I test rode a 29er on my usual single track a few days ago. The trails are described as ideal for a 29er: medium to fast rolling with an average number of roots and very few climbs (the verdict is in on climbing – 26 kills it). So I got the “between the wheels” feel right away. It is in fact like sitting between two giant wheels. Momentum was indeed very good. Rolled over stuff smoothly. Too smooth. Felt like I was cheating the trail. Until I hit a tight switchback, then it felt like I was going to fall over without some acrobatic handling.
So all in all the 29er was exactly what people claimed it would be. And I HATED it. Just like the 29er fan base is going to hate this… The very first thing I thought was, this is a great solution for anyone who can’t ride worth a shit. If you don’t want to feel the trails, could care less about handling, become an even worse climber then a 29er is for you. Need some help because you suck and get rattled easily? Get a 29er. Meanwhile my 42 year old ass will be going past your expensive, now standard, bike shop justification.
Some bike shop goons have told me that if I’m really as good as my ego claims on a 26er then a 29er will just make me better. That riding a 26 looks like I’m riding a kids bike. Well to me the damn 29ers remind me of a mountain biker bringing a 26er to a BMX track. Doesn’t quite seem made for the job. Europeans, most of whom I’ve met and rode with generally seem a little less influenced by marketing, realize the incompatibility and limitations of the 29er feel and handling even with manufacturers working so hard on the geometry. The 29er is a “rolling ride”. To shred you must get the front wheel off the ground. They roll over the roots and 9″ logs. On my 26 I will clear them with zero interference to my flow and little speed reduction.
For really big guys, like 6′ 3″ and taller, I can see the lure of the 29er. You might be tall enough to handle a frame size that will equate the geometry and handling to a 26. At 5′ 10.5″ and 163 lbs. I am certain I do not fall into this category. I am one of those who struggles with the geometry.
So what about the numerous podium finishes in the US on 29ers and the fact that they are being adopted everywhere on the US circuit? My theory is that a good rider can train to ride anything for the right contract. I have no such monetary influence forcing me to struggle to reproduce my working style on clown wheels.
Now the 650b…. hmmmmm. Here we may be on to something. As soon as a few more companies than Jamis have them readily available I will see if there is any real benefit to this middle ground. They are steadily being adopted in Europe where, truth be told, the best, fastest riders in the world still compete.
The full suspension 29er has got to be a joke right? Very few are going to have the mad skills necessary to keep from killing themselves on the clown wheels on the downhill. I just have to laugh at the manufacturers for this insult to the market. Mark this old mans words kids: If you’re riding a full suspension 29er on rolling single track you are the joke.