29er for all mountain?

Hi Lee,

I purchased the book that you and Brian Lopes worked on together and it has helped me out tremendously. My question to you is 29 vs 26 and which one do you see yourself riding in the future? A little bit about my background. I used to race expert DH back in the late 90’s, So I tend to like the more aggresive trails. I now ride mostly All mountain here in So-cal where the terrain is a lot like what you are riding in the Boulder area, long Dry steep climbs, with just the same on the descents. I was wondering what your opinions on 29ers are for this kind of riding? I Just read your article on the stumpy Evo and I must say you got my wheels turning. I know Lopes hates 29ers but do you think they have a place in the All mountain world? I’m debating between a Ibis Mojo SLR or a Niner Rip9 So I was just wanting your thoughts.


Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29 Carbon S-EVO last weekend in Fruita.

Hey Justin,

Thanks for writing.

When I wrote MMBSii a few years ago (while my wife was pregnant with my twin girls; good times), I said 29ers seemed like a cool idea for certain types of riding (dirt roadies!), but they weren’t for me. Brian Lopes was adamantly against them. Since then, the bikes have improved and I’ve opened my mind. Brian not so much. But he’s the world champion.

Based on what I’m seeing in the market and what I’m experiencing on my new bike, I think yes, absolutely, 29ers have a place in the all mountain world.

Until recently the reasons 29ers would only be ridden by dirt roadies went something like:

• You can’t get burly tires.

• The geometry sucks. Typically they were very steep, with long rear ends.

• 29ers don’t have enough suspension travel. 80-100mm seemed to be the max (although a modern 100mm 29er is pretty bad ass).

• The wheels are too heavy and flexy.

• Only dirt roadies ride 29ers. Let’s not underestimate the weight of the “cool” factor.

All of those issues are being resolved by the market. Today’s long-travel 29ers (currently maxing in the 130- to 140-mm range) have quality parts, rippable geometry, plenty of suspension and are not terribly heavy. Oh, and rippers are ripping them.


House of the Big Wheel Part 1: Honzo and Satori from Kona Bikes on Vimeo.

Santa Cruz


Bandit Two9 Product Video from Transition Bikes on Vimeo.

And let’s not forget the Stumpjumper 29 EVO and the Santa Cruz Tallboy LT.

As I’m finding, the combination of bigger wheels and less suspension creates a bike that rolls as well as (or better than?) a 160mm 26er yet climbs rough trails way easier (at least for this rider).

My Stumpy 29 S-EVO is pretty amazing up all kinds of hills, in tight situations and on some pretty major gnar. The only times I miss the longer travel Enduro are when I drop hard or hit really big things really fast. Those things rarely happen; the rest of the time I’m loving the 29er (I still don’t know what this bike can do).

Specialized Stumpjumper FSR 29 Carbon S-EVO

If you’re not a stick-in-the-mud multi-time world champion, I think long-travel 29ers are definitely worth a try. A 130mm 29er definitely feels different than a 160mm 26er. You might like the difference, you might not.

If all goes well, I will run timed tests at the Sea Otter downhill later this month. Stumpy 29 S-EVO vs. Enduro 26 DH. That should be fun.

All bikes are rad.


PS: Soon we’ll be riding 29ers with 160mm. Just you wait.

Check out the Lenz Sport PBJ.

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14 replies
  1. Justin says:

    Thanks Lee,

    since reading your posts you got me convinced. I ordered a Tallboy LTC the other day. I can’t wait to rage it on some of the local Super-D/Enduro events. Your website is the best, I geek out on all of your tips on a daily basis. Any chance you will be doing some clinics in the So-Cal area anytime soon?

    Thanks again

  2. chance says:

    Justin, Please post up when you get your bike what you think of it. I have been holding off on the 29er kool-aid drink pretty hard but the SC TBLT aluminum (I couldn’t afford the carbon) has my interests perked! Especially when you have yoda (lee) raving about the wagon wheels and the shore boys from nsmb.com raving about that bike! You can only hold off so long.
    No one where I live has one, yet and shops don’t usually care any long travel bikes. So best bet is a demo truck day, fingers crossed!


  3. Bob says:

    As a 6’4″ rider, the 29er just feels like it fits me better than any 26er I’ve ever had (in 22 years of mountain biking).

  4. max says:

    These posts had me really rethinking my bike choice. Even though I am 6’2″, my main issue with the longer travel 29ers I have logged time on, has been that the farther the wheels move away from you the more truck like these bikes feel. I love how my compact 29er hardtail feels (short stays, short top tube, wheels close to you), but that love doesn’t seem to translate to the longer travel formats. I found I really had to exaggerate my body movements when riding them.
    Maybe I just have not tried the right one. Or maybe I need to go a size down. Or maybe 650b is the answer. Or maybe I need to shut up and rip the bikes I already have. I just hate it when there I some potential performance advancement that I don’t have my hands on.

  5. leelikesbikes says:

    “I just hate it when there I some potential performance advancement that I don’t have my hands on.”

    Ha! Quote of the day.

    My Stumpy 29 S-EVO definitely works better when I work it harder.

  6. max says:

    Actually the best performance advancement that I got my hands on was your Teaching Mountain Bike Skills manual. (Yes that was a shameless plug. Can you even plug someone on there own blog?)
    “Low, get lower!” has become my new mantra when I ride. It works. I find the lower I get the more “Braap!” I can inflict on the trail.

  7. Mike says:

    You forgot anohter badass long travel 9er Lee. The Yeti SB95.
    I own an SB66 and for me it is the perfect bike. I thought the 66 was the best bike (grip, pedalling, handling, geometry) I had ever ridden.
    It was, until I rode the SB95 on the weekend. I lost my 9er cherry and gained a new appreciation for the wagon wheel where I used to have a Lopes like hate for them.
    The geometry, handling and pedalling prowess of the 95 is the same as the 66, but the grip on offer is insane. I could not get this bike to let go and slide. It was a little scary. I hit sections of trail that normally cause me to drift and this things was railing. Badass.
    I predict Lee cleaning up on his 9er and turning some heads

  8. Bob says:

    First ride on my 2012 Stumpy FSR 29 Expert today. Awesome bike! Doesn’t accelerate as fast as my Epic 29er but is way smoother. Corners about 90% as fast as the Epic but since it’s also smoother in the corners I don’t feel like I’m losing anything. 15 miles of rooty singletrack today and no neck pain. Same trail two weeks ago resulted in moderate neck pain. Mission accomplished, very happy with the Stumpy, kept the Epic for when I feel the need for more speed!

  9. Bob says:

    Best of luck Lee. Is that a specially made RP23 on your bike? I thought the EVO shock had a slightly shorter stroke on it.

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