The Long-Awaited, Much-Anticipated Julia Jenkins 26v29 Official Opinion. (preliminary.)

This one is for my bicycle friends. My bookish friends are welcome too, of course.

Last night I rode my friend KD’s Epic 29er for the first time, at our local Memorial Park trails in town. I’ll have KD’s 29er for two weeks, which will be a great demo period (thanks KD!!). The question is this: now that I’m ready to replace both my hardtail and full-suspension mountain bikes, I need to decide whether I want to stick with the (standard, traditional-for-decades) 26-inch wheel size that I ride now, or move over to 29-inch wheels (which have gone from new-and-trendy to awfully ubiquitous). So, I’ve been fortunate to get KD’s 29er for some test rides. I have a 26er Epic, so there’s a fair comparison there (though hers is much newer and higher-end, thus my desire to upgrade).

Here’s the background: I am, if not change-averse, very cautious about changes and upgrades in technology and gadgetry. I was the last person I knew to get a cell phone; an email address; a facebook account. (And I have a website and a blog, yes. When I adopt, I do tend to do so wholeheartedly. But late.) After years of working in bike shops and racing bikes, I’m out of patience with gearheads – people who get super-psyched about upgrades and fancy equipment. It’s really a lot more about the engine than it is about your gear, people. I’m an anti-gearhead.

Thus my reluctance to “drink the kool-aid” or “go over to the dark side” or some might say, “get with the times” and get on the big wheels.

I know that 29ers hold momentum better, but I know they accelerate more slowly. I know that 29ers roll over obstacles better (any obstacle is smaller relative to a 29-inch wheel than it is relative to 26), but I also know that they’re less nimble in tight, twisty cornering scenarios.

I rode at Memorial last night just as a test ride, to get the bike set up for me. We adjusted the reach and the rear suspension a little. The real test will come this weekend at Comfort. Comfort trails beg for a 29er: wide-open, rocky, and technical. Great opportunity to roll over things with the bigger wheels, and not really any tight twisty stuff to challenge them. Memorial, meh. I’m not a huge fan of those trails these days; they’re pretty eroded and rooty (not to mention trafficked). And then of course, if I wanted to really challenge the 29er, I should take it to Lake Bryan trails, ha. Super twisty and tight; the joke is you’re looking at your own butt half the time. But that’s another story.

Very quickly during last night’s ride, I found myself liking it. It’s true that the big wheels gave me more confidence and rolled over things easier. There’s a slightly different rhythm or timing to the body English in the twistier sections, but it didn’t slow me down any; in fact it only took a minute to adjust, and it still felt right. The bike, ideally, should be like a 26er, just on a different scale. (KD is my perfect bike-trading buddy because we ride the same size – like, precisely, down to saddle height – use the same pedals, everything. So her bike definitely fits me. And this in a world where we worry about millimeters.)

But I made another odd observation: I was fighting it mentally. I didn’t want it to work! I guess I’m even more change-averse than I thought. Am I just hanging onto the thought of 26 inches because I have for so long, and I don’t want to admit I was wrong? Surely I’m not that prideful. I was looking for places it didn’t work. But I didn’t find them. And I’m sure I’m not going to find them in Comfort. In fact, I’m planning on taking both Epics (26 and 29), but I’m already feeling like the 26 might not see any dirt.

I guess if I really want to push it I should take the 29er to Bryan… and I do have the bike for another weekend.

So what do you think, friends? I want a ti hardtail! Thinking about the Ti Mariachi. And then maybe a Spearfish like Husband? Love the color… Then I’ll need a new singlespeed at some point… this is the fun part. 🙂

5 Responses

  1. you knew i would comment! You def want a ti hardtail 29r. It’s economical. Last xc mtb you’ll ever need. My philosophy is that i hate Lake Bryan & similarly twisty trails. The trails that the 29r isn’t ideal for aren’t the kind of trails i like to ride, anyway. It took me a few rides to even 1/2-way get used to the Niner (which I realize now post-Mooto X, really sucked) after the 26 ybb. Anyway, if you liked it OK at MP last nite for your first ride ever, then I think you’re already sold.

  2. Well, you know a ton more about bikes than I ever will–that’s for sure!!! What do you think the best bike would be for long distances over Kansas prairie?

  3. I thoroughly recommend the El Mariachi Ti. It rides beautifully and looks awesome as well.
    I like both 26ers and 29ers. They each have their own benefits. There is a lively punchiness to the 26er, and a rolling inevitability of a 29er.

  4. Catherine: yes. Yes.

    Jessica: well it depends… are you talking about literally over the prairie, as in unpaved/off-road? How much stuff are you trying to carry? What kind of riding are you trying to do? (Fast, loaded, comfy…) Your best bet is to visit your LBS (local bike shop); they employ experts to figure out exactly what you need. I can’t answer your question from here nearly as well as they can, being totally unfamiliar with your local terrain (click your heels three times), but they can. Several different kinds of bikes would work, but the one that’s right for you depends on lots of factors and your LBS is your best bet. Good luck and enjoy!!

  5. Gordon… I love it: “a rolling inevitability.” Sold. 🙂 Do you still ride both?

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