Cycle Life

Matt Hunter demonstrating that 29-inch wheels are plenty agile.    

The Wheel Wars Have Been Won

Yes, 29ers can turn just fine. No, 26ers aren’t alive and well. Now would everyone please just pick your favorite bike, shut up, and ride?

I’m sick of 26er fan boys hating on big wheels. You hear this spew all the time: “Twenty-niners aren’t quick. They’re not flickable. They can’t corner at all.”

Disregarding the fact that “flickable” is meaningless, Matt Hunter clearly demonstrates that 29-inch wheels are plenty agile. That shot of him going completely horizontal, burying his bars in the dirt while staying upright, shredding like 99.9 percent of us can’t shred? Yep, he rode it on a Specialized Enduro 29.

This footage, this mountain biking, this turn—it’s how we all wish we could ride. It’s the riding we dream of when we sleep. It’s veritable perfection.

And yet some haters have written it off. They’ve said that stunning, beautiful, arcing turn had nothing to do with the wheels but with the perfectly constructed radius of the berm. They’ve contended that you can see the 29-inch wheels flex in the video and argued that 26ers could have done it better. There’s even a thread out there asserting that the video is a hoax expressly because he’s riding big wheels.

The pigheadedness kills me.

A few months ago in Sedona, Arizona, I rode with an excellent rider, a friend of a friend, let’s call him Xavier. He was ripping fast, both uphill and downhill, and, incidentally, he was aboard a 26-inch Specialized Enduro. Twenty-six inch wheels are a disappearing breed*, so I enquired if he’d considered sizing up. Xavier’s reply was automatic, “You couldn’t make me ride a 29er. They’re awkward. Slow.” 

“Have you tried them?” I asked. Of course he had not. Dogma, it turns out, is as blind as it is resolute.

But there are rational people out there, too. I was back in Sedona last week and had the pleasure of riding with an old buddy of mine, Mike Raney, who owns Over The Edge Sedona, and his friend Nate Hill. Raney is an ex-downhill pro, and last year Hill won the overall at the Big Mountain Enduro. Both were riding 29ers, Raney on a Trek Fuel EX 29 and Hill aboard a Yeti SB-95 Carbon. And both charged the trails as if they were aboard motos.

Hill just got his SB-95 a month ago, and it’s his first foray on any wheel other than a 26er. “I’m sold,” he said. Will he race the big wheels this year? “Yes, depending on the race,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll still roll the 26er at some events. But I’m feeling fast on this bike, too. It will make for hard choices.”

That’s the thing. I’m not arguing for 29er supremacy. I don’t really care if you ride 26 or 650B or 29. Hell, if it makes you happy, get a 24-inch bike.

But if you’re one of those people who insists on disparaging 29ers , please stop acting like a stodgy, old curmudgeon and cut the grousing—at least until you’ve given it an open-minded try or three. Actually, even if you try them and hate them, just shut up and ride your 26er. Nobody cares about wheel size but you. 

*Most fork manufacturers have ceased tooling for 26-inch forks. Wheel builders, most notably Shimano, have abandoned the size in their new line-ups. And major bike manufacturers like Trek, Scott, and Giant have all but discontinued 26-inch bikes. If you’re a 26-inch devotee, now would be a good time to stock up.

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