Group Test: 29+ Mountain Bikes

August 25, 2017

In Issue 111 of Singletrack Magazine, Mr Barney Marsh reviewed three different wagon wheelers as part of a 29+ group test

There are many in the world of mountain biking who look at the ever-expanding range of wheel and tyre options on modern bikes with the air of someone who has discovered something unpleasant on the sole of their shoe… like Donald Trump.

“It’s all a cunning conspiracy to get us all to buy new bikes,” they mutter, unaware that, to be honest, the last thing we mountain bikers need is new ways to sell us stuff, when the old ways seemed to be working so well, suckers that we are.

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Over the boardwalk, we’ll be having some fun…

What?,” they cry, “is wrong with good old 26in/29in/20in/skateboard wheels?!

And of course, the answer is ‘nothing’. There’s nothing wrong with them, and they’ll offer the same riding fun they always have. No one is forcing anyone to ride the new stuff, and all you need to do is swing your leg over your faithful old machine, and hit the trails, same as you ever did.

But of course, the cultural milieu in which your trusty jalopy operates has now changed. Always nagging at the back of your mind will be the knowledge that alternatives exist, and your bike can’t accommodate them. Different wheel sizes offer up different perspectives, after all. Different riding options. Are they better?

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Putting the three 29+ bikes to the test on the climbs.

“Well, if you don’t try them, you’ll never know…” This is the mantra of the marketeer, and there are plenty of people – your riding mates, perhaps – who will attempt to assert that one is better than the other. When, of course, they are merely slightly different stripes of the same fun.

But of all the enormous wheel size options that festoon the modern mountain bike, none are more physically imposing than the brigade which refers to itself as 29+. Meaning 29in rims, typically 40–50mm wide, topped off with a 2.8–3.0in wide tyres. (Sorry for the imperial/metric hopping. It’s immensely annoying, but then so are a great many measurements in the world of mountain bikes. You’ll get used to it.)

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
With all that extra cushion, the big 29er tyres roll up and over everything.

Such is the resultant wheel diameter than many of the wandering wheel-size worriers will whistle in wrathful wonderment. What’s the point? Whither well-wrought wheel wrangling? [Enough! – Alliteration Ed].

Well, adherents will point to an elongated contact patch providing frankly preposterous grip, coupled to an enormous wheel which will roll over everything. Comfort, traction, stability and fun are promised. Detractors merely have to point incredulously to the enormous size and apparently self-evident heft of the wheels and tyres, and to wonder precisely how many years it would take to lumber them up to anything over a red-faced trundle.

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Be warned though, correct pressures are vital!

Often, of course, such blatherings come free from any actual first-hand experience of tractor-bikes. And so we, as your stalwart Investigators-In-Chief, wish to put your minds to rest.

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Barney found the wagon wheelers were a lot more fun than he was expecting.

We have assembled three 29+ bikes. The Jones 29+ is an unapologetically long machine with a unique set of geometry numbers, and an even more unique fork. The Salsa Woodsmoke and the Trek Stache are both machines in a modern style, with short back ends and long front centres. They all share striking profiles, and of course, enormous wheels. Let’s take them for a spin, shall we?

jones plus steel 29 plus rigid
The Jones Plus with its unique truss fork and curvy handlebar.

Jones Plus

Oregon-based Jeff Jones has been ploughing his idiosyncratic furrow for a while now, and he’s garnered legions of fans by so doing. So it’s no surprise that the Jones Plus merrily goes its own way while thumbing its nose at received wisdom. Our steel test bike is the larger of the two Plus framesets on offer, with an estimated top tube of…Read the full review here.

salsa woodsmoke 29 plus hardtail issue 111
The Woodsmoke from Salsa Cycles. Unique looks, unique performance.

Salsa Woodsmoke 29+ GX1

The Woodsmoke could be a tricky beast to talk about, not least because it’s actually designed to run 27.5+ wheels, 29er wheels, or 29+ wheels, thanks to Salsa’s cute ‘Alternator 2.0’ hinged dropouts. But as this grouptest is all about the 29 chubbies, my task is somewhat simplified. So, here we have a carbon frame that bears similarities to the Trek Stache. It’s very much a modern bike; it’s Boosted, and although the reach is not the very longest, it adheres to a more…Read the full review here.

trek stache 9.8 carbon hardtail issue 111 plus
The Trek Stache is the most mainstream of the lot, but with a dropper post, carbon rims and a carbon frame, it’s also the most high-end too.

Trek Stache 9.8

For many, the Trek Stache was a sign that the 29+ ‘thing’ was going mainstream. For such a large manufacturer to throw its weight behind what heretofore had been a profoundly niche endeavour made many people sit up and take notice, as did the increasing numbers of enthusiastic advocates. But once you’ve invested in something, you’re…Read the full review here.

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Which bike out of the group would you choose?


Testing these bikes has been a very pleasant surprise. I have to admit to a degree of scepticism when I was approached to do the review, but it’s always nice to try something new and it’s even nicer to have your preconceptions completely blown away. Initial criticisms and reservations were very much the same as the ones which greeted 29ers when they first appeared, and centred on spinning wheels up to speed and sloth in tight corners. I’m happy to report that with a little focus and practice, the heavier wheels mean little in the overall scheme of things, and cornering is absolutely not an issue. Once again, good design can completely mitigate potential issues when it comes to handling, even if the eventual products look surprisingly different to each other.

issue 111 29 plus group test trek stache salsa woodsmoke jones plus tom hill antony celia
Will 29+ disappear into the ether, or is this a wheelsize that’s here to stay?

So if you’re at all curious, get thee to your local bicycle retail emporium to give one of these 29+ monsters a try. They’re not necessarily the future, but they’re certainly a future, and judging by their popularity they’ll be here for a long while yet.

To read the full review of each bike, and every other bike we’ve tested, head to the reviews section of our website.

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