29er for DS racing?

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.

Hey Billy,

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!

Join the leelikesbikes mailing list:

12 replies
  1. Flatlander says:

    & isn’t Lopes kinda short? Isn’t it reasonable to consider the wheel as a lever due to gyro, best manipulated by long biomechanical levers? (e.g.- wheel size proportioned to body size in an attempt to maximize all measures of ride performance?)

  2. leelikesbikes says:

    Don’t say that to Brian!

    He’s medium height. The idea that little people should ride little wheels and big people should ride big wheels makes some sense. But there are a lot of small XC racers rocking 29ers and big BMXers slaying 20s.

    One of my skills clients is 6′ 5″ or so, and I think he’d dig a 29er DJ bike.

  3. Marc says:

    Hold everything…2013 will see Fox producing a 650b fork–that’s right a 27.5″ wheel size!

    Although Joe Buckley from Specialized says, “No plans whatsoever right now” for building a 650b because they didn’t see enough of a performance benefit.

    Info courtesy of BRAIN.

  4. leelikesbikes says:


    The current mountain bike action mag has a 26 v 27.5 v 29 shootout, and they love the 27.5 (650b).

    Not having ridden the middle size, i would rather go full bore one way or the other. It’s like i never ride the bmx 24. Id rather rock a mountain bike or go all the way with a 20.

    but watch for my glowing review of the 2015 Enduro EVO 27.5 …

  5. Fred P says:

    I’ve learned a lot from you and agreed with you on about everything, but i gotta split on this 29er+DS/DJ thing. big wheels are fine for trail, but jumps and slalom are typically smooth with lots of trannys and tight corners to be pumped, not to mention typically very hard on wheels. As someone with elite slalom podium experience, i just don’t see an advantage in that environment.
    Unless I get hard into XC someday, I’ll be on 26ers because for me they’re more fun. I can only hope the fun factor guides the rest of us MTBers. I don’t have to worry about you since there’s pictorial evidence of you having fun on about everything.

  6. BoxFit says:

    I have just bought a do it all 29er HT and love it, but when I saw the stumppumper post this morning…mmmm…I want that thing! Looks so much fun. Unfortunately judging from the spec it will be quite pricey. Might as well go for a high-end BMX cruiser.

  7. Stephen Cleeton says:

    Hey Lee,

    Great to see you at the Sea Otter last year – you flowed the DS and DH in fantastic form and speed! As probably the oldest guy in the Cat 1 Vet mix (50 yr this year) – if there aren’t enough of us above 50 – I look forward to battling out with the “youngsters” again.

    Cool you are rocking the 29er. I have yet to make the switch – in fact I’m going the other extreme and busting out the new SX (versus riding longer travel Enduros and Stumpys of the past few years) – hopefully the hand/eye can (still) handle the twitchiness and shave a tenth or so off my times. Look forward to seeing you.

  8. Bob says:

    Hi Lee,

    In the middle of Mastering Mountain Bike Skills book, great reading. I’m thinking of getting a Stumpy FSR 29er. I’ve got an Epic 29er and I’m really happy with it but would like something for rougher trails and that I could do some jumps on. I can’t quite swing the Expert and was wondering if the Comp with the Triad is still compliant to root sized bumps in the propedal position. I’m not a fan of FSRs in fully open position but I think they are great with the Brain. Thanks, Bob

Comments are closed.