29″ Hardtail Mountain Bikes
The first mountain bikes, and almost every subsequent mountain bike model for 30 years, came fitted with 26in wheels. Then, around the turn of the millennium, something strange happened — mountain bike wheels grew to 29in.
It didn’t happen overnight: in 1991 Bianchi had a stab at marketing 29in-wheeled mountain bikes, then small independent manufacturers tried the same over the following decade, but they never really caught on. One important development occurred in the early 2000s when the grandaddy of off-road riding, Gary Fisher, launched his own range of 29in-wheelers. Gradually more riders and more manufacturers realised there might be something in this big wheel size, and now 29ers are a massive part of the mountain bike market.
Apart from those bigger wheels, the rest of the 29er hardtail is similar to any other hardtail mountain bike. It will normally have a reinforced aluminium or carbon frame. It will have a 29er-specific suspension fork. It will have flat or riser bars. It will have great, normally hydraulic disc brakes. It will have two or three chainrings and a wide-ratio cassette for helpful gearing. And there will be large areas of clearance between frame and wheels, so that it can be fitted with wide, grippy tyres.
Why buy a 29″ Hardtail Mountain Bike?
The 29in wheel isn’t actually a very exotic product at all. In fact 29in or 700c is a wheel size that’s very familiar to road cyclists, because that’s the size you’ll find fitted to most drop-bar bikes.
So one of the first benefits of 29ers is that they roll well once up to speed and maintain momentum effectively. The 29er might not be quite so quick to accelerate, but it’s a great cruising machine — and with the right tyre choice, a hardtail 29er can make a fine alternative to a hybrid bike for road duties.
That said, 29ers tend to be a little heavier and slightly less manoeuvrable than bikes with smaller wheel sizes. One benefit of this is they feel more stable from the saddle. Those big wheels roll over roots and bumps easier, and the big wheels aid better grip. They can also feel a little tall, but once you’re used to it that translates into better vision of the trail ahead and the elevated bottom bracket height means you rarely come unstuck with trail hurdles.
Nowadays, with so many 29ers available, there’s no shortage of spares or tyre choices either. And, in a strange way, owning one feels like being aboard a serious bit of kit — you really do feel like a king of the trail.
Is bigger always better? Ride a 29er and you might just think so.