Racers Begin To Use- And Win- on 29"ers

When 29″ers were yet seen as a curiosity, a fad, or something far worse, (some folks are still thinking all three things!), the idea of someone racing a 29″er in the upper ranks of mountain biking was not even on the radar, much less a serious thought. Now things have changed dramatically in those regards.

Of course, the Fisher-Subaru Team has raced 29″ers for a couple of seasons now at selected races. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Sam Schultz are regularly using the big wheels now, but that’s to be expected. Fisher Bikes is the 29″er company, by any one’s measure, so having the team use 29ers isn’t taken too seriously outside of their fan base as a rule. Now though, several others are looking at, and using big wheels in racing at the sports top level, and folks are taking notice.

Let’s tick off a few highlights just from this season…….

-Todd Wells uses a Specialized carbon 29″er hardtail to put in a spectacular ride. He breaks a chain at the start line. Fixes it, is dead last in a 120 plus man field, and rides in for a top five finish in Fontana, California.

-Niner Bikes sends riders John “Fuzzy” Milne, Deejay Birtch, Rebecca Tomaszewski, and a couple others to Italy where they dominate the Finale 24hr event. Niner takes the 8 man team category- with 6 riders- ……on single speeds against geared riders! Tomaszewski won the solo female category on her geared Niner hardtail. All against top riders in Italy.

-Salsa Cycles first Selma single speed in the U.K. is ridden to the U.K. Single Speed Championship.

-Heather Irminger wins a short track XC event on a Superfly hardtail recently with Todd Wells and JHK coming in one, two on big wheels in the men’s event.

Get the picture?

Could it be that now 29″ers will be another “tool in the box” of all top pro racers? Well, maybe if the Europeans start to ride them, and with the recent accomplishments in Italy and the U.K., this may not be far off. But then again, who in their right mind would race a 29″er? It’s just silly, right?

It’s going to take more wins and top finishes, but I think that it is just silly enough it will happen sooner or later.


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No Responses to “Racers Begin To Use- And Win- on 29"ers”

  1. JeroenK Says:

    I guess unless a few well known top 10 world cup racers start riding 29ers, the rest of the world cup field and most of the elite national level will not. It could be that point is around the corner, with Specialized producing a light 29er, but if the Sausers and the Standers choose to keep riding their XC fully, it is still a long way off.

    In my country, I notice some progress too: More and more 29ers are popping up at the grassroots level. The numbers are still really low compared to what you have in the US; I guess 5 to 10 in a field of 700… No 29ers in the Dutch elite field, but some Belgian elite racers show up on them in the Belgium-Netherlands competition.

    That’s hardly significant compared to the 1 or 2 zealots we had 5 years ago, but there is a much stronger change in how people think about big wheels. Now, they seem really interested, they know more about the trend in the US and there is a lot less talk about the presumed disadvantages.

  2. mtbboy2000 Says:

    Harlan Price went by me like he was shot out of a cannon at the Cowbell Challenge Marathon this past weekend and went on to take the win on his IF 29er.

  3. Race29 Says:

    I wonder if there is a little disconnect on this website between a mostly trail-riding contingent and the odd racer here and there? At every race I’ve been to in Colorado this year the percentage of the Pro and Cat I fields riding 29ers has grown to 35-50%. Once a guy that has some recognition to his peer group wins a race on a 29 inch wheeled bike, others take notice and that’s what’s happening here. My guess is since a lot more really good racers are riding 29ers in the non-pro classes, that another big jump in recognition of the platform is going to happen this year.

    It’s a lot easier for anyone to defend the decision to race a 29er with better wheels, tires, forks, and a wide variety of frame materials and geometries to chose from. A recent convert from a 26″ FS race rig said to me yesterday that it is easier to race faster according to a 29er’s strengths on the trail than to do the same with a 26″ FS race bike.

  4. Vlint Says:

    I know here is Arizona I began racing on a 29er 3 years ago in the Semi Pro field and while there was no full on “what are you doing” comments at the time the reaction was mixed. This year however I would say half of the pro field here is on them, not that I was the guy winning anything on mine and opening the way but all it takes is a few guys to step out of the box and try it before it becomes OK for everyone else to get on it.

  5. t0m Says:

    Race29, I agree. I think there are a lot of trailriders in this forum. Racers in Colorado are definitely more likely to consider and buy a 29er. The 29″ cornering traction advantage is pretty obvious in a race. Racing is taken very seriously here in Colorado. That’s part of the reason I hardly ever race.
    My point is, as a trailrider I can’t really buy a new bike very often. If people like me managed to get a good FS 26er in the last few years, they aren’t going to be that compelled to spend for a different wheelsize. Racers tend to buy frames a lot more, and since they already accept 29ers, there ya go. Now long term, I think 29ers are the emerging standard. In 10 years, maybe most serious XC/trail MTBs will be big wheeled.

  6. Oderus Says:

    IMO, all of the myths about 29ers have been debunked and people realize their true value. While agree that the average trail user doesn’t buy a new frame or get a new bike as often as a racer/pro, the shift is happening. I watch people (trail riders, not racers) move over to 29ers all the time here in Colorado. Race wins only validate what most of know and admit to already. I believe that one of the main things holding 29ers back is the media. Some of the more popular publications still don’t credit where credit is due. Unfortunatly, a lot of those readers read it as gospel rather than going to form their own opinion. I think when the mags get their panties unbunched and start objectively reviewing more 29ers, the shift will pick up steam. I’ll know 29ers are 100% legit when I roll into Walmart or Target and see a kickass Pacific or Huffy with 29″ wheels. While some of you are laughing, you know it to be true. It will happen. You can get carbon bicycle type things at those stores now!

  7. Cloxxki Says:

    Presumed disadvantages. I like that.

    How long mankind takes to increased wheelsize by 9%. In the same time, we’ll have increased our average height by about as much.
    How did we ever come to create Concorde? It flew around the time when the first purpose built MTB’s rolled. It flew last by the time 29″ was definately (re-)introduced. Since, we’re walking only on land (vs on the moon), and flying at barely twice the speed of an Indycar.

    At this pace, will the general public ever be ready for something better than a bicycle along the late 1800’s design?

  8. Oderus Says:

    Geez Cloxxki, surely you remember the Huffy Blade. That hi tensile, flattened profile tubing. The soft grey rubber tires. The quick release headtube. That’s progress!

  9. Thunderlump Says:

    Yeah I remember being po pooed four years ago for riding my SS Unit 2-9 at the SOC now the majority are on 29ers. Same thing for Marathon events in Arizona I see more 29ers than 26 FS.

  10. Generalcuz Says:

    I have been riding my 29er for two years now and love it. When I first bought it, I felt like a lone sheep in a field. The bike store had two 29er’s available. That was it. As my skills and athletic ability improved, it seemed like the 29er crowd did too. In my stable, I now have a full suspension 29er and a hardtail 29er. When Cannondale releases the Flash, I will have a Carbon Hardtail. I am sold.

    It’s been fun to see how the evolution of the 29er has developed here in Colorado. A lot of people bought 29er’s out of curiosity I think and the ones who raced did so for a backup or secondary unit. Long story short, the 29er’s seemed to be getting more time since people started clocking new personal times and better results. I have seen this happen over and over and over. Mountain biking is a big business here in Colorado and the 29er scene isn’t going to explode, it already has. I see just as many 29ers as I do 26″ bikes almost every ride I go on.

    So maybe it hasn’t caught on in Europe but out here, they are great bikes for the plethora of riding that’s available. No surprise I guess that people are winning races on them. I have been seeing that trend blossom out here.

  11. KRL Says:

    29er wheels roll smoother than 26 wheels, Smooth = faster. There is a place for both though, another tool in the arsenal.

  12. George Budd Says:

    Heh guys – yep, I won the Single Speed Champs in the UK on a Selma. The big wheels really suit SS as it just rolls right on over stuff. It was a close race – I won in a sprint by a matter of inches – from a 26″ rider so those big wheels gave me the edge 🙂 If the current trend for rocky, rough, technical XC courses in the UK continues, I could well be tempted by a 29er race bike for next season – I currently race on a Moto Rapido 26″ bike. Riding the Selma and the Rapido in back to back races at Dalby Forest (UK World Cup venue for 2010), the Selma was noticably smoother and faster on the rough decents.

  13. Guitar Ted Says:

    George Budd: Congratulations on your SS Championship. Thanks also for stopping by to comment. I appreciate that. Looking at even more 29″er results with both men’s and w omen’s Marathon National Championships being won on 29″ers here in the U.S. Keep on rollin! 🙂

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