I recently treated myself to a new hardtail mountain bike. And, for the first time, I went for a 29er. 29 inch mountain bike wheels have been a growing trend over the last few years and are gaining in popularity over the traditional 26 inch wheels. So much so that for 2014 many manufacturers are making more 29er than 26er models. At first, I was sceptical, thinking it was more a marketing ploy than any real benefit to most riders. But, I’ve been swayed.
Anyway, today I took my brand new Whyte 629 out for its first ride, and these are my initial thoughts. It’ll need a lot more riding and bike tweaking before I can give a fully informed opinion so that’ll come later in the year. The first thing to say, is that it is a good looking bike. That’s in part down to the frame shape, partly because of the white, black and blue livery; but the big wheels just make it look mean and ready for business.
Overall, the bike was very well behaved, did exactly as it was told and coped with everything I asked it to do with grace and ease. It is a nicely balanced bike. At first I was worried that being a bit bigger than my old 26er it would be unwieldy but messing around on it in the garden it managed manuals, tail flicks and track stands easily. Perhaps a small amount more effort was needed to initiate a move but once under way it all worked exactly as I’d want it to.
So, are the larger wheels a marketing ploy? No. The bigger wheels really did make a difference. The bike is fast. It just chewed up the local singletrack. It descended confidently. It was very forgiving of any mistakes I made (ahem, theoretically, obviously: I don’t make mistakes!). It really was great fun to ride. And it felt very different to the Whyte 905 I test rode recently. The 905 was a little more responsive on the more technical stuff and easier to control but the 629 did everything it needed to. It’s just that it needed a little more power in order to do it, particularly in the upper body. You do need to manoeuvre the bike a bit more, and I was aware of that after the ride when my upper body and hands ached a little more than they would normally.It’s not that you needed to wrestle with the bike, it’s just it needed a little more to start something. Once it was doing what I wanted, it did it confidently and with ease.
This extra effort was also noted when pedalling. As I said, the bike is fast. Uphill, downhill, on the flat. Fast. Getting it to go fast though takes a little more strength than the 26ers. I was surprised to notice the extra power needed; when starting off you just need to put a little more work getting going. Once going, it goes well. Even at pace, adding extra speed needed a bit more work than I was expecting. Once that work was done though it settled down well and just ate up the trails. It did encourage me to spin the pedals a little faster, it was easier to respond with cadence than power. But this is a good habit to get in to anyway. The 10×2 gearing was superb for this style of cycling. Not perfect though, in order to get the range of gears with 10×2 there were some big gaps between gears making it less comfortable to find the gear for the pace you want. Perhaps less of an issue when you ride by yourself as you just change your speed. In a group though you may be stuck either pushing a bit too hard, or spinning a bit fast. But, this is a very small point.
So, am I pleased with the bike? Resoundingly, yes. I enjoyed being out on it more than just about any mountain bike I’ve ridden for years. It needed a bit more work but that work was returned to me with interest. It was a sure ride, full of confidence and balance. Would I recommend the bike? Yes, of course. But, with some caveats. If a 29er is for you, then this one is excellent value. The question is: is a 29er the right bike for you? I think a 26er is an easier bike to ride. It needs less power, it manouevres with less effort, and if you’re not looking at racing every trail you’re on and are not a strong rider then the 26er is probably the better choice. But, for me, I’m really happy to have the 29er and will be riding it a lot over the summer. I’m not going to get rid of my 26ers just yet, but they may be move to the back of the bike shed.