Thursday, June 7, 2012

Big Wheels are more fun

I tend to be excitable about all things bike related. I blame it on my ADD. Well and that bikes are rad. Since "retiring" from the "industry" I have been a cheerleader of all things bike. Sure once and a blue moon I will get in touch with my inner curmudgeon and get in a twitter fight but in general my bike world is all sunshine and rainbows. So its not a shocker when I say I love "x". But I have a friend who is a teacher and he challenges me. He is an academic so he likes to know the "why" Tell me why you love it Chip. And he is right. Its easy to be effusive about something but its another thing to spell out what you love about it. So here goes. I haven't done a bike review in about 2 decades but I will do my best to explain why I love 29ers.

Long story short my good friend Mike Zanconato has been doing some serious R&D on 29ers for the last three years. Mike is known for his gorgeous lugged steel bikes. I bet 90% of his customers buy road bikes. His bikes are gorgeous. But Mike is a mountainbiker at heart. The last two years he brought a 29er single speed up to 24 Hours of Great Glen. And shredded on it. His lap times were as good or better than my geared times. That got me thinking. Then I rode with Mike and his partner in crime Matt Myette on their new prototypes. They left me in their dust. When Mike said he wanted to build one for me I didn't even hesitate. I have posted tons of pictures of it. It is stunning. I have been riding it a ton. Its literally the only bike I want to ride. All my other bikes are great but they just aren't as much fun. You hop on the Zank 29er and you just feel good. More smiles per mile as Ross used to say.

As I was getting ready for Pats Peak it hit me. I had the 26 inch bike in front of the 29er. I was floored. Of course I "knew" the 29er was bigger. I mean obviously. But when you put them together its staggering. I don't think people realize just how much better a 29er wheel rides on a nice hard tail. It is literally night and day. So here goes. The bigger wheel is faster. Period. Faster in what ever measure you like to use to measure speed. It is faster on a race course. Race results don't lie. Nor do road miles. The ride from my house to the trails sucks on the 26 inch wheels. You feel like you are spinning and going nowhere. Both tires are inflated to 20 psi. Both bikes are set up very similar. But the 29er wheel just rolls fast. And the 29er keeps its speed on downhills etc. It just gets up to speed so fast and holds that speed.

The other major difference is how it rolls over things. I have documented my hatred for logs, rocks and bridges. The 29er makes those fear inducing obstacles fun. Today when I rode with Ian on the 26 inch bike it was fun. Gears were nice. And its nimble but it gets hooked up on things. The 29er doesn't. I dropped off a rock in NTF and smashed the bb on the lip of the rock. That never happens with the 29er. Same with logs etc. With the big wheels you can just roll over. Again back to the ride. Staring down a rock chute you have to think on the 26 inch bike. On the Zank you just point and shoot. The bike takes care of the rest. And its not just downhill that it rolls well its going up and over stuff. I think I am worse at tough little technical bits climbing than descending. That is weird but its true. And Thom Parsons sort of explained why. He says you have to attack these sections not try to spin up them. And on a 29er attacking them is just natural. On 26 I end up spinning out and off of the wet roots and rocks. The 29ers bigger contact patch doesn't get hung up and I am able to get over stuff I rarely if ever can on my 26 inch bike.

A couple of friends have had some really great feedback. Steen said that cross racers adapt really easily to a 29er. And I think that is really so true. Matt and Mike both told me the 29er would feel like your cx bike just with bigger rubber. Its so true. But it is 100% mountain bike. I love hard tails. I am not sure how a 29er would translate over into fullsupension. I have to think it would be challenging with the big wheels. But for those who thought the hard tail was dead 29ers breathe new life into it. And make it as good or better than any party bike you could ever ride.

I still am not that great a mountain biker. I am getting better. But a couple of things still freak me out. Top of that list is wood bridges. Although thanks in large part to the big wheels I am getting better. How can big wheels make riding a wood bridge easier? Stability. And that same momentum that the big wheel generates. My biggest issue with bridges and boards is getting squirrelly. I noticed it today. With the 29er you point it where you want it to go and it tracks.

Part of the experiment was that I am short. Like Hobbit short. Well 5' 7". Mikey dialed it. The position is perfect for me. Matt posted a great comment earlier about the bikes and its so true the bike just disappears beneath you. That is the sign of a master...

Matt's comment from the blog: "Shortly after I got mine last year I texted Mike to tell him that I thought the bike had been stolen. Naturally, he was freaking out in his reply "WTF?!?! Are you serious!? What happenend?! CALL ME!!!" I let him off the hook with this final note: "I don't know what happened... I was JRA and the bike just disappeared right out from underneath me!"

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