|I've had several forks on this bike...|
But it doesn't have to be this way.
First things first- The Human species is a highly adaptable one, and the power of our brains to quickly learn and master new inputs and tasks is not to be underestimated. A rider can ride many variations of geometry successfully on many different types of terrain. The thing is, you have to "want to", and that may be influenced by preferences and perceptions to a high degree.
So take that all into mind while reading this post. Nothing I put forth here is going to reveal "the perfect geometry for 29"ers", nor should it. That said, I hope there is something you can draw from this to make your own considered judgments on what might be "right:" for your 29"er. This post will strive to show how you could "tune" your handling with simple fork swaps.
This is something I have done over the years with one of my bikes in particular: the OS Bikes Blackbuck 29"er single speed hard tail.
|....like this rigid Willits W.O.W. fork.|
Head angle, bottom bracket height, and seat tube angle all changed with each fork, and I carefully measured each change to make sure I adjusted my cockpit to be as close to the same with each fork that I could. Then I tested each set up on various trails in the local area.
I posted my findings which maybe shocked some, and puzzled others. Basically what I said to start out here is the conclusion, but here are a few details for you to consider here. The terminology has to be understood first and foremost.
- "Quicker handling" is basically steering that is less stable. The extreme of this would be a bike one has to really concentrate on to keep on trail, or you crash. Most folks want "quicker" to equal "easier to steer", but that can get confused with "stability", so be careful!
- "Slower handling" is- you guessed it- more stable geometry. Essentially a bike that is so easy to ride, you can track stand it easily, and/or ride no handed over rough ground without the bike bouncing off line. Geometry can play into this, but so can wheel weight, rider weight distribution, and even tire pressures. "Slow" handling bikes tend to also be a chore to corner in tighter trails or switchbacks.
- "Trail" is a result of a formula that takes into account the head angle, fork offset, and wheel diameter of a bicycle. A higher figure, (which is usually expressed in millimeters for bicycles), will indicate a front end geometry that is more stable, (slower), and a lower figure for trail would indicate the opposite, (quicker handling). You may have heard some folks in the rando world that will talk about "low trail forks" for better front end loading capabilities, and this is what they are referring to. Mountain bikes tend to have higher trail figures for stability, and front end loads are not a concern here.
- "Axle to Crown" is a measurement from the center line of your front wheel axle to the base of the crown race on the fork. It is useful for adjusting the head angle of your frame without modifying the frame. For instance, you could use a fork on your 29"er that had anywhere from 420mm axle to crown to over 500mm and effect head angle changes of up to 3°-4°, which has a big effect on your Trail figure.
- "Offset", or more correctly "Fork Offset", (which some refer to as "rake", which I liken to a gardening tool, but whatever...), is the distance the front axle is "offset" forward from the center line drawn through your steer tube to the ground. Where the axle is forward of this axis is measured as offset, but more here equals less. Yes- your front axle looks as if it is in front of your steer tube, but trust me- where the rubber meets the trail, that contact point is behind the center line of your steer tube if you draw a line straight down from the axle to the ground and compare the two points. More offset = less stable Trail figures. So, if you push the axle further away from the steer tube center line, the tire contact point will get closer to the intersection of the steer tube axis with the ground equaling less Trail. (Of course, head angle and wheel diameter may negate this or enhance it.) Having a hard time visualizing this? Think of a shopping cart wheel. The axis where it pivots is your steer tube, the wheel's contact patch is behind that. Now tilt the axis, which is normally vertical, to be more like a bicycle head angle. See it now?