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.
Which of these numbers is about to become a footnote in the annals of our sport: 29, 650B, 27.5, 26. If you know anything about everything that’s cool and cutting edge in the insular world of mountain bike riders, then you know the chance of 26-inch wheels sticking around is about the same as scoring two points in the first 12 seconds of a Super Bowl. It’s possible, but…
One of my buddies, who happens to have uttered some of the most venomous anti-29er comments, is suddenly all about the increased contact patch. With the amount of disparaging comments he hands out concerning the miniature wheels my bike rolls on, one would have thought this guy was the inspiration behind Gary Fisher’s original ‘niner designs. Even with the sealant in his obsolete 26-inch wheels solidifying but still fresh, this guy doesn’t miss a chance to let me know I would have cleaned that section, held more speed, or been able to pedal longer if I was riding his bike.
The severity of the 26-inch bike’s fall from favor mirrors the fleeing of Lance Armstrong’s sponsors once USADA’s reasoned decision was made public, except in reverse. Suddenly, the big wheel’s former detractors are their fervent champions. Riders who made fun of clown bikes and sluggish wheels are suddenly citing roll-over and traction advantages. The snap of a 26-inch wheel is relabeled as slide, and responsiveness is now called twitch. Our Old Faithful wheel diameter is so reviled that we had to come up with something new—650b, which is almost the same as 26—so we could still enjoy the benefits of a smaller wheel but not feel bad about it.
If I sound bitter, that’s not the case—not specifically about 29-inch wheels at least. In fact, I’m queuing up to get my own circus bike as you read this. While I get a kick out of watching former sworn enemies of the big treads convert so readily once the trendsetters gave their permission, I also realize that there are benefits to the larger diameter wheels. Now that bike manufacturers have finally decided that 29’ers are capable of excelling at being more than XC hard tails, only tire manufacturers are holding back the potential of the twenty-niner. Although I have ridden big wheels in the past, and mostly enjoyed my time aboard them, I’ve always been wary of fully committing myself to the platform. Even now, with my 29-inch bike all but ordered and shipped, every time I break my rear wheel free around a tight little corner, or hop between lines through a rocky section offering multiple opportunities, I wonder if I’m making the right choice. My friend assures me I am. I find solace in my belief that, hey, a bike’s a bike, especially these days when you could blindly pick one from any reputable manufacturer and have the time of your life, no matter what the wheel size is. So while my Strava times may improve along with my pedaling efficiency aboard the bigger wheels, let’s hope the sense of playfulness and fun that 26-inch wheels provide will increase with the diameter of my new hoops.