I’m really into 29ers these days. Not heard of them? They’re basically bikes with 700c wheels, big fat mtb tyres and a rejigged geometry so there’s no toe overlap. Popular in the US, the 29 bit refers to the approximate size of the wheels’ outside diameter. I tried one out on a What Mountain Bike shoot. Instantly smitten, it didn’t take long before I’d bought one. My first impression, before I’d really got into this whole *movement* (as it turns out to be), was the front tyre’s anaconda-like grip on the ground, and the way it just rolls and rolls and rolls.
But why? There’s loads of stuff on the internet debating the pros and cons of a 29er compared to the now traditional 26incher; vocal preachers and avid demonizers alike airing their views. As a fairly tall rider (6’1″ with giraffe legs), 29ers immediately felt right. They looked right too, which I like in a bike. Nicely in proportion. A longer fork means less spacers stacked up like casino chips to get a comfortable cockpit, and as I run a long seat post, there’s no need to a ridiculously high riser bar to balance it out.
I’ve tried the Inbred in pretty much all its incarnations. Singlespeed rigid in Ashton Court, with a Rock Shox Reba fork, gears for Wales, a Rohloff for touring in China, and now I’ve purloined a carbon fork so I can experiment with it light, rigid and geared. The upshot is that I’m riding faster than before, with more confidence: thanks to those big wheels, and their useful knack of rolling over things rather than hitting them. In fact, with that big pocket of air, they almost act like suspension. Not 100mm travel suspension (which seems more than ample for these bikes) but enough to take the edge off a lumpy trail.
The sliding dropout gizmo means the Inbred is a real chameleon. There’s even a special hanger with a mini torque arm for a Rohloff. It’s a bit more fiddly to run a BOB trailer, as you need to space the dropouts a bit, or cut down the skewer. I’ve only used it for the groceries so need to check how it handles heavier loads, as single wheel trailers put loads of stress on the dropouts. You’ll need a longer trailer yoke too, or the back tyre will rub. Check out those extravagant blue-capped Hopes. They were due for Cara’s colour co-cordinated Cotic Soul, but they arrived late so I got them (-:
The argument against big wheels is that, being inherently more stable, they’re more unwieldly to turn than their 26in brothers. Well, no complaints with how the On One handles – it’s certainly no slouch. I believe it’s the only 29er currently sporting a fork with a specific 29er offset (47mm) to sharpen up steering (by reducing ‘trail’), while also helping out with toe/tyre clearance. 29er goemetry and fork offset have yet to settle down across the brands – though this looks like the way it will go with forks, rather than taking a normal 26in fork and sticking a bit on the end…
What’s in a number?
The big complaint (funnily enough, generally from people who don’t ride them) is that the extra size and weight of the wheel makes life harder in tight singletrack, as it requires more effort to kick the bigger wheels up to speed. While this makes sense, those who favour a fluid riding style rather than a stop-start explosive one probably won’t find it such a big deal, within reason. In fact, it may even bring out the best in your riding. The big wheels seem to roll nonchalantly over roots, allowing you to pick up more tempo. Far from holding you back, all that rubber corners like it’s on rails, thanks to a longer tyre patch with the ground. I particularly like the way the bike seems to lope along like my (now sadly departed) lurcher Tramp. Full of potential energy, coaxing you to ride a little faster, use a little less brake, urging you to see what it/you can really do. The downside is that extra tyre=more area for mud to stick to, and hence even more weight in UK winter conditions. But the advantage is that it’s more inclined to float over boggy and muddy patches rather than sinking in. After riding a Surly Karate Monkey on this year’s Coast to Coast off road epic with Cara and Kieran, I was unanimously crowned BogMaster.
I’m still tweaking the setup, and there’s some of the fiddly stuff to sort out, like cutting down brake hoses and tydying up the fork steerer length. A few bits are borrowed, like the minimally lovely Middleburn cranks, the lightweight Speedcity wheelset and the leggy On One Superlight carbon forks. I’m even trying out a 29/44 chainring combo. Another experiment.
Only two chainrings means a neater chainline and less to think about. The 29er wheel accounts for about a cog and a half difference in gear size over a 26in bike, so I could envisage running out of gears on a long technical climb. A bigger gear means you have to attack the climb faster, like a singlespeed, and use the momentum and that extra 29er grip to hurl you up. So far I like it, though I’m having trouble getting it to shift reliably into the smallest cog at the back – removing a couple of links from the chain helped. (edit: I’ve now fitted a longer arm rear mech, and that has sorted it out) Think I’ll fit a Tiagra front mech I have around, as this will maximise tyre clearance and look a bit neater too.
On One’s new carbon forks weigh about 940g, have massive clearances and are unashamedly cylindrical to keep them on track. Like the steel version the frame came with, it has a 47mm, 29er specific offset. I’ve fitted a 180mm front disc, the norm these days so I’m told. Does the job nicely.
Continue reading ‘The Way of the 29er’