If you’ve been searching or deciding on a big wheeled mountain bike, you’ve no doubt seen the raging debates over wheel-size, and tire width amongst a slew of others (like the benefits of dropper-posts, one-by systems, etc). It can certainly make your head spin.
One of our customers recently waded through the mire of the wheel-size debate & made the jump from his hard-tail 26 to a full-suspension 29er. He’s so in love with his new bike, & has been telling anyone & everyone within ear shot, for weeks, about his amazing new ride! He was so excited, in fact, that he offered to write about his experience so we could share it with others who may sorting through the wheel-size debate. Here’s his story:
“As a regular-joe-mountain-bike-enthusiast, I wanted to share my experience of upgrading to a Specialized Stumpjumper carbon FSR 29er. I have been riding for about 25 years, riding Middlesex’s/Millers Pond/Rockland primarily for the last 10 years. My earlier bikes consisted of hard tails and a few Giant full suspension, all with 26” wheels and I absolutely loved them. Each bike brought a new sense of confidence and my abilities grew to the level of the bike. I regularly do 3’ to 4’ drops, ride most skinnies and climb most anything. I felt my last bike (Giant Reign) was so perfect, that I had a hard time considering anything but replacing that bike with a new version of that exact bike; including the same wheel size. I truly believed that the new wheel sizes were all a marketing scheme. As a frugal, live below my means kind of guy, I was not going to buy into “the scam”. The only reason I considered replacing my bike was because the suspension was feeling tired and not as responsive/plush/forgiving as when it was new. It still rode very fine, it had just lost that new bike feel. My rides were always fun, but each passing year the bike felt a bit more rough and harsh. I certainly never fell out of love with mountain biking, but I did feel that my romance with mountain biking was starting to become uninteresting. At that point I realized that if I was going to ride 2 to 3 times a week, it was time to invest in the equipment to maximize my enjoyment.
Thus began my love affair with my full suspension Specialized Stumpjumer carbon FSR 29er. After doing a fair amount of research and briefly riding a 650b and 29er, I decided on the Stumpjumper 29er. I am clueless when it comes to components/geometry/suspension/etc. AND the purpose of sharing my experience has nothing to do with the actual bike. My purpose is to convey how amazing the 29ers are to ride. I will try to make this short because I could go on for days. I also want to note that of the many of the things that I discuss, I had heard and did not believe, “it’s only 3 more inches”.
First off, the 29” wheels take so many small bumps out of the equation. I have been riding Millers Pond weekly since that trail system was cut in and I have noticed a deterioration in the smoothness of the trail surface. With the 29er, it felt as if this trail magically transformed to the its earlier years. Rock gardens that used to rattle my bones don’t seem to exist, the pot holes seem to have been filled in. Secondly, I was very concerned about losing the “playfulness” with the 29” wheels. I like to “dance” my bike up on rocks and skinnies, often doing wheelie drops off them. I also have a slower pace when attacking sharp uphill’s so that I can pick my line as opposed to steam rolling anything in my way. When I first got on the bike, my initial thought was, “wow this bike seems longer”. However, after that first ride, that thought disappeared. I am comfortable enough to ride all the playful lines and all the manmade obstacles that I did before. Thirdly, a 29” wheel can climb so much better. Climbs that I use make 75% of the time and/or leave me out of breath, now don’t feel as challenging as they were. You have so much more grip/power/balance/energy for climbs gradual or steep. It honestly feels a bit unfair compared to a 26” wheel. Fourthly, I am now able to ride with power and energy for a lot longer. A hard 2 hour ride use to wipe me out physically, now after 3 hours in the saddle on the same terrain, I feel like I could go for at least another hour. Lastly and in my opinion most importantly, riding my bike in the woods is sooo much more fun. I ride better, faster, smoother, my body feels better and I clear sections with much more ease. All of this leads to an overall genuine better experience.
I don’t work for a bike shop, or have any connections to the bike industry. I am the first guy to say, “save your money don’t try to keep up with the latest trends”. However, my experience of riding a 29er has reinvigorated my love for mountain biking. I am a true believer that if you enjoy riding a mountain bike, then you are missing out if you are still riding a 26″ wheel. If you are on the fence, like I was, pull the trigger. Your only regret is that you waited too long.”
So have you made the switch? What was your experience like going to a larger wheel? Leave us your story in the comments.