What Is The Deal With Those "69ers"?

Recently I was given the opportunity to ride a Trek 69er on some off road trails. I also was priveliged to speak with a few elite level racers concerning the format of running a 29 inch front wheel/ 26 inch rear wheel bike. One of those people was Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member Travis Brown. Here’s my take so far on the “69er” idea based upon my experiences and conversations with Travis and other elite level racers. This is my current answer for the question, “What is the deal with those 69ers ?”

Hey, it is what it is. A 26 inch rear wheel we all have experienced before. No amount of “magic”, (read big front wheel and the belief that it somehow changes the rear wheel characteristics) is going to mask that. Just think about it for a minute.

The front wheel is a 29″er, no surprises there for guys accustomed to 29″ers. It is what it is.

I don’t see any mystery here with the 69er. When you pedal uphill, you have to grunt and manouver more because the 26 inch rear wheel just doesn’t grip like a 29″er. Sure, it accellerates a bit more easily, but, (and this is the thing 69er folks don’t talk about) it loses momentum more quickly as well. The 29″er rear wheel takes a bit more effort, but when you have better climbing traction and a momentum conserving, “flywheel” effect, you can learn to use that to your advantage on rollers and downhills where I feel the 29″er has a huge advantage.

Travis Brown told me, (as did a couple of other 69er advocates) that they like the 26 inch rear wheel because they can get shorter chainstays and have the rear wheel tucked underneath them more. I didn’t hear anything about weight, acceleration, or other purported 69er benefits. My conclusion is that racers, elite level racers, like their bikes to feel a certain way, regardless of the advantages/disadvantages in regards to the 29″er/26″er debate. It would be just too difficult for them to have to relearn a new platform.

They seem to be a little more flexible when it comes to front wheel size and since that bigger wheel is #1. more comfortable, #2 gives better control, and #3 doesn’t upset the overall physics of pedaling a bicycle for them, ( ie: years of training on a specific wheel size, learning it’s traits and tuning yourself to that) they seem to be okay with the 69″er. I am speaking purely from an elite racing standpoint, and that is what the Trek lineup of 69″ers is designed for, per Travis’ own words.

So, that leaves us “mere mortals” to determine if what they are using makes sense for our riding. My opinion is this: I’m not an elite racer and I don’t have thousands of hours of fine tuning at risk if I choose a completely different wheel platform. So I look at what enhances my trail experience best. The 69er isn’t it.

For me, it’s the full on 29″er. At least that’s my experience so far. I am in the works now trying to obtain a 69″er for testing, to A/B test against a 29″er on my trails to determine if my hypothesis is correct. I am quite confident that I will find a 26 inch rear wheeled bike to be just that. A 26 inch rear wheeled bike, regardless of front wheel size.

No Responses to “What Is The Deal With Those "69ers"?”

  1. Cloxxki Says:

    Good write-up GT.

    If the short chainstays would be the key, then 69 must be a “freeride” and “downhill” thang. I most definately do not want short chainstays on a bike I’ll be pedaling up a hill, when using the seat. Now here’s the catch : the original 69er from Trek (Carver 96 was there first, let that be clear) is a singlespeed, thus will seldomely be pedaled up a steep hill seated.

    Messing around with chainstays length myself, I tend to prefer longer ones. Like 465mm. When I tried that on my singlespeed with horizontal dropouts, it rode much softer and positive than with 439mm.

    I know exactly what people mean when speaking of freewheel and momentum, but from a psysics standpoint I cannot undertand how something as light as a wheel could make a difference. What I could understand, is that momentum comes into play just in situations where the wheels are generating really high resistance. Even normally slow rolling 29″ tires shines there, the weight of the rider has less of a “grip” via the taller axles to slow the bike down.
    Situations where a jackass manouvre with a shopping cart would quickly end in an endo.

    As I won’t be dropping off too many ledges or manualing some sweet triples on an XC bike, the smaller rear wheel has little to offer me.

    BTW I have read a lot of reports that a 69 would accelerate noticably faster. The 150g difference does not explain that, but something else might. The short chainstays and lower placed axle make it hard to keep the front wheel down. Holy speed sensation Batman! Honestly, when I raced 26″, there were occasions where I would pull a wheelie out of a corner and not touch back down until 20 metres later. Not because I wanted to impress the crowds, just I didn’t want to hold back pedaling in a race situation. Made me feel like a superstar everytime, and those times are sadly over. I get through those 20m just though, 2 wheels roll faster than one. Especially when they’re bigger. Ask inline skaters. They run the biggest they can comfortably handle. Took them some time for them to get there though, and it was usually in smaller relative steps than from 26″ to 29″.

    It’s cool they are making it a racer’s edge thing, but I hear even in the US big MTB races will be under UCI regulations? Those do not allow for inequal sized wheels. 26″ or 29″ baby.

    I still feel strongly that if you MUST run an odd wheel setup, get a 29″ hardtail and fit a long travel 26″ front end (don’t the best long travel forks come in 26″?). The height is there, 3″ more travel will have the front end end up the same height. Quick head tube angle is there. Fat tire up front (better than you can buy in 29″ now), fast one out back. The best of 2 worlds. If the big hit front can roll over or through it, the 29″ rear will definately follow. Really steep hills can be ridden up, plenty of traction and a planted front end. Downhill you have the big hit front and a 29″ wheel pushing you down even faster. Oh well.

  2. michael Says:


    how long have you been posting about that 26″ front, 29″ rear?

    Why not build it already?


  3. Onespd-oneway Says:

    I find it curious that you would state the elite racer of Browns talent ” would find it too difficult to relearn a new platform”. Isn’t that what Travis Brown IS doing for Trek? Aren’t guys like him considered development riders?
    I thank you for taking on the monumental task of trying out a “new” concept such as a 96/69er. (just like when you “tried out” the 29er thing.
    Cloxxi, do you think your obsession with dis-proving the 96er comes from paralasis of analisis (sp) πŸ™‚

  4. Guitar Ted Says:

    Onespd-oneway: “Too dificult” from the standpoint of change. Elite level racers don’t change things radically to their set ups especially if it upsets the feel of the interface of body to machine. Muscles have been fine tuned to a specific set of parameters including wheel size and weight. Changing those things would, as I have been told, not be a good thing in the short term for ones racing results.

    Certainly Travis Brown, or any other talented elite level racer could dominate a 29″er if they wanted, but when you are so evenly matched in the upper levels of racing, even small changes can be detrimental to your rankings.

    Travis, in particular, is the driving force at Trek behind this whole 69er thing. He has been working with this idea for several years now, refining and tweaking as he went. Trek has pretty much been behind anything he wanted to do with the platform. Thus, the single speed with the Maverick fork, the cog guard, and all the little details that Travis has packed into that frame.

    In other words, this has been an evolution over a long period of time in Travis’ racing career. Yes, it’s also his job, but Travis is still a talented racer and will be toeing the line here and there for awhile yet. Make no mistake, the 69er is totally dialed with Travis in mind. It’s a 69er, but a very specifically set up one for racing. It’s also the bike Travis would prefer to ride anyway, so developement rider or no, this comes off as a “signature race rig”, if you will, and not something Trek decided to have him do from a purely “it’s your job” standpoint.

  5. Cloxxki Says:

    Michael, I’d love to try it sometime, and do already have a cheap but decently strong 26″ front wheel sitting around. No tire though, and especially no fork. A fork worthy of testing this hypothesis would run me serious money whih I do not have. I’m sure not going to sell a 29″ bike to fund this conversion. Such a conversion would come close to the Trek 69er in terms of intended use (long travel hardtail), but that’s not something I’d have a use for around here.

    It’s cool that a loyal pro rider is gtting “Carte Blanche” to develope whichever he’s into and prepare it for the marketplace. How much would Travis have gotten away with? A 32″er?
    If Trek ever considered going full 29″, this 69 range seems to delay that with a few years, after all, a brand can only have so many project going on?

  6. TB Says:


    I believe that the regulation against un equal wheel size is a UCI road regulation and not a mountain bike regulation. The only mountain bike wheel regulations from the UCI I have ever been able to find are limiting the use of metal spikes or studs and wheels with a diameter larger than 29 inches.

  7. Cloxxki Says:

    I believe the equal wheelsize rule is a universal one for all bikes under the UCI cover.
    Travis could test it by showing up to a WorldCup.

  8. wolfy Says:

    That flywheel effect is negated by the wind resistance of more tread knobs.


  9. nalax Says:

    These comments aren’t worth reading.
    Look at who starts them off, the self-proclaimed 69 hater.

    I ride 29 and like it, but who wants to listen to the same bitching over and over?

  10. Guitar Ted Says:

    nalax: I figure most folks are smart enough to skip over stuff they are not wanting to read, don’t you? πŸ™‚

  11. Anonymous Says:

    here are two interesting links:

    69ers in UCI… yup.

    69ers only for racers… nope.

  12. Cloxxki Says:

    There’s more rules to obey than just those touvhed in that MTB regulations doc. A recumbent for instance is not allowed, although that doc doesn’t exclude that. The equal wheel rule is a thing for all bikes in competition.

    This doc seems very general about it, and not really road-specific : http://www.uci.ch/english/news/news_pre2000/comm_19991003.htm

  13. Axeman Says:

    Ted, Cloxxki
    They’re good bikes I like them, Travis likes them, you don’t
    I’m over it, Travis is over it, you two should definately……… get over it.

    Is there anyone else out there who likes them???

  14. nalax Says:

    Hey Ted, if we skipped over stuff we didn’t want to read, none of us would have graduated unless we were on the football team.

    How about a filter?

    I know what you’re saying and as I skip Cloxki’s posts here and elsewhere anyway. I wouldn’t know if he has anything new to add. The “Your Bike Sucks” sticker is at least funny.

    Will there be any 69ers to demo at the Ballyhoo?

  15. Guitar Ted Says:

    Axeman: While I don’t agree with alot of the premises put forth concerning 69ers and I definitely don’t agree with the oft heard, “It’s the best of both worlds” cliche’, I am not against them as a bicycle. All I’m saying is that it’s not what they are cracked up to be.

    Nalax: I am strongly urging Trek to bring their new line up of 69ers to the Ballyhoo. I feel it would be a positive addition to the huge fleet of 29″ers that will be on demo.

    By the way, Titus will be bringing their entire demo fleet…….including road bikes! (Hey, if it’s got two wheels, it’s cool, right Axeman?)

  16. monogodo Says:

    “This doc seems very general about it, and not really road-specific : http://www.uci.ch/english/news/news_pre2000/comm_19991003.htm

    And it’s 7-1/2 years old.

  17. Cloxxki Says:

    With such docs, they’re like amendments that go on. If you can find a later doc stating inequal wheels are now okay… πŸ˜‰

    When I get around to it I’ll ask the MTB Coordinator at the UCI, Peter Van den Abeele. We speak the same language and have exchanged mails over other affairs.

    I’m not against 69s as bikes, just question their “point” for general XC riding. I can very well come up with smaller and larger advantages to the concept, but they don’t fall in the riding style or trails of more than a very small percentage of “mountainbikers”.
    If someone is saying a 150g lighter rear wheel is a big advantage, I’ll challenge that. If someone says it follow through better, I’ll challenge that. If it’s more fun to ride a harsher rear end, hey! whatever makes you tick, ask Trek if it comes with a whip πŸ™‚

    I’ll add that the 69er is the most gorgeous looking stock bike I’ve seen from a big company in ages. If I’d have one, it would be my most beautiful bike of them all. With the best fork, best rear cog setup, nicest designed and welded frame, etc.
    Perhaps I am not hard core enough to warrant a 26″ rear wheel?

  18. Thunderlump Says:

    GT: Im not dissin you, but JHK has run twentyniners the last few races. I ride A 26 and A twentyniner. Not to much difference in the pedaling. Just depends on the race and the trail.
    Cloxxie: Your hardcore. I think if racers show up at A world cup with two different wheels no one will bat an eye.

    Perception is reality. People will buy what they feel comfortable riding. If this platform sucks, it will go away. I think it just opens the doors for more riding experience, from the begginer level to the top.

  19. trev Says:

    ha ha, this does make me laugh! 69ers/96ers are here to stay, rebel against anyone who states otherwise, ha ha

  20. Axeman Says:

    Your right, two wheels is all you need be they equal or not.
    I ride alot of bikes and the 96er just has a different feel to it, its great I don’t know specifically why, but I don’t try to overanalyze or justify it
    I just know its good and by the looks of the market so do a lot of other people.

  21. anon Says:

    cloxxki, I am quite sure that in your vervor to prove that anybody not riding 29/29 is compromised regardless of application, that you have wrongly jumped to a conclusion that 96ers would be illegal in UCI competition. All the worse, it is based on a press release from nearly 8 years ago. The current posted rules (mountain and cycling over all) clearly do not forbid mixed wheel sizes in mountain biking as long as they are a smaller diameter than 29 inches.

    Jumping to clonclusions without sound basis seems to be a common them in your commentary i.e. 26 front 29 rear is a better mixed wheel application (without having tried it) and that 29 front 26 rear has no unique performance application, (without having tried it.)

    It is quite easy to talk a theory on bikes to the edge of the earth but nothing will encompass all of the variables the way thorough controlled field testing will. So why would you let your mouth dig a hole you don’t know if you can get out of without actually doing the test yourself or allow enough of these mixed wheel bikes to get into the market place so that someone else can do it for you?

  22. TrekCzar Says:

    Well we’re a few days off the original post, so this will probably get swept under the rug like all old posts. But it’s worth noting for the record though… Travis Brown did some research and found out this from his contact at the UCI:

    “Hi Travis!

    Hope things are OK with you, it has been a long time since we met
    each, must be since the old race days.. but at least you’re still
    riding on the MTB trails.

    Regarding your question: Art. 4.1.039 only mentions that the diameter
    of the wheels may not exceed 29 inches. So mixing different wheel
    sizes cannot be prohibited.

    Best regards.

    Peter Van den Abeele
    Coordinateur Sportif – Cyclo-Cross & Mountain Bike
    Sports Coordinator – Cyclo-Cross & Mountain Bike
    Union Cycliste Internationale
    CH – 1860 Aigle”

    So for all those who questioned… 69er is certainly a viable racing option.

  23. tom schneller Says:

    I am taking my old steel moots which I have set up rigid and reconfiguring the front end with a 29. I will off set the rise with a lower stem. It may be a way for a lot of people with older 26ers to get new life out of their “junker” bike without spending a fortune. Is a 29er wheel harder to stop? I’ll be putting a disc on front and old cantis will remain on the back 26er. I am hoping for some balance.
    Another thought… Most Motocross motorcycles have larger front wheels than back ones…. now I am no motorhead but offroad cycling has taken a lot of tech stuff from the sport. I’m thinking the big front wheel will get me over more obstacles.

  24. Drumdumb1 Says:

    was wondering if anyone ever did a 29er front 650b in the rear.
    any thoughts?
    I have a 29er and love it, and i also have a 69er and equally love it they both have different characteristics but i want to experament with the 650b in the rear.
    The 69er is a fetish fixation single speed does anyone have any ideas about fit here is the proposed build list
    Velocity blunt 650b rim
    pacenti 650b tire
    singlespeed hub maybe dmr not too expensive yet tough!
    At the moment im running 34 front 16 rear what would the 650b set up need to remail the same ratio.

    You guys rule i love the crooked cog network…………

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