Thursday, February 20, 2014

To 29 or Not to 29?

By Bill Haley

I have a confession to make - I'm a terrible mountain biker.  No matter how gentle the corner, no matter how smooth the terrain, no matter how slow the pace, I will find a way onto the ground.  So in true cyclist fashion I have determined that I have an equipment deficiency that is causing this pain and suffering.  It couldn't possibly be me.  Could it?

Lately I have been been drooling over 29ers of both hardtail and full squish varieties and dreaming of how I could be smoothly rolling over VW sized obstacles on my wagon wheeled bike.  I could be calmly riding along taking in the scenery and enjoying the smells of nature while my new bicycle guides me along the most technical of trails.  That's right, no more sore hands and forearms from a deathgrip of fear.  No more loss of bladder control on steep Michaux downhills.  I'll be ridin' me a 29er!

My first mountain bike ride ever was in 2008 or so on a cheap Raleigh M20 that I had for just tooling around the neighborhood.  A road riding friend had been suggesting that I go with his group which I finally did since the idea of riding without cars whooshing by sounded like a nice change of pace.  Things were said like "We'll take it slow" and "We'll stick to the easy trails" and "Your bike'll be fine."  My notion of riding a path through the woods was instantly shattered as we headed downhill from the Big Flat parking lot on a trail that could only be described as "rocky as a &$@*!^."  My companions glided down this rocky hell while I tried to keep up on my M20 with about 1" of fork travel, jarring into every rock and root that came my way.  I could go on, but this article is supposed to be about a bicycle buying decision, so instead I invite you to log onto YouTube and search for "epic mountain bike crash."  Watch a few of those videos and you'll get the gist of what my first ride was like.

Amazingly, I really enjoyed that first ride and joined these guys on a few more.  I decided that I had an equipment deficiency so jumped onto a full suspension Motobecane Fantom that I purchased from an online retailer.  This bike definitely made me more comfortable riding technical trails and, while still a horrible rider, I did actually crash a little less!  The Fantom is a relatively inexpensive bike that isn't on the cutting edge of technology, but has kept me satisfied for six years now.  During these six years most of the riders I've seen on the trails have moved to the 29" wheels which are said to roll over obstacles better, but give up a little in cornering or "flickability" as they would say for a motorcycle.  That sounds great but I never felt worthy of a better bike since my skills only improved marginally over the years and mountain biking wasn't my primary mode of riding anyway.  And now there's this whole 650b thing that I don't even want to consider or my head might explode.

Any thoughts of a new mountain bike were safely slumbering in the recesses of my mind until I recently came across some excellent deals on some 2014 models through team sponsor Mercury Endurance Cycles.  I bought a new Cannondale SuperX last year, so it's only fair to get a new mountain bike this year, right?  Right? So I'm hoping to get some comments here to help me with my decision.  The only thing I'm almost kinda certain of is that a hardtail Flash is out of the question since I'm old and brittle.  Will the 29er provide benefit to a rider like me or am I better off with the trusty 26" wheeled bike?  What kind of bike do you ride?  Care to give me a review?

Regardless of my bike decision I hope to attend the Michaux Mountain Bike School in March to improve my skills.  The trouble is that the school is already full.  There is a waiting list and Zach will add another instructor if enough people sign up, so let's get more people on board!  Click the link to get to the registration page.


  1. Hear Hear Bill! Nice post. I will also be in the market for a new mountain bike in the near future, but I just put down too much money on a new roadie (gulp!). Deciding on a wheel size may be the most difficult part. Like you said, it was bad enough with 26" and 29", but now you have 27.5", and they want to confuse the layman even more by calling it 650B. Let me know what you decide on.

  2. I think you should ride the Super X in Michaux!! It'll sharpen up those bike-driving skills in a hurry, for sure. Good luck with whatever you end up on!

  3. And Bobby, you made a great choice on a new road bike.

    Ben, I'm not surprised that a Michaux guy like you would say that. The goal is to survive the skills improvement process!

  4. Ben has a point. Switching it up with the cross bike on trails is a super fun way to diversify your skill set. BUT, there's no substitute for a MTB....they just don't ride the same, with differences in geometry, suspension, and the obvious platform created by tire size. I used to ride my road bike on trails (not michaux) just to switch it up a bit when I was training a ton.

    650b bikes are a fun in-between size.....I really enjoyed the 650b hardtails we got from KHS a few years ago. It surprised me how well those bikes downhilled with a sturdy tire on them. Heck, Joe still has his, though it's for sale now. You can't go wrong with a Scalpel 29er. They ride like a dream. Although, there are so many good bikes out there, that its really hard to decide. For me, price point makes a lot of my decision for me. One can only afford so much.