29ers: What is all the fuss about?

Looking at coverage from various cycle industry tradeshows and seeing so many companies jump on the 29in wheeled bandwagon I became curious.

Bikemagic Editor David Arthur also had some positive words to say about the big wheel revolution. So, last weekend I decided to take the Santa Cruz Highball that has been on test at Bikemagic out for a ride on some local and very familiar trails in the surrey hills.

First impressions: it’s light and efficient. I was climbing up the hills with ease, so much so that I was in my road riding mindset all of a sudden. This was all about getting to the top of the hill fast, using the lungs and feeling the burn. The momentum of the bike was just encouraging me to ‘beast’ it up the hill. Hmmmm. All good then surely?

Not so fast. On to the downs: There has been a lot of talk about 29in wheels making a hardtail feel like a short travel bike. Absolute nonsense. The Highball is a hardtail and it still behaves like a hardtail.

It is a harsh ride and the rear wheel still bounces around underneath you like the wheel of any 26in hardtail, only with the 29errrr there is less clearance when things steepen up and you want to get over the back end. I was also less inclined to bunny hop my way out of trouble. A short travel bike will still sink in to the corners and create a lot more traction than any amount of flex in a large wheel hardtail can. In my mind this ‘short travel feel’ is marketing hyperbole.

I have to say that in terms of smoothing out the nonsense of the trail the larger wheels do to some extent have an effect. It is not groundbreaking though and the highball on most occasions felt like a 26errrr. It handled well and wasn’t as awkward to turn in the tighter stuff as I had been led to believe.  On the straighter sections it felt stable and capable.

In the air? Let’s just say I felt safer with the wheels on the ground.

Overall then? After riding around my usual loop in the hills I was left feeling a little deflated. Yes, I had probably gone quicker overall but the whole experience became an exercise in covering ground fast.

I felt less confident in hitting technical lines I wouldn’t think twice about on a 26er and I felt like I was more reserved than usual hitting corners at speed. All the little compressions and hollows in the ground that I usually hop out of, pop out of and generally get out of shape in were all ironed out and gone.

The 29in wheels had changed the trail. I felt cheated…this was precious weekend time on the bike and the big wheels had taken away a lot of the fun.

This bike had failed to put a smile on my face like a 26er can.

Jon rode the Santa Cruz Highball 29er. You can read Bikemagic’s first ride of that bike here.

Do you agree/disagree with Jon’s verdict? Let’s hear your opinion in the Bikemagic forum.

  1. Renners

    Great review Gregoir, I’m intrigued by the whole 29er thing. Might take her for a spin, surely they’re well suited to gangly builds like mine…

  2. kmbkid

    Check out 29′er event at Keswick Bikes on 29th February. It should be a cracker.

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