Weird Science: Comparing The 29″er With The 26″ Wheeled Mountain Bike


The advent of the 29 inch wheeled mountain bike has brought about a heated debate the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the dawn of front suspension forks in the early ’90s. This debate is now being taken up over at cyclingnews.com, where two mountain bikes with identical specs were prepared, with the only differences being the wheel sizes and the frame-specific considerations needed to fit each to a frame and fork.

This versus that: a flawed premise

Something strikes me as being quite strange about this whole endeavor, that being the differences between the two types of bikes. They are not just any old differences, but probably the most important ones about any bicycle.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that since the differences are so radical, the comparison is ludicrous. I have ridden both style of bikes; 29 and 26 inch, and I can say that they are different enough that you have to ride each in a different way. If you do not, the full potential of both is lost. They are different tools for different jobs.

The premise that one or the other is best, as the test is formatted for, is a misguided effort. Rather than that, they should endeavor to find out which wheel format works best on certain types of terrain, something that would be far more useful than a blanket “this versus that” which-one-is-best kind of angle.

Comparing apples to oranges

The other thing that stands out as strange is the way in which the strengths of 29”ers were not enhanced, but forced to play ball with the way we talk about 26-inch wheeled bikes. Things like the fork trail / head angle and the ratio of wheel size to chain stay length are glaring examples here.

Although the contracted frame builder is of high reputation, this 29”er that is presented here in this test does not conform to any other 29”ers numbers that I have seen. I think this is rather odd and puts the 29”er at a distinct disadvantage to the 26”er. Further investigation of parts selection reveals a discrepancy in gearing and a choice of wheels that most would agree is one of the flexier 29”er wheel sets available.

Rolling forward…

Add to all of this the human factor and I think you can agree that there are still too many variables to come to any other conclusion than the tester is the only one that is going to find out much of anything valuable from the data generated during these tests. Each person is uniquely talented and rides in varying terrain. To implicate that one wheel size is better than another is just plain weird science.

There are no short cuts when it comes to finding the right gear for you and your riding style. That’s why we have so many choices. To have two choices in wheel size is better than one. My advice is to forget the science, find the wheel size that works best for you, and ride.

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