It was 11 years ago that I sat in a hotel conference room in Bavaria listening to Gary Fisher tell us how 29rs were going to change the future of mountain biking. Myself and a dozen other journos listened patiently while he presented equations, graphs and diagrams that justified the clown wheel. The equations and the arguments were convincing but to a short bloke like me there was no equation or graph that was going to convince me that these new clown bikes looked anything other than utterly ridiculous.
It’s true to say that 29rs were a slow burner for many years after, but over the last 2 years the sales graph has spiked sharply upwards, and like it or not, they are not just coming – they are already here and they are not going away.
Realising that my own preconceptions are pretty much based on aesthetics I, like many others, looked for more objective problems I could trot out in the ever increasing number of wheel size debates that I’ve found myself in. Wheelbase is too long on a 29r for sharp turns.. Standover height is too high… the BB is way too low/too high*.. they accelerate slowly.. etc… But the main problem I’ve always had is that I’m convinced at 5’6” I just look ridiculous on one.
It’s a daft argument when you think about it as even the choice of 26” wheels were once arbitrary – They just happened to be adopted and become the norm. Had the first MTBs come with 29r wheels I’m sure the aesthetics of the big wheels would seem totally fine to me now, but I guess like the majority of populations, I fear change as much as the next rider.
So, when I ended up top of the list for the next big overseas bike launch I’ll admit that my excitement at getting to ride in Sedona, Arizona was slightly tempered by the fact I’d be riding 29rs for 3 days.
*(Adjust to suit argument)
Trek 29r Launch
Trek have taken a while to really embrace the 29r. Yes, they’ve owned the Gary Fisher brand for over a decade now but until recently 29rs have been pigeon holed a bit under the GF sun shade. Recently however, the Trek brand totally absorbed the Gary Fisher name and instead of there being an entire range of Gary Fisher bikes competing in the marketplace alongside/against the Trek range, now Trek have Gary Fisher models as part of their own range. What this has done is enable Trek to fully embrace the best parts of the GF range and this year that’s meant they can roll out proper 29rs for their flagship models, Fuel and Remedy.
So this year you can buy a Fuel or a Remedy in either a ‘normal’ 26 or a new 29. There are differences between the two of course but it will be clear when you see the actual numbers that Trek have worked extremely hard to make sure the old preconceptions of how 29rs should be built and behave have been undermined somewhat.
Let’s start with one from my previous list of preconceptions..
Wheel base: “29rs are too long and useless in tight corners.”
- Remedy 26 wheelbase = 113.9 cm
- Remedy 29 wheelbase = 115.8 cm
There’s ¾ inch between them! That’s quite impressive when you think that 2×29 alongside 2×26 wheels gives you an extra 6 inches of length. Trek have really compressed the whole centre of the bike on the 29r.
More compact geometry comes to light when you look at the chainstay lengths of both bikes.
- Remedy 26 Chainstay = 43.5 cm
- Remedy 29 Chainstay = 44.5 cm
The 29r wheel itself is 3.8cm longer from hub to rim so it’s somewhat remarkable that the chainstay on the 29r is just 1cm longer than the 26 version.
How about stand-over height then?
On a 17.5in bike in both cases
- Remedy 26 SO = 76.6 cm
- Remedy 29 SO = 76.5 cm
The 29r is actually lower by 1mm! But aha! That’s got to be reflected in the BB height then – right?
- Remedy BB height 26 = 35.3 cm
- Remedy BB height 29 = 35.0 cm
So, while there is a slight lowering of the BB height on the 29 version it’s practically insignificant and all things considered, on paper at least, Trek have near as dammit fit a 29r bike into the same space as a 26 version. That is really quite impressive.
There are other differences between the two, perhaps the most significant being the difference of half a degree in head angles between the two models. The 26 version is the slackest at 67 with the 29r coming in at 67.5. But you can alter the geometry on both by half a degree by rotating the ‘Mino’ link at the top of the seat stay linkage. The suspension travel is 10mm longer at 150mm in the 26 version compared to the 140mm of the 29r.
So, in summary the wheelbase IS longer but at 3/4 inch I’m not going to claim to even remotely notice that in a tight turn – and I really didn’t.
The Remedy 9 29r detail
Our bikes were Remedy 9s, which come with a complete XT 2x groupset. It’s apparent from talking to the Trek designer guys that the only reason the Remedy (or even the rest of the high end bike range) is capable of taking a triple ring setup is to cater for us in the UK and a few ‘pockets’ of the market in Europe – The rest of the planet seems content with a double at most and Trek are getting ready for the 1x trickle down that they firmly believe is coming. Building a bike that can deal with all three chainset options is something that has a real effect on the design constraints of the frame and it was clear that Trek would love the world to completely lose its relationship with the triple setup as this would allow them to make further changes to the way the centre of their bikes are put together. Having to design a single frame for all chainsets is proving to be at least a minor frustration to Trek’s designers.
The fork on the 9 is a Fox Factory 34 29r with Kashima coating and has the proprietary Gary Fisher offset for 29rs. The shock is unique to Trek and is developed pretty much in house (They have a specific suspension R&D department) right up to proto-type stage before it goes off to Fox to be built. Fox engineers are involved from the start though – Trek would be silly to just simply use Fox as a final manufacturing facility for their designs. Indeed, it’s doubtful that Fox would even put their name to the final product if they weren’t entirely happy that the thing works as best as they think it can with the Remedy frame. Trek is big enough a company that they can work this way with Fox and the result is a collaborative approach to matching the shock to the characteristics of the frame rather than starting from the off the peg shock and designing the frame around it that most smaller bike companies have to do.
The top tube slopes downwards dramatically, creating a very comfortable standover space that helps keep the overall impression of a smaller bike – that’s important if you are hoping to get short sub 5’6” riders (like me) interested in bigger wheeled bikes. The tyres on our test bikes were standard Bontraget XR4 rather than the, also launched at the event, SE4 – it’s likely that the higher spec Remedy will switch to being stocked with the SE4 as standard pretty soon. The wheels are the new Bontrager Rhythm Elite TLR. You can read all about those here
So how does it ride?