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Well, this battle has been going on for quite some time now. But I recently swtiched to a 29er so I figured I would throw my .02 out there for you guys that may still be thinking about it.

I have been on and off mtb's for as long as I can remember. I pretty much come from a roadie background after moving out of the bmx phase. I used to get together with my team mates and we would ride mtb's on off weekends or off season just for the fun of it while still getting in saddle time. So, I have naturally always had a hardtail set up on a 26er. Last summer however I took the plunge and bought a single speed. I debated then as to whether or not to go the 29er route but stuck with what I knew at the time. I don't regret it one bit as the bike just felt right and getting used to riding a single speed was challenge enough.

I recently completed building up a 29er single speed. Basically raping my 26er that I had built up with nice parts and slapping them all on a fairly cheap frame and having my wheels rebuilt. So far it has been fun but there are some characteristics that I wanted to share just from my personal experience.

First of all, the bike just looks bigger. I have always been one to have a fast turning front end. I have never particularly cared for a suspension with more than 80mm of travel but that is largely due to where I live/ride and just have not had the need for it. Has it restricted me to a degree? Yes, but I am quite happy with where I do ride so no harm done. Hell, I ride a rigid fork now days.

I initially struggled with trying to get the feel of the bike. I mean, the ergonomics of it if you will. The front end just felt higher up to me. I have now moved back to a flat bar and things feel pretty close to what I am used to.

The oddest thing about this new bike to me is that it is harder to get the front end up. Even with the riser bar I had, it still felt odd. Pulling a wheelie is a challenge at this point. Well, not pulling the wheelie but riding it out. This is all due to the longer wheel base of the bike and longer chainstays. Keep in mind that my frame also has slider dropouts which in essense also lengthens the wheel base when pulled all the way back (the chain is just a 1/2 link to short to push them all the way forward). All of this contributes to the bikes handling of course.

The result is that while the bike feels more stable on decents and you can hold a straighter line most of the time, it is not as quick handling as I am used to. The longer wheel base makes it harder to bunny hop over logs as well. I have found that I can't just fly at the log and jump over stuff as easily at the moment. Sure I can get the bike in the air but it is nothing like I could do on the 26er. As a result I am finding myself slowing down a bit and going over things one wheel at a time right now. Hopefully this will change as I get some more miles on the bike but right now, I am second guessing.

The bike climbs well but the transplanted gearing from the 26er is definitely harder on the 29er due to the larger wheel size. I am currently running a 32:18t which is often the standard set up for most SS guys out there. But I can say that it feels closer to a 32:17 or 16 on a 26er. This of course had required a little more work when climbing some of the same hills that I normally would blast right over. At the moment, I don't plan on changing the gearing out and am determined to simply get stronger.

I have had no problems with the front tire over lapping with my foot in the pedal stroke which I have heard complaints of. Actually, I have tried to make contact while riding in circles in the grass and they clear eachother by a good inch or so.

I will go as far as saying that I think I was faster on my 26er at this point. While things were sketchy at times on decents full of roots/rocks while the 29er smooths alot of that out and even simplifies some of the more technical areas to some degree. Climbing was definitely a little easier on the 26er but that could also be due to my gear ratio. I am thinking that if I slapped a 20t freewheel on the 29er that I would get some of my torque back and climbing could be a little easier. The downside is spinning out on the flats but so goes the issues of riding a single speed.

Overall, I think the 29er is a great starting platform for anyone getting into mtb. If you can find one that fits you (some time shorter riders and 29ers just don't match up too well) then it is an awesome starting point. The 26er seems to require a little bit better bike handling skills where the 29er will allow you to get away with a little bit more.

Personally, I still feel that the 26er is the quicker bike which could explain why we still see so many of the racers out there riding 26ers though the 29ers are infiltrating their ranks more and more.

I can't believe I am saying this but there is a good article in the March issue of Mountain Bike Action where they tested two Cannondale bikes (26 vs 29). They gave the over all nod to the 29er for simply being more all around fun on all types of terrain. I won't get too into it but this decision even came from the hard core 26er guys as well. Worth reading if you are on the line as to what to go with. But even more important is to get out there on a couple of different bikes and see for yourself.

Hope this helps someone out. I wish I would have done a little more reading on this last year as I probably would have made the jump to the 29er from the get go.
 

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Your observations are consistent with my own 26->29 experience. I have found that I've learned to compensate for the slightly slower steering and handling so I don't notice the difference anymore - but I wasn't a trickster in the first place. For a loss of a bit of flickability, one gains a lot of smoothness and stability on a 29er.
 
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