Jumping into the Fray - My First 29er Ride

5:55 AM

The road biking world is populated by rather opinionated people.  From the type of lubricant you use on your chain to the pedals you use to make the whole thing go, everyone is going to have their firmly held belief that they will pontificate on with varying levels of persistence.  I have had people give me unsolicited advice on everything from chamois cream to bar tape, tires to tubes.  How refreshing it was, then, to discover a much more mellow crowd in the mountain biking world.  Message boards were filled with advice given in a similar style: “This is what I do, but I hear your way is cool, too.” 

Until, of course, you introduce the topic of the 26er vs. the 29er bike.  Then the easygoing mountain biker morphs into a seventeenth century religious zealot, threatening to burn you as a witch for not picking the right wheel size.  What is worse is when they attempt to create scientific studies out of their own anecdotal experience to support one side or the other.  The comments that follow immediately devolve into rancor and chest-thumping as riders attempt to convince the world that their opinion is fact.

To which I reply: it’s all good.  26er?  Great!  29er?  Awesome!  Single speed?  Cool!  Hard tail?  Way to go!  Full suspension?  Neat-o!  650b?  Sweet!  Why pick one, when we can ride just about anything with two wheels and have fun?  (Notice I said two wheels – those unicyclists are just crazy-stupid, I think we can all agree on that.)

So while my 26er is getting a fresh coat of paint (I just got a peek – it is pretty!), I’ve been riding the spouse’s 29er – my first time on the big wheels.  After all the rhetoric, I was expecting a jarring transition from one to the other – the bikes are so different, right?  Well…not so much.  While I certainly noticed the longer wheel base right away, and that big wheel out in front of my line of vision was a bit odd, the 29er felt pretty natural right out of the gate.  Though the trail we rode wasn’t particularly twisty, it didn’t take me too long to get used to the cornering and pumping action of the 29er. 

Most of the comparison articles obsess over speed with these bikes – which one is going to get me to the top of my local age class?  I always think these discussions are the funniest – like the guy who brags about the 200 grams he saved in buying his $2000 wheel set while conveniently ignoring the extra 20 pounds he is carrying around his middle in pasta and donuts.  I don’t know about the races in your neck of the woods, but around here it always seems to be the better engine that wins, not the better bike. 

I did notice one difference while riding the 29er.  I should first say I am not a technical genius on my mountain bike.  I’m still building my skills to move through rock gardens with ease and climb log ladders without stalling out halfway up a step.  The course I rode the 29er on has both of these elements, and the 29er was a definite game changer.  I have difficulty in rock gardens because I am still learning how to multitask (keep the wheels moving, drive the bike, and unweight the front end for that big rock just ahead), but the 29er allowed me to pretty much roll over rocks that have stopped me dead in my tracks before.  And then I successfully completed my first log ladder ever, on my very first attempt, not because I finally got the timing down right, but because the bike was so darn forgiving in letting me roll up and over things. 

While most people would be excited about this, I was a bit disappointed.  While I was happy to be on the bike for more of the trail, I couldn’t help but feel I cheated a little.  I didn’t accomplish more because my skills were more honed, it really was the bike.  For me it comes down to my original logic in getting the 26er – I wanted to work on my bike handling skills and get stronger for cyclocross.  Making it up that log ladder was awesome, but now I want to be able to do it on my 26er.

Final analysis?  26er?  Great ride!  29er?  Great ride!  I’m thinking all those people who troll message boards pontificating about wheel size would be better off spending their time out in the dirt.

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