Lee, I am in need of a new bike and was about to write off 29ers because I want the most versatile bike for the bucks. When you endorse 29ers for pump and jump I’m back on the fence. I own an old copy of Mastering MTB Skills and it really helped to improve my riding. Here is the clincher Brian Lopes is not impressed with 29ers but you highly recommend them. If you are racing them in DH/DS events that require considerable technique I can only assume that they are up for the task. Is Lopes just set in his ways or is it that the level that he operates at demands a 26″ bike.
I wouldn’t say 29ers are ideal for pump/jump (nothing beats a 20), but they do work in the right hands.
Like I mentioned in Captain America 29er?, if you’re building a do-all hardtail with the emphasis on pump/jump, go 26. If the bike’s primary mission is trail, go 29. If you want to get max pump and prove a point, go 20.
As for Brian Lopes, I think he is both set in his ways and operating at a very high level (well, the highest). I’m envisioning the Sea Otter dual slalom. At the top of the pro class, everyone is maximally strong, skilled and confident. They are running 26-inch wheels because they are light, quick and stiff — but mostly because they are proven and familiar.
In my class at Sea Otter (Cat 1 vet), everyone is pretty darn fast, and a lot of the guys used to race pro MTB and BMX. I would not say we are maximally strong, skilled and confident. On a good day I am the first two. For me the limiting factor is confidence — the ability to let it all hang out. I think a lot of the other older riders are in the same boat. Still fit. Still skilled. Not so gnarly.
Traditional slalom wisdom tells you to ride a hardtail or special short-travel suspension bike because these bikes are maximally quick and snappy. I’ve raced Sea Otter on a Specialized SX and done well. I have podiumed in Cat 1 (racing against my old heros) and one year I qualified 2nd in semipro (and would have made the pro show!). In that semipro race, I was not maximally mentally tough, and I went out in the round of eight.
When I went to Sea Otter last year, the primary mission was to build the pro pump track, but I wanted to race DS and DH. I didn’t even bring the SX. Why? Because I never ride it in real life, and I wanted to relax and flow a bike I knew well. So I brought the Stumpy and Enduro.
Well, on a post-build fun ride in Santa Cruz, my buddy James blew up the Stumpy’s shock. That left the Enduro — the 30-pound mini-DH battle wagon. Was the Enduro slow and awkward in the BMX sections? Yes, but it was super smooth everywhere else. Sea Otter DH is fast and choppy, and the bigger bike erased some of the violence and let me focus on flow. I rode my normal way — clean and precise, with some violent pedaling — and I qualified 2nd! Wow, and that’s in front of some old heroes.
In the finals I found a place of flow, rode clean through all the rounds and finished 2nd to a faster rider. That was really awesome: the perfect manifestation of everything I write and teach.
While a smaller bike is theoretically quicker, I explain the Enduro DS like this: I know how to corner. I know how to pump. I know how to pedal. The big bike gave me the confidence to do them maximally.
OK, back to 29ers:
I plan to race a Stumpjumper FSR 29 at Sea Otter DS this year. Why?
• I hope to ride it a lot this winter on crazy terrain, from DH mega-gnar to Valmont Bike Park jumps. I plan to know this bike.
• The relatively short travel and light weight will make the bike pretty snappy.
• The big wheels will erase chatter much like the longer-travel Enduro.
Will the 29er be a bit slow in the BMX sections? Probably. Will it rip the rest of the track? I think so. Will it give me the confidence to use my power and skills to the max? I hope so!
PS: All you Cat 1 vets (especially you Wild Bill), I think you should stick with the little bikes.
PREDICTION: Brian Lopes loves to win. I won’t be surprised if he tries any equipment that will help him win more. Anyone remember his multi-speed BMX bike?
Know more. Have more fun!
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