclocross bikes. I could just not see a need.

Anyway fast forward to 2010 and now more companies are making them and more people are singing their praises. There are better tyres, RockShox are doing forks and they are no longer a ‘freak’ category. So I am sat here asking myself should I look at them again? Was the geometry of the bikes I rode back then kooky? Will they ride better with good forks and better tyres (which should make a massive difference in theory)? And the biggest question that I have asked recently is that was I actually going slower through the tech tracks or did it just feel slower? And if that was the case then could I actually have gone faster on a 29er than a 26″ bike?
Over the years I have written many replies to Charge public email enquiries saying that we’d not be making a 29er “either now or in the near future”, but now I am not so sure. Testing has begun again, and my mind is more open that it was 3 years ago.
Never say never.

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