Twenty-nine Inch bikes (29ers) burst upon the mountain bike scene in 2011. At that time I wrote the following paragraph.
“While people still seem to predominantly ride bikes with 26-inch wheels, I have recently seen more and more riders on bikes with 29-inch wheels. When I see them on the trail I almost always ask how they like their larger wheels. Most riders say they really like how well their 29er rolls over rough terrain and through water. When I ask about any drawbacks … they usually say the 29 inch bike doesn’t corner quite as sharp as a 26er.I figure this is because their center of gravity is higher and it takes more to turn a larger bike.”
They also say since the wheels are larger, the bike is longer and heavier. I have not taken a 29’er on a trail, so therefore I really don’t feel qualified to do my own comparison.”
Shortly after making the statement above I was lucky enough to try some 29er demos, and … I still didn’t like them for the same reasons as listed above. The bikes seemed long, heavy, and made me feel I was a little unstable sitting so high. Making the bikes perform resembled a wrestling match.
However, in 2015 I bought a 29 inch mountain bike to use as my primary cross country rig. So what happened to cause me to change my mind?
During that time span the design of most 29 inch bikes changed drastically. For instance:
- The bikes became lighter (my 29 inch Camber weighs 26 lbs … about the same as my old 26 inch Stumpjumper).
- Wheel spans were shortened (The Camber is only 3 1/2 inches longer than my Stumpie).
- 29 inch bottom brackets got lower to the ground (the bottom bracket of my 26 inch Stumpjumper and my 29 inch Camber are both exactly 12 inches off the ground … which means my feet are the same height off the ground when I am in my ready position on either bike.
In a sense, the new 29 inch frames now sit more between the wheels instead of over top of them. The down tube on my Camber 29er is much steeper than on the Stumpjumper 26er.
The 29 inch wheel size gives me more traction (bigger circumference means more rubber on the trail) and does allow me to roll over some of the rock gardens that I used to pick my way through.
I have also found I can climb better, as the front wheel of my 29er tends to stay on the ground much more than on my 26er. This is especially true when climbing technical, rocky trails.
While the larger wheel size does require a little more effort to accelerate, my skills have increased to where I believe I am better at cornering and better than most people I ride with despite the increased size (I have learned to lean the bike instead of turning the bars) . The increased wheel size does not affect leaning the bike.
And what about those 27.5 inch bikes? During an entire Spring Vacation ( 5 days of solid riding) I was lucky to be able to ride a 27.5 inch bike in Moab … and I loved it . The medium size wheels performed very similar to my 26er yet still rolled over massive amounts of rock found along those Utah trails.
I am not going to try to tell you what size bike you should get for yourself. I could not tell you whether you would like the features of the 29er more than the 26er or 27.5. The only true way to find out is to go try riding some bikes. Find a dealer, check out some demos, and get out there. Maybe you will end up on a 29er as I have.