More Women On 29"ers?

Women and 29″ers. Not two things that are normally thought of as going together, for whatever reasons. In the time that I have been around the big wheels, the mere mention of women on a big wheeled bike was often scoffed at. The thinking being that women were not well suited to the larger wheel due to the difficulty in making the bicycle small enough to fit and not have “funky geometry”. This big wheeled phenomena was only suited to folks around six foot and above, or so the thinking was. Now it seems all that thinking and more is falling by the wayside. Women are starting to show up in greater numbers riding big wheelers. More women are asking about them at bike shops and through dealer web sites. Why would that be?

The owner of this diminutive 29″er is a women and loves the ride.

First of all, let’s deal with the bicycle itself. The over riding philosophy on 29’ers by most frame designers and industry folks is that they present too many design compromises for riders that are under the height of 5’10” with the problems getting worse as you decrease rider height from that point. If this is true, why in the world would a women choose a big wheeled machine. Well, in my questioning of several women that ride 29″ers, including Heather Irminger of the Fisher/Subaru mountain bike team, it seems that 29″ers provide some benefits that women in general find appealing in a mountain bike, despite the “geometry compromises”.

The biggest thing I kept hearing over and over was that 29″ers were more stable and safer over trail obstacles. Heather Irminger elaborated on that by saying that even though she preferred a 26 inch wheeled bike for her XC racing exploits, she almost always grabs a 29″er on her training and fun rides for the stability, especially on down hills. Many women expressed the roll over factor as something that they liked better than what they experienced with the 26 inch wheels. So it would seem that it might possibly be the “fun factor” that is winning over the women, because let’s face it, if you aren’t sweating the consequences of crashing and the danger of fast down hills, then riding a mountain bike becomes a whole lot more fun.

As for the bikes themselves, the compromises are not as dire as they were just three years ago. The longer offset forks that are available now not only allow designers more freedom in getting better handling 29″ers, but allow them to be smaller in size with less chances for toe overlap. Some smaller sized 29″ers are even made in mass quantities now, where just a few years ago this was not available. Custom made bikes were the only option then, and generally were pricy, although plenty of riders still are having custom bikes built, many of these being women.

Interestingly, the 650B wheel, which would seem to be a dead ringer for women looking for bigger wheeled fun, hasn’t caught on as much…….yet. I suspect that once the word gets out a little more about this wheel size, it may well end up being the predominately chosen “big wheel” size for women mountain bikers looking for more stability and better roll over capability. At least the geometry on the smallest sizes will be spot on in comparison to a 29″ers for smaler riders. Time will tell if this comes to be, but it certainly makes a lot of sense.

For now though I’m hearing that the major 29″er brands are seeing a marked uptick in interest from women looking at 29″er wheels for their next mountain bike. I look to see more development in this area in the future. Until then, look for more women to be sporting big wheels on your local trails.


No Responses to “More Women On 29"ers?”

  1. Cloxxki Says:

    I once had a girlfriend, 1m71 or so, who raced MTB’s, mostly because I did. Not a fan of technical challenges on the trail.
    I got her to demo an M Fisher Supercal hardtail. She rolled it off dropoffs which she failed to notice, while on the (well set up by me) 26″ bike, she’d definately have made a scene about how she was SO not going ride off that wall. That one ride, she was not lagging behind on fast corners, or bumpy sections.

    Biggest problem about women trying 29″ers: the men around them, fighting off every bike development they cannot complehend.

    Then, some lady riders are surrounded by 29″er geeks, making it logical for them to give it a try. I’ve not seen many cases where a lady got to try a 29″er, and didn’t like it.

    Ladies are riders too, just more delicate ones. They know very well what works for them, and what doesn’t, they just need a well setup demo bike.

  2. GreenLightGo Says:

    Interesting topic. I bought Jason B’s green El Mar this past fall for my wife (5’9″) and she’s enjoying it. The only thing that took some convincing was the rigid fork – but for her riding, it’s plenty when combined with the WeirWolf up front.

  3. 29in' Family Says:

    Great post. I am 6’5″ and have been on a 29er almost as soon as they came out because of my height. I started with Fisher and have since moved to Niner (love them both). I love, love the 29er and often left a ride with a smile. Since my wife is my most frequent riding partner, she was always very interested in the 29 ride. Because she is considered “short” most dealers laughed at her when she suggested that she may want to try one. Well it’s been a little over a year, and now she ends her ride with a smile. We moved her from a Trek Fuel EX 7 WSD to a Fisher HiFi Pro 29. Obviously, we have tweaked the cabin a bit to meet her height/reach needs, but she has definitely become a more confident rider. I would recommend a 29er to anyone pretty much regardless of height, if that person experienced more joy and confidence riding with one. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Ride because you love to!

  4. MG Says:

    I’m not surprised at all that ladies love 29ers just as much as men do. My lovely wife is 5’11” and relatively timid off-road, and obviously here in Nebraska, a 29er for someone her height is a no-brainer. Heck, I think I’m going to build the Dos Niner frame in my basement up for her this weekend! What am I thinking having her on a 26-inch Bontrager?!! (regardless of how cool it is — sometimes it takes a moment like this for the lightbulb to flash on.)

    But that roll-ability factor is huge in giving just about anyone, but especially new or improving riders the confidence they need to tackle technical challenges. That pretty much defines the state of where a lot of female riders are… where a lot of riders are, period. It isn’t just ladies. I’m a 36 year old former semipro xc racer, and I’m still learning how to ride my bike. I wiped out so hard on my Fargo the other day I put a dent in the top tube! Ouch! How do I explain that one to my wife?!! “Ummm, honey I crashed a practically un-crashable bike.”

    And I did…

    Great post buddy. Shows why you’re the 29er authority.

  5. Sevo Says:

    Size does matter 🙂

  6. Kid Riemer Says:

    Women and 29’ers…the only reasons why it could cause problems is standover and toe overlap.

    Certain sized people (not just women) may always have a problem with 29’ers.

    But does a bigger wheel improve their riding experience? Absolutely, and potentially even more so for a person (woman or not) that has less riding experience and therefore a smaller comfort zone when riding off-road.

    Bigger wheels, whether 29’er or 650B (though I have no personal 650B experience) are guaranteed to make a novice or lesser skilled rider more comfortable. There is greater stability, a bigger contact patch, and most importantly a smoother ride with greater roll-over capability.

    He’s not a woman, but you can use my son Jordan as an example of this. He was on a 24″ wheeled Kona mtb. Nicer bike than any of us had as a kid! Riding over logs and such was something he just couldn’t look forward to. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to do it either with small wheels.

    He grew to fit 26″ wheels. Now he’s rocking the Jazz Voltage I converted to a singlespeed! And I do mean rocking! Seriously though, the move to 26″ wheels bumped his comfort zone up tremendously. Why? Because 26″ from 24″ is just about the same sort of incremental ride improvement you get when going from 26″ to 29″.

    All of this is heightened by the fact that a novice or lesser skilled rider does not notice the ‘negative’ effects of bigger wheels. Why? Because they haven’t been riding nice bikes, so bike weight (or wheel weight) matters less to them. They aren’t riding as aggressively so slightly slower handling may actually make them more comfortable. And the boost in comfort zone that the bigger wheels give when hitting dips, roots, or roll-overs outweigh any of the proposed negatives.

    Jordan is not big enough to fit on a 29’er and I’ve got an old El Mariachi prototype that will turn into his bike soon. I’m very curious to see how he’ll react when he encounters some of the small trail obstacles that have grown large in his head from his previous experiences.

    Fun topic GT. Peace out to your lady.

  7. Vandal Says:

    I’m curious to see where the lower practical limit of rider height ultimately ends up for 29ers. It seems obvious that there is a point at which a rider’s height is simply too small to comfortably and safely handle a 29er. It’s well established that a rider under 4’6″ tall can’t safely control a bike with 24″ wheels which is why bikes with 20″ wheels exist. 4’6″ to 4’11’ tall works pretty well with 24″ wheels. Would this rider be able to ride a bike with 29″ wheels? Doubtful.
    In order to for the rider to be able to reach the bars, the top tube would have to be so short that serious toe overlap would result. To prevent this, the head tube angle would either need to be ultra slack to push the front wheel away or the fork would need a lot more than 46mm or 51 mm offset. Either way, the bike would steer like an ocean liner.
    Then there’s handlebar height. If you want to avoid a bar that’s 6″ above saddle height, and you actually want to be able to climb hills you either need to shrink the head tube length or use a negative rise stem and a drop bar and a fork with minimal suspension travel.
    Plus, a rider this short would never get their centre of mass far enough over the rear tire to get proper traction on climbs, unless the rear triangle was designed like a Cervelo P3 time trial bike with the rear tire tucked forward into a cutout in the frame. But then, the bb would need to be extra wide for the chain to clear the rear tire which would introduce chain line issues requiring a 150mm rear axle.
    Put all of this together and without making some serious compromises you end up with a bike with a 63 degree head angle, bars way above the saddle, a disproportionatley long wheelbase, sloppy steering on flat ground and lousy hill climbing ability. Sounds a lot like my DH bike, except it can’t accomodate suspension. Sure, the big wheels would roll over things really well (but with body mass so low relative to the wheelbase length, they might never be able to lift the front wheel up over a log), and the rider would never endo, but that accounts for 5% of the riding situations. The other 95% of the ride would suck.

    So, wheel size is scaled proportionally to rider height. I suggest that somewhere on this scale, the advantages offered by 29″ wheels over smaller wheels become overshadowed by the disadvantages inherent to 29″ wheels. That’s the point on the scale where rider height becomes proportional to the next smaller wheel size.
    That point is partly determined by physical limitations and partly by what the rider expects from the bike. If all the rider wants is smooth rolling and stable straight-line performance on the rail trail, by all means, ride the biggest wheels possible. However, if they want to balance those characteristics out with point and shoot handling in technical woods trails and climbing traction, a 5′ rider will be sorely disappointed with and quite overwhelmed by a 29er.

  8. BOAB Says:

    My wife is 5’2″ and she rides a GT Peace Multi small and has no problem with standover or overlap. She won’t even try a 26″bike, but no she does want some upgrades, ie shock.

  9. Sparrow Says:

    I wonder if like in that pic, that some of the alt-bars with the high sweep like the Jones, Fleagle etc. might be a good option for shorter ladies. The bars high sweep effectively shortens the cockpit so the frame designer can have a longer top tube.

  10. L84BIKING Says:

    My wife (5’6″) loves her blue El Mariachi SS ever since riding Jason’s prototype at Sea Otter some years back. And really like the H bars the bike was sporting then. Now she has Mary bars, rides it rigid and in one speed mode. Ever since riding that first 29er, all her 26er’s were sold off. I see many benefits for women and others of 29ers. I read sometime ago that 29ers would be great for beginners but haven’t seen much talk of it.

    As far as shorter riders go, there was a picture in Dirt Rag of a custom Waltworks for a women that was about 5′ who raced too.

  11. Sparrow Says:

    There’s a woman who used to race the local 12hours of Temecula, CA on a custom Waltworks. She was about 5′ tall. I’m guessing it’s the same bike/lady.

  12. jncarpenter Says:

    I don’t think I could get my wife back on the 26″ wheels if I tried….seriously. She LOVES her Monocog Flight & DW Sultan!

  13. Dust Says:

    Well my girlfriend wants a 29er and I want to get her one. She says she doesn’t feel comfortable on my medium fisher frame and she’s 5’6″. She doesn’t have much (really any) mountain bike experience but wants to get more.

    I would gladly offer her up for a case study by on the premise that anyone – this just happens to be a woman – should start on a 29er single speed and no suspension or single speed and front suspension.

    Could we work something out with one of those sweet bikes you guys always get to test? I promise I won’t ride it. Just her.

    What do you say, Guitar Ted? I could ask her to blog after every ride.

  14. Cloxxki Says:

    Come on, just buy a cheap S frame, build it up with your own stuff, and let her ride a proper 29″er, if you don’t have access to demo bikes. If the shoe fits, she won’t give it back, but you can get a stock bike in a random size and use the parts to build back up your favorite frame.
    If anything goes wrong, a frame is not hard to sell.

    In kids racing, it’s well know that when they’re barely a fit on the very smallest of 26″ bikes, but make the switch anyway, former 24″ riders immediately get a boost in their riding/racing. A too big bike with “too” big wheels just rides better than a normal to short fit frame with “proportionate” wheels. Kids are riders too, and a great example for all of us. Kids well under 5 feet tall, ride bikes with wheels well over 2 feet. Wheelbase 3.5 feet. They seem to like, for XC/Cross style riding the very largest wheels they can get. I was like that as well. I was 8, and wanted a 26″er, although I called it a big boys BMX. Turns out Specialized had only just launched these bikes, and price was way out of my pocket money multi-years saving ballpark budget. I got suck with a 20″ BMX. I was big for my 8 Y/O, and quickly outgrew it, and never really felt comfortable, it was always just a toy that rolled and eased my walk to school. Fun to splash through rainpools, but that was it.

    For tall adults, there is no easy option to get a bike that is almost too big, in terms of wheel size. Less than a dozen 36″ MTB’s are known to exist, but they fit the bill, perhaps erring on the big side even for most . Still, good fun, and apparently well rideable.

    We must let go of the idea that 29″ wheels are big. They were adults wheels even back when the average westerner was the height of the current average eastener. Todays average women would not be very impressed with the 70’s average height men.

  15. Vincent Says:

    My girlfriend, is on her second twentyniner, and has make significant technical improvement since the switch.

  16. Drool Says:

    GF is 5-4 and I’m 5-7 and we both have been on hardtail 29ers since 06. We both have full suspension 26 inch bikes we use for tight single track but for open country nothing beats a 29er. We also have a second set of wheels for the 29ers with 700x40ish trekking tires for pavement/hardpack riding. For the price of a set of wheels we also have hybrids.

  17. Dirt McGirt Says:

    I’m lucky. My wife is 6’1″! Yay me! 🙂

  18. JeroenK Says:

    Women and 29ers.

    If they really would have cared, they would have found this blog and posted something in this topic by now ;).

    I’m with Vandal. There is more to bikes and riding than wheel size. For some short men and women, a 29er might work, because they do not care about the compromises, f.e. very high bars.

    @Cloxxki: I see the opposite of what you say about Women being surrounded by 29er geeks. The more some of you rant about the supposed superiority of 29ers, the more they are put off by the idea. Off topic: I even think some of this “foam on the mouth” 29er preaching is stalling the acceptation of big wheeled bikes, at least in my country.

    My girlfriend still has to try my 29er. It should fit her quite well, if she would use her non-setback seatpost and her shorter stem. I’ll post her experience here or on MTBR, once we find the time.

  19. Marie Says:

    I first tried a 29er, the Raleigh XXIX singlespeed, last year. I’m 5-7 and believed the argument that I was too short for a 29er. But I loved it, and found no weird handling issues. It’s tough in the really tight singletrack twists of course but other than that, I really enjoy the ride of a 29er. I usually ride a “medium” size but I had to go with a small size in this bike, which fit well. I think these bikes tend to run bigger. Anyway, I’m now sold on the 29er experience.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for proving me wrong, Marie!

    It is good these kind of discussions do not become a men-thing.

  21. Mia Says:

    When I went to go buy a new mountain bike four years ago, I was very interested in getting a 29er because the all the benefits of the bigger wheel sounded amazing. However, I was told by everyone I talked to, including bike shop personal, that at 5’5″ I was too small and not powerful enough for a 29er so I settled for a 26″ women’s specific bike.

    A year later I got the opportunity to ride and ultimately buy a Fisher Rig in my size and realized that everything people had been telling me was wrong!! The 29er did everything the big wheel was promised to and more despite my small size. In fact, I have never found my “small” size to be a problem in riding a 29er and have never felt the need to go back to riding my 26″ bike. I currently ride and race a Fisher Paragon with G2 and find this to be my favorite bike so far. It’s much quicker handling than the rig (which is admittedly pretty sluggish through twisty singletrack) yet still maintains all the benefits of riding a 29er.

  22. yama Says:

    What name is that handle bar in the photo ?

  23. Jerk Says:

    Good article.

    I had a co-worker of mine who is a total hammer head and while he’s a fearsome he’s under 5’7″ and could not adjust his riding style to a 29″ bike but when he opted to build a 650b he felt that he could push it far harder than when he was riding a 29″ bike.

    My buddy let my 5’5″ wife borrow his 29″ bike before he sold in and she fell in love with the 29″ format. Up to that point she was riding 26″ wheeled bike with a 100mm travel fork but after riding her first “niner” she said that she’d never go back to a 26″ bike.

    I’m not sure to make of all this other than there’s a lot to be said about personal preference and riding style.

    My former coworker has a bmx background and is used to hyperactive handling smaller wheeled bikes and he spends a lot of air time on his bike – any excuse to launch himself over a rock garden or over a log is okay with him.

    My wife, on the other hand is nowhere as aggressive as a rider but she’s ridden World Cup class race courses with Hussefelt pedals and Crocks.

    That said, however, she has come to her own conclusion that she enjoys many of the benefits that a lot of other 29″ converts have experienced, a more comfortable ride, better high speed stability; the ability to crush small objects with a single bound.

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