The publication is pretty much the "bike geeks geek rag". It doesn't get much more "pointy-headed" and "pocket-protector-like" than "Bicycle Quarterly" for North American bicycle enthusiasts. They do experiments and tests that you'll never see in "Velo Ne....." whoops! I mean, "Velo", or in the glossy pages of "Bicycling", no matter how many times they re-do their formats or change editors. Nope. Not even close.
|Why Use A 29" Wheel?|
But you might say, "Well okay, but what about off-road?" They thought about that too. While they did not do any off road testing with 29"er wheels vs. other sizes, they did theorize that the "angle of attack" thing was so statistically small it was probably also insignificant off road.
So, why ride a 29"er wheel at all? Good question, and one I think this test inadvertently supports in the affirmative. You see, part of the testing they did was to fit the bicycle they used with an SRM power measuring crankset. According to their findings, it took basically the same amount of power, (within their standard for accounting for "statistical noise"), for any of the wheel sizes to be powered across their rumble strip test road. This tells me that one of the criticisms of 29 inch wheels isn't all that true, and possibly doesn't matter at all- that is the criticism that 29"er wheels take more energy to move than smaller sizes.
Now, at one time, the weight of a 29 inch wheel was a significant difference, and maybe then it was a detriment, but now 29 inch wheels have weights down into what was never dreamed of just several years ago. Powering up a big wheeled bike is not an issue anymore, on the high performance level, at any rate. (Witness full suspension 29"ers weighing in at sub 22lbs and winning World Cup events recently)
Interestingly, the Editor's post to lead off the latest issue of "Bicycling Quarterly" talks about the "subjective feel" versus the "objective findings" that some testing/reviews feature. In the terms of "subjective feel", I think 29 inch wheels have the advantage, but I also think there is a good reason for that. The testing on wheel size did not account for geometry, and did not account for fat tires at lower pressures. On a 29"er, the rider is in a different relationship to the axles than on a smaller wheeled bike. The testers at "Bicycling Quarterly" actually touch on this subject in terms of handling, but do not reference geometry specifically. The differences in handling play a huge role in why I happen to appreciate 29"ers. Then there is the fat tire thing.
Early on, some 29"er folks did some random testing of tire contact patches versus 26 inch wheeled bikes. Using similar tread patterns, and similar pressures, the contact patches were predictably the same area, but not the same shape. Obviously, it wasn't a huge difference, but in the area of how our tires touch and react to the trail, any differences are big, and I posit, can be felt. Traction and cornering is noticeably different on a 29"er versus smaller wheel sizes, and this is another reason to want to use a 29"er for trail riding. At least I think it works better, and so do others.
It also has to be said that designers of 29"ers are finding that the bigger wheel size demands its own, specific design characteristics. Suspension, tires, and wheels are all things that are or have been re-thought and made better due to the emergence of the 29"er. Not to mention the ever changing geometry of big wheelers, which is still being honed to this day. If wheel size didn't make a difference, then one has to wonder "why bother?" Obviously, something is going on beyond power measurement over rough grounds here.
And that is part of the conclusions reached by the "Bicycle Quarterly" piece. Obviously subjective feel on the part of the rider is an important factor. So, I would encourage you to try a 29"er if you haven't. It isn't for everybody, but it might just work for you.