As much as I would enjoy telling you that I inspired this, MBT's first official Ode to the 29er issue, I would be far more accurate to say that I caused it. We'll get to that in a minute though, first let's take moment to talk about the well publicized 29er movement and this site's official take on it thus far.
It's no secret that we humans enjoy debates. We take pride in choosing sides in heated rivalries and this phenomenon is present in nearly all facets of society. From professional sports team fandom to political affiliations, we are virtually surrounded by opportunities to choose a side and represent it to the fullest.
We've got loads of that here in the niche' that is our sport. After all, simply choosing a mountain bike in the first place already separates a rider from say a roadie, commuter or cross cyclist. Bike brand, frame material, suspension configuration, number of gears, on down to the color of the paint further options to separate one's self from the masses. Of course all of these factors pale in comparison to the current benchmark debate of trail superiority: Wheel size.
To MBT's credit, we've been very slow to buy into the hype being heaped upon the benefits of larger wheels. Not because we didn't believe such hoopla to be true so much as we're simply not quite as concerned with what specific factor makes a bike function in the real world; only whether it does or doesn't.
To that end we've tested models of all sorts of varying wheel sizes from the standard 26-inch staples to hybrids that mix and match wheels in attempt to reap the benefits of each (while hoping to steer clear of combining their shortcomings), 27.5-inch intermediates on up to full 29-inch wheelers. Some worked, some didn't, some fell somewhere in the middle. But rarely, if ever, was wheel size alone the determining factor in a given model's success or failure.
The fact of the matter is that mountain bike is a surprisingly complex machine despite the fact that the bicycle is by nature one of the simplest mechanical processes ever devised. Each time we've altered the basic formula with technologies designed to enhance the experience (suspension, indexed shifting, disc brakes and so on) we simultaneously add complexity- and hence the opportunity for incompatibility- to the equation. In other words, being able to place the blame (or credit) to one single aspect of something as complicated as a modern mountain bike would certainly make our jobs a whole lot easier but that simply isn't the case.
I began by saying that our taking an issue and devoting it to the legions of 29er devotes everywhere was my fault and here's how that went down. The months of a long and intolerable New York winter were finally giving way to promises of spring and with it, my trusty 26er trail bike was benefiting from a whole off-season's worth of tinkering, updating, lubricating, and shining. All systems were go for launch as it were until a buddy of mine texted late one rainy May evening stating a shop had a few hardtail 29ers of the previous model year in stock and were blowing them out for under a grand.
In what had to be the most spontaneous purchase decision in the history of bicycling, credit card digits were flying over the cellular airwaves and a brand new 29er was being assembled in my workshop within an hour.
The experience was followed with a few shakedown runs that were met with the undeniable truth that the "wagon wheeler" had a flavor all its own. The immediate question on the lips of everyone I rode with was obviously which is better, the 29er or the 26-inch? If there were a simple answer to that question, the Ode to the 29er issue would never have come into being. However, since the true answer was that neither one is better, only different, the time had arrived to own up and dedicate some bandwidth to recognizing the differences.
And so as to extinguish the sparks of 26er versus 29er superiority right off the bat, I will say that while I've been enjoying the charms of the 29er and consider the purchase a very wise move, I haven't the desire to ditch said 26-inch trail bike from the stable as a result. So far the two have proven quite valuable at different tasks. I would go as far as to say such revelations could be key to putting an end to the wheel rivalry once and for all but then the thing about humans is we just love to choose sides.