12.12.11. Dirt Magazine 29ers PIC © Andy Lloyd
12.12.11. Dirt Magazine 29ers PIC © Andy Lloyd

December 2011 can officially go down in the record books as ‘UK 29er Media Frenzy’ month. Website stories, texts, phone calls, Twitter posts…it was all kicking off...

From Dirt Issue 120 - February 2012


Words by Mike Rose. Photos by Andy Lloyd.

And what sparked it all? The fact that our chief bike tester Steve Jones said that (in some circumstances) he could go faster on a 29" wheeled bike than he could on a 26". It was as if someone had said that the world wasn’t flat. Such was the interest and outrage that some of us didn’t know whether we were coming or going. More and more 29" wheeled bikes starting turning up at the office door, distributors sending their lambs to the slaughter…but instead of blood being shed these lambs were treated well, welcomed into the fold (with caution by some).

There has been so much talk, and there is evidence out there that I have gone on record as saying that we would never feature 29" wheeled bikes here in Dirt, but here we are, a new dawn, an epiphany…or just the fact that Jones likes them?

The whole 29er thing has been around for a long time now, Gary Fisher was making them 10 years ago, and if I remember correctly when I was young people used to ride off–road on racer bikes with cow horn bars, some people called them trackers. So the ‘big wheel’ has been around for some time, but it is only now that it seems to have come (partially) onto the Dirt radar. We have had the odd one in the mag before (a Trek 69er I remember) but nothing more. And we are talking short travel here, the big hitters are still firmly rooted to 26"…or are they?

Just for the record, I don’t really know where I stand with regards to 29" wheeled bikes. The problem is that for me, and I’m sure many others, this is not just an extra three inches, this is a wholesale cultural shift. It is not just a new bike, it is changing a way of life. Melodramatic? Maybe. But a mountainbike to me has 26" wheels (at the moment). The cynic in me just says that this is all just made up by marketers to sell us yet more bikes and parts…but then people keep coming into the office and telling me how good they are.

Confused. Some bike brands will always want to push new standards and create obsolescence, but I hope that we can get to a point where stuff just works and doesn’t need to be endlessly tweaked, maintained or reinvented. Or is that naïve of me? Just because we can, does that mean that we should? For now I am very happy to sit in the fence on this one.

I once thought that 29er’s were the dumbing down of mountainbiking? Taking a hammer to crack a nut, now I’m not so sure. When tapes took over from vinyl I wasn’t sure then either, but then there was the move to CD, then to downloads, but lets not forget the mini disc in between all that, those things were hailed as the next big thing only for them to flop. Talking of flopping, lets not mention the strength of 29er wheels at the moment hey! And don’t get me started on 650b. I need to sleep on this one.