Unsolicited & Unqualified - Episode 1: 29'ers in Downhill
This is the first episode of what I'm going to refer to as "Unsolicited and Unqualified" - a series which inherently admits what the rest of the interwebs are guilty of anyhow: giving advice no one asked for about a subject on which they have almost no qualifications.
How about downhill racing and bike design? My qualifications include only watching the UCI World Cups, and the ability to calculate the area of a circle, but that's not gonna stop me from offering my 2 cents on the [surprisingly] controversial subject of 29'ers in downhill racing.
Wheel talk ourselves in circles
People could've debated the 29'er vs. 650b bullshit until the end of time for all I cared. And they had a good start on that lofty goal, even before ol' Greg Minnaar's V10 29'er was unveiled. I have a 26'er and a fat bike, so I'm already a bit removed from the discussion, but what brought me into the fold was a recent interview with Loic Bruni.
You can listen to the interview here.
You like 29'ers, you don't - whatever, who cares. The kicker for me is the argument that [insert current controversy] makes biking "too easy", and you don't become a better rider.
Does anyone have an eye-roll GIF I could borrow?
In fairness to Loic, I think his original answer to this question came from his gut, and now he's been jumped on by everyone. That said, it's the same crap you hear about fat bikes. You're not improving as a rider, says the claim, because you're basically "cheating" by using one.
Why are there mountain bikes?
No matter how far you'd like to trace the history of the mountain bike, you'll find that people were modifying bicycles simply to be better-suited for off-road use. Except those crazy cyclocross guys - you guys are nuts! Did you know that goes back to the early 1900s?
So, the fatter tires, the flat and upright bars, and the numerous tweaks and fine-tunings which followed - these were generally purposed in making the bikes more capable of taking on rough terrain.
When people say that a 29'er or a fat bike takes away from the challenge of the trail, what do they think about their bike compared with the one I had 20 years ago? Are they not keepin' it real because they don't have an elastomer fork and a steel frame?
"Hey buddy - where's your damn toe clips?! Huh?"
I bet those 1940's French cyclocross guys think we're a buncha pansies with our knobby tires and shocks.
Make like a wheel and roll with it
You wanna ride something that makes the trails more challenging? Be my guest .. hop on a road bike; watch out for that woods section at Fort Bill! I happen to like the benefits of my fat tires, monster trucking over roots and rocks. Your bike choice should be based on how comfortable you are on the bike, and then some combination of performance and fun factor, which will depend on your purpose for the bike**. If you think there's some advantage to being on the 29'er, go with it! If you want to prove that 27.5 is the sweet spot - make it happen! If it's "too easy", ride harder, I guess? So much is still going to depend on the rider, and after that, we can let the lap times do the talking.
**but also, WTF do I know...
To cut some more slack to Loic, he also mentioned a concern that 29'ers will make downhill racing less fun to watch. He did piggyback this on the "because it's too easy on 29'ers" argument, but let's let that slide for a moment. I certainly want the fun factor to remain in the sport so it'll keep growing in popularity, but the races I saw gave me no indication that the fun is in danger. Most of us are watching people do 40 mph down a mountain.. on a bicycle.. in the trees. This, I find, is pretty intense.
So what do you think? Where's the line between "improvement" and "you call that a mountain bike?" How far can you go on the slippery slope of "nostalgia" before falling into the ravine of "behind the times"?
If you like both big wheels and small wheels, go buy the "Retired Downhill Champ" t-shirt - it's got one of each! And portions of its proceeds help fundraise for this poor guy: Jared Fenstermacher was hit and paralyzed by a distracted driver last year .. while on a charity ride!! His gofundme page is here, and the link to the shirt is: