Review of riding a 29er: Is easier mountain biking cheating?

Oct 30, 2018 BY Sam Bowell

We found this review of riding a 29er languishing unpublished in our archives. It was originally written back in 2010 and it still makes a very entertaining and informative read. When reading it I found it nicely poses the question is easier mountain biking cheating?

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating     Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

We’ve republished it, because this riders reluctance to try a 29er mirrors the current debate surrounding electric MTBs – namely that making it easier is cheating. I am sure there was similar debate when suspension was added to mountain bikes, but along with bigger wheels it’s now accepted and neither are considered cheating. Will eMTB go the same way?

Have a read of this review of riding a 29er. And ask yourself is easier mountain biking cheating? Or is it just a different way of riding and an opportunity to have more fun?

All images courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB:

Hello everyone. My name is Sam and I am sizeist. My problem started a few years ago with the introduction of a new and ‘revolutionary’ creation: the 29er. Almost immediately I dismissed this gangly abomination as a marketing ploy, and quickly came to the defence of my beloved 26” wheeled compadré.

More recent history has seen the addition of a double agent to the axles of evil: the 650b. This ‘best of both’ option stoked my discriminatory fire even more furiously, leaving me on the verge of declaring all-out warfare. My unflinching stance on these lanky freaks was totally unfounded and indeed rather cynical…until now!

Two weeks ago, as I was casually minding my own business in the workshop, a mysterious man stopped in looking for some business. Having pedalled his wares and earned his coin, the shadowy gentleman went to leave. I was in the clear. Or so I thought…

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating    Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

“Hang on; I have something in the van you may be interested in.”

Tempted: A Titanium 29er

Any bike addict will understand why it didn’t matter what it was; I was ALWAYS going to be interested. Having read this far, you too should understand why it was then, that I shuddered as the doors to his van were flung open, revealing a towering titanium titan; a beautiful monstrosity with wheels of unnatural proportions.

Clearly not your average off-the-peg 29er, instead a custom build had been sent to test (me). Centered on a stunningly crafted titanium Lynskey Ridgeline-29 frame; I was surprised by just how natural it looked, not ungainly at all. I was starting to get worried.

This was it; time to man up and get a new perspective. Time to shut this thing down once and for all! Not wanting to lose the moral high ground, I was going to have to shed my 26” colours and become a neutral. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Having not spent enough time in the saddle of late, I had already decided that the easiest way to break in the goliath was to get out of both our comfort zones and use it as a commuter.

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

Review of riding a 29er: Commute

With a 10 mile journey each way, including some particularly gruelling climbs, this was going to be a test as much for me as for the bike.

Forks locked out and tyres pumped up, we set off into the frosty morning and impatient traffic. Taking only 15 minutes longer than I ordinarily would in my van; I think it’s safe to say we aced it. The behemoth pedalled fantastically and cruised comfortably, leaving cobwebs and frustrated drivers hanging around.

A good start then, but so what? A (relatively) casual road ride is hardly the ideal testing ground for any trail ripper.

Review of riding a 29er: Offroad

As fate would have it, my rear light gave up the ghost on the return leg of the second day, forcing me off road. Darkness closed in quickly and the route ahead was both overgrown and unknown, leaving me grateful for my high powered headlight and, dare I say it, the enemy beneath me.

30 minutes later and I was home. Soaking wet and caked in mud, but with a smile that I couldn’t hide. Granted, this was partially due to being back out on a bike again, but there was no denying that the way the titanium terror handled itself was both faultless and fun.

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating  Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

More eager than ever to conquer my demons and put this giant to bed, I took the only sensible course of action left available to me: a road trip. The varied and reliably entertaining trails at the Forest of Dean were the obvious choice for this final showdown. With a hastily packed van and company courtesy of my buddy Weasel, we got rolling.

Review of riding a 29er: Downhill

Having waved goodbye to our loved ones (the DH bikes we left in the van) and geared up, we rode into battle guns a-blazing.

Immediately it became obvious that I held the advantage over Weasel and his trusty 26” weapon. I was tearing through the climbs and slop with ease, leaving my young companion to fend for himself. Thanks to the short rear end and wide bars, technical sections were of no real issue either; feeling only slightly less manoeuvrable than its smaller wheeled counterpart.

Descending too was frankly effortless. Getting up to speed quickly, and easily smoothing out all the trail bumps we came across, whilst remaining remarkably playful throughout.

By the end of the 7 mile trail my wingman was spent, and crying out for a Pot Noodle. I on the other hand, was fresh-faced and ready to get back on the frontline.

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating   Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

Here’s my problem: I’ve had a good ten years of pie eating and beer drinking on my weary comrade. So believe me when I say fitness had nothing to do with it – which means it was down to the bike.

I’ve never doubted that these big wheelers were potentially more efficient, faster, and more comfortable than their smaller wheeled brethren. I broke a good few P.B.’s in this one ride alone, but what has always concerned me is that they would make things too easy; too safe; and I stand by that. So is easier mountain biking cheating?

29er: Go big or go home?

I enjoyed every minute of it, but at the end I didn’t get the same feeling of achievement that I would normally get. It felt like I was cheating, and that made me feel…well a bit dirty actually.

I guess I’m ready to call a truce. The 29er does have a purpose, and for many people they will tick every box. Designs are improving and parts are far more readily available, so they’re clearly here to stay. For me though, the good old 26” will always be top of the tree.

Huge thanks go out to the guys at Hotlines for setting up this review of riding a 29er for me. Also a special mention must be made for the good chaps over at Lynskey. Please go and check out some of their beautifully made frames.

Review of riding a 29er Is easier mountain biking cheating      Image courtesy of Forest of Dean MTB

Is easier mountain biking cheating?

Now you have read ‘Sam the sizeist’s’ review of riding a 29er from 2010 I hope you can see the parallels with the current eMTB debate. Along with many other mountain biking innovations the 29er makes riding easier. But it is established in the biking community and is certainly not considered cheating.

Before the recent(ish) trend for larger wheel sizes you had the introduction of suspension. At the time some considered it cheating, but it is now a major part of mountain biking. The current debate that has mountain bikers in a tizz is electric bikes. Many say they should not be allowed on the trails while others argue that it enables you to ride further, faster and to have more fun.

It all boils down to the question ‘is easier mountain biking cheating?’ Well unless you ride a no suspension 26er, without using any uplift, clip in pedals, or even gears then you are already ‘cheating’. All these improvements, pedal assisted eMTBs included, help you to get more out of riding a bike.

If any one of these innovations is a step too far and detracts from your enjoyment then don’t use that technology. Ride bikes how you want to and let others do the same. Lets stop accusing other riders of cheating and arguing amongst ourselves. Instead lets focus our energies on the threats and challenges facing mountain biking.

After reading this review of riding a 29er do you think easier mountain biking cheating? Let us know your thoughts in the comments. And be sure to check out our mountain biking holiday discounts as you could save a packet. For more info about riding in the Forest of Dean check out

England, Europe, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
Mountain Biking
27.5er, 29er, DH (Downhill), Enduro, Hotlines, Lynskey, Ridgeline-29, XC (Cross Country)

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