Heather Irmiger Interview: A Women On A 29"er

While at the Sea Otter Classic last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Gary Fisher/ Subaru Team rider Heather Irmiger. Heather is in a quest to secure a spot on the next Olympic mountain bike squad representing the United States. At the recently held Nova National in Arizona, Heather chose to ride a 29’er hardtail Paragon for the event based upon some time spent in the off season trying out the big wheels.

While it certainly seems logical that Heather might ride a 29″er on a team that is known for 29″ers and racers that use them, a couple of interesting things crop up upon closer inspection. For one, Heather stands at 5’4″ tall, which if you believe a lot of the prevailing “common knowledge” out there, is entirely too short to be riding a 29″er. Then too, being a women that rides a 29″er is somewhat rare, since many believe that they are not a good bike for women riders. I asked Heather about these myths and a few other things during our short time together at the Fisher/ Subaru trailer at Sea Otter.

“That’s ridiculous”, she said in reference to her size being too small for a 29″er. Heather explained that she has the exact same saddle height and handle bar height on her 29″er as she does on her 26 inch wheeled race bikes. “I’m pretty picky about that. I’m sensitive to even a small change….”, she explained. So, it’s obvious that Heather isn’t going to choose a bike that compromises her position on the bike. Like a lot of racers, it’s something she can not tolerate.

I then asked her about the comments I have heard about women not being suited to 29″ers. Heather instantly retorted, “That’s crazy talk!” Heather said that not only are 29″ers okay for women, she whole heartedly believes women should embrace them, saying that 29″ers offer a stable ride, which she feels women would appreciate. “It feels really secure,” she said, “It’s more comfortable in the corners, and on the down hills. It really rolls over stuff better.” Heather feels so strongly about the benefits for women that she called up her mother and recommended that she get a 29″er for a mountain bike too.

Heather said she got curious about 29″ers from hearing her husband, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski talk about them. She decided to give one a try, and said, “The effects were immediate”. No learning curve required. In fact, she said she didn’t touch her 26″er for about three months afterwards, it was that good.

Of course, in the midst of a quest to achieve Olympic glory, you don’t fiddle around! So, with that in mind Heather is going to be very carefull and sensitive to the requirements of each upcoming event’s course. Chances are, you’ll find her aboard her 26 inch wheeled mounts for now in those high priority events. “There is a weight issue. Especially with the rear wheel.”, she said. And super tight courses were a bit much on the 29″er, but as she said, there aren’t many like that out there. Given an improvement in the weight area, Heather said she’d love to ride her 29″er instead for the advantages she gets on down hill portions of race courses. “Instead of just a few seconds advantage, I could get a lot of time, maybe a minute advantage. That’s huge.” Hopefully someday Heather will get her wish on the lighter rear wheel and we’ll see her get that advantage in a race someday.

Until then, Heather says that women should give a 29″er a chance. Especially for recreational mountain biking. “If I’m just going to run out for fun to pre ride a course, you bet I’m going to grab the 29er.”, she said. Maybe more women should take her advice?

Thanks to Heather Irmiger for taking the time to talk on a busy day. Also, thanks go out to Assistant Brand Manager Travis Ott for setting up the interview.


No Responses to “Heather Irmiger Interview: A Women On A 29"er”

  1. nalax Says:

    Good story Ted.
    It’s good to hear input from the pros.
    If Heather likes the ride of her Paragon I take that more seriously than internet warriors ranting against Fisher handling. For the record i don’t have any Fisher bikes.

  2. Cloxxki Says:

    Very good, thanks for that!

    But the rear wheel? 29″ adds more weight at the front, at least if you figure in the extra length in the suspension fork, worth around 80g (I compared a whole bunch of 26″ and 29″ White Brothers forks ones, otherwise identical).
    Methinks the Trek gang is working on the minds of Fisher riders as well with their extra-rear-wheel-weight-to-accelerate paranoia. It’s 150g, all including.

    If Fisher riders are to have a good time at the Olympics, Bontrager better work very, VERY hard on some purely race-oriented tire that roll, roll, ROLL. Over the top high-end weaves and compounds, and efficient use of very little of it. And not by making dry weather tires narrower.

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