29er First Ride Review

After what seemed like an eternity of winter and then several feet of rain in the summer the trails are finally dry enough to ride on around here. First order of business was to get my new 29er on the trail and log some quality miles. I have to say the spring conditions really took their toll on the trails in my neighborhood. My usual path has huge ruts, washout sand and still some trees down. The new 29 inch weapon actually made the ride not so bad. I gotta say I am impressed by the overall 29 inch wheel experience. So am I going to get rid of my 26ers and go all 29……not quite yet.

OK let’s get down to technical brass here. What I like about the 29 inch wheel size is ride quality for sure. It really felt like I was riding a full suspension bike in terms of comfort. Then came the obstacles. Logs and rock crossings that I had to concentrate on with even a full suspension 26 wheel was no longer a challenge. I can say this may be my first choice of bikes for trails I am unfamiliar with from now on. It seemed very easy to get up to speed and maintain a pace without a lot of concentration or technical skill.

Let’s talk about that technical skill for a minute. On a 26” wheel you really need to develop some skills. Knowing how to transfer your weight around, climb hills, corner on a tight turn, pick up the front end of the bike for an obstacle, and most importantly descend and maintain control. On the 29er I feel like I really don’t need to be an expert in any of those. Now I am not saying you need to ignore skills, but you don’t need to be a pro level rider to enjoy a technical trail. On a 26” wheel an unskilled rider can quite frequently get bucked from the bike. My gut tells me the 29er would help a novice stay on the bike more. Is this a bad thing? Heck no, this is great! I think it really makes the sport open to more casual riders. My hope is I can maybe get my wife on some more technical trails this way.
So what didn’t I like? Now if I went on a rant and said the 29er was blah blah blah and my 26er is like great great great I think it wouldn’t surprise anyone right? I am not going to do that. It really is comparing an apple to an orange. Like I said in my first article wheel size affects so much that it makes almost an entirely different machine. As I suspected on the 29er I could not accelerate like I can on a smaller lighter wheel. This made me work harder to maintain more speed. Is that bad? No it is just different. When the trees got tight I couldn’t turn on a dime and I had to take some wider lines. Again, not bad just different. I have heard so much about how the 29er makes you some miracle hill climber. Can’t say that really happened with me. I can already climb hills well so it didn’t make me a super climber. I just noticed I didn’t seem to lose pace as quickly while climbing. However with the taller gearing I couldn’t accelerate into the climb like I could on a 26er so I worked a bit harder to just not lose as much pace. Different. Last thing I noticed was cornering was a bit looser feeling. I could feel the rear wheel flex a lot. That just took some getting used to. By about the 10 mile mark it wasn’t bothering me anymore. Did I mention it just felt different?

OK now for some technical analysis you have all been waiting for, Strava times. I am going to do some comparison times, but not until later in the year. My cardio is a little off and the trails are still a bit soft in places so comparing any time right now to end of last year is pointless. My intention this summer is still to do back to back rides on the same day on the same trails and then compare times. After my initial ride though I am not sure there will be much variation from one bike to the next though. Either way I will follow through with some quantitative analysis.

Overall my first impression is good. I definitely like the different ride the 29er offers and I think it is a great beginner platform as well as a great ride for anyone. For sure I am going to keep one around as an option to ride from now on. I wouldn’t call me converted, but I would say I enjoy it. Now to get that 650b on the trail and see how that compares. Fun stuff!

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