Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The good ol' 26 vs 29'er argument!

Not many people realised, but I had two bikes at WOC this year. One, I had last year, my trusty 8.4kg 26'er Diamant. The other, my new 1 month old 9.4kg 29'er Diamant.

For non bikers, both the bike weights are very light for each wheel size. You won't find many MTBO'ers with lighter bikes.

The reason not many people noticed, was that they look almost identical.
26'er (normal wheels)
29'er (big wheels)

You can see the two are hard to tell apart. Different cranks, XX:FSA, twist shift vs trigger shift and different forks. The 29'er has a blue band on the frame (hard to see in photos), but it's there.

So why did I get a 29'er when I've won two medals on the 26'er?

When I went to Pilsen, I took my training bike, a 26'er Scott Scale 15. I was there to train as well as race, but the emphasis wasn't on riding maximum. I was still training for an hour to 90 minutes in the evenings and putting in longer warm ups to form a training week. Whenever I was passed by the handful of girls on 29'ers, I had no chance to keep up. I was weaving my way around the rocks and roots to avoid excess bumping along the trails, while they seemed to just float over everything. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't bridge the gap. Of course, I had been sick the week before and was still suffering a little. I did have my training bike which isn't as fast as the 26'er race bike. But nevertheless, I came back to Norway feeling rather depressed and negative about WOC in 7 weeks. Despite HJ saying I was riding well, despite faster training sessions, I still couldn't get Estonia out of head. I was lying awake at night thinking about the terrain, and how bumpy the ski tracks were likely to be (based on Falun/Borlange experience) and how much more rolling speed a 29'er was likely to have.

In the end after a week of pondering, I got a 29'er. And from the first ride, I knew it was the right choice. I instantly felt faster, I could climb better and was riding short climbs and rooty sections I had struggled with before. The 29'er just made life easy.

We went to Boden for O-Ringen and I took the newbie with me to see how it handled the ski tracks. I wasn't disappointed and left HJ a sweating mess after an easy ride to one of the race terrains! So all around I was happy with the choice. The mental boost the new bike gave me was unbelievable and all of a sudden, the Finns seemed beatable again in Estonia.

I spent the next 3 weeks testing the bike and getting to grips with the new handling and cornering. Getting back on the 26'er before WOC and it felt small, twitchy and had exceptionally sharp braking! Tests around the car park showed the 29'er went a lot further just rolling along than the 26'er, and tests in the forest showed it to be faster, most noticeably on the fast sections. Technical sections with many corners don't show much different.

It was the right choice for the Estonian forests, and I would hate to have been beaten to the podium by athletes all on 29'ers while I was still on a 26'er. I would always wonder what could have been, so I'm glad I took the leap-of-faith. But the 26 is still great fun to ride ...