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Apparently, size does matter

Apparently, size does matter

Our sponsored blogger Fiona Russell usually rides on the road but has been enjoying off-road adventures as winter training on an On-One Lurcher 29er. It has been her first time on a 29er and here's what she thought:

Does size matter? Of course it does, as I found out the other weekend. The size in question is 29 inches. The product is a On-One Lurcher mountain bike. So enough already with your smutty thoughts!

I wanted to see if a mountain bike with 29-inch wheels differed from a more traditional 26-inch wheeled bike. The inches refer to the wheels' diameter. Most of us have ridden trails on a 26er MTB. Most of us will also be familiar with the delights of MTB suspension. A good proportion will also know about the benefits of disc brakes and efficient gears. So why would we bother to ditch the 26-inch bike for a new-style 29er?

The only real difference between the two is the size of the wheels, and the corresponding frame geometry to accommodate the wheel size. A bit of online research has suggested that 29ers are better at riding over bumps and pot holes. The wider arc of the wheel makes the ride smoother and more comfortable.

The people who love 29ers believe they are the perfect bike for cross-country riding and make life on the trails so much more pleasurable. Converts to big wheels love their ability to make riding fast and bumpy trails much easier. The rolling advantages of big-wheel bikes may not offer a convincing overall speed gain on a cross-country circuit when compared to highly skilled racers, but it's thought that the boost in comfort and confidence generally improves the riding ability and feel-good factors.

Stability is also said to be better on a 29er. Although the wheel axles are 1.5in higher on 29ers than on 26ers, riders sit lower between the wheel axles on a 29er making the ride feel more stable. It's also worth noting that several cross country races have been won on 29ers more recently, especially in America.

Of course, there are also those riders who swear they would never have a 29er. They believe that the increased weight of the bigger wheels, the larger components and the high-rise rider are deeply unsatisfactory. They reckon the 29ers are slower to accelerate. They also state that the 29er is good for only cross-country riding and offer no flexibility of riding, such as when the need arises for some downhill speed.

Interestingly, 29ers are most definitely on the increase and in the last year or so I have seen several friends buying one instead of a new 26er. The truth is that you need to take a 29er out for a test ride before you can decide whether it's for you (or read articles like this about other people doing it!)

Before you read on, you should be aware that I am not a pro. I usually ride a road bike and I'm an occasional mountain biker. Taking an On-One 29er mountain bike out for a trail ride is a new experience for me but I guess it means I'll be offering a layman's view of what it's like to ride a 29er. My partner G is also testing a Lurcher.

Test riding an On-One 29er

G and I are fortunate to live in the northern suburbs of Glasgow and very close to numerous off-road trails. We chose the West Highland Way, a long-distance walking and cycling trail, for our first couple of outings. The trail is typically bumpy and rutted with some tree root sections, boardwalks and lots of undulation interspersed with short sections of steep up and downhills. The trail is very wet and muddy right now. We are both fairly confident riders, with G being far more competent on technical sections than I am.

At first, you do feel very high up when riding a 29er. These 29ers are big and grand, like Shire horses compared to 26er ponies, but it doesn't take long to feel comfortable. In fact, they are as comfortable as an armchair on wheels! Surprisingly, I didn't feel as though the bike was harder to handle because of the bigger geometry. What was most noticeable was the roll of the bike. Potholes and bumps seemed to be smoothed out and eaten up by the large wheels.

The On-One Lurcher 29er has Rockshox forks that can be locked or unlocked according to terrain. On tarmac we locked the suspension and both G and I found it easy to whizz along. G is a tarmac loving road rider and usually frowns upon mountain bikes on tarmac but he had a huge grin on his face as he reported: "This is so much easier than I thought it would be. It's the best mountain bike feel I've ever had on a road."

Another noticeable difference is the width of the handlebars. We guessed that the wider handlebars are meant to give better steering on more technical trails and certainly the bikes were not at all twitchy at the front end. We are not entirely convinced that we need the handlebars to be quite so wide, however, but we will stick with them for a while to see how we go. I should point out that it's not always that easy to ride along side by side with wider handlebars because you need to be very aware of a trail suddenly narrowing. A couple of times we clanked handlebar ends and wobbled precariously!

On the flat and undulating trails, and where we met tarmac and boardwalk, the 29ers whizzed along. I didn't feel as though I was riding any slower than I would on a 26er and because I hardly needed to worry about obstacles I could simply ride forwards in a smooth and straight line. The uphill sections were also surprisingly smooth flowing. Many people have said that 29ers are awkward and heavy but we both managed to ride uphill efficiently, even where there were steep and rocky sections. The traction was as good as I can recall with a 26er although it may take some practise to negotiate the more bumpy rocky sections. I am not hugely confident and was forced to get off when the trail became too bonkers for me. G managed it all perfectly well, however.

When it came to downhill sections that required more technical skill I could only watch as G zoomed onwards. On these sections I did find the bike to be bigger and more unwieldy and because of this I froze a bit. I asked G when I caught up with him what he thought and he was surprisingly upbeat. He said: "I thought the bigger bikes would be a pain on the downhill but I really didn't find this. The ride is so smooth and so long as I kept the speed up I could handle pretty much all the obstacles. I think the only bits that were more difficult were where I needed to do small bunny hops. The 29er does feel a bit heavier although I am pretty sure I'll get used to this."

So far I love the bike and the smoother style of riding. I like being off-road and making use of a wide network of cross-country trails close to our home. If I was addicted to downhill riding this wouldn't be the bike to buy but for joyful riding on bumpy trails, the Lurcher is perfect.

For sure, size really does matter!

17 April 2014