It is not exactly a new debate, but 29er (29 inches in diameter) wheels are growing in popularity, especially in the world of Xterra training and racing. Conrad Stoltz, the four-timeX Xterra world champion, is one of many professionals that races on these larger size wheels, and he is a strong proponent of their use.
We won’t get into the 29 inch vs 26 inch debate here but, generally speaking, riders of 29ers choose them because they: go faster once you get going (similar to the old 700 vs 650 wheel debate), provide more control since more tire surface is in contact with the ground, and are more comfortable because they tend to provide a smoother ride over rougher terrain. “With the majority of our courses having long sections of open trail and road, the 29er is proving to be the much faster bike,” said Christine Jeffrey, one of Canada’s Xterra stars.
The best way to gauge if one of these new mountain bikes is for you is to test ride a 29er for yourself to see if it’s all that it’s cracked up to be. Here are a few to put on your test ride list.
S-Works Epic 29er $9900
The choice of Xterra legend Conrad Stoltz, the S-Works Epic is the lightest (10 kg) full suspension 29er in the world and has racked up multiple wins on the Xterra and Pro Mountain Bike circuit. It features Specialized’s FACT (Functional Advanced Composite Technology) carbon, an oversized bottom bracket, FlowControl Mini Brain shock with Brain Fade (inertia valve, air spring and adjustable rebound), Custom Specialized/RockShox Reba S29 Brain fork (carbon tapered steerer/crown with rebound and Brain Fade adjustments to dial in your desired suspension needs) and the Specialized FACT OSBB carbon crankset with ceramic bearing rings to provide an outstanding stiffness-to-weight ratio. The Epic series bikes starts with the Epic Comp at $3100 with the Comp 29er at just $100 more.
Cobia 29 – $1300
Part of Trek’s Cross Country family of 29er race bikes, you can enter the world of 29er riding with the Cobia 29er for $1,249.99 and it can handle anything you are willing to dish out. The hardtail features a 6061 T6 aluminum G2 frame that has specifically re-designed 29er geometry, butted hydroformed tubing, along with cold-forged dropouts and bottom bracket. The front suspension RockShox Recon 29 with Solo Air offers G2 Geometry (offset-fork design to improve handling while maintaining high-speed stability), TurnKey lockout and 100 mm of travel. A move up to their top of the line Paragon ($2,199.99) gets you improved componentry along with a press-fit bottom bracket and a Fox F100 RL 29 front fork.
Scale 29 RC $6500
The Scale 29er is the lightest carbon 29″ hardtail available. The frame features the IMP3 carbon process (allows for lighter construction by removing 11 per cent of the material from the headtube intersection, while increasing strength by utilizing high modulus stressed fibers for more precise fiber placement in critical areas), SDS engineered compliant stays (minimizes high frequency input from the ground to achieve a shock damping effect without losing performance), a Press Fit BB92 bottom bracket shell molded completely from carbon for unmatched power transfer and improved stiffness (10-15 per cent) over the previous Scale model. The hydro-formed 6061 aluminum frame Scale 29 Comp offers excellent value ($1,150) and similar geometry.-RH