6 Years ago, I wrote an article with the title, “I was wrong! 29ers just aren’t as much fun!” (click here to read the article) and I caught A LOT of flack for it.
Which is funny because at the time it was true. After 6-7 months of testing a bike I thought was going to be my dream bike (a specialized EVO 29er with a 68˚ head angle, one of the slackest head 29ers at the time), I found 29ers to not be as much fun as my 26″.
My Evo 29er
Times change though! I thought a 68˚ head angle was slack for a 29er, and at the time it was. My current 29er has a 64.5˚ head angle. Add that to a 25mm longer teach measurement and that makes it the first bike that has ever fit me!
This bike is designed with a steep 76˚ seat tube angle and a magic button on the handlebar that locks out the rear suspension and further steepens the seat tube angle by another 1.5˚ for climbing. This puts my hips much further forward, so they are above the bottom bracket when seated and climbing (instead of over the rear axle). So now I don’t have to hinge forward as far to keep the front wheel planted. It also allows me to pedal down instead of forward. On my first ride, it felt like my power increased by 20% overnight!
Did I mention it has 170mm of travel and descends like a downhill bike? Yet, it weighs under 31 pounds (for an XL 29er with heavy tires) and climbs like a cross country bike.
It’s a great time to be a mountain biker.
Geometry , 170mm of travel and it weighs less than 30 pounds!
For me, at 6’3″ and as a rider whose stoke is going fast and riding steep chunky trails, it is way more fun than a 26″ wheeled bike and a bit more fun than a 27.5″ wheeled bike.
For riders whose goal it is to cover a lot of ground fast and/or efficiently, 29ers are hard to beat. This article is more for mountain bikers who like steep and technically challenging trails.
However, if I were shorter and/or one of those creative riders who like to pop off all the sniper hits on the trail, I don’t think it would be as much fun as 27.5” or 27.5” in the rear with a 29” upfront (which I think will become the new standard for riders between 5’6″ and 5’11”).
My 29er is not super nimble, it’s fast and actually corners really well, but I would not call it playful. Also, on sharp angle changes, where the trail suddenly goes from flat to super steep, my rear tire rubs on my shorts and I have a 35″ inseam!
Riders with legs a few inches shorter than mine might find a 29er quite cumbersome. This can be seen in World Cup downhill racing where most, if not all riders under 5’10”, are riding either 27.5” or 27.5″ in the tear and a 29″ tire
So, like my previous article, it still depends on what you find fun (raw speed or playfulness) and your height, to decide what wheel size (or sizes) is right for you.
The good news is that there are more great, safer and fun bikes on the market than ever! Though they aren’t cheap.
On a side note, for riders shorter than 5’5″ I feel (for the same reasons listed above) a bike designed with a 26″ rear wheel and 27.5” front wheel, would be the ticket. These bikes may not be out for a year or so, as no one currently makes this bike but if the 27.5”/29” catches on, some smart person will make a 26”/27.5” for shorter riders eventually.
Also, maybe even for riders my height and taller the reverse mullet (27.5″ in the rear and 29″ front tire) might turn out to be the best design. I haven’t tried it yet so who knows?
I hope this has helped you. Something to remember when testing bikes: Change feels weird. If you like your current bike, any bike you test that has differences (different handlebar height, handlebar width or handlebar roll, different stem length, different tire size, different reach measurement, different head or seat tube angle, etc.) will feel weird.
Weird isn’t always bad, it’s often better, but it may take a week of riding or more for it to kick in.
That is why l test bikes for months before writing about them.
Stay tuned for my updated buying guide/checklist to help you find the
Most Fun and Confidence Inspiring Bike for You!