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What Is a 29er Mountain Bike? And Why You Should Get One

By Editorial Team   /  Last updated - October 11, 2023   /  Bike Tires, Guide, Mountain Bikes

29er montain bike in a forest

The term “29er” is often thrown around in the world of mountain biking. But what exactly is a 29er mountain bike, and why are they so popular among mountain bikers?

A 29er mountain bike, simply put, is a bike equipped with 29-inch wheels front and back. This is the largest MTB wheel size, and it offers advantages in speed, stability, and comfort, making it the go-to for riders in most mountain bike disciplines, especially for racing.

This article will take a detailed look at 29-inch mountain bike wheels. We’ll explore the unique benefits and potential drawbacks of 29ers, contrasting them with 27.5″ wheels. We’ll also offer guidance on who should consider one of these bikes and how to choose the right one.

If you’re in the market for a new MTB or just curious about why 29ers are so popular, keep reading to have your questions answered.

What Is a 29er Mountain Bike?

cyclist descending a steep hill on a 29-inch mountain bike

As the name suggests, a 29er mountain bike has wheels measuring 29 inches in diameter. This number refers only to the diameter of the rim. Wheel diameter significantly impacts how a bike performs and feels to ride.

To better understand the pros and cons of 29-inch wheels, it’s helpful to contrast them with 27.5″ or 26″ wheels. 26-inch-wheel bikes were standard on most MTBs until 29-inch wheels came along in the late 90s. On the other hand, 27.5″ wheels were introduced just a few years later.

Initially, designing geometry to suit larger wheels was problematic and resulted in many 29ers that rode poorly. Likewise, the large wheels had more flex and thus were inefficient and less robust than those used today.

However, continuous research, development, and investment into this type of bike led to them becoming the most popular and effective for the widest range of riding styles.

As a result, 26″ wheels became obsolete, except on fat tire and dirt jump mountain bikes. Likewise, 27.5-inch bikes aren’t very common, but they still maintain popularity among certain types of riders for specific terrain.

Advantages of a 29er Mountain Bike

29er mountain bike advantages

29er MTBs have many advantages over smaller-wheeled bikes. Firstly, they are the fastest-rolling and most comfortable as they hold momentum better when rolling over obstacles.

29-inch wheels are also more stable and have more traction than smaller-diameter wheels (if the tire width is the same). This is because the wheel has a larger contact patch with the ground. These characteristics make 29ers ideal for casual riders and beginners who prefer a more forgiving, confidence-inspiring ride.

Overall, 29er mountain bikers are more forgiving, smoother, and faster in most situations. Given that, they’re better for a wider range of riders and terrains.

Disadvantages of 29er Mountain Bikes

29er mountain bike disadvantages

29er mountain bikes aren’t without their downsides. The larger wheel size is heavier and harder to maneuver, which is challenging to control for small riders or on tight, technical tracks. For this reason, many manufacturers of 29er bikes use 27.5″ wheels on the size XXS, XS, or S frames.

In addition, 29ers aren’t very maneuverable for any rider, regardless of height. Instead, these bikes brute-force their way through technical terrain. 27.5″ wheels make it easier to navigate technical terrain, change direction, and pick more precise lines.

This may or may not be a drawback for you, depending on the type of trails you like to ride, your skill level, and your riding style.

29er vs. 27.5″ Mountain Bikes

27.5-inch vs 29-inch wheel size

The two most common mountain bike wheel sizes are 29 and 27.5 inches. While 29ers make up the majority, 27.5″ bikes have plenty of loyal fans as well. Each size has unique characteristics that can be considered strengths or weaknesses based on your riding style and preferences.

In general, 27.5″ bikes are the more playful and agile of the two. They make it easier for skilled riders to take on technical trails with creative flair. Likewise, for riders accustomed to 29er bikes, a 27.5″ bike can add a new challenge to trails that aren’t exciting when ridden with a 29er.

29er mountain bikes, as discussed earlier, can easily roll over obstacles, providing a faster and smoother ride on rough terrain. Their larger contact patch with the ground also offers improved traction, which is beneficial when tackling loose or slippery trail conditions. These characteristics mean they are better for a wider range of mountain bikers.

On the other hand, 27.5-inch bikes strike a balance between the traditional 26-inch models and the larger 29ers. They offer better maneuverability than 29ers, making them a great choice for technical trails with lots of turns, jumps, or sudden changes in direction. 27.5″ wheels also accelerate quicker and are lighter than 29ers.

The attributes of 27.5″ wheels make them ideal for smaller riders, a fun choice for experienced riders, or a worthy consideration for those who want to improve their technical skills or spice up their local trails.

Who Should Consider a 29er Mountain Bike?

rider in fluorescent green jacket with a 29er mtb

So, we’ve established that modern 29ers are the best type of bike for most mountain bikers. However, this section will recommend who we think should buy one and why.

  • Beginners – 29ers are forgiving of technical mistakes, generally confidence-inspiring, and the most comfortable.
  • Intermediates and casual riders – Again, the comfortable, easy-to-ride nature of these bikes makes them ideal for casual riders or those with decent skill levels who want a fast and forgiving ride.
  • Racers – Any rider looking to go fast, uphill or downhill, should choose a 29er. These bikes are almost universally adopted in mountain bike racing.
  • Riders who want an ‘all-rounder’ – These bikes are suitable for the widest range of trail types, so anyone who needs one bike to do it all should consider a 29er.
  • Taller people – While most adult riders can use 29″ bikes, taller riders will feel most at home on the larger-wheeled bikes.
  • Buyers who want lots of options – As the most popular wheel MTB type, there is an abundance of options in the 29er category for both bikes and tire or wheel upgrades.

How Tall Should You Be for a 29-Inch Mountain Bike?

rider sitting on a 29er mountain bike next to a ledge

Since their introduction, bike designers have made 29ers more accessible to a broader range of rider heights. They’ve achieved this through changes in frame geometry, lighter materials, and lower standover heights.

Sizing for 29-inch mountain bikes varies between manufacturers and from model to model. Many brands use progressive wheel sizes on all or some of their 29ers, equipping the XS and/or S frames with 27.5″ wheels. For example, Cannondale does this with most of its mountain bikes, whereas Trek does it with specific models.

In the examples where wheel diameter is linked to frame size, the minimum height for the 29″ wheels is usually 5’4″ or 5’5″.

For example, Trek’s X-Caliber 29er size S frame has 27.5″ wheels and fits 5’1″ to 5’5″. Likewise, Cannondale’s Habit 3 size S has 27.5″ wheels for riders 5’1″ to 5’5″. Another example is the female-specific brand Juliana’s Roubion. The XS size (4’8″ to 5’1″) of this mixed-wheel bike has two 27.5″ wheels instead of a 29er up front.

While rider height is important, inseam, arm, and torso length are just as important. Two people of the same height may have very different feelings on the same bike, so it’s always best to test-ride a bike to see how it feels. Similarly, you should feel comfortable and in control, so strength is also a consideration.

Remember, the goal is to find a bike that fits you well and suits your riding style. Whether that’s a 29er, a 27.5-inch bike, or something else entirely will depend on your individual comfort and preference.

How to Choose the Right 29er Mountain Bike

We’ve put together a few tips to help you choose the right 29er mountain bike. Check out our comprehensive mountain bike guide if you want more detailed information to help you choose a MTB.

  1. Discipline – Mountain bikes come in several styles based on the amount of travel they have and if they are full-suspension or hardtail (front suspension only). This dictates the type of trails they’re suited to. Riders can choose cross-country, trail, enduro, or downhill 29er MTBs. Some bikes straddle two of these categories.
  2. Skill level – Choose the type of bike based on your skill level and goals for mountain biking.
  3. Budget – 29ers range in price based on factors like brand, frame material, component quality, and whether they’re hardtail or full suspension (hardtails are cheaper). Set a budget that includes all of the gear you need to buy to get started.
  4. Size – As discussed in the previous section, it’s essential to choose the right frame size based on your height, inseam length, and other body measurements.
  5. Demo – Test-ride the bikes when possible, especially if you’re unsure whether the style suits you or if you fall between two sizes.
  6. Reviews – Always check a bike’s reviews before making a purchasing decision. Ensure the experts and buyers have positive feedback.

Conclusion: Is a 29er Mountain Bike for You?

cyclist riding a 29er mountain bike on a technical singletrack trail

A 29er mountain bike, defined by its 29-inch wheels, is the most popular type of MTB. In general, 29ers have the most traction, are the fastest, most stable, and most comfortable.

This combination of characteristics makes them the best option for the widest range of mountain biking disciplines, from casual beginners to elite racing. However, buyers 5’4″ or shorter and those who want a playful machine for technical, creative riding may prefer the characteristics of a 27.5″ mountain bike.

The positive attributes of 29ers and a broad selection of models make them the go-to choice for the majority of riders, especially those who want an all-rounder for tackling varied trails. However, be sure to consider bike style and sizing and, if possible, test-ride some different models before making a decision.

Where to Buy a 29er Mountain Bike?

Buy 29-Inch Mountain Bikes on REI

Buy 29-Inch Mountain Bikes on JensonUSA

Buy 29-Inch Mountain Bikes on evo.com


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