29-er Mountain Bikes... Fad or the Future of Mountain Biking?

July 28, 2008

I resisted the 29-er revolution until last fall. I'd seen 29-er fully rigid singlespeeds made from niche manufacturers for years--mostly embraced by the hippie fringe mountain bikers wanting to buck the norm. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that we saw 29-inch wheels popping up on mainstream manufacturers like Gary Fisher and Felt and on botique manufacturers such as Niner Bikes, Ellsworth, Turner and Ventana. Like I said, I hadn't ridden a 29-er until last fall at Interbike 2007's Outdoor Demo at Bootleg Canyon, Nevada. My first lap on a 29-er was on a the Niner RIP 9--hardly a good place to start for a first-timer. I say hardly a good place to start because the RIP 9 sets the bar extremely high as far as versatility and function. I've currently got a Niner RIP 9 in for long-term testing and I continue to be impressed with how well it performs. Not only is it one of the finest 29-ers on the market, it just happens to be one of the best all-around mountain bikes on the market, period. In addition to the Niner, I've also got an Ellsworth Evolve 29-er in for long-term testing. Once again, Ellsworth is proving how amazing their ICT suspension design is. Efficient doesn't even begin to describe how well the ICT suspension performs while climbing and descending. The Evolve, like the RIP 9, is also one of the finest all-mountain bikes on the market today. With each bike, you have to shell out a premium because they are only sold as framesets. The beauty of that is you get to build them up however you like, but the downside is that it ends up costing a bit more. Lessons Learned from 29-er Mountain Bikes Thus far, I've learned a few things about 29-ers in general. Here are a few observations: Good 29-er designs will roll over everything and feel just as nimble as their 26-inch brethren. Make sure you find one with the lowest-possible center of gravity 29-ers aren't for beginning mountain bikers... you have to be a strong rider to take advantage of the larger wheel's momentum both climbing and descending While climbing, you have to stay ahead of the gear's natural cadence, otherwise you can easily lose all momentum when avoiding small obstacles You don't need as much suspension because the 29-inch wheels simply smooth everything out So, get out there and try a 29-er. They are a blast to ride and add another element of fun to the trails as you rally down your favorite singletrack. And, I think they will continue to evolve and be more and more common as options at your local bike shop. Like I said above, I don't believe they are great options for beginners, but if you've got strong legs and lungs, you can power up anything and carve down anything as well. 29-ers are here to stay. Have you ridden a 29er? Do you own one? Share your transition story below.

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