Project 29er: Is bigger better?

One of trends in the mountain bike (or MTB for short) world this year has been the breakthrough of the 29″ bikes or 29ers – MTBs with 29 inch wheels, larger than the standard 26 inchers you find in most mountain bikes. Almost every self-respecting manufacturer will present a 29er at the upcoming Eurobike festival to the drooling bike geeks – yes we are a bit bitter about missing out. Bigger brands like Specialized, Scott, Trek and Cannondale have a few models of 29ers for 2011 and 29 specific brands like Niner have around 10 models both hardtail and full-suspensions by now. According to our colleagues from Bike Magazin who have been following the trend for over a year now and did a very interesting test during this year’s TransAlp “The 29ers are here to stay”.

So what is all about? What is the difference with a 26″ bike – the ones we have been riding for about 30 years now? In short; bigger wheels roll better, absorb obstacles such as tree roots better and you feel more stable (self-assured) in downhills. On the downside you need a bigger range to maneuver in short turns and the bikes are on average 10% heavier than their 26″ counterparts – which is a disadvantage on the ascents. 29″ hardtails and full-suspensions are being used for cross-country (XC), marathon and all-mountain competitions but mainly the marathon category would benefit from the 29ers assets.

Is it just another marketing invention? Is Europe different than the US where 29ers are already pretty successful? And most importantly: Are they better bikes? In the months to come we will look at the 29″ phenomenon from different angles, build a 29er, test the performance and keep you informed on our progress and findings.

Welcome to Project 29!

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By Maarten Patteeuw

Maarten is an avid road and mountain biker who lives and breathes everything rolling on two wheels. You can follow his rantings on Twitter by looking for @maapathel.