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29er Mountain Bikes

The Pros, Cons and Variations of 29-inch Mountain Bikes

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29er Mountain Bikes

29er mountain bikes offer taller riders a more natural-feeling geometry.

Olgierd Pstrykotwórca via Flickr
Those of you with even an informal interest in mountain biking (which I assume is most, if not all, who have stumbled upon this page), are likely aware of the trend towards bigger-wheeled bikes, referred to as “29er mountain bikes.” While this type of mountain bike was once snubbed by some--and celebrated by others--it has become apparent in recent times that the 29-inch mountain bike fan base is ever growing, proving that the bike itself is here for the long haul. That said, let’s take a look at how this fine piece of machinery came to be, what it offers riders and who should be throwing a leg over one.

What Exactly Is A 29er?
Simply put, a 29er mountain bike refers to a larger rimed mountain bike than what has traditionally flooded the market. The “29” in “29er mountain bike” refers to the diameter of the whole wheel, including the tire. Traditional mountain bikes have a 26-inch wheel diameter. Though 29er mountain bikes have the same rim diameter as a conventional road bike, they are not one in the same. Road rims are narrower and not created to handle the stress of serious off-road riding.

A Little History
So, which manufacturers played a role in the early production of 29er mountain bikes? Allow me to offer a brief history. In 1999, Wilderness Trail Bikes (also known as simply WTB) produced the Nanoraptor, which is claimed to be the first real 29-inch mountain bike tire. Around the same time, the first 29-inch suspension fork that was widely available to consumers was introduced by White Brothers. These days, you would be hard pressed to find a U.S. bicycle manufacturer that didn’t offer a 29er mountain bike or frame in their lineup, but it wasn’t always that way. The first major bike company to offer a variety of 29er mountain bikes in their lineup was Gary Fisher Bicycles.

Advantages of a 29er
I can ride over that? I’ve thought it in disbelief many times. And yet, time after time, I’ve ridden over logs and other obstacles that typically cause me to blunder on my 26-inch bike. That’s because having larger wheels and a smaller approach angle allows riders to roll over trail obstructions more easily. The enhanced ground clearance helps in this area as well. What’s more, the larger wheels maintain momentum better and offer decreased rolling resistance. Some riders also observe improved stability, which increases their confidence on the bike.

Disadvantages of a 29er
There are two sides to every coin, and while the benefits of riding a 29er mountain bike may seem plentiful, critics of big wheels point to a few shortcomings—namely a slightly heavier wheel mass and sluggish acceleration from a complete stop. In many cases, riders view these tradeoffs as too minor to count as a strike against the bike.

Who Can Ride a 29er?
Are 29ers only for tall riders? Not necessarily. Sure, bigger wheeled bikes give taller mountain bikers a more natural-feeling geometry than 26-inch wheels, but shorter riders can benefit as well. A 29er offers riders on the shorter end of the spectrum the same advantages as taller riders: faster rolling, better traction, decreased rolling resistance and improved stability. However, standover clearance, toe overlap and incorrect handlebar height are the main sources of concern for the shorter population. That’s why you’ll see frames available in medium, large and extra-large. Women’s specific and size small frames are out there, but you have to look hard.

Variations
”96er”: 29-inch front wheel and 26-inch rear wheel

”69er”: 29-inch front wheel and 26-inch rear wheel

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