I remember the first time I rode a 29er bike. It was a Jamis SS, steel, and hardly the refined bike that a modern 29er is as far as geometry, weight, etc. Even so I was struck by how very different it was than anything else I had ridden over the past umpteen years. I knew this 29″ wheel deal was something exceptional.
Epiphany, as a descriptive word, comes to mind.
- Epiphany is defined as a sudden and profound understanding of something.
An example of epiphany is when someone has been looking for their lost keys and suddenly has an idea of where they are.
That big wheel was a real game changer, not some small improvement that bicycle marketing folks would laud as the second coming, but a real honest to goodness leap forward in bicycle goodness. The 29er storm rolled in on big wheels and changed everything.
Then 27.5 crashed the big wheel party with folks like Kirk Pacenti and Giant Bicycles Co. tooting the horn of a ‘tweener’ wheel size, which although great for many folks, simply failed to impress me at all for the way I ride and what I want the bike to do. It sure sounded the death nell for the 26″ wheel though, already hit hard by 29ers, and with wide industry support it was clear that 27.5 was here to stay. Not an epiphany, rather a “better 26er” to quote an industry wise man that shall remain anonymous.
Point to ponder: One has to wonder if we would even have 27.5 if we had not gone all the way to 29″ first, then course corrected a bit and settled into the semi-middle ground that I agree makes more sense for bigger travel bikes, shorter riders, and arial acrobats? Maybe eventually we would have, but 26″ wheel bikes were so entrenched, who knows when that would have happened?
Now we have Plus sized tires, both in 29 (29+) and 27.5 (27+). And while I have limited time on both sizes at this point, I am here to say that one of those sizes is going to remain a niche player for eternity and one will prove to be a mainstay wheel/tire size for years to come, carving out a very big segment of the MTB marketplace. One is ‘exciting’ and one is ‘interesting’.
Guess which is which.
Once again, it is epiphany time and the name of the next leap ahead in trail bike performance is called 27+. 27+ is the real deal, and it is just getting started. And yes, this means that I believe that 29+, as neat as it is, will not go away, but will never be a big deal either.
This weekend I had the opportunity to ride a very nice example of a well designed, well spec’d FS 29er back to back with a 27+ version of that bike; different spec, but equal travel, dropper posts, etc (Scott Genius 900 Tuned and a Scott Genius 720 Plus). The trails I was riding on were gravity fed ski area stuff in the Deer Valley area of Park City, so not a lot of pedaling was required, but the trail surfaces were pretty hammered – loose, broken rock over hard dirt, roots, etc. Generally scrabbly stuff. NOT hero dirt. The 29er did what 29ers do well…rolled over the crappy sections and roots like that big wheel does and really smoothed out the trail. OK, got that.
The next ride was on the slightly heavier (lower spec bike) 720 model Genius but in the 27+ version. I knew within the first 100′ that this was going to be good. Within the first 100 yards I bet I was going 25% faster, especially in the corners. By mid mountain I was wondering how I could get one of these for myself and by the end of two back to back runs, there was that word again.
Riders all over the globe are gonna’ eat this up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Looking at the numbers gives a bit of insight into why. You get nearly the same overall diameter when you compare a beefy 2.8″ (or 3.0″) 27+ tire on a 40mm internal width rim to a typical 29″ x 2.35 combo, so rollover is almost the same. I noticed a bit more ‘hang-up’, or I think I did anyway, when descending a trail with drops into holes, mid-switchback, as compared to a traditional 29er wheel. I wonder if that is coming from the increased deformation of the tire under pressure? Not sure. WIll we have to coin a new phrase, ‘tire sag’, when talking about bike attributes? Scott Bikes says that a 27+ wheel and tire combo is 250g heavier (per set) over a similar model Syncros 29er wheel and Schwalbe tire, like a Nobby Nic, so the weight penalty is not horrible. The contact patch is huge and, running at 13psi as a nominal number, it conforms and grips like crazy.
What happens when you add up all those numbers and facts and figures and get them onto a trail is a feeling of near invincibility, as traction for braking, cornering, and climbing is way up there into super-hero status. Think Fat Bike blended with a 29er and you pretty much have it, without the self steer and moon bounce of a full Fat Bike. And the agility is very good, I think equal to a typical trail bike 29er and is at light speed compared to a Fat Bike.
Add to that the fact that you can run a 29″ wheel and tire in a 27+ bike (as long as it is a Boost compatible wheelset…yes Boost is a must-do for a Plus bike) and the downsides begin to get pretty small in number. In fact, there are hardly any downsides although I suppose 27+ would be a bit off the mark for endurance or XC racing on smoother surfaces. No one is likely to say, “Hmmmm, I think I will trade my Epic 29er with carbon wheels for a 27+ FS bike”. Not unless you are undergoing a real shift in riding priorities.
This is just getting started and things like custom suspension tune for Plus sizing, getting BB heights right, and this and that are all being worked out. No surprise there, and the same progression happened in 29ers. Is there a ‘best’ for this tire size as far as suspension travel limits, geometry specifics, etc? Maybe so. We shall see.
However, if the Scott Genius 720 Plus I rode is any indication of what we are in for, and I suspect that it is, then it will be one heck of a fun ride. In fact, if I were shopping for a trail bike in the next year, and I rode in places where the terrain is chunky or very loose, I would be very hesitant to buy anything other than a 27+ bike, although you always have to take into consideration all the factors specific to your needs. But I bet the vast majority of everyday Joes and Jills who load MTBs into pick up trucks and onto racks, meeting at trail heads all over the country…if they were unloading and pedaling off on 27+ bikes they would be smiling a lot.
Fun stuff, this epiphany business.