TO WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND THE BENEFITS of 29-inch wheels, consider the monster truck. The bigger the wheel, the bigger the stuff it can roll over. Which explains the rise of the 29er as an alternative to the 26-inch-wheel mountain bike. These rigs generally have a higher bottom bracket for better clearance; hold their momentum better for less effort on long rides; and boast a longer wheelbase for a more stable ride. What more could you ask for than wheels that never want to stop?
SALSA DOS NINER / $3,600 (as tested), 26.5 lbs
Why It's Cool: The sharp reflexes of a cross-country race frame with a much plusher ride than a standard-wheeled softtail.
The Ride: When you first mount the Dos Niner, it's hard not to feel like a circus clown on a velocipede. But the feeling melts away as the bike gobbles up every obstacle in its path. Credit the suspension: The RockShox Reba Race fork up front, with at-your-fingers lockout, gives four inches travel, while the one-inch-travel Salsa Relish shock cushions the rear. All that softness and the stiff framebuilt from scandium, a high-strength aluminum alloystill rockets forward at the slightest press of the pedals. On steep, loose talusportaging terrain on a 26-inch rigthe Niner's extended wheelbase prevented endoes. On gentler grades, it soaked up logs and babyheads. And in sand patches, the big wheels floated on top, leaving my little-wheeled partners spinning comically, clownishly slow.
Right Bike If: You want to ride, with ease, where others walk. Sizes: 16, 18, 20 (tested), and 22 in; www.salsacycles.com