Tuesday, August 2, 2011
The 29er craze is real.
I've been around mountain bikes long enough to be dangerous. My wife and I bought a pair of his and hers entry level bikes in the late 80's or early 90's.
Back then it was a revelation. You could actually ride a bicycle in the woods!
Eventually there were better and better bikes in the garage, and racing came into the picture. I did ok in the lower classes, winning some gear and a Commonwealth Games medal. I also crashed in 1993 during a race at Snowshoe, breaking both of my elbows in the process.
That's pretty much my mountain bike resume. I still ride some, but most of my energy in the past 10 years has been devoted to running and riding on the road.
So it was a bit of a shock when I walked into Just the Right Gear to interview owner, proprietor and local endurance legend Steve Hetherington for this story.
The bikes are lighter, faster, feature better suspension and braking systems and have an upgraded feel over the bikes I left behind when I departed the sport for skinny tires and Nikes. I felt like a 30 year old at the prom.
The newest innovation is the 29-inch wheel set. Gradually the trend is rolling over the long established 26-inchers.
"It's a gimmick," one rider told me as she cruised into the parking lot at Carvin's Cove, fresh off the trail. "I don't see any need to change." Another rider agreed, saying he had just invested in a new frame and had an expensive set of 26-inch wheels. He was more than happy with his ride. In fact he was grinning.
Posts on the Internet suggest the larger wheels are heavier, that they don't handle as nimbly as the 29ers, and that suspended 29ers don't have the full range of motion or travel compared to the 26ers.
I put all of those questions to Hetherington, who put most of the objections to rest. He says after three years the trend is getting stronger. Half the bikes he sells in his shop -- and he just found out it's been named to Bicycling Magazine's Top 100 list -- are 29ers. He even sells a brand called Niner, which makes nothing else.
As you will see in the TV story on Fox 21/27 in our demonstration, it's clear that a larger wheel rolls over roots and rocks more easily than a smaller wheel. Likewise, it doesn't drop into ruts as deeply. The result is an easier and smoother ride in the woods.
It turns out that the 26 inch wheels go back to what was available when industry pioneers were converting old beach cruisers into trail bikes. They had 26-inch wheels, so that's where the industry went.
Now it is clearly headed down a new trail, one that looks like it will stick.