Big Wheels Are Faster!

Why the new 29er wheels? We need to travel back in time to the late ‘70s... by MATTHEW PEACOCK

A recent innovation that has caused big ripples in the mountain bike pond is the widespread adoption of 29” wheels as a standard.

Why the new size?  We need to travel back in time to the late ‘70s where a bunch of cyclists (including Gary Fisher) were gradually inventing a new sport, which grew into what is now mountain biking. The first bikes were built using beach cruiser “clunkers” and they used the wheels they came with - 26”. This is what the industry adopted as the right size for a mountain bike wheel.  However, in 2002 Gary Fisher turned conventional thought on its head when he introduced the 29” mountain bike, creating the whole cult of the 29er.

Why bigger wheels?  A bigger wheel rolls over bumps in the trail more easily than small wheels; furthermore, you have more rubber touching the ground so you have much better traction, meaning you can climb better. If you can remember your school physics, bigger wheels have a bigger gyroscopic effect making the bike more stable for cornering. This also means that once at speed then the bigger wheels keep rolling faster and longer...

So why aren’t they everywhere? Two reasons. The first is that 26” are so established that it will take a while for manufacturers to adapt their ranges and products to suit the bigger wheels. The second reason is simple: some people just won’t accept a change! They'd probably have objected to cars replacing horses...

With all the main manufacturers now offering 29ers in their ranges, the time of bigger wheels has arrived. From a practical point of view a 29er can do everything a 26” bike can do, just smoother and faster. They also have the advantage that you can put road/hybrid tyres on for a bombproof commuter and then switch back to the knobbly tyres for the weekend off road adventures.

Gary Fisher is still a strong driving force with bikes including steel, aluminium, carbon fibre and full suspension bikes. If you ride one with an open mind you might be amazed.

3 inches makes all the difference.

Thanks to Matthew Peacock of Chevin Cycles Otley for this introduction to 29ers.