September 28, 2009

They're This Big...

29 inch mountain bike wheels, that is.

After years of knocking the concept of of the 29er, I finally decided to try one. Why the change in tune? 2010 might be the year I decide to buy a new bike.

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt (perhaps the first time I have ever typed that word) about the new models from Gary Fisher, the Superfly 100 and the Hi Fi's. Both have about 4" of suspension travel in front and out back, and the weights are pretty competitive. With all the positive press, I have been thinking there might actually be something behind it all. But I am hesitant, it isn't like 29ers are taking over the sport, but they are steadily gaining momentum (sic).

Back to the concept of bike buying. Originally, I planned on a 5" travel bike, specifically a Trek Fuel EX. I currently have Titus Racer X, one of the best-ever cross country suspension bikes ever. It has about 3.75" of front and rear suspension. Instead of jumping on the 5" trail bike bandwagon wholeheartedly, I have started to think about the 29ers.

See, I am an XC guy. My whole reason for being on a bicycle is to get from point A to point B as fast as I can. To do that, I need a bike to do certain things and weigh a certain amount. The Titus accomplishes this, in spades. But as I have gotten older and more responsible, which means I also ride less and less, I have found my technical skills are eroding. The Titus is a race bike, it has steep angles that can be unforgiving at times. Coupled with my lack of skill and it can be less than confidence inspiring at times. So, how do I increase stability at speed and in technical spots without sacrificing climbing "prowess?" With a 5" travel, carbon fiber wonder bike like the Fuel EX. OR, or, with a 29er.

The way I see it, and if anyone that reads this would like to interject I sincerely welcome it, I Bike like a Fisher Hi Fi 1 and the Trek Fuel EX 9.0 are very different, yet similar on many levels. Allow me to geek out...

There isn't much of a size difference between a 4" travel 29er and a 5" travel 26" trail bike. Having ridden a couple of 5" trail bikes, I've found the handling very similar to the Fisher Rig 29er I've been riding lately. Both handle slower than my Titus. Period. Which isn't a bad thing in my decrepit state of skills.

What you get with a 29er, as I have discovered, is a smoother ride - especially when things get rocky and technical. Having ridden the Rig on two of my favorite trails that I am pretty familiar with (Green Pond at Snowbasin and Behind the Rocks in Moab) I'd say I've learned four things:
1) As I mentioned, 29ers are smooth. They really roll over rocks easily and make technical trails easier. 2) I notice the momentum of the bigger, heavier wheels helps me more on the flats and through rocks than they hurt my performance on climbs. And, if the climbs are technical like on Behind the Rocks, the bigger wheels make it easier to climb. 3) Sand. 29ers motor through sand in a way that a 26" wheel only wishes it could. 4) If you are going to ride a single speed, you should only ride a single speed and it should be a 29er. With a single speed, momentum is your best friend and it comes in spades. But, I don't ride a single speed enough to have quads massive enough to really enjoy it. 32x18 gearing is just a little too big for my skinny legs. I got to know the Rig intimately during my time with it, often finding myself literally climbing all over the machine to grind it uphill. I was impressed with the amount of riding I was able to do on it though.

All very interesting... To me at least. Because this is in the front of my brain right now, my next post will be more exciting and discuss my recent trip to Moab among other things.

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