Are 29ers the future? The industry answers the big question

It seems that 2012 is set to go down in the history books as the year of the 29er.

So are 29ers the future? We pitched this question to a few industry insiders to get their reactions and thoughts on the biggest debate in mountain biking right now. Here are their responses:

Chris Garrison – Trek Bikes UK

2012 might not be THE year of the 29er, but I suspect it will be the year of the “29er curious”. Enough has been said in the cycling media to pique the curiosity of some rather influential journalists; people who were, previously, devoutly anti-29er.

Those people are now speaking positively about 29ers openly. The domino effect of that might take more than a year to really settle in, but what we are witnessing now is definitely the toppling of the first few tiles.

Dickon Hepworth – Santa Cruz UK

There are several key factors:

Increased range and availability of 29er models from major manufacturers. Instead of being the smaller, high-end brands it will be the big three pushing more 29er sales due to their model ranges featuring a higher percentage of these bike. Dealers who were still undecided on 29er bikes will now be carrying stock of them because of this. The entry level hardtail will predominantly be 29in.

This will lead on to an increase in most riders first mountain bike being a 29in model. This is a significant factor as these first time riders will not be comparing them to a 26in bike’s riding characteristics, which is the source of most current negativity. The 29er bike and how it rides will be their ‘norm’.

The last of the mtb press in the UK seem to have finally got their heads (and words) around 29ers and are now portraying them in a positive light.

David Ward – Giant UK Product Manager

2012 will be the year of the 29er because there has never been a better selection of spec options and price points across the brands than there is this year. Having 29er versions of established 26” models makes such a difference rather than having niche 29er specific platforms. We’re still offering 26” options as well as 29ers but the market is already showing a shift to the bigger wheel only 3 months into this model year.

Anyone who hasn’t tried a 29er should! Better traction for acceleration, climbing, braking and cornering, better momentum and the way they roll over stuff better can’t be ignored. Weights are coming down too although they’ll never weigh what a 26in does. From a handling point of view, get the geometry right and they do steer! Both my hard tail and my full suss are 29ers for 2012, I’m convinced.

Cy Turner – Cotic

2012 will be the year of the 29er because the forks and tyre and rims are finally available to allow designers to put together great handling bikes. Also, with the majority of the media now behind it, there’s pretty much no stopping it.

Simeon Madder – Wiggle Bicycle Buyer

I love talking about 29ers – it’s like talking about politics, you can guarantee there will be an argument!

A couple of years ago when 29ers were really kicking off in the US the vast majority of the UK bike industry from shops to press rubbished it and put it down as a fad that would never cross the pond. You could be literally laughed out of the office for suggesting otherwise which in fact I was.

Regardless it seems riders have had the last word, between 2009 and 2010 our 29er sales increased 600% and doubled the year after.They aren’t the second coming but they’re far and away the biggest growth category in MTB right now.

Do you agree or disagree?

What do you think? Are 29ers the future of mountain biking? Post your comments below:

  1. Richard Bates

    An Ode to 29ers?

    Long before mountain bikes took to the hills we rode round on road bikes with 700c Knobbly tyres called Cyclo cross bikes. I rode the Three Peaks. I trained up and around Snowdon in Wales on my cross bike. The bike was fast and light, when you came across a rocky decent or steep climb you put the bike on your shoulder and ran.

    I also had an old racing frame with 26″x11/4″ wheels that I could buy chunky knobbly tyres for very cheaply and I would use that to train on so as to save my best tyres for competitions.

    In 1981 some competitors brought mountain bikes over from the States to compete in the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’. Rumours were going around the start line of how good they where and how they would leave us for dead on the descents, After spending so much time on both my 26″ ‘blast through walls monster’ and my cyclo cross bike I knew that unless they’d brought along Superman, Batman and Robin as well there was no way that these guys were going to do anything but bring up the rear. We didn’t see them again that day.

    We have moved on from those days and I have enjoyed having mountain bikes and appreciated some of the benefits they have brought, but there was always something missing.

    I started thinking that I could build a cross bike again just so I could get that lightness, agility and speed back that I had in those previous years.

    Then a couple of years ago I came across something different. What was this, someone was making big tyres for 700c wheels, and cross frames with disc brake mounts the result, a so called 29er. ‘Never mind it’s just a name, We can get over it’ but! This was the best bits from both a cross bike and mountain bike, a light fast rolling mile eater with the ability to take some punishment on the descents with those big air tyres. I can do day rides of 50 to 70 miles over the peaks and hills in North Wales with much greater ease and speed than I ever could on my standard mountain bikes, believe me I may well struggle to keep up with some full suses on some descents but by god on race day from one valley to another I would be down the other side long before they got near the summit.

    Honestly! Build your 29er light and you will knock your lap times down by a third you will climb with less effort.
    I don’t think there is anything that a 26″ wheel does better than a 29″ I really think they are history.
    Just remember to drop your gearing when you convert.

    Have Fun and Be Scared
    Richard bates
    (ex this and that)

  2. andy hobson

    I have been riding a Gary Fisher 29er for over a year and liked it so much that my Giant Trance X1 has not been out, the problem is when Dave Ward go’s on about sales yes they might be good but has anyone in the UK got a 2012 bike yet II have a Gaint XTC Composite 29er on order since October 11 know they say should be here some time in May, as bikes go it might as well be 2013 model

  3. Mikkel Lund

    Not convinced, neither of fully’s nor of 29″ – no need to mention the combination.

    Less is more: I’ll take an 8 kg hard tail 26″ anytime…

  4. Tim Dadswell

    OK, this is largely tongue in cheek…

    If I was in the business of selling bikes, I would definitely be telling everyone to throw away all of their old 26″ wheeled bikes and buy new 29″ versions of each.

    Then, when they have done that, I would give it, oh, a year… and then tell them to get rid of those heavy 29″ wheeled bikes and replace them all with nice light 26″ ones.

    Note to Richard regarding your comment above: Is the “knock your lap times down by a third” statement a definite? If so, I’m off to the shop! :-)

  5. Manos

    There are, obviously, advantages and disadvantages in both platforms, one has to settle with whatever is best for his own riding. Marketing is only telling parts of the story, whichever is good for profits. Big – Light – Tough, pick 2 of 3.

  6. David

    29ers is the most blatant marketing exercise yet.

    1. They are not THAT much bigger. Maybe equivalent to 26.5 in old money

    2. They are basically 700c and as such represent a predictable shift for an industry that would like to standardise. Road bikes dropped 27″ wheels long ago. Noone claimed 700c gave that much benefit or detriment. But they seemed slightly closer in size to wheels with “tubs” on, so the racing fraternity handled it without fuss.

    3. Ooh, if we tell the yanks they are now on metric wheels they’ll go all “Freedom fries” on us. Better find a way to spin this that they like. I know – lets measure to a different place and stay in inches. (takes out tape) Er.. I make it about 29inches. Sounds a bit dull. What about “29er ?”. yeah, great, sounds like something completely new.

    Give me a break.

    I’m not saying 1/2 an inch on diameter can’t make ANY difference. But guys, listen to yourselves…

  7. Harry

    I’ve been riding a Mongoose Sabrosa 3X8 , for the past 18 months.
    It’s a great commuter bike , and it won’t betray you on dirt
    trails. It really is a lot easier to eat up more miles with the big wheels. Of course , the big wheels make for a heavier ride , but I’m 6’2 , 92kg , and feel more confident with more mass.
    I’ve covered over 4,000 kilometers , in 18 months.
    I upgraded to Avid BB7 180 Discs , for better braking.
    All in all , I’m a believer in 29ers , and I definitely believe
    that there is no looking back.

  8. Henry

    I am neither for or against 29er’s I think Tim Dadswell makes a good point, from a marketing point of view they are ace, get people to buy a whole new bike! No wonder manufactures are pushing them.
    BUT that’s not to rubbish them there is clearly loads of positives for them.

    The only thing I think is non-sense (and maybe it was a bit tongue in cheek) but “Honestly! Build your 29er light and you will knock your lap times down by a third you will climb with less effort.”. This is the only kind of statement I ever have issue with around 29ers (apart from maybe the ill-informed their rubbish, look horrible stuff) but they can’t be a ticket to extra speed or at least as much as some make out, why the hell would some of the world cup riders swap back to 26 half way through last season? Would Manuel Fumic, a lover of 29ers, get to the most important race of the year, the world championships and decide “you know what I am just going to be too fast on this course on my 29er, I’ll take my 26er to slow me down a bit”. Going fast is for these guys and girls is their living, they will look for every advantage, 90% have options for both. And for some 29er works (I know kulhavy won load on a 29er last year before anyone points that out, although I think we would of won loads what ever wheel size he was on, he was just so strong)
    I am not saying that a 29er will not help you go faster if it suits you and on some terrain it will be quicker. Also I don’t think what suits a super skilful, fit world cup rider will suit everyone, most pro riders bike set up would result in a normal person going slower, but 29ers are just bikes they will not make you go that much faster and I am sure for some slower.
    They will not automatically give you extra speed.

  9. MG

    I don’t know exactly if 2012 will be the “year of the 29″er”, because in all honesty, for me, 2005 was the year I made the switch. For the riding I do, I’ve found big wheels to simply be better. It’s not really that they give me more speed. What I like is that I crash less when I’m going fast, and in racing situations, that’s a serious benefit. 22 years of racing at the semi-professional level has left me with 34 screws and four plates in my body, so anything that can help me ride fast safer is a good thing, and I definitely feel a big wheel bike does that. It’s flat-out an easier bike to ride fast. Every single 29er I’ve owned has been a very easy bike to ride fast. Well, I guess the first Kona I owned wasn’t so dialed, geometry-wise, so it was a little sketchy, but as soon as I got my first Salsa Dos Niner, I was sold on the benefits of riding big wheels fast over rough ground. No, they don’t automatically give you more speed. You have to learn how to ride them, but once you do, you can ride them faster over rough ground (and the ride you get will be comparably smoother in the process). Of those benefits I’m suitably convinced based on my six-plus years and 10,000+ miles of direct experience.

    Cheers,
    Matt Gersib
    Cycle Works/Moose’s Tooth team
    Lincoln, Nebraska USA

  10. David

    I’d like to see more 96ers.
    I had a shot of a Carver (I think) a while back and really liked it.
    I think any development that gets more people on bikes is great.
    Stop compartmentalising people and pull together.
    We all like the same sport.
    Any views?
    Cheers

  11. mudglutten

    I rode a Stumpy 29er on Moab slickrock, where its rolling ability was great but its weight was not. 29ers have their place (as do slick tyres, lycra, narrow bars, long stems, fixies, single speeds, rigid forks, which have all been both slated AND praised by the marketeers in an effort to persuade us to buy the latest, “greatest” thing….) For versatility though, I’ll have to dissapoint those marketeers and stick with my 26ers

  12. Jonathan Rind

    29ers are definitely the future
    for me as a tall rider, and I have been riding a susser 29er (Ventana) since 2007 – it was a major change
    Rock on 29ers.

  13. Chris

    Tim Dadswell and David both make points I agree with, every year the industry has to come up with something new to sell bikes or re-hash the annual merry go round of make it light, make it strong, make it colourful, make it black etc, the bike mags then follow suit. I’m all for progress and wouldn’t be without disc brakes/suspension/LED lights/etc but seriously people just get out and ride!

    PS As I youngster on my road bike I couldn’t turn a corner with a foot forward on the cranks i.e. horizontal to the ground as it would catch the front wheel does this also happen on 29ers?!

  14. John g

    I rode a 26er for years, liked it, bought a 29er, love it. 29er is slower to accelerate and slower to steer but since I am now 50+ what I did then is not what I do now. Dunno about racing a 29er, never done it.
    As for marketing types hype, OK point taken, but if we didn’t have marketing or other innovation we’d all be walking to work at t’mill, having left our cold draughty gas-lit home at 4 in the morning. We’d still be marrying t’lass from t’next village – although that could be a bonus cos my missus lived 70 miles from me………………………

  15. gavin

    if you are not a good climber and a bit on the heavy side , a 29er is not the best choice.

  16. woodsy

    have been riding my fisher ferous 29er fully rigid for some time and its fantastic. cant see the point of 29er full sus as 26 works perfectly with out the weight gain.as for being quicker the phrase “the older i get the better i was” comes to mind.
    get on ANY bike and ride

  17. Mark D. Chapman

    If you read through the above, you actually can sum it up:
    Any 29er (700c) will be heavier than a comparebel 26 all else the same bike. Accelerating mass father from the senter of a circel requires more energy, and also turning the mass from the straight course. Very bumpy and tricky courses will give you more work to do, turning, lifting the bike over and all the accelerations inbetween. The smaller and lighter the rider, the more pronounced the dissadvantages will be.
    When going the mass will keep you going a little better. On certain terrains you will also go faster, tarmac, hard dirt and over small to medium bumps. There is an intermediate “bumbyness” where the difference can be very pronounced I have experienced. That is when the 26 hits every bump “hard on” while the 29 rolls over. (As said above, if the next part of the trail is even bumpier, lots of turns or many short ups and downs, the 26 will likely catch up).
    The advantages increas with driver size. My experience puts the limits at aprox 6 feet (1 m 82 cm?) and 200 pounds (90 kg). I am well under this and 29ers don’t work for me (althoug I might ride one on a mainly bad dirt road race with the intermediate “bumbyness” as the most difficult surface and no twisting and turning trail, then of course I might consider 1″ slicks also! But then I have seen road bikes or cyclocross bikes on such races!)
    So i t boils down to the riders strength, ability and size and the conditions of the trail. Therfore we see the pros using different bikes on differetn races.
    A last word to the anti fully post: Many races are now won on fullys, agin it depends on the rider and the track. And for oldies like me with akeing joints and many reason to avoid jolting my body to hard, the fully keeps me still going on trails now and than, and lett me go as fast as i can over bumpy terrain still!
    All in all the more diverse bike types there are the more choices we have, and more sutabel bike more people can find. So though a lot of new stuff is to make more money for the companies, some news is good news at least for some riders.

  18. hampstead bandit

    new to 29′ers

    dumped my 150mm all-mtn (Devinci Dixon SP) for a Stumpy Evo 29′er HT and thoroughly enjoying it!

    not better or worse, just different with a different riding style (keep the wheels turning as they are slower to accelerate or de-accelerate) but huge fun and not missing full suspension one bit!

    not found any of the negatives I had read / heard about of cumbersome handling, its a fast handling bike and most importantly huge fun to ride, and very simple to clean and maintain which is always nice when in full time employment (incidentally, as a professional bike mechanic and workshop manager of a profitable cycle store)

    here in the UK, we have been slow to adopt the 29′er but judging from the amount of 29′er bikes coming into my workshop to be built and serviced for customers, its definitely gathering momentum very quickly during 2012…

  19. Richard Sterry

    My carbon 29er (Scott Scale) is lighter than my 26er (Specialized S-Works). It glides over the bumps and just keeps going when hitting a muddy section.
    It’ll take a lot for me to go back to a 26er – hooked on the 29er.

    1. Mark D. Chapman

      When discussing weight you can’t compare different makes. The comparison should be between a Scott Scale 29′ and 26′ set up as like as possible. Not to say you should not be happy with your choice, it clearly suites you, enjoy!, but there is no argument here than can be generalized for other peoples choices.

      Mark

  20. TrekChris

    To everyone who thinks that 29ers are simply a marketing exercise, and a way for the manufacturers to get people to buy more bikes, I would just like to point out that there are massive costs involved in designing, prototyping, testing, manufacturing, equipping, packing, and shipping an entire range of bikes with an alternate wheel size. In a fiscally conservative market, it wouldn’t make much sense to go through the expense of producing these bikes if the technological benefits weren’t there.

    The amount of money required to do this is huge, and at the end of the day, when you have bikes of two wheel sizes that overlap each other in price and componentry, then essentially that puts us in a position to compete with ourselves.

    1. simon spragg

      29ers are basically unnessessary but as with all growing markets the designers design new stuff because they can. The marketing guys create hype and the consumer is sold a new concept. Obviosly 29ers arn’t better than 26ers likewise the other way around. In different places different bikes work differently. BUT the best set up is all about the rider NOT the bike. Jotnalists and rich guys who can just buy the latest stuff will buy 29ers. Just like the guys who always have everything because they can – the best and fastest etc are often riding bone shakers without all the latest stuff.

      The pro’s will ride WHAT they are paid to ride, the consumer buys what is available in the stores or on line. Good debate – although completly unessessary. Now what really is the difference between a 67 degree and 68 degree head angle, the number of links, location of the links, oversized head tube, etc etc AH YES its them marketing guys again…………

    2. Rod Morrison

      To Chris’s comment, here in Aussieland the prices of BOTH 26″ and the 29″ are the same (mostly), why? If they have put so much effort into them, why now sell them for the same price? Helps to sell them maybe? And when they REALLY push hard here to sell the 29″, there is no, or very little, mention of the word 26″ by the bike shops and the bike shops can only sell what they are given to sell, soon those 29″ bikes will rise in price I believe and then we will see the other side of the coin, the NEW price of the 29″. There is something in what Chris has to say for sure and that price will have to be paid back sooner or later, it seems to me that the manufacturer is taking away my choice of what size is available and THAT is what bugs me the most, soon maybe those 29″ parts for the bikes will also start to be just a smidgin larger from the 26″ and for that, also a higher price, no one makes something for nothing, ever. I also don’t believe all that I read here in the forum, this place is also a venue to sell 29″ bikes with a positive slant. Look about you when out there riding, just how many 29″ bikes do you see? And a person that has just spent $8,000 on a 29er they are not now going to confess their mistake. They both I think, have their places….From what I have seen, I don’t think (the 29″) they climb as well on fire-roads, climb up switch backs or climb up rock gardens, er, is climbing about 50% of a ride? At the same time I have seen 29″ riders (mostly big, young and strong riders) fly on these bikes, but not climbing those tight switchbacks there they are buggered. Horses for courses.

      1. Mark D. Chapman

        As to confessing to making a mistake, I know riders regretting their purchase of a 29′er. Since theese have been smaller guys, like me, it has confirmed my view that the choice also will depend on rider size.
        I also strongly agree with the posts here warning that 26′ers might become obsolete. So far it’s a disadvantage for the 29′ers with available parts and upgrades, like choice of tires. It’s OK if this is improved for 29′ers, but it’s a catastrophe if the problem instead increases for 26′ers and also the available number of 26′ models. Since I believe the limit is around 6 feet, most of us (and especially women) are lower, and 26′ers will be the choice for the majority.
        Yes, commercial interests will try to make new fads in bikes and parts all the time, their all in there for the money, not the joy of biking (though some might be in there for both…). Just check out the fixies: a completely useless bike and when without brakes, really dangerous (forbidden here in Norway, but the fad make buyers remove the brakes after bying!!). And also earlier when all kids wanted the small cross bikes, fun for makeing tricks in the street or on a ramp and for riding the courses, but useless for getting anywhere.
        We bikers just have to resist going for the fads in choice of bikes and parts to upgrade with. We can easier loose a few grams of fat around our bellies than paying outrageous prices for unnecessary and probably weaker parts that are a few grams lighter than the ones we use!
        One could hope there was a bikemagazine or site that was truly independent and that could question a lot of the products that are put on the market. To often they are impressed by design or coloring or useless details. I don’t mind a nice looking gadget, but it’s the performance I get for my money that is important.
        So also when choosing 26′ or 29′ don’t go for what companies and magazines are trying to tell you, consider your size, strength, riding style and type of rides you mostly do, then try and finally choose.

        Mark

  21. Dan

    Turning this around, is the question also “is there nowhere left for 26″ bikes to evolve any more?”

    if this is the case, I’ll stick with my 2009 5 for a goodly while yet.

  22. John Davies

    Guys been riding 26 for ages spent a lot on new one 2 years ago just bought a dropper post better than a fortune spent on new bike 29 ers better? Some places yes some places no, rode 27 wheels of road when I was young would I swap ? Not for a good few years yet.
    Just try one if your getting a new bike, don’t chuck money away if your not

  23. Peter

    It seems Specialized in particular are forcing what was a niche market on unsuspecting customers.

    Works riders ride and say what their sponsors tell them to. Magazines know which side their bread is buttered, so often fail to be completely objective. Riders with a £1-2k investment are keen to defend their expenditure. So getting an unbiased view is difficult.

    The claims that 29′ers are the next great thing, are just the shouts of those proclaiming the quality of the emperors new clothes. Higher center of gravity, less suspension travel, heavier unsprung weight which affects the suspension performance..all make me deeply suspicious.

    If you were new to the sport and had ridden neither then you would probably love whichever one you purchased. I’m sure there is room on the trails for both so I’m not going to start a 29′er hater blog.

    I’m just concerned that in a saturated and financially challenged market, these 29′ers came from the Marketing department rather than the R&D department

    1. Mark D. Chapman

      Good extra points here, I forgot the center of gravity and the effects of this and extra weight on suspension travel and performance on the con side of the 29′ers. We need all aspects when choosing!

      Mark

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