Women and 29″ers. Not two things that are normally thought of as going together, for whatever reasons. In the time that I have been around the big wheels, the mere mention of women on a big wheeled bike was often scoffed at. The thinking being that women were not well suited to the larger wheel due to the difficulty in making the bicycle small enough to fit and not have “funky geometry”. This big wheeled phenomena was only suited to folks around six foot and above, or so the thinking was. Now it seems all that thinking and more is falling by the wayside. Women are starting to show up in greater numbers riding big wheelers. More women are asking about them at bike shops and through dealer web sites. Why would that be?
The owner of this diminutive 29″er is a women and loves the ride.
First of all, let’s deal with the bicycle itself. The over riding philosophy on 29′ers by most frame designers and industry folks is that they present too many design compromises for riders that are under the height of 5’10″ with the problems getting worse as you decrease rider height from that point. If this is true, why in the world would a women choose a big wheeled machine. Well, in my questioning of several women that ride 29″ers, including Heather Irminger of the Fisher/Subaru mountain bike team, it seems that 29″ers provide some benefits that women in general find appealing in a mountain bike, despite the “geometry compromises”.
The biggest thing I kept hearing over and over was that 29″ers were more stable and safer over trail obstacles. Heather Irminger elaborated on that by saying that even though she preferred a 26 inch wheeled bike for her XC racing exploits, she almost always grabs a 29″er on her training and fun rides for the stability, especially on down hills. Many women expressed the roll over factor as something that they liked better than what they experienced with the 26 inch wheels. So it would seem that it might possibly be the “fun factor” that is winning over the women, because let’s face it, if you aren’t sweating the consequences of crashing and the danger of fast down hills, then riding a mountain bike becomes a whole lot more fun.
As for the bikes themselves, the compromises are not as dire as they were just three years ago. The longer offset forks that are available now not only allow designers more freedom in getting better handling 29″ers, but allow them to be smaller in size with less chances for toe overlap. Some smaller sized 29″ers are even made in mass quantities now, where just a few years ago this was not available. Custom made bikes were the only option then, and generally were pricy, although plenty of riders still are having custom bikes built, many of these being women.
Interestingly, the 650B wheel, which would seem to be a dead ringer for women looking for bigger wheeled fun, hasn’t caught on as much…….yet. I suspect that once the word gets out a little more about this wheel size, it may well end up being the predominately chosen “big wheel” size for women mountain bikers looking for more stability and better roll over capability. At least the geometry on the smallest sizes will be spot on in comparison to a 29″ers for smaler riders. Time will tell if this comes to be, but it certainly makes a lot of sense.
For now though I’m hearing that the major 29″er brands are seeing a marked uptick in interest from women looking at 29″er wheels for their next mountain bike. I look to see more development in this area in the future. Until then, look for more women to be sporting big wheels on your local trails.