There is often much debate in the comments section whenever I post about “long travel” 29″ers. Do we really need them? What is “long travel” on a 29″er, and will it even work? These are the sort of things that have been brought up and all are legitimate questions concerning full suspension and 29″ers. This post will attempt to take the concept apart and see if we can find out just where this whole 29″er full suspension thing is going to.
The Roll Over Effect: First of all, one of 29 inch wheels defining attributes is the ability to roll up and over trail obstacles with an ease that smaller wheels can not match. This has been one of the reasons many have caught the big wheeled fever and have never looked back. Some have argued that a smaller amount, or no suspension at at all is necessary on a 29″er for their local trails and riding styles. Whatever the case may be for you, it is probably a universally agreed upon idea that 29″ers are smoother over the trails than smaller wheeled rigs. Is this a quantifiable thing? How much does a 29 inch wheel erase the need for suspension? Or should we be looking at this in a whole different way?
The Comparison Factor: It was inevitable that when the first 29″ers appeared that they would be compared to 26 inch wheeled bikes. Everything a 26 inch wheeled bike did, 29″ers were expected to do as well. This has been a dominant factor not only in suspension, but in the handling department for 29″ers. I think this isn’t a good way to evaluate what a 29″er is really all about. Sure, it is a bicycle and when it is designed for off road usage, it is going to have some parallels to 26 inch mountain bikes, but 29″ers do have their own set of defining characteristics. Added to this are the physical attributes and limitations of a 29″er wheel and the frames designed around them and you can see it is a whole different enchilada than what we are used to seeing with smaller wheeled mountain bikes. Comparing what is “long travel” for a 26 inch wheeled bike to a 29″er is then a flawed comparison from the start.
How Long is “Long”?: This leaves us with the question: Just what is “long travel” for a 29″er? Well, I believe it is very different from what it is for a 26 inch wheeled bike. I believe we already have long travel 29″ers in our midst, but let me take you to one specific example that is still out on the horizon: The W.F.O. 9 from Niner. This is a prototype that takes the 29″er wheel format into uncharted waters. With an estimated 165mm of usable rear wheel cush, this bike redefines long travel and will certainly push technology to the limits. Considering that there is currently no tire, rim, or front fork combination available that would even live up to the capabilities of this platform, you might say it is a “mad scientist” experiment. Well, that’s a different story, but what I want to point out is that this bike is probably the definition of what “max travel” in a 29″er platform for all mountain/down hill riding is. What I also want to point out is that this bike, if and when it becomes available, will more than likely show why 29″ers should be classified as a whole different animal when it comes to “long travel” all mountain bikes. I say this because Niner will more than likely get this bike out to a wider audience than currently available “long travel” 29″ers such as Lenz Sport’s Lunchbox. Physically, these two bikes show why “more” travel isn’t probably practical in a 29″er format, but more importantly, I think they show why it isn’t necessary.
My Conclusions: I feel that we already are dealing with several 29″ers that are “long travel” 29″ers from a totally different standpoint than something like a direct comparison with a 26 inch wheeled bike would indicate. I feel that a properly designed bike with high performance suspension and 29 inch wheels is already in a different league from 26 inch wheeled full suspension bikes. Although fork, wheel, and tire choices are still limited in this arena, I feel that offerings are on the horizon that will make the “long travel” 29″er a viable and worthy AM/FR/DH rig. Do you really need a “long travel” 29″er? Well, it is definitely overkill for a lot of trail riders. Again, there are many of us that feel we don’t need suspension at all due to the inherent qualities of the big wagon wheels. But for those that crave that amp that goes to eleven, this category of 29′er is right up your alley.