26er for XC Racing – will I die?

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  • 26er for XC Racing – will I die?
  • manilow

    I’ve done a few one off XC race events last year and I’m looking to take it a bit more serious this year.

    I think I’ll end up answering my own question, but here goes….

    I currently use an ally 26er hardtail which does the job fine, but lusted after a carbon HT so bought a used Scott Scale frame. I’m on the cusp of building it up and looking to purchase new drivetrain, forks etc (going 2×10 as current bike 3×9).

    Before I take the plunge, should I be looking at 29ers? I’m 5’9″ and would need to try one out.

    The bike will be used on short XC (I’m signing up for the Scottish Xc series), but also for longer distance xc events.

    So do I spend the saved dough on building another 26er or on buying a complete 29er? Or building a 29er using the parts I’m going to buy anyway (but would need diff forks, wheels etc)

    I’m no elite rider, so will be entering Open category, which makes me think that any time savings with a 29er may not be felt due to me needing to increase my fitness. So I have to improve the engine regardless of wheel size!

    Apologies for opening up the debate once more, but would appreciate your help!



    Same here, just making the 26er as light as possible, and I’m just going to race it as fast as I can.


    You won’t die. But you would be quicker on a 29er. I did my first race in 7 years a couple of weeks ago and swiftly realised I ‘needed’ a 29er… got one on the way.

    Premier Icon mikewsmith

    Are you going to have fun or compete? plenty still racing on 26 hre in tassie and doing fine


    I’d have a think about the courses you’ll be racing if possible.
    I’ve raced 29ers 69ers and 26ers.
    I passed on the big wheelers as the few XC races I took/take part in are short, very tight and twisty, stop start tree lined affairs.

    For bigger more open events I’d go 29er or very short travel full susser 26er.
    There was a test many years ago at Sandwell, were some top riders went out on fast laps with no timing devices of their own. They all reported back saying that the Hardtails had been much quicker, when in fact they had gone quicker on the short travel sussers.


    As above, it really depends on the type of XC courses and your fitness.

    I’ve done two seasons of XC racing on a variety of bikes – HT 26, medium travel FS 26, short travel FS 29, so have been able to make a few comparisons.

    The HT feels faster, and is also the lightest of the three, but according to the stopwatch it is actually the slowest ๐Ÿ™ . I put this down to having more control/grip with the full suspension, and being able to pedal over obstacles rather than get up out of the saddle and coast. The HT is also very uncomfortable for anything over two hours, where I don’t have the energy to get out of the saddle for every little bump.

    Between my two full suspension bikes, on tight technical courses I definitely prefer the medium travel 26 – it just seems more agile and maneuverable. But again, the stopwatch says my times are no different on the same courses with the short travel 29er (I’m guessing what I lose on the technical sections with the 29er, I make up in the straights).

    On fast and long fire trail type epics there’s no doubt – the short travel FS 29er is king – feels it, and the stopwatch confirms it!

    That’s just my experience with my bikes, and if you’d asked which I have more fun on, the answer would have been different ๐Ÿ˜€

    All that aside, as you’ve already got a 26″ HT, why not go for something a bit different for your second bike anyway? My current mantra is ‘horses for courses’ and it’s good to have different setups to go with different riding conditions, and its the best way to find out what suits you best…

    I think obsessing about wheel size before you’ve done much actual racing is silly. If the time spent deciding was spent doing hill repeats then this would far outweigh any gains made by wheel size.

    Btw I ride a 26″ Scott Scale and have been marching up the ranks through regular training. It’s fun passing loads of riders on new 29ers who maybe thought big wheels would magically make them fitter.

    Unless you want to place in elite then worrying about wheel size is an utter waste of time.

    Get fitter, develop more skills.

    Besides, anybody who is anybody is riding 650b this year ๐Ÿ˜€

    Unless you want to place in elite then worrying about wheel size is an utter waste of time.

    Get fitter, develop more skills.


    Have fun on what you’ve got till its dead,

    BUT.. it is nice to have an excuse to buy nice sparkly parts ๐Ÿ˜ˆ


    Thanks guys, yep I’m between having fun and competing at the racing, so I think Swedish Chef’ MTFU mantra is what I need to listen to!

    Maybe I just need to go n + 2 to have a quiver of machines to choose from – good problem to have!



    I know its popular to come over all minimalist and make one bike do all, and I agree the biggest differnce comes from skills and fitness, but…

    Also nowt wrong with having two or three different bikes to experiment with, especially when still learning – afterall, how else to you know the pros & cons of different wheel sizes, hardtail vs full suspension, long travel vs short etc.

    And this…

    it is nice to have an excuse to buy nice sparkly parts


    Just beacuse an elite racer may win on a 29er does not mean that that same racer could not have won on a 26″ wheeled bike. I am not sure about 29er’s being faster they just ride differently and some people prefer it and I suppose that can make them a bit faster. Personally I like my 26″ wheels and I race those, I not not win races or come even close. Moving to a 29er will not change that. Being fitter will.

    Premier Icon teamslug

    Stick with the 26er and make it as light as poss.If you find your getting beaten by folks on 29ers train harder!!!!

    Premier Icon aracer

    You won’t die.

    Riding a 26er is the secret to eternal life?

    Premier Icon psling

    When I used to trial and race 4x4s we used to change the wheels according to the course and conditions.
    For speed events, we would fit 6.50 tyres (smaller diameter) if the course involved a lot of accelerating but very little top speed and 7.50 tyres (larger diameter) if the course involved longer straights and more top speed.

    I would imagine the same principles would apply in MTB XC racing 8)


    Just finished my first ever xc races this winter, realised I was nowhere near as fit or fast as I thought I might have been but very surprised how much I enjoyed it nevertheless.

    Done it on a 120m full sus 26er reasonably light one, which definitely helped with accelerating and climbing. I’m the last of all my riding mates to be on a 26er and yes they are all massively quicker, but I guess they would be still quicker even if I had a 29er. They have definitely sped up since moving to 29ers (hardtails). Not sure if I would be much quicker on a 29er but think I might be able to go similar speed with less effort meaning I could keep the pace up for longer. Or I could be talking myself into something I don’t need.

    One thing I have noticed is I definitely would prefer to have more than 1 bike after such a wet winter, the bike has taken a hammering in training and racing.

    My Issue is will a 29er hardtail and 26er FS complement each other? All my mates seem not to like riding a 26er after getting used to a 29er, says it feels very different?

    The Beard

    The bike will be used on short XC (I’m signing up for the Scottish Xc series), but also for longer distance xc events.

    I’ll see you there ๐Ÿ˜€

    On my 26er Scott Scale! I very much doubt it’ll make much difference to me what size of wheel I use.


    I think you need to ride one. I want to build up a xc race bike and it will probably be a 26er because I have the wheels for it. A spare set of wheels is worth a lot! I really want to try out a 29er though but I certainly wouldn’t be losing any sleep about if it’s costing me half a second a lap.
    I think which is the most fun for you to ride is the most important – then you’ll ride more, which means you’ll get faster! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Premier Icon mattjg

    @OP ride whatever makes you happy, but try a 29 if you are in the least curoius

    @stuey – the definitive sentence in the MTBR article “What it really came down to was the exerted effort of having to pass dozens of people per lap.”

    I find a 29 rolls faster but that wouldn’t have helped this guy if he was stuck in singletrack queues anyway, I think he’s saying in the situation he was in, the faster short distance acceleration of his 26 was a benefit moving up those queues and saving him time.


    The article is complete rubbish. The lap times there just followed the pattern of every 24 he event I’ve done: start fast, gradually slow down, pull out a fast one when the sun comes back.


    you won’t die, depnds on your riding style if you want a 29er, i much prefer them, but some prefer 26.

    i’ve won races on 26 and 29, but i ride faster on a 29er! least it feels like it ๐Ÿ™‚

    why not just go for a 650B ? best of both worlds, (open’s can of worms)


    Until you’re pretty much as race fit as you can get, race what you’ve got and save the money. Trying to get fitter will be more beneficial in the long run compared to the prospect of saving a few seconds with 29er.

    Thats what I keep telling myself anyway after lusting after a Canyon 29er.

    Premier Icon mattjg

    “big wheels are more fun”


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