So, today I saw something… I saw pigs flying and people wearing jackets and skating in hell. I know I swore I would never do it, but today my curiosity got the better of me and (insert collective gasp *here*) RODE A 29er!!! And what’s more, I actually liked it. Trust me, that takes a lot of pride-swallowing to say. The shop got in a Stumpjumper Comp 29er hardtail, and of course, everyone wants to ride it (and when I say everyone, I mean the 3 of us who ride that size and are mildly curious about it). Anyway, I was the first one to ride it, and I went into it with as open a mind as possible.
First, let me explain some of my biases and factors affecting my perceptions about the bike. Normally, I ride a Specialized carbon Epic, which weighs just under 23#s with my race kit on it. That race kit (and what I’ve been riding for about 2 months straight now) involves some really light and stiff wheels which obviously is what I am used to. This bike is about 2 pounds heavier than mine, and the wheels are decidedly not race level wheels. I’m also pretty happy riding a full suspension bike, and I struggle a lot going downhill when I’m on a 26er hardtail. In addition, I raced this past weekend, so my legs are still pretty tired. Just keep that in mind when I talk about how the bike rode.
OK, so, what did I think of the bike? Well, rolling out of the parking lot, I noticed a good bit slower acceleration. Not a huge deal, but noticeable. I dropped into lower Sycamore, and liked the bike pretty much from the first hundred yards. Not only does it roll over stuff like everyone says it does, it also has loads more traction than a 26er when climbing on rooty terrain. That made me pretty happy right there, as I was able to clean stuff even after messing up some lines that would have stopped my Epic in its tracks. So, climbing on technical stuff? Check.
How about going downhill? Well, all of the stuff that I rode was fairly straight, without any of the tight turns that are usually found on a race course in the area. Going down Thrift, I noticed that I had more traction on the looser turns, and I didn’t really have a problem switching sides on an s-berm section. On Sycamore, the big wheels didn’t really shine as much on the really rooty sections. It was definitely better than a 26er hardtail, but not anywhere near as smooth as a fully. This made me realize something though… I had been comparing the bike to a full suspension, when I really needed to be comparing it to a 26in hardtail. This realization changed a lot. Instead of expecting plush, I began expecting fast. And the bike actually was.
All of that looks pretty positive, doesn’t it? It is. So will I be getting one for next year? No. In spite of all of the good things that I have mentioned here, I still don’t think it is a good race bike. It rolls over Pisgah stuff really well, and if you are looking for the simplicity of a hardtail without the punishment, a 29er could be a good option. However, as much as I think they would be OK for a fun riding bike, I really don’t see it as a race bike, particularly not around here. It is just too sluggish accelerating and climbing. Maybe out west where you have courses without a lot of turns, but on the east coast, there is just too much turning and changing directions to have the bigger wheels make sense. I am going to ride it a few more times to see if I get a different feel for it, but for now, I will be sticking with 26 inch wheels…
Also, as an aside, Julia is awesome.