Defining What Is "Long Travel" For A 29"er

There is often much debate in the comments section whenever I post about “long travel” 29″ers. Do we really need them? What is “long travel” on a 29″er, and will it even work? These are the sort of things that have been brought up and all are legitimate questions concerning full suspension and 29″ers. This post will attempt to take the concept apart and see if we can find out just where this whole 29″er full suspension thing is going to.

The Roll Over Effect: First of all, one of 29 inch wheels defining attributes is the ability to roll up and over trail obstacles with an ease that smaller wheels can not match. This has been one of the reasons many have caught the big wheeled fever and have never looked back. Some have argued that a smaller amount, or no suspension at at all is necessary on a 29″er for their local trails and riding styles. Whatever the case may be for you, it is probably a universally agreed upon idea that 29″ers are smoother over the trails than smaller wheeled rigs. Is this a quantifiable thing? How much does a 29 inch wheel erase the need for suspension? Or should we be looking at this in a whole different way?

The Comparison Factor: It was inevitable that when the first 29″ers appeared that they would be compared to 26 inch wheeled bikes. Everything a 26 inch wheeled bike did, 29″ers were expected to do as well. This has been a dominant factor not only in suspension, but in the handling department for 29″ers. I think this isn’t a good way to evaluate what a 29″er is really all about. Sure, it is a bicycle and when it is designed for off road usage, it is going to have some parallels to 26 inch mountain bikes, but 29″ers do have their own set of defining characteristics. Added to this are the physical attributes and limitations of a 29″er wheel and the frames designed around them and you can see it is a whole different enchilada than what we are used to seeing with smaller wheeled mountain bikes. Comparing what is “long travel” for a 26 inch wheeled bike to a 29″er is then a flawed comparison from the start.

How Long is “Long”?: This leaves us with the question: Just what is “long travel” for a 29″er? Well, I believe it is very different from what it is for a 26 inch wheeled bike. I believe we already have long travel 29″ers in our midst, but let me take you to one specific example that is still out on the horizon: The W.F.O. 9 from Niner. This is a prototype that takes the 29″er wheel format into uncharted waters. With an estimated 165mm of usable rear wheel cush, this bike redefines long travel and will certainly push technology to the limits. Considering that there is currently no tire, rim, or front fork combination available that would even live up to the capabilities of this platform, you might say it is a “mad scientist” experiment. Well, that’s a different story, but what I want to point out is that this bike is probably the definition of what “max travel” in a 29″er platform for all mountain/down hill riding is. What I also want to point out is that this bike, if and when it becomes available, will more than likely show why 29″ers should be classified as a whole different animal when it comes to “long travel” all mountain bikes. I say this because Niner will more than likely get this bike out to a wider audience than currently available “long travel” 29″ers such as Lenz Sport’s Lunchbox. Physically, these two bikes show why “more” travel isn’t probably practical in a 29″er format, but more importantly, I think they show why it isn’t necessary.

My Conclusions: I feel that we already are dealing with several 29″ers that are “long travel” 29″ers from a totally different standpoint than something like a direct comparison with a 26 inch wheeled bike would indicate. I feel that a properly designed bike with high performance suspension and 29 inch wheels is already in a different league from 26 inch wheeled full suspension bikes. Although fork, wheel, and tire choices are still limited in this arena, I feel that offerings are on the horizon that will make the “long travel” 29″er a viable and worthy AM/FR/DH rig. Do you really need a “long travel” 29″er? Well, it is definitely overkill for a lot of trail riders. Again, there are many of us that feel we don’t need suspension at all due to the inherent qualities of the big wagon wheels. But for those that crave that amp that goes to eleven, this category of 29’er is right up your alley.


No Responses to “Defining What Is "Long Travel" For A 29"er”

  1. Charlie Says:

    I only want a freakin’ Pike… that’s all.

  2. Davidcopperfield Says:

    That’s perfectly true as long as I want to cover a distance in mountains, if I, however, am keen on drops and flat landings nothing but travel can save me and this is where we can’t dispose without 160-200mm stroked 29ers. I don’t understand the problem with designing a 21″ frame with 200mm of travel and 29″ wheel, yet I do when it comes to 17″ frame. Tha’s my 0.02 cents

  3. JJJ Says:

    So GT – thanks for all you have done to push 29ers and make the movement solid, but let me take a step back from there. This blog is a great informative site – and since its text written on the web, you (or anyone else posting on the web) appear to be “an authority”.

    I hear what you are saying – MOST folks DON’T need a long travel 29er. I’ll back that up by saying that MOST folks DON’T need a long travel 26……

    I have owned some REALLY well designed 26er’s in my time. I got a 29er SS. Went nutz on it. Couldn’t believe how blah blah blah it was (all the same stuff that gets praised everywhere else). It was amazing. I said “self, if a SS is this much fun, a 29er dualie must be the holy grail. So I bought one of those RIP9’s. and sold the 26.
    I learned a LOT from this mistake. Niner did a phenominal job of designing a bike that MOST people need out of a mtn bike. It rides well and climbs like nobody’s buisness on the most technical terrain I could find.
    But aside from wheel size, bikes are built around certain weight biases, geometry, and suspension design. Here is where things differ. The RIP9 with its big 29er front wheel has a front center measure almost 3 inches shorter than my old 575! That a LOT! Plus the head angle is way steeper – 70-71 deg on the RIP vs 67 on the yeti with the fork I was using.
    The geometry just didn’t work for me. I was faster and felt more stable on my 29 SS than I did on the RIP. When the trail got really ugly, the RIP was a true limitation to how fast I could go. In case someone is wondering, I tried the reba, the manitou @ 100mm and also the WB 130. I really wanted this bike to work for me – but for ME, it just didn’t. For the uses I bought the bike for, I couldn’t wait to sell it. I got another yeti 575. The combination of geometry, suspension charestics, and weight bias of this bike is spot on for the use I bought this bike. When I’m on that type of trail, I don’t want a 29er at all – I want a certian type of suspension design that I know will work.

    I know – people will will freak when they read this, but think about it – just like chainstay length doesn’t = total handling experience, wheel size is NOT the only important thing about a bike. Obviously I haven’t tried the lunchbox, but I got a whole 575 for around the cost of a lunchbox frame. And I was able to get a REALLY REALLY high quality fork that works – didn’t have flex issues, didn’t need to be sent back to WB for adjustments every other month (those guys couldn’t be nicer, but their forks just didn’t feel right to me at all), and it didn’t cost 850.

    I think there most definately is a place with a true “all mtn “(insert buzzword here) type geometry in this industry, but first the fork companies need to release a 29er Pike or equivalents, and second the $$$$ needs to come down to where 26in bikes are. I know companies like niner are relatively new, but come on – do you really think it costs Fisher or Specialized or Jamis any other company more money to design a 29er than a 26 in bike? I strongly doubt it. And if there is a higher cost, than its absorbed by the whole line – not just the one bike.

    So that is my rant. I going to keep on loving my SS 29er. Its the bike I ride 85% of the time. But if I know I’m doing a all day ride on gnar, I reach for the yeti each and every time and never look back. I know what works for ME. So to all those of you out there who are saying “but but but…..wait – I read that the ******* was the best bike i nthe world on the mtbr boards?!?!?? – they have to be right – right???”

    Lets look at the progression and introduction of long travel 29ers with a critical eye. New equpiment is slated to appear this weekend at sea otter -lets hope this pushes frames and wheels in the righ direction at an affordable pricepoint.
    Rant over -I had an amazing 4 hr ride in the mtns yesterday – hope most of you did as well

    OK –

  4. Guitar Ted Says:

    Triple J: Hey, I hear you saying you tried one FS 29″er and gave it your best shot, but still no go. I get that, it’s cool.

    But that is only one bike. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    You disparage the Lunchbox on price, but that’s like comparing apples to oranges. devin Lenz is a one man operation. He makes the frames himself. Yeti? Yeah…….right. I think you can agree that it isn’t even close to being on the same economy of scale.

    I also noted that you were on the front end of all this 29″er “long travel” business. Your beloved yeti isn’t shooting any bullts that haven’t been shot for ten years now. As i stated, 29″ers are a whole different ballgame.

    I have no doubt that given time, a 29″er long travel bike will emerge that would be to your liking. Comparable to a yeti 575? i don’t think it necessarily has to be. just as good if not better in some ways? Absolutely.

    Thanks for your comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. MG Says:

    I definitely think there is a “terrain leveling” effect that big wheels have that makes big travel superfluous, to a certain extent, but that said, I think there is still a place for a 5-6 inch travel 29er in the world. I would consider six inches of travel to be “long travel,” without a doubt. Is five inches “long travel?” That’s more questionable… It’s in more of an intermediate zone that could be lumped in with more cross country type bikes. Look at the RIP9. It’s a 4.5-inch travel bike, and it’s very much an XC bike — not a “long travel” bike whatsoever, IMHO.

    Personally, I want every bike of mine to have big wheels — xc, freeride, dh… everything. Even if the wheels are heavier, I want the security, the flatter trajectory, the enhanced roll-ability of bigger wheels going up, going down, going fast, going slow… wherever I ride, whenever I ride. It’s never a question for me — it’s always big wheels, and every ride I take on 26 inch wheels just seems to reconfirm my love for 29 inch wheels. It’s not that small wheels feel bad — it’s just that I prefer the feel/handling of big wheels. That’s all. I understand that’s my personal preference, and that others may differ.

  6. MG Says:

    JJJ, specific to your point, I think to compare a RIP9 to a 575 is comparing apples to oranges, because you’re comparing a bike with a clear xc bias to a bike with a decided descending bias, and irrespective of wheel size, I think that’s always going to be a tough comparison. I’m not saying it’s not your right to do, but it’s just going to lead to the same conclusion nine times out of ten, and it’s the conclusion you got — the xc-biased bike is sketchier going downhill than your more dh-biased bike (irrespective of wheel size). And that’s fine. When bikes and more specifically, wheels, catch up to the way we want to ride this stuff, we’re all gonna’ be able to make fair and straight-across comparisons between equipment.

    But honestly, I think we’ve got some serious development yet to do before 29-inch equipment catches up to a Yeti 575 with a Fox 36 on the front, period. There isn’t a match for that in the 29-inch world yet. I wait for that day, somewhat patiently. It’ll come, and we’ll all be rippin’ the big stuff on big wheels (or at least I will be, and I know Guitar Ted will be right there with me).

  7. George Krpan Says:

    Long travel 29ers will work but they will be for a more extreme sort of riding and will have disadvantages on the typical XC trail. Just like long travel 26ers. Good in some places, horrid in others, the horrid usually far exceeding the good.
    The mindset is already out there about long travel. A guy riding a 5.5 inch travel 26er is not going to believe he can do with less. It hasn’t yet occurred to them that long travel is an artifact of the deficiencies of 26″ wheels.

    JJJ – right on!

    Ted – “Your beloved yeti isnโ€™t shooting any bullits that havenโ€™t been shot for ten years now.”
    Love it!

  8. Desert9r Says:

    80-100mm short travel
    130+mm long travel

    29″ wheel passive suspension

    130+mm on a 29er, Overkill

  9. Bikeryder Says:

    First I want to say that this is a great post, by everyone…but while I understand that this is a 29er site, and I also ride 29ers, I think that to say that a bike is right for another person isn’t going to work. I think thats what Triple J was up to in his post. Like him, I like my 29ers to be of the singlespeed variety, and my long travel bikes to be 26ers. I know technology hasn’t caught up in that respect yet, but for someone else to tell me that I need a long travel lunchbox for example is just lunacy. However this site is, and has been, doing a great job of trying to inform us (the consumer) on how our sport’s technology applies to us and how to use this information to find what works best for us whether its a 29er or not. Ok I’m done…you guys can have the soapbox back now ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Guitar Ted Says:

    Bikeryder: I appreciate your comment, first of all, but let me be clear: This isn’t about saying “big wheels are better”. It’s about what is long travel in terms of 29″ers and how direct comparisons with long travel 26″ers are not going to yield a good answer to our questions.

    Certainly, as I was trying to point out to Triple J, the 26 long travel bike has pretty much been dialed for several years now. If one were to say, as you do, that their long travel bike is a 26″er, I can grasp that and see that it makes sense. I’m saying that a different definition of “long travel” is coming and it is coming with 29″er wheels front and rear. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Bikeryder Says:

    haha…fair enough GT…sorry if it felt like I was attacking your post, it was clear in providing the information stated, as always, I was just trying to voice my opinion so I could avoid doing actual work…lol. I do agree that we need better equipment for 29ers…I would love to have a quality long travel, thru-axle fork similar to what I can put on my 26er…I would love to see how that would ride. Maybe then we could see more backwoods oriented hardtails in 29er form (on-one 456-29 maybe?) I think I could dig that.

  12. Matty Says:

    I feel like in the wake of all of this something gets lost. I ride a rigid 29er singlespeed, like alot of people, i cannot ride a bike with gears or suspension. I still think that any progression is good progression on the 29er front, overall it makes the sport of cycling better.

  13. Matty Says:

    ps long travel 29er forks are already out there, you just have to find them and modify them, oh and they are stupid heavy. Any inverted dh fork with 180+mm of travel will work. Hanbrink and Risse forks work great. Take them apart, get the springs shortened up and spacer them out for a 29er wheel and you have a downhill fork meant for a 29er front wheel.

  14. Vandal Says:

    It seems to me that if a 29″ wheel is about 11% larger in circumference than a 26″ wheel, then the angle of attack on any given size obstacle would be about 11% shallower for a 29″ wheel compared to a 26″ wheel. We could infer from this that the 29er rolls over an object with 11% less loss of kinetic energy and thus, 11% less suspension travel is required to produce the same riding feel on a rough trail.
    Correct me if I’m wrong, but a 5″ tall root is still a 6″ tall root. Regardless of wheel size, the axle of that wheel moving horizontally along the ground must still rise up 6″ vertically off the ground to get over that root. The size of the wheel simply changes how suddenly or gradually this transition from horizontal to vertical motion takes place. Technically speaking, if we broke this motion down into horizontal and vertical components, the 26″ wheel would have a higher peak vertical acceleration than the 29″ wheel, forcing the suspension to compress more rapidly, or transferring a greater vertical impact to the rider.
    Given all this, it makes sense to me that a 26er with 5″ of suspension travel will roll over this root about 11% more harshly than a 29er with the same suspension travel but feel about the same as a 29er with 4.5″ of suspension travel.
    (I don’t have a scientific calculator on hand to do the trigonometry of all this right now but I think my guesstimations are in the ballpark. Suffice to say that a 29″ wheel does not erase the need for suspension.)
    My conclusion is that the definition of “long travel” for a 29er is 11% shorter than it is for a 26er. The 6.5″ Niner WFO would likely feel a lot like a Santa Cruz Nomad (it not slightly more plush), but it definitely would not feel like the 10″ Cruz V10.

  15. Vandal Says:

    in my second paragraph, I meant to say “a ” tall root is still a 6″ tall root”. That makes a little more sense…

  16. Vandal Says:

    in my second paragraph, I meant to say “a 6″ tall root is still a 6″ tall root”. That makes a little more sense…

  17. Robb Sutton Says:

    I am in the process of building up a rigid 29er. Having already ridden the bike it is being designed off of…I can say that I am really excited about the project.

    That said…

    I see no place for a long travel 29er. I ride a 36 lbs 6″ bike as my regular ride, and to get a 29er to fit the same bill…the geometry would not work. To get the slack angles required by 6″ + bikes, a 29ers wheelbase would have to be so long that it wouldn’t be turnable in tight dh situations. In dh/fr, quality travel is a requirement that wheel size can not make up for. You can’t tell me that a 5″ 29er is going to perform the same as a 6-7″ 26er off a 5′ drop to flat or higher.

    Another note…
    The amount of leverage that will be put on long travel 29er forks will require a much stiffer suspension fork to keep the same ride as a 26er. This, in my eyes, can only be accomplished with wider hub spacing and larger axles.

    29ers have their place. I see their positives in short travel xc/am rigs and ht/rigids, but the long travel market is a place for 26″ bikes.

  18. vichercules Says:

    For context, I am not a big fan of long travel bikes or their riders as it seems they are frequently counterproductive when it comes to keeping trails open (see Marin county) If our long travel friends stayed off of multi use trails my bias would shift, but it is tough enough fending off trail closures because of the transgressions of the gasoline set, let alone having our own ranks give fuel to the opposition.

    That being said, there has been so much conjecture on this site about what can and can’t be done with big hoops. Lets be serious, bikes are incredibly nuanced, there are issues of geometry, rider size, tire configuration, frame material, weight, center of gravity blah blah blah, wheel size is one of many variables, just one. I think its importance is frequently overstated, especially on this site. If a 29er has not yet surfaced that rolls with more than 100mm of travel and does it well, consider it an inevitability.

    JJJ’s concerns seem to have little to do with long travel bikes as much as he bought the wrong bike. It seems that he bought a trail bike when he wanted a semi long travel cross country setup. There are a few FS cross country 29ers that might have suited him much better than the RIP 9. A Hei Hei or a Hi FI might have been a good solution, but we and he will never know. But, if he prefers the quick responses of a 26″ bike over the momentum of a 29er, who cares? There is more than one way to skin a cat, right?

  19. JJJ Says:

    vichercules –
    I think you might have missed my point. I do want a trailbike – the RIP9 was not enough bike for the conditions I was looking for it to excell in. The point of this post was to show that 4.5 in needs be looked at in combination of the entire bike – the travel, geometry, and wheelsize. Big wheels or not – the RIP and most all 29ers (yes even the sultan) have head angles around 71 and seat tube angles @ 73 or 74. So you see this topic is all about long travel – well -Niner WAS touting the RIP9 as a long travel -do-it-all frame before they announced the WFO thing. I feel the rip is a great XC bike bike – but that’s it.

    I sort of took the 11% rule above and thought a RIP @ 4.5 in would feel like a 5.5 in 26 in bike and that’s just not the case at all – as I and others haven mentioned, The angles of the Yeti work really really well for me in the terrain I ride. Its not just the travel – its the way it works with the travel. Even with a WB 130 up front, I was looking for a head angle that was about 2-3 deg slacker for the terrain I ride.

    My 29er SS by the way has a head angle of just under 69 and a trail of 95. Most would think its a tank and handles bad. I disagree – I like slack bikes.

    GT – The Yeti may not be shooting any new bullits – but I tell you what – its combination of geometry and travel hit the target more than any other 29er out there right now (for me).

    So the take home message of my post was that geometry needs to be looked at along with travel to define the optimal purpose of the bike. OK – everyone go ride your bikes now- peace out

  20. Guitar Ted Says:

    JJJ: One word for you: Lunchbox

    It has everything hat you mentioned and even the trail figure is close to the same. (Actually, the Luncbox’s is higher!)

    You might balk at the price, but if you like big wheels and the Yeti type angles/geo, the Lunchbox has you covered in spades. Bonus: It handles absolutely great, as I have actually ridden one.

    Otherwise, as I have said, I can see your point. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Anonymous Says:


  22. Amir Hubbard Says:

    that employee is so screwed

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