About a year or so ago I wrote on this blog about how 29"ers were about to go mainstream. I thought that the format would take it's place alongside 26 inch wheeled offerings in bike shops across the nation, that component manufacturers would be jumping on board, and that tire choices would be on the increase.
Alot of these prognostications have seen the light of day, or are about to. Several new tires, bike models, and components are now available or will be this spring. I'm not quite ready to say that the 29"er has taken it's place alongside of the 26"er, though. There's a way to go before that can be said. I still here about places that have yet to see a 29"er, so that's a sign that there is ground to be made up for the 29"er.
I still think that will happen, but there are a few things yet missing that need to be available before the 29"er can truly be said to offer an alternative to all things 26 inch. Look at long travel, "all mountain" type bikes as an example. Actually, there are some really good available frames in the 29"er format that would work, but there really isn't a fork yet and still, the tires are not quite beefy enough for all that this type of riding involves. Down hill is practically a ghost town for 29"ers, although there is one company forging ahead with a 29"er DH platform. Obviously, 29"ers have alot to overcome in terms of true DH performance, and it's true that the wheel size might never be suitable for that discipline. I think that the progress being made in the "all mountain" category for 29"ers will ultimately point out whether or not 29"er DH will ever be feasible to pursue. That will take some time.
We still need more quality, reasonably priced front suspension. The Reba is probably solely responsible for getting several manufacturers into the 29"er segment and by default, several new riders onto the wheelsize. However; the Reba, as good as it is, needs some good ol' competition, and there isn't really any out there in it's price range. Good for SRAM/Rock Shox, not so good for the rest of us that feel the Reba isn't quite what we need or want. That said, whatever is coming down the pipeline, ( and there are forks in the pipeline) had better be darn good, because the Reba is pretty nice!
I think that 29"ers, as a category of bikes, are overpriced for what you get. Look at 26"ers and it's obvious. I can think of one example in the shop where I work where the equivilent 26"er bike is a full $600.00 less than it's 29"er sibling! That's a bit of an extreme example, but typically a 29"er hardtail is at least 100-200 bucks more expensive than an equally spec'ed out 26"er. That's probably a bit due to the economy of scale- not as many 29"ers made- but much of the parts spec is the same as a 26"er, so I'm not buying that! (No pun intended) I also feel that a $600-$700 price point hardtail 29"er with maybe an 8 speed drivetrain is missing from the choices out there. I don't see any reason why that choice shouldn't be available. Even a $500.00 linear pull brake model should be out there.
So, there is a ways to go for 29"ers.. I think it's just a matter of time.