Why ride a 29″er?
This might seem like an odd question for this site and especially in 2008 when it would seem that a 29″er is an “obvious” option for any mountain biker these days. I would submit to you that if you are already on board with the 29″er as a bike for off road, this might seem as if it is the case, but there are a lot of folks still looking at 29″ers for the first time. To those who are new to the idea of a 29″er, I paraphrase a popular adult beverage tag line: This post is for you.
The most commonly heard attribute of 29″ers is their ability to roll over trail obstacles with less drama than smaller wheels do. While this is certainly true, it is far from the only thing going on with 29 inch wheels. Here I will briefly lay out the advantages for those who are curious.
Better Roll Over: Okay, lets get this out of the way right off the bat. 29″ers have a different “angle of attack” in relation to trail obstacles you might encounter. This realizes itself to riders as a smoother feel. Sometimes it negates the need for front suspension for some trail riders, thus the plethora of rigid front forks on big wheelers. It is also interesting to note that what is good for the front wheel is also good for the rear wheel.
Better Traction: 29″ers, by the nature of the diameter of the wheel, have a differently shaped contact patch than 26″ers do. (Some would argue that it is a bigger contact patch) However it really is, it is obvious that a 29″er has an ability to claw it’s way up steeps and technical climbs that smaller diameter wheels can not match. This is aided by the following attribute…………
Better Momentum Conservation: One of the oft overlooked characteristics of 29 inch wheels is their propensity for carrying momentum better than smaller wheel sizes do. This helps in clearing climbs, but it also causes 29″ers to be a bit tougher to get going from a slow speed, or stopped situation. If a 29″er rider can learn to work with the momentum factor of 29″ers, it can become one of your greater allies. Less braking is necessary due to the stability and better traction of 29 inch wheels. So if you can learn to trust that, the momentum saved can be a big benefit. Smaller wheels tend to not have any of these traits in the amount that 29″ers do, so using momentum with smaller wheel sizes doesn’t work nearly as well.
Gyroscopic Effect While this is very closely related to the above mentioned benefit, I broke it out because this is the one thing that makes 29″ers seem so “safe” when downhilling, or while attacking technical terrain. A 29 inch wheel by its very nature will want to stay upright better than a smaller wheel will. This can work for you not only in high speed down hills, but in slower technical terrain as well. It is one of the reasons why many taller riders feel that the 29″er bike is less likely to “endo” than smaller wheeled bikes.
Loose Terrain Traversing/Traction There is a reason why early 29″er pioneers were winning mud bog contests and crossing sandy desert terrain better than their 26″er brethren were. The wheels seem to really excell at crossing loose sand, mud, and even snow. This is a direct result of many of the above mentioned benefits working in concert with each other, but is remarkable, so I mentioned it as a stand alone trait.
Geometry Quirks The positioning of critical frame elements on 29″ers results in a lower center of gravity in relation to the axles for the rider. This also results in a more stable feeling in corners and a less “endo” prone ride for riders choosing 29 inch wheels. It is also worth mentioning that the mere existence of 29″er steering conundrums has opened up a whole new facet for riders of 29 inch wheeled bikes, namely the ability to tune the steering characteristics of your ride.
There are many riders that hop aboard a 29″er and just decide that it works, others take awhile to “warm up” to them, while others find out it just isn’t their cup of tea. Hopefully this brief list will help you to decide whether a 29″er is for you or not. But really, the best thing is to just go out and try one for yourself and see.