Editor’s Note: This week we let Grannygear loose on the subject of what is the perfect amount of travel for a 29 inch wheeled bike in “The Sweet Spot”

There has been some loud clamoring for bigger travel 29ers lately, and in some cases, the response has been the development of five, six, and even seven inch travel bikes, the Dissent and Kodiak tires from WTB, and wider and stronger rims like the Salsa offerings including the Gordo. At the other end is the huge following of riders who have found 29ers to be the perfect platform to enjoy a rigid approach to off road by eschewing any suspension at all besides knees, elbows, and aired down tubeless tires.

I am no luddite, so if you want to ride a big travel 29er and you can talk some builder into making one, then buy it and go ride happy. But, as with 26” bikes which seem to have settled on 5” of travel as the point of balance for that wheel size, and as frame and suspension technology has been refined to the point we have today, 5” of travel could be argued as being the ‘sweet spot’ for 26ers. Even if manufacturers are able to produce a 6” travel bike that is as light and pedals as well as last years 5” version, the issue gets to be that very few average Joe riders need 6” of travel. There are exceptions, so don’t get all innerweb vicious here. I know that some parts of the globe are rough and tumble or you just love to huck off of whatever is in your way. But most riders in most parts of the nation on most trails that are not made from boards nailed to tree stumps ending in 8’ drops are well served by a 5” travel bike in a 26” wheel. They still climb well, all things considered, they are fairly light, and they are not too costly. It works. It is a bike that you can take nearly anywhere and it will get the job done.

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We found this Santa Cruz Tall Boy to be a representative example of “The Sweet Spot”.

So it is with 29ers. I have said it before and I will say it again. One of the best things about 29ers is that they do more with less, not more with more. Look at all the hardtail and rigid riders flocking to the big wheels, in fact, many are new converts who would not be caught dead on a rigid 26” bike. I would not ride a hardtail 26” bike. Go even further and take away the suspension fork and on small wheels it is a beat down of epic proportions. The big wheels make it fun again. So, if there is a sweet spot for 26ers, is there one for 29ers? I think there is.

So where is it? I am making a case that 4” is that sweet spot. Depending on the way the bike is set up or tuned, you can have a Superfly 100 or a Big Mama. That is quite a range of bike performance and feel going on there. Recently I have found myself drawn to thoughts of a 120mm fork on a 120mm rear suspension 29er. But recent rides on the Tall Boy and the Epic Marathon 29er (not quite 100mm of travel, but close), along with time on the Rumblefish and the GT Sensor 29ers on that same day, got me to thinking that I likely will not go that direction. A 4” 29er can still climb well and be decently light. The 4” Lenz Leviathan is a standout frame for its weight vs. performance. The new carbon stuff is even lighter. A 100mm fork is still a fighting weight and, with a 15mm or 20mm axle, is stiff enough for trail work.

It has been said that 29”wheels are worth 1” of travel compared to a 26er, so that would make a 4” 29er the equivalent of a 5” travel 26er. I think that is somewhat true, the exception being true drops and jumps where the diameter of the wheel cannot save you any grief. But for stoking down a trail, over and around things, the big wheel does feel very capable with 100mm of travel. If I could have one bike and it was an FS, I would point my wallet at the 4” mark. I could go to Moab with that bike and have a good time. I could race a 24hr on it. I could easily run with my buddies on their 5” 26ers.

If I rode like some of the Rocky Mountain “long travel ambassadors“, I would choose otherwise, but that is no different then making that same decision for a 26er. It does depend on where you live and what you ride and getting the right tool for the job. But in this Editor’s opinion, the tool for the average everyman 29er rider looking for full suspension is very well served by 100mm/4” of travel. And bikes in this range are getting very good indeed. If, in a few years, 29ers evolve to the point where 120mm or 5” is no more of a penalty to overall performance than 4” is now, I may re-think that a bit. Until then, there are some amazing bikes out there that will give you a great riding experience with relatively little suspension. Don’t get caught up in the more is better mindset. Sometimes more is just that…more.

Four inches of FS travel and 29” wheels; in the words of Ralph Kramden, “How sweet it is!”

grannygear