By Jeffrey Ressner
SIZE MATTERS” is more than a sassy punch line: It’s a credo taken seriously by today’s bicyclists, who consider mere inches in the mea- surement of mountain-bike wheels to be of monumental importance.
A revolution in off-road bicycles has resulted
in a newfound appreciation for wheels that
have a 29-inch diameter, and across the U.S.
they’re soaring in popularity compared with
the more conventional 26-inch models.
A recent report by the independent
Bicycle Product Suppliers Association tallying
the first nine months of 2012 found sales of
mountain bikes with 26-inch wheels dropping more than $35 million compared with
2011, while sales of so-called “29ers” in a
similar period jumped $45 million.
First introduced in the U.S. during the
early 1990s, the larger bikes with knobby tires
deliver more wheel for a better grip on trails,
a superior attack angle to roll over potentially
dangerous obstacles and better momentum
once the bike is actually rolling, providing
more power with less movement.
Clearly, however, the bikes are not for
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY NORTHROCK BIKES
The Costco Connection
Costco carries 29-inch bikes by Northrock
Bikes, as well as comfort bikes, helmets
and bikes for small riders. Costco.com also
carries helmets, bike racks, bike trainers
and stationary bikes.
everyone. Due to the bigger frame, a larger
bike can be harder to handle and requires a
higher stand-over. Long-limbed riders are
ideal for the 29ers, while shorter riders may
wish to steer clear due to potentially awkward
turning ratios and riding positions.
A scientific analysis of 29-inch wheels has
yet to emerge, with most surveys based on
anecdotal evidence or informal studies.
“Being on the bicycle is the thing. Get out
there and do it, try it and see how you feel at
that moment,” advises David Renaud, a manager at Southern California’s Helen’s Cycles,
which has been in the bike biz since 1936. At
a recent demo day showcasing the newest
models for dozens of customers, Renaud
insisted the choice is “totally dependent on
your individual riding style and your own
As far as current popularity goes,
Renaud estimates that 26-inch and 29er
fans are split fairly evenly.
“The 26-inch mountain bike is very
much in the wheelhouse of the recreational rider, [while] enthusiasts have
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Northrock 29er bike. (See page 5 for
embraced the 29ers,” says Mike Girard, a
product manager with Costco supplier
Northrock Bikes. “The 29-inch bike is gaining
in popularity among bicycle enthusiasts, [and
is] increasingly becoming more mainstream.
… However, it may not be the preference of all
riders, depending on their individual needs,
the style desired and comfort requirements.”
Girard says his company’s XC29 models
“roll real nice” and are “fabulous for technical
courses.” However, he warns that bigger-
wheeled bikes can be a bit “harder to get go-
ing” at first, requiring practice before most
cyclists can ride smoothly, with ease and agility.
Larry Lasker, a 6-foot-2-inch Los Angeles–
based mountain biker who frequently rides
trails in Moab, Utah, and Telluride, Colorado,
switched to the larger ride about two years
ago. “These 29ers are amazing,” he says. “You
can drive up onto a curb like a tank, and you
go right over other things that would once
stop you dead.”
Lasker has hung onto his smaller bike,
but it’s been banished to a far-off spot in the
domestic equivalent of Siberia. “I keep my
29er right there by the front door, ready to
roll,” he says, adding, “I think the bike with
26-inch wheels is somewhere at the back of
the garage, gathering dust.” C
Jeffrey Ressner is a Los Angeles journalist who
frequently writes about pop culture.