World Cup glory for 29ers

Sauser is a fan of 29ers. Are you?

It’s been threatening to happen for a while, but at the Dalby round of the UCI World Cup a 29er bike was ridden to victory, marking a critical point in the recent trajectory of big wheels from quirky misfit to mainstream acceptance.

Jaroslav Kulhavy is the name to remember as the first rider to ride to World Cup glory aboard a 29er. His bike of choice (and we use the term choice carefully as nobody knows whether it really was his choice) was a Specialized Epic 29er, a 100mm full-susser. And there were more riders down the rankings who raced aboard big wheel bikes, including Christoph Sauser (take a closer look at his bike here).

Since the first 29er mountain bike appeared a few years ago, it’s taken a while but very recently there’s been a tidal wave of new big wheel bikes flooding the internet and pages of magazines. With more manufacturers annoucing they’re jumping on the bandwagon that’s currently hurtling at some speed through the mountain bike world, we can barely keep up. The past 12 months has seen an explosion of interest and demand for the bikes.

The limited choice of frames, forks, tyres and wheels that initially held back 29ers from winning us over is less an obstacle these days. There’s a greater choice of parts than ever before, with hundreds of new products due to be launched over the next 6 months. Manufacturers are now starting to get a real grasp of how best to design 29ers too, with the geometry and other important numbers in designing a frame better sorted now than they were a couple of years ago.

Still, the subject of 29ers, as seen in the Bikemagic forum is a controversial subject that gets people hot under the collar. Some clearly hate the prospect of riding anything but 26in wheeled bikes and see the movement as pure marketing hype, while others are more open to the idea of riding 29ers, and have happily made the transition. Everyone else, it seems, is sitting firmly on the fence, playing the wait and see game.

It’s not only the world elite that are racing 29ers, as we saw at Dalby last weekend, we’ve seen some of the top UK enduro guys making the switch, including Josh Ibbett, Rob Dean and Ian Leitch, each of them deciding that 29ers offered them enough of an advantage to warrant the investment. And this trend is trickling down through to less race-orientated types too, as we witnessed in the Dalby Dare.

It’s early days for 29ers, but it seems they’re here to stay. There’s more support for them at the elite level as evidenced at Dalby World Cup last weekend, but also for everyday punters as we found out during the Dalby Dare challenge ride; we weren’t alone in riding a 29er and were in fact surrounded by them.

What started out as a fad in the states has crossed (like most crazes tend to) the pond and now Europe is readily getting behind the 29er concept. It’s safe to say that they’re here to stay. But where will we be in a couple of years from now? Will 26ers be extinct? Or will all these 29ers be collecting dust in bike sheds as everyone shifts back to their old faithful 26ers. Only time will tell.

(Didn’t make it to Dalby? Here’s a roundup of all the 29ers we spotted)


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