I remember going from 26″ to a 29er mountain bike and felt like it a big step. It took me quite some time to get used to the bigger sized wheels. I still ride my 26″ MTB sometimes, I love its playfulness but I hate climbing on that bike.
What are the biggest advantages of a 29-inch mountain bike?
- Less effort to roll over obstacles.
- Lower air pressure and increase traction on trails.
- Great for taller people that have a hard time finding the right fit.
- More clearance and less chance of hitting rocks because you’re further away from the ground.
- More stability because of increased angular momentum compared to smaller wheel sizes.
- More speed once you’re up to speed.
I had a hard time finding out exactly what to expect making the transition to a 29er. Everyone told me they were way better than the MTB’s with a smaller wheelbase but I was never fully convinced before I actually tried one. Let’s dive into the benefits and drawbacks so you can decide for yourself.
The Benefits of a 29-inch Mountain Bike
I’ll explain why the aforementioned advantages make 29ers great. Even if the debate is far from over, many of the advantages can’t be ignored. 29ers provide much more stability and make it less likely to hit roots or rocks because of the increased clearance. They may take more effort to get up to speed but are easier to maintain momentum.
Some of the advantages don’t apply to you personally, we all have our preferences after all. Many of the benefits can be arguable. The increased grip could be due to weight distribution, some argue that the calmer steering has more to do with the shape of the bike, etc. Like always, you need to experience this yourself before you can truly make a decision.
Rollover Obstacles with Ease
Because these mountain bikes have bigger wheels, rolling over rocks is way more comfortable compared to their smaller wheel sized counterparts. Not only obstacles take less effort, but also riding dry and soft sand is much easier, you have more traction and are less likely to be forced to step off because of the loss of momentum. One could argue that getting better suspension would also make rolling over obstacles easier
Bigger wheels mean more traction, both diameter and width increase your ability to keep contact with the ground. Your wheels are less likely to slip causing you to fall and get injuries.
Tall People Benefit More
Taller riders often have a harder time finding the right frame that fits. The increased wheel size helps to find tall people the right geometry compared to smaller bikes. This isn’t an advantage for smaller people but even if you’re smaller you won’t have any problems finding the right fit.
Because of the bigger wheels, the crank, pedals, and drivetrain are further away from the ground. The increased ground clearance makes it less likely to hit rocks or tree roots. I remember I hit tree roots quite often on my 26″ causing a dead stop. I feel much safer on my 29er and hardly ever hit roots, though I also got a bit more careful.
29ers offer a much more stable ride once you’re up to speed. The tradeoff is that they feel less responsive but you’ll immediately notice a difference once you take a test drive. I felt like I went from a Toyota to a BMW when I went downhill for the first time on a smooth road, it was an amazing feeling.
Better Climbing Ability
It also takes less effort to climb uphill, try an old 26″ first and then swap to a 29er, the difference is night and day. Of course, technique and your overall physique play a part but I just love how effortless my 29er climbs.
One of the obvious advantages is the bigger wheels which allow for more speed. It takes some time to get up to speed but you’re able to maintain speed much longer with less effort once you get momentum. Going downhill, for example, is where you really notice the difference in speed, I got a bit scared the first time actually.
The Drawbacks of a 29er
29ers have come a long way since their introduction, but there are a few drawbacks. They used to be heavy and unresponsive they improved significantly over the last decade. People were on the fence and called is a marketing scam, but slowly the 29ers took over.
There are disadvantages you should be aware of, compared to the old 26-inch mountain bikes they feel a bit sluggish and can be heavier (depending on the bike parts). One other drawback is that there’s no backward compatibility and buying a new bike is expensive.
In general, 29ers accelerate slower because the eight of the wheels are further away from the hub. The large wheels need some time to get up to speed and are harder to get moving. It doesn’t take a ridiculous amount of effort though, after a while you hardly notice it anymore.
More Brake Power
It requires more brake power to come to a halt, they are heavier so it takes more effort to reduce speed. The quality of your braking system also plays a huge part and the difference isn’t really significant from my own experience.
Wheels are Weaker
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the wheels fall apart but because of the bigger diameter they aren’t as strong as their smaller counterparts. It also really depends on the quality of the material and how hard you trash them.
They are heavier because of their increased size. The wheels, frames, and forks are bigger adding to the weight. Over the years with the help of new technology, manufacturers were able to bring down the weight significantly. Every year they manage to take off a few grams of components without having to compromise strength. A few grams may not seem like much, but with all the different parts on a MTB this really adds up.
To me a 29er feels less playful, I find it harder to jump and can’t take turns as fast compared to my 26″ MTB. To be fair, I once owned a really crappy 26″ which also felt unresponsive. You’ll notice this even more at slower speeds, steering response and handling are a bit slower. If you like super responsive, quick handling bikes a 29er might not be for you. Fortunately, you have options.
Is There a Middle Ground?
If you’re on the fence getting a 29-inch MTB there’s a middle ground. Ever since the introduction of the 29″ wheel mountain bike, there was a need for something more agile. A couple of years ago manufacturers started to introduce the 27.5″ to fill the gap and satisfy the needs of many mountain bikers.
Don’t forget to check out 27.5 plus bikes, they have wider tires which improve traction. A 27.5+ requires a wider fork and rims because of the wider tires.
Due to advancements in technology, some 27.5″ mountain bikes behave almost the same as 29″ but ride more playful and responsive depending on the bike.
Now that we’ve gone over the pros and cons of 29-inch mountain bikes it’s clear that they have a lot of advantages. While not everybody is a fan, many mountain bikers love their 29er and wouldn’t look back. Still, there’s a minority who can’t get used to the sluggish feeling they experience.
Though there are fewer bikes to choose from when going for smaller wheels, the 27.5-inch is a great compromise allowing for a more fun ride and a responsive and flexy bike.
I can’t decide for you which one you should pick, it’s personal preference and depends on what you like and feels best.
Are 29ers better for taller riders? In general yes, if you are a small person you might have a hard time finding the perfect fit. Shorter arms can be an issue but it depends on the geometry of the bike. I’m not a really tall person myself but I have no issues on my 29er. Try and test different types of bikes and wheel sizes and see what feels right.
Is a 27.5 or 29er better? Both have their pros and cons. A 27.5 is more playful and responsive and a 29er is more stable and allows for more speed. Again, try out different setups at your local bike shop or rent a few before you make a decision. Buying something you regret is a shame, you should enjoy the sport and feel comfortable on your MTB.
Is 27.5 the same as 650b? Yes, a 650b wheel is about 27.5″ in diameter, measured from tire edge to tire edge.