Everyone raves about 29 inch tires and how great they are. But why is that and is your bicycle wheel size really that important?
Here in Texas, it’s pretty conclusive based on bike sales. 29 inches of tire is highly preferred over the old school 26 inch tires.
I took some time to ask the resident experts at Cadence Cyclery this weekend and got the opinion of semi-pro racer and coach Grayson Kepplar who you can find over at the Mudbandit blog.
With any luck, Grayson may become a regular around here.
29 inches = Less rolling resistance
The big difference between a 29 inch tire and a 26 inch tire is how much easier you roll over things.
My wife, who is a new convert to mountain biking, describes riding a 29er as “They’re awesome and you can just roll over stuff.” Well said, and true! Take a look at the below image to see why.
The image above shows how the angle of attack for a 29er is much less steep, making it easier to get over the top of and carry your speed through. While that picture does slightly exaggerate the concept, the principle is very well shown.
Gary Fisher, a legend in mountain biking, was the first manufacturer to heavily publicize and push the 29er movement. He describes the benefits of a 29er in this video below.
Think about it, you have 3 additional inches of tire that can give you a huge advantage when rolling over obstacles in the trail. Your bicycle’s wheel size now lets you maintain more momentum and keep moving without losing as much speed.
Is a 29er always better?
As Grayson pointed out, there are times that a bike with a 26 inch wheel would be preferred.
Tight, twisty and winding trails can be better for a 26 inch wheel. 29 inch tires are easier to get up to higher speeds, but can be slower with acceleration. On a twisting trail you will be slowing down more frequently as you round corners and being able to quickly accelerate to get back up to speed is critical. Especially during a race when every precious second counts.
Is a 29er a good beginner bike?
What about for the brand new rider, someone looking for their first or second bike. Is a 29er a good bike to start on?
Yes. It is absolutely a good bike to start on and I highly recommend it as the best kind of bike to start on. Bikes with 29 inch tires have several key benefits that are ideal for a new rider.
Because of the large tires these bikes are able to carry their momentum far better than their 26 inch counterparts. For a new rider who may not have the core stability to balance themselves well this helps to even out the way the trail feels underneath them. The large tires also have a higher air volume, meaning there is more room for compression inside of the tire itself. This helps to absorb shock from the trail while riding and when combined with a carbon fiber frame, it can equal the amount of shock absorption you get from a 26 inch bike with a small rear suspension.
Increased Contact Area and Traction
The larger tires of the 29er gives your bike more surface area that is in direct contact with the ground. According to Jim Papadopoulos, the contact patches on a 29 inch tire are 5% longer although narrower. This leads to you having better linear traction on the trails, something that is especially beneficial when riding on loose gravel or sand. There are a lot of the same benefits that switching to a tubeless tire setup does.
There are 2 reasons that a 29er is more stable than a 26 inch bike of the same quality and make.
A 29er will be a little bit heavier than it’s smaller counterpart. The frame is larger, the wheels and tires are larger, even the cables have to be slightly longer. This increased weight in the materials means that your bike feels slightly heavier and more solid than the 26 inch bike.
A 29er isn’t affected as much by rocks, roots and obstacles which makes you, the rider, feel more comfortable in the saddle. See the reason above on why the ride is smoother.
The never ending debate
This topic gets debated more than anything else I have ever seen, and there is no definite answer. Every rider will have their preference whether they prefer a 26 or 29 inch tire. Just like every rider will have a preference of either a hardtail or a full suspension bike. My suggestion is that if you are looking at buying a new bike, check out the 29ers thoroughly and be sure to ride on some bumpy terrain or at least over some curbs to get a feel for the different size.
I hope this has helped give you some more information on why you might want to consider a bike with 29 inch tires. Leave your thoughts in the comments below.