The DH and Freeride crowd is just now discovering that full-suspension 29ers are fast and capable in an all-mountain application. This is old news for those of us who eschewed the naysayers and approached full-suspension 29ers with an open mind many years ago. The recent release of Specialized’s new Enduro 29 seems to have piqued some interest with the gravity crowd, but that group remained chock full of 29er trash talkers until last week. That’s when 5’8″ tall Mitch Ropelato won the Fontana Pro GRT DH race on a production 2013 Stumpy 29er Evo (with 17.9″ long chainstays) to beat out the fastest mountain biker to ever live, teammate Aaron Gwin, who chose to ride a 26″ wheeled carbon Demo DH bike instead (to be fair, I’ve personally ridden the Fontana track and know that it is very pedally, but can also attest that the top third of the course is very rocky, technical, and DH bike worthy. By the way, Fontana is Gwin’s home track and Mitch is from Utah. I’m just sayin’). In addition to Ropelato’s win, many Southern California enduro races are being either won or hotly contested by riders on 29ers. [Update 4-21-13: Gwin won the Sea Otter DH on a Specialized Enduro 29] Now there appears to be a tectonic shift in the dialog of the Enduro/DH community that is reminiscent of the moment when a child discovers that their recent defense of the reality of the Easter Bunny to their closest friends may have been misguided.
Before I go any further, I want to make something clear. Personally, I really don’t care what wheel size you choose to ride. They all have their pluses and minuses and honestly, they all work great. Most importantly, unless you are getting paid to ride like Ropelato and Gwinn are, then you are only riding for fun. So ride whatever wheel size you think is fun. But as someone who has ridden full suspension 29ers since 2008, I’m glad to finally see the veil of ignorance and prejudice being lifted from off the eyes of the DH community. The only downside is that instead of people telling me, “Dude, I can’t believe you just did that on a 29er!” they will now say, “Dude, you could only do that because you were on a 29er.”
The huge upside of the recent discovery of 29er downhill speed is that the new-ish 650B wheelsize trend won’t kill the development of long travel 29ers as I feared it would. The main problems that have held back 29er development has been chainstay length and frame stiffness issues. Props to Specialized for figuring it out, however I can’t help but wonder what took so long? Oh yeah, it was that knee jerk reaction born of ignorance that killed the idea before it could be explored in any detail.
The point I am trying to make is this, ‘Free your mind and your bike will follow.’ The future of mountain biking is incredibly bright, and that future will prominently include 29ers. Once the majority of 29er all-mountain bikes are made with sub 17.5″ chainstays, have no accommodation for front derailleurs (that will allow for massively wide and laterally stiff suspension pivots), and move up to 150mm or 157mm rear hub spacing and rediscover the 20mm and 24/25mm front hub standards-or make a hybrid 135x20mm version of the Paul Whub (or similar fat bike front hubs mated to carbon rims), you will see some crazy fast 29ers. Legit all-mountain and DH 29er tire options are already right around the corner with Maxxis set to release them next month and Schwalbe right behind them. But who knows, there is a good chance that 650B bikes will evolve to be faster than 29ers? They are just getting started in earnest this year.
The time is far past to forsake the childish wheel size wars among riders and take a step toward being more inclusive of all cyclists, no matter what they ride. Mountain biking is already fractured into sects that go by names such as XC, Freeride, Enduro, Downhill, Fatbike, Hardtail, Long-Travel/DH Hardtail, Mountain Drop Bar, Off-Road Touring, Monster Cross, etc. Why divide it even further by stigmatizing riders for choosing a different style of mountain bike than you do? Bottom line: Whatever you decide to pedal, I’m cool with it and I hope you will return the favor.
Daniel Slusser is a professional bicycle mechanic with over ten years of experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from HSU and a master’s degree in history from Cal Poly. When he is not riding, wrenching, or writing he enjoys spending time with his wife and two children.