29er full suspension bikes are definitely not new to the market. They’ve been on the market since the early 2000s when Fisher Bikes came out with WTB-tire equipped suspension bike for shredding the hills around Mount Tam in Marin County, California.
In fact, it’s been almost 3 years since the first 29er won a World Cup DH race.
So you might be asking yourself, “Why all of the sudden attention?”
While the wheel size on this bike isn’t new, the 29er category is expanding rapidly. New carbon fiber 29er mountain bikes (like the Arktos 29 and Arktos 29 ST) are entering the market each week, and more and more top World Cup racers like Greg Minnaar and Loris Vergier are switching to the big wheels.
Is it possible then that 2020 will be the year of the 29er? Only time will tell, but here are 5 reasons why you should consider a 29-inch full suspension mountain bike in your quiver next year.
1. Bigger is Faster
Let’s face it…those wagon wheels roll fast.
Sure, they take more effort to get up to speed over smaller wheels, but once you’ve got the momentum, it’s easier to maintain.
Even a few years ago, I would have never suspected my everyday bike would be a 29er (with 120mm rear travel and 150mm up front). But after timing myself while riding all over Santa Cruz, I’m faster with big wheels.
The main reason I’m faster is because I’m also smoother with 29er wheels (smooth is fast, right?).
Smaller wheels turn more quickly, but the total number of turns that I benefit from the quicker handling per ride? Max two. It’s not enough to make up for the stability that the 29er wheels provide for a few quick turns.
2. That Famed Rollover
When 29ers first came to market, the scuttlebutt focused on improved rollover capabilities. Simply put, the bigger wheels roll over obstacles more easily than smaller wheels.
The math tells you the bigger wheel has a higher attack angle in relation to an obstacle. This is noticeable when you’re on the bike.
Coming into braking bumps, I have the sense 29er wheels stay on top of the trail chatter (instead of dropping down into them and slowing me down).
The result? I’m able to carry my speed rather than get bogged down by obstacles.
3. The Traction
Whether you’re climbing or descending, riding mountain bikes in the dirt is all about getting the tires to hook.
While climbing, your tires losing traction means you spin out and can’t make it up that steep pitch. And losing traction going down usually ends much more destructively.
One of the big advantages to a carbon fiber 29er mountain bike is the increase in the amount of tire that’s touching the ground at all times. The bigger tire circumference means that, at the same pressures, a longer patch of tire is touching the ground than a smaller tire.
That extra tire contact can provide quite a bit of extra traction, especially when grip is already low.
4. You’re a Big Dude!
I’m a relatively big guy: 6-foot 3-inches tall and nearing the 200-pound mark. I would say that makes me a perfect candidate for a 29er.
My daughter, on the other hand…not so much. She’s 14 years old, just over 100 pounds, and 5’5”. For her, a 29er is a lot of bike. The mass of the tire out on the end of that pendulum is a lot for her to control.
That said, I don’t think riding or not riding a 29er is all about rider size. There are plenty of people under 5 foot 5, Chloe Woodruff for one, who ride 29ers, and go fast on them.
Riding a 29er really comes down to the style of rider you are, and the type of terrain you ride.
Most of the terrain these days (in the US at least) is faster, more flowy, and typically maintained by trail users. As a result, regardless of whether you’re 5 feet or 7 feet tall, a 29er will be the fastest, easiest-to-ride bike for you.
My daughter is still my test subject, and I expect that within the next year, she’ll be reaping the benefits of the bigger wheel size.
5. The Parts Keep Improving
With all the new carbon fiber 29er mountain bikes coming to market, parts suppliers are focusing heavily on products for this wheel size. And the specific category that has shown the most improvement is tires.
I’m constantly astounded at the performance of the new 29er tires in the market. They’re lighter, have better tread patterns, and more puncture resistance than every before.
The other category that has come a long way is wheels. The first time I rode a 29er back in the late 90s, you could watch the wheels flex side to side when you pedaled up a hill.
Today, especially with the advent of carbon rims, the wheels are stiff enough to be hucked on World Cup DH tracks.
Choosing whether a 29er mountain bike is your best bet all comes down to personal preference. Like all things, you like what you like.
That said, if you haven’t had a chance to throw a leg over a 29er bike, you could be missing something special. 29er carbon full suspension mountain bikes are evolving at an unprecedented rate. It may be time for you to evolve, too.