It’s becoming clear to me (apparently everyone else has known this for a while) that a mountain bike with 29-inch wheels rolls over rough terrain way easier than a bike with 26-inch wheels. So, OK, maybe a 29er is a good idea for passive trail riding. But the question is, can a 29er be ripped?
Yes. This 29er can be ripped.
And now the long answer …
This morning with the clock ticking on my loaner and snow rolling in, I took the Stumpjumper Comp 29 to Valmont Bike Park for an hour of testing.
While this bike is clearly designed for trail riding, I think the cornering, pumping, dropping and jumping you find at a bike park gives you a great idea for how a bike handles aggressive riding. I mean, I seldom use full travel in the rocks, but I often use it on the pump track.
The goal was to ride my normal stuff, just like I always do, and see how the bike feels.
Stumpjumper Comp 29 with Roval wheels, my 70 mm stem, flat pedals and adjustable seatpost. 40 psi in the 2.2 Purgatory Grid tires. Fork and shock set per manufacturer specs.
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp 29, with upgraded wheels and cranks, and my seatpost, pedals and stem.
Graffiti by my 2-year-old Fiona. She and her twin sister Finley are geniuses.
I hopped on, started the timer and did 10 laps of the dual slalom. I raised the seat for the climb, lowered the seat at the top, ripped the slalom course, repeated. Overall effort bounced around threshold.
When I started doing this adventure, 10 laps took 20 minutes. About a month ago, I rolled Captain America (my experimental Stumpjumper HT EVO trail/park hardtail) in 18:30.
Today I rolled the Stumpy 29 in … drum roll please … 17:07. Yes, more than a minute faster than the light DJ/XC hardtail … on a bike with a plush 130 mm of travel … and 29-inch wheels.
OK, I’m not gonna claim that the 29er is faster than a raced out hardtail on a smooth slalom course, but those numbers are dramatic. Even if you discount the main variables — today’s hero dirt, a taller gear ratio for the climb, insanely great fitness, rugged good looks — the Stumpy 29 is not exactly slow.
• My Maverick Speedball seatpost only drops three inches, and that is not enough. The seat was all up in my business.
• I made all of my usual manual and jump options.
• The manuals were working, but they felt biiiiiig and, if they weren’t spot-on, awwwwkward. A lot of that that was the rear travel getting crushed.
• Jumping felt smooth, easy, stable.
• The corners were incredible. I realize today’s post-snowmelt dirt was good, but this was ridiculous. Before today, I’ve never hit the last inside turn full-on at full speed. Something about the way the tires grip, or the wheels turn, I dunno, it works.
Pump track test
After a short recovery, I hit the main pump track.
I know from many timed sets that 10 laps on the Captain takes between 5:30 and 5:45. 5:30 would be pretty pinned; 5:45 would be an average when I do five sets of 10.
On the Stumpy 29 I pushed hard for a 5:41. Not as fast as the 26 hardtail, but not terrible.
• On the first few laps, I veered too wide out of the tightest turns. Leaning more fixed that.
• There is a definite loss of pump, and I really felt it on the uphill, extra tacky final straight. I was getting the job done, but smaller wheels are clearly quicker.
• Things are flexing in the high-G turns. Tires, wheels, fork, frame, bars? I don’t know exactly what was giving, but the whole system seemed to flex as a whole, and it felt fine.
Dirt jump test
The L dirt jump line was a total go. I had to pop a bit harder than usual, but the bike sailed right through the low-trajectory tables, step-ups and step-down. I was even throwing my linear version of a whip.
The XL dirt jump line was a partial go. I was getting the first two jumps cleanly, but I didn’t have speed for the third one. You can generate more speed on the backs of big dirt jumps by leaning back farther — like pumping a swingset — but my big butt hit that big tire. Stiffer suspension would have helped, but I couldn’t feel myself dialing the third jump, so I moved on.
• Again, jumping the big bike feels smooth, easy and stable.
• On a fast, low-trajectory line you can rally the 29s.
• On a steep DJ line, you really notice the decreased pump of the big wheels. I’m sure a stiffer suspension can offset that effect, but I didn’t take the time.
• With the decreased pump effect comes a greater need to work the back of the bike — but that big wheel gets in the way.
• 130 mm travel 29ers are not ideal for dirt jumping (duh).
And finally on to the L slopestyle line. Diving board drop to left berm to left table/hip to right table/hip to hippy step-down to lippy gap to step-down to wooden booter. It’s a fun line.
• Have I said this? Jumping the Stumpy 29 feels smooth, easy and stable.
• When you clip a landing, it’s barely an issue. That’s an advantage of the big wheels. Lower angle of incidence.
• Two of the jumps on this line are way lippier than the others, and I always feel a bit sketched on the Captain. Something about the Stumpy 29 — big wheels, long wheelbase? — smoothed them right out. This is the easiest and mellowest I’ve ever hit this line.
• And: I freaking railed the berm at the end!
• The Stumpjumper Comp 29 handles, basically, like my other Specialized bikes. This is a good thing.
• A trail bike like the Stumpjumper Comp 29 is not the most optimal weapon for bike parks (duh), but you can have fun on the pump track, slalom, dirt jumps and slopestyle. Heck, you can ride them pretty well.
• If you’re a trail rider who brings the braaap, this bike can do the job. Wanna rail corners, pump transitions and jump whatevers? Go for it.
The way I’m seeing it, 29ers have clear advantages for most riders on most trails. If you can also rip ’em — which you can — I see no downside to riding them.
Hmm. This might change things.
Know more. Have more fun!
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