Rolling Forward With The 29″ Wheel
29″ Wheeled bikes have been around for a while now and do not appear to be going anywhere. The adoption curve of big-wheeled mountain bike has been extremely segmented. What started as a Southern California idea slowly popped up here and there until seeing a 26″ wheel on many local trails is nearly an anomaly. The 29″ wheel has made it’s grand debut.
One of the last areas to catch on to the benefits of the 29″ wheel was Norco’s home of Vancouver British Columbia. While Norco has been making 29″ bikes for several years, the number of people riding on the local trails has been extremely limited. This was for several reasons. For geometry, strength, versatility and social reasons an excuse was always at the tip-of-tongue.
Today, these excuses are but a moot point. The technical advancements, manufacturing techniques and product availability have left Vancouver-ites speechless – Time to adopt!
Cornering has always been a downfall for 29ers. While riding in technical situations, there are a couple of things working against you in getting around a corner. For one, the center of gravity on a taller bike is higher. This higher center of gravity, decreases that stability of the bike. The second aspect of cornering is wheelbase. The larger wheels require additional clearance in order to fit into the frame. Improving the clearance for a larger wheel results in a significantly longer wheelbase than with a 26″ bike. A longer wheelbase will make the bike feel lethargic or slow through the corners.
To improve how a 29er handles through the corners there are a couple of things that have been changed. The first addresses center of gravity. Bikes today are designed to be as low as possible. To achieve this, Bottom-Bracket heights have been decreased, tubes are curved and head-tubes are shorter. Each of these design features help to keep the bike as low to the ground and stable as possible. In order to keep the wheelbase as short, traditionally head-angles have been notoriously steep. Norco 29ers tend to be a bit slacker than the competition but we have a unique feature that allows for use to do this while offering a shorter wheelbase. The wrap-around stay design eliminates the need for an arch between the rear wheel and the seat-tube. This improves the clearance and allows for the use of a shorter stay while maintaining stiffness and strength.
Head Angles on 29ers have always been steep, debatably too steep. This perception however is part fact, part fiction. Norco designs its 29er mountain bikes to correspond closely to the ride characteristics of a corresponding 26″bike. To do this we take into account the head-angle, fork rake and wheel size to determine the trail of a bike. With a larger wheel and steeper head angle a 29er’s trail will correspond to that of a similar 26″ bike with a 1-2 degree steeper head angle. With this in mind, a 140mmm 29er with a 69 degree HA will ride similar to a 140mm 26″ bike with a 67.5 degree HA. While the angular numbers are different, the trail and ride characteristics are much the same.
Another aspect that slowed the universal adoption of the 29″ wheel was Parts Availability. As with any new standard, the adoption by manufacturers and consumers does not happen overnight. In the initial years fork, wheel, tire and frame manufacturers did not all jump on board. It is only in the past couple of years that forks have become available at up to 140mm of travel, wheels are easy to come by and have increased in strength and frames are available in a wide variety of sizes, suspensions and price-points. With everyone on board with the bigger wheels the whole package comes together. Parts are easy to come by, affordable and technically superior compared to the offerings of only a few years back.
The 29er is here to stay. The bikes are efficient, capable, affordable and most importantly, a lot of fun. The Norco lineup has 6 different 29er platforms for 2012 with a total of 16 different models. If you have not yet strayed from your 26″ roots, this is your time. Head on out to your local bike shop and at least give one a try. The big wheel may not be for everyone but you have got to give it a chance. I can almost guarantee that you will like it.