Why so serious?
Clown bike, big wheeler, not a proper mountain bike or 29er. Regardless of how you feel about them the 29″ wheeled mountain bike is here to stay.
It seems that the UK and Europe has been much slower than North America in catching onto the benefits of a larger wheeled mountain bike. So why go to a bigger wheel, and how can it be beneficial to you as a downhill racer?
Let’s consider a few reasons why you should wake up and taste the koolaid.
1. Better roll over. The math is all out there and there is no disputing that a big wheel rolls over objects better and more efficiently than a smaller wheel. For the rider this translates into a smoother ride over the rough stuff with better traction…
2. Better Traction: A 29” wheel has a different contact patch than a 26” wheeled bike. It will give you more grip because more rubber is in contact with the ground at any one time. You can run lower tire pressures without the risk of a pinch flat because the wheel rolls better. More grip means confidence and that means more speed…
3. More speed means better momentum conservation: Okay so a bigger wheel takes more time to accelerate and decelerate than a 26” wheel…. However once up to speed because of the better roll over and traction a rider can use these traits to maintain speed and stay off the brakes. Less braking means saving precious 1/100ths of a second. They also need less pedaling to stay at speed so you can conserve energy for the end of the race. Trust your big wheel, there is no arguing with the laws of physics, it’s a monster truck destroying everything in it’s path….
4. And just like a Monster truck: A 29″‘wheel is less easily deflected from it’s path. The gyroscopic effect of a 29″ wheel means that it wants to stay upright. While a 26″ wheel is being deflected by rocks and roots the big wheel will want to keep you and the bike upright and therefore more stable. Carry your speed and wonder why those roots and rocks used to upset the race run….
5. Laugh at the loose conditions: 1+2+3 = a more stable bike when the going gets slippery or loose (or both).
Now everyone is doubtless going to argue that the wheels aren’t strong enough, tires aren’t available, the frames aren’t suitable and the suspension just doesn’t work…
Wheel Strength: A wheel is only as strong as the builder who put it together. A poorly built wheel is guaranteed to fail regardless of how good the components are. There are 29” rims out there from Sun (MTX 33), Stans (Flow), Easton (Haven) and Enve (Twentyy9 AM) to name a few, which can be built into a strong, reliable wheelset.
Tires: Okay choice is still limited but it is improving, WTB have the Kodiak, Stout and Dissent, Panaracer have the Rampage and it would be possible to run Kenda SB8s or Slant6’s out back in dry conditions.
Frames: Lenz, Niner, Nicolai, Banshee and maybe in the near future Intense and Knolly. There are choices out there, you just have to look a little harder to find them.
Forks choice: Manitou, Marzocchi, Fox, Rockshox and White Bros all make longer travel 29’er forks. The key thing to remember is that with the mechanical advantages of a big wheel you can get away with running less suspension travel.
Other parts: The choice is yours from here on in….
If you get the chance to ride a 29’er I urge you to give it a go. Change is coming and it’s coming fast, already in XC and Enduro races the big wheel is kicking butt and taking podium spots. It is only a matter of time before a DH podium is claimed by the clown, so again…Why so serious?
Words: Bob Hodge with special thanks to Guitar Ted @ twentynineinches.com for technical input