Should You Go With a Mountain Bike with 29 Inch Wheels?
If you are shopping for your first mountain bike, you may have heard about the trend toward a bigger wheel size of 29 inches. While the traditional 26 inch mountain bike is not headed for extinction any time soon, every indication is that a growing number of mountain bike buyers are in favor of 29 inch wheel mountain bikes or 29ers. So should you consider a 29er over a 26er for your first mountain bike?
The answer is “It depends!” It depends on you and the type of riding you want to do with the bike.
What is a 29er?
A 29er is basically a mountain bikes built around a 700c sized rim and tire combination that results in an outside tire diameter of about 29 inches. The diameter is about three inches bigger than the traditional mountain bike wheel and tire of 26 inches in diameter. To be a bit more specific, a 29er uses the same rim diameter of a road bike except that the 29er wheel can accept the girth of a mountain bike tire and the rigors of off-road riding.
Who Can Ride a 29er?
Even before taking about the pros and cons of riding a 29er lets eliminate the riders that should not consider a 29er.
The main issue with bigger wheels is the stand over clearance. If you are less than 5’6” tall, a 26-inch mountain bike is still likely to be a better fit.
Because of the bigger wheels, a 29er is about three inches taller than a comparably sized 26 inch wheel mountain bike and will be too tall for smaller riders. Many 29ers are only available in frame sizes starting from medium up to extra-large. However, small frames and women’s specific frames are just starting to come on the market.
Toe overlap and incorrect handlebar height are also potential concerns for shorter riders. The slightly heavier 29er may also make it a bit more difficult to manage for smaller riders especially on up hills.
What are the benefits of the 29 inchers over the standard 26 inchers?
The key advantage of 29ers over a 26ers is that due to the increased wheel and tire size, they provide less roll resistance over obstacles on trails to give more comfortable rides and less fatigue, less rolling friction and yet better traction, which means you lose less momentum and can go faster than the traditional 26-inchers. And larger diameter wheels means less pedal power needed to cover the same distance as a comparable sized 26er.
If you’re a tall rider, finding a 29er model to fit you should be fairly easy. For riders more than 6’ tall, a 29er’s size and frame geometry offers a more natural riding position and allows for a feeling of greater stability.
What are the drawbacks of the 29 inchers against the traditional 26 inchers?
As mentioned, 29ers sizing and geometry issues currently limit availability for smaller riders. The large size of 29ers translates into more weight. A 29er will be heavier and with more rotating mass due to the larger wheel than a comparable sized 26er which means slower acceleration from a stop. The geometry of 29ers also makes them less responsiveness in tight corners and harder to maneuver in tight, twisty single tracks.
How to Shop for a 29er
Choosing a 29er is the same as choosing any bike: decide on how you will use the bike and the type of riding you will do most often.
Currently, the most common type of 29inch wheeled mountain bikes is the hard tails (bikes with front suspension only). Full-suspension models are just beginning to be introduced as better suspension and frame designs develop.
If you are thinking of simply upgrade your existing bike, you can’t! 29er frames and suspension are designed around 29 inch wheels.
If you’re new to mountain biking, it’s best to discuss brand and model options with a knowledgeable sales person at your local bike shop to get an understanding of the relationship between bike quality, performance and price. Narrow your choice to 2 or 3 models and be sure to take a test ride to get the feel of each one before making the final selection.