We’ve all run into the person who knows it all and can’t wait to tell everyone. Of course, every over-confident opinion-sprayer worth their salt backs up their claims with the intrigue of coordinated subterfuge, and in this case it’s the Twenty-Niner Conspiracy. Following the familiar rant that planned obsolescence is used to drive bike sales and keep the industry alive, the Twenty Niner Conspiracy follows a path claiming that 29-inch wheels—and by association 650b wheels as well—have no advantage over the tried-and-true 26-inch hoop, that they actually inhibit performance, and do in fact, suck. This is obviously nonsense.
If lap times are the only thing that matter—and in today’s Strava-infected culture of self-promotion they are—certain conditions involving highly-skilled riders may justify the 650b as a better choice than 29’ers. For 95 percent of all mountain bikers out there, however, 29-inch wheels are the way to go. They hold speed better, have more traction, roll through rough terrain more smoothly, and are vastly more forgiving than their smaller-wheeled relatives. Current bike designs like the Intense Carbine 29, the Santa Cruz Tallboy LT, and the Specialized Enduro 29 put to rest the falsely-held belief that 29’ers are sluggish, heavy, and cumbersome. The aforementioned bikes are at home in any terrain, and can corner, jump, and straight-shot as well as or better than any 26-inch bike out there.
There is only one thing holding back the 29’er from completely taking over mountain biking, and that is tire selection. Unbelievably, with a plethora of bikes available built for charging steep and rough terrain, it’s still nigh impossible to find a wide, grippy, adequately reinforced 29’er tread. The real conspiracy is that the bike industry continues trying to peg 29’ers as XC, short-travel bikes with steep angles incapable of tackling aggressive trails. Stupefyingly, the fat bike category is growing at a leaps-and-bounds pace, with more tire choices than a Goodyear outlet.
Pinkbike’s rabid viewership of 11-16 year old wannabe downhillers and dirt jumpers are sadly misdirected in the aiming of their ire. By presenting us with the shiny, easy-to-grasp concept of a new wheel size attempting to pry the beloved 26″ wheel from their cold, dead fingers, the industry distracts them from the true farce which is the fat bike. Think 29’ers are cumbersome? Try a Moonlander. Complaining about the lack of acceleration in your wagon-wheels? Try poaching a KOM on a Pugsley.
Now before you self-righetously answer with the disclaimer that fat bikes fill a niche, and are intended to operate in a very narrow window of circumstance, realize that that is just my point. Why should there be hundreds of tire choices for a bike whose sole purpose in life is to ride in a straight line on the inside of a frozen waterfall, or scramble up a desert climb so unfriendly that the only other path to the top would be on a 29’er—except then you could turn around and rail the descent all the way to a virtual gold medal. Meanwhile, the bike that has the power to transform trail riding for every cyclist, the twenty-niner, continues to make due with thin-walled, slippery compound, narrow casing versions of mountain bike tires.
It’s time to wake up, mountain bikers. Bigger wheels (within reason) are the way to go. Need more convincing? At least five of Vital MTB’s predicted men to fill the top-ten in next weekend’s kick-off to the World Cup DH season will be on 650b/27.5″ wheels, with a few 29’ers in the field as well. So ask yourself the real question—why is the bike industry holding back the twenty-niner? That, my friends, is the true conspiracy.
The Trail Snob presents the periodic, ill-informed opinions, malformed thoughts, and inappropriate convictions of a certain Web Content Editor. Art’s Cyclery disavows all knowledge of, responsibility for, and concordance with anything that comes out of their keyboard.