29ers - AR bike of the future?
If, despite all your best efforts at hinting around to your significant other, there was not a shiny new bicycle under the Christmas tree this week, you may be thinking it's time to take matters into your own hands...
If that's the case, consider this:
A mountain bike with 29" instead of 26" wheels.
When the first mountain bikes were built 26" wheels and tires were in good supply. Early builders chose to work with what was available. As the mountain bike industry has grown, few have taken the time to ask whether 26" wheels are in fact the ideal size.
Over the last few years many builders have began producing bikes designed around a 29" wheel. They essentially use a 700c mountain bike rim, the same diameter as a road bike rim, to build the wheels. In many situations, a 29" wheel is better than a 26". The wheels roll over obstacles faster and smoother. Bigger wheels make obstacles smaller by creating a lower angle of attack. In mud and sand, the Two Niner doesn't sink as much as a 26" wheel. The larger wheel size also creates a longer contact patch which results in improved traction.
The large diameter wheels give Two-Niner bikes the speed and stability of a road bike while allowing for more surface area covered with each push of the pedal, making it more efficient then 26" bikes. Miles drift by effortlessly as the Two-Niner cruises smoothly over the most difficult terrain. The common 700c diameter rim is the same diameter as a road bike wheel. This makes it very easy for a rider to switch tires and transform their mountain bike into an efficient urban commuter or touring bike. This makes the Two-Niner very versatile.
A Pepperdine university study* found that riders on a 29" bike were 4% faster uphill and 3% faster x-country than the same riders on comparable 26" bikes.
I got my first look at a Gary Fisher X-Caliber 29" when shopping for a replacement bike for my worn out Voodoo Hoodoo. Although I had been considering a full suspension bike, the salesman tried to steer me to a cyclocross bike after learning out the percentage of adventure racing that is done on dirt, gravel and hardpack. I had seen a few cyclocross bikes at races and talked to the riders, who swore by them, but after looking at the actual bikes themselves, was not all that impressed. They just looked like road bikes with fatter and disc brakes. They looked like they would break within the first hour of hard riding.
Noticing my disdainful look, the salesman steered me to the Twenty Niners. It was definitely beefier and just looked like a huge honkin' MTB. I'm hard on gear, so I liked that, and I could see as how it would definitely be faster when riding on fire roads, but was dubious as to whether it could handle the 'technical' stuff. We arranged for a test ride at a local trail the following week.
It definitely felt funny at first, perched way up on top of this huge thing, but as it turns out, even though it feels like you're sitting up really high, your relative center of gravity is actually lower, and it is more stable.
I headed down the path and took aim at a medium sized log laying across the trail. I knew that the 29ers were supposed to be better at going over obstacles, and wanted to see how it worked...nothing but a little tiny bu-bump! I hit another, and another even bigger log. I starting hitting them without making any effort whatsoever to lift my front wheel - pow pow pow - it was like riding over it with a dirt bike (albeit one with a very puny engine).
Next came a short steep hill - one that I sometimes couldn't get to the top of if I didn't hit it just right. Here's where I started to be really amazed. I had noticed on the first few logs I crossed that the front wheel is a lot hard to get off the ground than on my 26er, but as I mentioned, it wasn't really necessary as the bike just seemed to power up and over everything I could find. The front wheel's resistance to coming off the ground also means that weight shift is not nearly as crucial on uphills. Normally if you sit too far back on a steep uphill, the front wheel comes off the ground, so you have to sit far enough forward to keep it on the ground, but not so far forward that you start to spin your rear tire. With a 29ers, the front wheel doesn't want to lift, so you can sit way back and really dig that rear wheel in for a lot of traction.
I was concerned when I got to some tight, twisty stuff, because this felt like a huge bike and I just didn't see how it could be as maneuverable as a 26er. Well it wasn't any worse, I suppose due to the higher relative center of gravity. It was also better in 'stop & go' due to the fact that it is so much harder to spin the larger diameter tires.
Of course I was late getting the bike back to the demo tent, but they weren't too upset when I told them to call the store and put a medium sized frame on hold for me ($1149 out the door). The downside was that when I stopped at home to get my wallet, my wife heard me raving about this new 'superbike' and so we had to get her one too. I sustained some serious injuries that weekend trying to see just how big of a log I could ride over and I was seriously concerned that this bike is so good that I would lose all my technical skills (all two of them...), but the thing is, I liked riding it so much that I rode more in the month after I got the bike than I have in the entire year before it, and no matter how you look at it, the more you ride, the better you get.
I rode it for the rest of the summer, in all kinds of conditions and must say that I am very pleased with my choice. And oh yeah - about my original reason for getting it...riding on roads and hardpack...let's just say that when I lock that Reba front fork out and put the pedal to the metal, not a single one of the neighborhood kids can catch me.
The weather's crappy here in Ohio right now and I don't like to get my road bike out in this slop, so I've but some 35X700c WTB Slickosarus' on my Twenty Niner and turned it into an 'urban assault bike' for my winter training. Once again...more riding = more fun = more fitness...well, if you consider -15° windchill fun, that is.
Selected Twenty Nine Inch MTB resources
Brad says the only thing he needs now is a better 'motor'