Welcome to the weekly “News of the Tweet” column. In this column, Seb Kemp will provide commentary surrounding whichever mountain bike-related topic is trending on Twitter during the previous week.
29 vs 26.
By Seb Kemp
This seemingly endless and futile debate flared up again last week, but it wasn't when pinkbike.com posted an article questioning which wheel size is better for downhill and all-mountain riding. You could almost smell the smoke coming out of keyboard warriors' ears as everyman and his dog threw their two cents into the spittoon but this is nothing new.
It also wasn't because of some lunch-time internet comedian posted a two-bit "Xtra Normal" animation which fed the same old tired non-arguments about 29ers to a chuckling and guffawing bunch of back seat riders. Credit to Mr. Pixar because he added some cheeky little references to 29er riders being fanny pack wearing, tacky tattoo baring closet single-speed riders, and the real idiot of the characters was the one trying to play the 29er card. But still, it wasn't this that threw fuel on the fire.
There is major confusion about 29ers. Everyone is either talking about how great they are because riding one makes them a better lover or using information based on what their mate's mate overheard whilst he was sat in a toilet cubicle. There is a tidal wave of mistruths, inaccuracies and flat out lies about 29ers right now and as much of it is being trumpeted by the overzealous evangelical 29er plebs too.
Part of this is created by fear. People fear that a 29er bike is going to jump through their bedroom window one night and have its wicked way with their wife while they are gagged and bound in the wardrobe with the door left ajar and match sticks jammed between their eyelids so they witness every sordid moment of the violation.
Well, not quite but some people are so fervent about their hatred of 29ers that you would think this is nucleus of their fear.
Anyway, back to the News Of The Tweet. It was something entirely different that really threw the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. It wasn't a mob led riot of LOLs and Neg Props, it was that a certain highly respected and influential pundit went public with some very intriguing findings.
Wow! Brave words, but they might not mean anything to some readers so let me explain who this chap is and the context of this Tweet.
Steve Jones works for Dirt Magazine, a UK based magazine that drunkenly swayed into the fray back in the late nineties with a mandate that was to represent the gravity side of mountain biking with a middle finger firmly raised. This was when Palmer was king, motocross was hip and bikes specifically designed for going downhill were starting to make waves. Dirt has always kept its punk rock edge even though nowadays it would rather spend a nice day fishing rather than getting drunk and setting fire to someone's underpants. Dirt holds considerable impact and influence amongst its readers and beyond. Steve Jones is an ex-pro racer who has been testing bikes for many years and is incredibly knowledgeable, experienced and opinionated about what simply works and what does not. When he says something is bad then people listen and he sticks to his guns. When he likes something he will make it known that he really likes it.
Steve and Dirt Mag have been thoroughly against 29ers for years. They saw them as another cockeyed gimmick that the greedy North American led MTB industry has duped the dull witted American consumers into buying. Dirt have been purists and thought there was no room for silly wagon wheels in the UK or their magazine. I contributed to them for four years and when I told them I was enjoying my time aboard a 29er two years ago they nearly put me in the stocks and threw rotten vegetables at me. However, it seems that after years of hating for hates sake they have tried the dragons blood and found they have a taste for it.
This is the kind of reaction that any statement like this is faced with: Disbelief.
Steve Jones has long been known to use fact as his most powerful weapon. He evaluates bikes on the time on his stopwatch rather than by how much free swag he got from media junkets. In fact, most of his testing is done on his home turf and on the same trails for every bike he tests. This way he gets a solid base from which to make solid judgments. He doesn't do what a lot of web guys do which is go to the all expenses pay junket and ride a bike for a day or two on the trails which companies have selected for testing purposes and then make grand sweeping statements.
So when Steve Jones says he couldn't beat the times he set on a 29er on a 26 inch bike then he means it. He tested it. With empirical evidence. He isn't saying one is better than the other but for going faster the 29er won.
Oh, maybe he is saying that. Anyway, moving swiftly on….
This Tweet by Stu Thomson (bronze medalist at the 2002 British DH National Championships and now head honcho at leading movie and media house MTBcut) shows a few things. Firstly, that someone like Steve Jones does have a solid affect on those with half a brain and judgement of their own. Secondly, it forces people to reconsider their prejudices. Thirdly, that is what a lot of this 29er hate is about: Prejudice. Most of the people ranting on about how much 29ers suck are those people that have got more experience riding a unicorn than a 29er. They hate the idea of them even though they haven't had to share a bus with one.
Alan Muldoon is another of the UK based media glitterati who are highly experienced, opinionated and trusted in their judgments. He also recently discovered a surprising truth about 29ers now that he has tried a bunch of them.
It doesn't matter whether you choose to believe what you read or not, it doesn't matter what your beliefs are, if your beliefs have never been challenged and you have never allowed yourself to test your own faith and belief when seen from the other side then you can not be said to have truthful to your thinking.
This isn't a quote by a spiritual leader about religion or politics, I just made it up. Sounds good though?
Rob Warner. More than the motor mouth of modern day racing, he is one of the most outspoken and straight shooting fellows in mountain biking. There was a time when he went on record saying what a load of cods-whollop women's racing was, so, if anyone should be against 29ers, it is he. But it seems not. More so, what does he know that we don't? He is close with many of the racers and race teams. Perhaps he has heard the tinkering of giant spanners in the pits?
Brendan Fairclough. The most talented and least decorated racer currently to ride a bike joins in the chirping.
Jonesy is still going. He has moved from his findings on 29er trail bikes to the possibility of 29er DH bikes.
An Interesting point. What will the riders do? What will the UCI do? I don't believe there is a regulation regarding wheel size yet.
The Trans-Provence. Possibly the most talked about race since September. Those who have actually raced it say that it is the only true all-mountain enduro event in the world. One week long, with special timed stages each day. They have stated that such a technical and demanding race is no place for a 29er and they have been quite vocal about it. But perhaps someone can do the devils bidding on a 29er next September?
It has long been known that 29ers are not the demon under the bed that some people make them out to be. Anyone who has tried not just a 29er but many 29ers knows that there is something in them.
29ers are like surfboards; different conditions require different shapes and sizes of board. We all like a quiver of bikes and a 29er has a place in any quiver. And if you don't believe in the +1 theory of bike ownership and just one is enough for you then perhaps a 29er is right for you, perhaps it isn't. It will depend on several things.
First up, you have to decide whether it suits your location, the kinds of riding you have in your area, the kinds of riding and trails you enjoy riding and, most importantly, are you willing to fend off the stupid comments that your friends or trail accomplices will shower upon you.
The next biggest thing is that you have to remember that there are good bikes and bad bikes in every wheel size. Not every 29er is built equal, there are good ones and bad ones.
No one–well, except some muppets–ever said 29ers are better than 26-inch bikes without qualifying that statement. What is true is that certain riders may benefit from riding certain 29ers on certain trails rather than certain 26-inch bikes. Unless you need your food chopping up for you and you are only allowed a plastic knife and fork you wouldn't say that 29ers are straight up better than 26 inch and that in the future all wheels will be big. No no no.
Any media gumby who made such a remarkable statement probably needed to make room for a 7 Reasons style list about 29ers. Any marketeer who did say this forgot that his objective was to sell more bikes, not just 29ers but 26 inch and eventually something completely new.
Perhaps the goldilocks fable is true. Not too small, not too big, just right in the middle? Prepare for the storm. Again.