As a newer breed of mountain bike, 29ers have been the cause of some heated debate in the MTB fraternity in recent years. To some purists, their larger wheels look ridiculous – like oversized cartoon bikes. Yet they seem to be growing in popularity. Which begs the question: why buy a 29er mountain bike?
Despite the detractors – most of whom have never actually ridden a 29er and base their arguments solely on appearances – big-wheelers are appearing more frequently on the trails. Add this to the fact that world-class racers are winning races on them and perhaps it’s time for us to sit up and take notice.
The big difference
Of course, the main difference between a 29er and a more standard 26er is the size of the wheels (after which they’re named). For years now, the 26-inch has been the standard size of mountain bike wheel. Frames and forks have been designed around this size, which makes replacing parts is a lot easier.
However, change happens. And sometimes it’s for good reason. 26-inchers might be a great standard size mountain bike for the market place but some riders are after something a little different.
Why buy a 29er mountain bike?
The first thing you need to know about a 29er is that the larger wheels at lower pressure are much better at absorbing lumps and bumps on the trail. They offer much more stick and grip, with more stability on technical sections, as there’s more of the tire in contact with the ground. You also get better rollover of obstacles and better traction too.
A rigid frame of 29er has a lower centre of gravity than a smaller 26er with full suspension. Of course, you can also get full suspension 29ers but you’ll be adding even more weight and raising the centre of gravity point. However, the extra weight of a 29er means there is more momentum when riding at speed or downhill, giving you a straighter and more confident line.
For taller riders, especially those who don’t want huge amounts of travel, the 29er is the perfect size. And with the amount of technology hitting the market growing year on year, the possibilities could only just be beginning.
As we’ve mentioned, the extra weight of a 29er can have advantages but as any rider knows, extra weight is generally to be avoided. Add in the increased weight of the larger rotating mass and it makes an even bigger difference.
For riders who aren’t that tall, a 29er can involve some other sacrifices in terms of higher headset and bar height. It also means longer top tubes, which reduces the amount of models you can choose from.
Advocates of 29ers point to the fact that the 26-inch size was only really popular for arbitrary reasons, or because that was a pre-existing standard size for cruisers. However, the 26er prevailed for some good reasons. They are more manoeuvrable in tight situations than the bigger 29ers, which can be an advantage when riding difficult single track.
The bottom line
The increasing amount of sales and brands producing 29ers seems to indicate that this is a style that’s not going away. Ok, so it might not be set to re-invent riding in the way suspension did but it’s certainly caused a stir.
Depending on your height, your required amount of travel and the types of trail you ride, a 29er might be a great fit. Alternatively, your dependable 26er might suit you better. It’s horses for courses really and we each need to answer the question, ‘why buy a 29er mountain bike?’ for ourselves. If you decide to go for a 29er then check out fatbirds.co.uk who have a large selection at decent prices.