What with the 29th of Leap February being big news this week, there's been a lot of focus on 29in wheeled mountainbikes this last while.
Below, Benji Haworth - our new words fella - writes stuff on 29ers, but also worth a read:-
"There's been a lot of kerfuffle in the UK mountainbike media recently about 29ers. Which is mostly baffling to me seeing as companies have been designing 29er for nigh on ten years now but this big wheel attention is generally most welcome regardless.
"Despite some websites and magazines doing the best to kick up various sorts of brouhahas or Mrs Merton-style 'heated debates', the key thing amongst normal riders is just a general acceptance that 29ers have their place. There's no need to set off fireworks. There's no need to scream "I told you so", just as there's no need to hollar "26 inch 'til I die!"
"And let's not even get started on "are 29ers the future?" Yes, they'll be an option. They've been a viable option for a good few years now. Seriously, where have you been? Big wheels will sit alongside 26in wheels. And 24in wheels. And 20in wheels.
"When a new format comes along, it generally doesn't obliterate all previous formats. Look at the medium of radio. There's no need for it now we have telly right? Wrong. It's still here. Serving its purpose.
"The truth of the whole thing is that the Big-Wheel-Zealots of the past few years were just as wrong as the It's-Just-Another-Yankee-Fad naysayers. And they were both just as right.
"First generation 29ers were quite often horrible things to ride. Overly tall and teetery front ends, prone to jackknifing if you dared point them at an interesting trail. Hugely long chainstays that removed all the pop and fizz from your riding. No you won't be lofting the front wheel up over that root or rock. Flexy frames. Even flexier forks and wheels. No suitable tyre choice whatsoever if you lived outside of California. Just yuck.
"But… the larger wheel size, even encumbered by crappy geometry and componentry, genuinely did have something good to offer. Momentum. Traction. Bump-flattening. Things that you really notice the absence of when you get back on 26in wheels.
"Thankfully there were a handful of good 29er designs out there that showed real promise. Enough of a promise for other designers - bike and component designers - to take notice and put their thinking caps on. Designers and engineers love to solve problems.
"So nowadays we have 29er forks with custom rakes to deal with the different characteristics of a bigger wheel. You can get 29er forks with 140mm of travel if you want them. Forks also sport bolt-thru axles and fatter stanchions these days. Witness the stiffness. There are loads of decent tyres to choose, still not enough admittedly, but On-One are working on that with our own exclusive designs with Maxxis. With modern tapered headtubes we can stiffen things up even more whilst keeping the front end nice and low. Flat handlebars that aren't ridiculously narrow now exist. Again, keeping things low slung and tidy up front.
"And it's this frame and componentry stuff that is arguably the main reason for the recent media hype - or media wakening-up. The ingredients are all finally available. There's less compromise on a modern 29er. Things are specific. Intended for the job. Fit for purpose.
"In 2012 it's hard to work out which generation of 29ers we're currently experiencing. 3rd? 4th? It really doesn't matter.
"There are some people who are now saying that the 26in wheel hardtail is dead. And yes, truth be told, 29ers are guaranteed to take a massive bite of the hardtail market. And why shouldn't they? If you want a hardtail for whatever reason (handling, weight, cost, aesthetics) then a 29er one will very likely do the job better. Faster, grippier, comfier. Just plain 'more fun' truth be told. Let's not forget why we all got into riding bicycles on dirt in the first place eh? Who wants to ride a dull bike that's just 'more efficient'? Big wheels are now big fun.
"26in wheel hardtails won't die. They'll still be around, like radio.
"Bikes are tools for the job. Glorious tools admittedly, but still tools. It's nice to have the right tool for the job. Nice, but not vital. Riding the 'wrong' bike is always better than riding no bike.
"No one should ever commit to one wheel size - any wheel size - for the rest of their lives. Nailing your colours to the mast is stupid and pointless thing to do. Cyclists are, on the whole, some of the world's best free thinkers and fun seekers. Similarly no cyclist should ever rule out a type of bicycle or a type of riding. Why restrict your potential, your horizons, like that?
"If you've never tried a 29er you're missing out. Missing out on an experience. Mountainbiking is all about experiencing things. It may not turn out to be the experience for you but where's the harm in trying something? You have nothing to lose.
"To conclude, 29ers are not THE future. They're A future."
2 March 2012