Over the last few years, the 29er mountain bike has become very popular. 29ers or two-niners are mountain bikes and hybrid bikes that are built to use 700c or 622 mm ISO (inside rim diameter) wheels, commonly called 29″ wheels. Most mountain bikes once used ISO 559 mm wheels, commonly called 26″ wheels.
Many casual mountain bikers and pros alike have come to prefer 29er mountain bikes. So, the verdict is now clear: Mountain bikes with 29-inch wheels are here to stay.
Many riders claim that the traditional 26-inch mountain bike is headed for extinction even though that’s not likely to happen in the near future. There is no doubt a large number of mountain-bike buyers gravitate towards the 29er.
The Pros and Cons of Bigger Wheels
So what makes 29er mountain bikes so special? And what advantages does it offer over their smaller-wheeled siblings?
The number one reason larger wheel sizes have become more common on mountain bikes is their ability to roll over obstacles. A larger wheel has a shallower angle of attack when approaching an obstacle. This makes for a smoother ride both descending and at slower speeds when climbing.
- Better momentum once rolling, meaning more progress for less effort and faster rolling over open terrain.
- A larger tire contact area on the trail, giving better traction and control when climbing or cornering.
- A higher “attack angle,” meaning the wheels roll over trail obstacles with less impact, reducing fatigue and smoothing out the trail.
Most mountain bike riders report that a 29er gives a feeling of enhanced stability and control, decreasing the “sketchiness” of the riding experience. This means fewer on-trail panic attacks and more confidence and comfort.
Sounds great, but what are the downsides?
The tradeoffs are minimal: a small weight penalty for the increased wheel mass and slightly slower initial acceleration from a stop.
Also, larger diameter wheels may hold more traction and speed through a corner. But the decrease in agility and lean angle may be seen as a drawback on a twisty trail.
Is a 29er mountain bike better up hills?
The common belief is that bigger wheels are heavier which works against you when climbing. But this is a myth.
If the climb is littered with rocks and steps, the bigger wheel will roll over these momentum sapping obstacles with less effort. 29ers have more surface contact with the terrain.
Do you really need a 29er?
The biggest benefit of 29ers is that they offer better obstacle rollover. When met with the same size of obstacle, the obstacle hits a larger wheel at a lower point than a smaller wheel, making it easier for the larger wheel to roll over the obstacle. Plus, 29er mountain bikes are taller than standard bikes.
Who Can Ride a 29er mountain bike?
Even though many people can get a good fit on a 29er, there are fewer sizing options for short riders (male or female). Why?
Consequently, many bike companies simply don’t make 29ers in a small or extra small, because they can’t preserve the handling characteristics without toe overlap at those frame sizes. Shorter women, men, and teens enjoy better performance from bikes built around 26- and 27.5-inch wheels.
The main issue for shorter riders is the standover clearance. A 29er is often taller than a comparably sized 26-inch wheel mountain bike and may be too tall for smaller riders. Toe overlap with the larger wheel and an incorrect handlebar height are other potential concerns for shorter riders.
Many 29ers are therefore available in medium, large and extra-large frames, with small frames and women’s specific frames just starting to catch on.
If you are under 5’6” tall, a 26-inch mountain bike is still likely to be a better fit. If you’re 5’6’ or taller, you should be able to find a 29er model to fit you.
Riders more than 6’ tall can rejoice: You’ll definitely enjoy a more natural riding position with the size and frame geometry of a 29er.
What are 29er mountain bikes used for?
29ers offer several big advantages over their smaller-wheeled siblings: Better momentum once rolling, meaning more progress for less effort and faster rolling over open terrain. A larger tire contact area on the trail, giving better traction and control when climbing or cornering.
Is 29 and 700C the same?
29″ (ISO size 622) is actually the same rim diameter as 700C, although most 29″ tires will not fit 700C road rims because they’re too wide. 29″ tires are popular with mountain bikers. When shopping for mountain bike tires, search for 29″. 700C (ISO size 622) is the most commonly used size for modern road bikes.
How to Shop for a 29er
Choosing a 29er is the same as selecting any bike: Know your riding intentions and how you want to use the bike.
Not all 29ers ride comparably. As with any category of bikes, some models are lighter, faster and nimbler than others. Some 29ers are designed for racers, others for weekend enthusiasts. And others for occasional riders who want one bike to serve a multitude of purposes.
Currently, the most common 29-inch wheeled mountain bikes are hardtails (bikes with front suspension only). Full-suspension models are becoming increasingly common as suitable suspension and frame designs evolve.
When tempted to upgrade your existing bike, keep in mind that you need more than bigger wheels. 26-inch wheels and 29-inch wheels are not interchangeable on a frame, since frames and suspension are designed to accommodate a specific wheel size.
It’s best to discuss brand and model options with a knowledgeable sales specialist at a specialty bike shop. This allows you to get an understanding of the relationship between bike quality. Performance. And price. Narrow your selection to 2 or 3 models. Then test ride each one in order to find out which one feels right.
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