Popping my Big Wheel Cherry
A recurring theme in the wheel size discussion is the question of whether an average rider will feel the differences afforded by a larger diameter wheel. While those who have been converted are quick to preach, others have their reservations about the cult of the big wheel. This is the story of a self-professed intermediate rider’s first 29er experience. Thanks to Matt at North Shore Bike Shop for letting us out the door with the green machine.
Popping my 29er Cherry
29ers have finally become a bit of a buzzword on the Shore. We’ve seen that incredibly good riders are still incredibly good on a 29er – but what about the intermediate rider who doesn’t have endless amounts of confidence and lung capacity? I’m one of those intermediate riders, and I was afforded the chance to take Transition’s newest model, the Bandit 29, on a proper trail rip – in the snow, no less.
Getting out on Seymour in the sunshine, two days after a light snowfall. Would the Bandit’s big wheels be a confidence booster on a Shore XC ride?
I had never considered a big wheeler until I saw Transition’s Bandit prototype in late summer of last year. It was the first 29er I had seen that looked like it might be fun on the Shore. Like most who have never ridden one, I had my reservations about a 29er being something I’d want. I am a shorter rider who likes an agile, fun and poppy bike – I want to feel fully in control and able to put the bike where I want it. Would I feel like the bigger wheels raised me further off the ground, and would the increased standover be a problem on the trail? Would I be able to get my ass low enough over the back end to descend the signature steepness of the Shore? I didn’t want the bike to lose the lively feel I got out of my BottleRocket. But what would it do for my climbing?
The smallest Bandit 29 Transition makes is a Medium, and that’s what you see here.
I was intrigued by the hype that the Bandit 29 was receiving from rides on the pre-production bikes. The BottleRocket being my only mountain bike, I was toying with the idea of expanding to dedicated pedal and shuttle bikes this year. I thought the Bandit 29 might be a good pedal bike option, though I was still hesitant that it could be as much fun as a 26er. And at the end of the day, fun is really what it’s all about as a non-competitive rider.
Jason really likes the poppy feel of his BottleRocket, and hoped the Bandit 29 wouldn’t sacrifice too much of that. Mouseover for full squish shot.
I had test ridden North Shore Bike Shop’s floor model around the neighbourhood and could immediately feel how different it was from the 26″ Bandit, but I had no idea if that was a “good different” or a “bad different”. I often bounce my fleeting thoughts about changing my bike stable off Morgan Taylor, and I had expressed how curious I was about the bike’s manners on the trails I love. He told me the difference had to be felt on the trails.
Jason is a regular customer at NSBS, and had been hounding Matt about a test ride since the bikes showed up. He took the Bandit on a strict “you scratch, you buy” agreement. The snowy Seymour skinnies made for some harrowing moments with this in mind.
Like a protective father giving his blessing to take his daughter to prom, Matt at North Shore Bike Shop let me take the Bandit 29 out the doors to go get dirty. As luck would have it, snow fell from the moment we had secured the bike to the moment we hit the trails. We decided to go ahead anyway, and good thing we did; while the hardpack was difficult to walk on, it was actually quite grippy by bike.
The Bandit 29’s wheels dwarf the frame.
We brought my Bottlerocket as well so I could switch back and forth and get a direct comparison with the 26″ bike. Not surprisingly, the Bandit felt completely different. Going from the BottleRocket to the Bandit, I felt exactly what the folks at Transition meant when they said you’re “in” the Bandit 29, not “on” it. I wasn’t fully convinced this was a good thing before riding the bike, but the ride was soon to change that.
In the bike, not on it. 29er koolaid, he’s chugging it.
There was a brief period where I had to get used to the different feel, but as soon as I did I was as comfortable on the bike as my own. The BottleRocket felt like a BMX bike coming off the Bandit, and it definitely wasn’t as comfortable pedaling on Seymour’s rooty, rocky XC trails. Switching between bikes, I learned first hand what Transition means by “on top” and “inside”. What really impressed me though is that I was able to pop the front end up on the Bandit virtually as easily as my BottleRocket. I had read that 29ers are harder to manual than 26ers. Not this one. Being “in” this bike doesn’t mean more effort is required to lift either end like I had feared. This answered one of my biggest preconceptions about the big wheel – a trait that Pat and Jeremy at North Shore Bike Shop assured me was especially good in the Bandit.
Conditions that put Jason’s trials skills to the test. Snowy skinny on the BP.
Carrying on, we rode down Severed with several inches of snow coating the trail. Despite all the snow-heavy branches hitting our faces, it was an absolutely great time to ride. I could ride everything that I’d ride on the BottleRocket and I felt in control the whole time. And it was still fun! It wasn’t quite as ‘flickable’ as the 26″ big slopestyle bike, but the portly Revolution wheels may have as much to do with that as the wheel size. It still felt very much playful, and popping off various trail features didn’t hurt the momentum as much as the smaller wheels so keeping speed seemed to be easier. I never felt like the bike was too cumbersome in any of the tight situations I got myself into over the course of the ride.
Mouseover to check out a gif of Jason riding the last of the roller triplets on Severed.
Last but not least is climbing with the Bandit 29. The geometric benefits are plain to see, but how did that translate on our trails? It felt more planted than my Bottlerocket from the start, though at first I was dabbing just as much as ever. However, by the end of the ride I was effortlessly cleaning sections that I previously had a lot of trouble with, and these sections weren’t even winding me. This climbing prowess afforded me more energy for the downhill sections too, so it’s a win-win in my books.
Getting familiar with the bike on a nice rooty section of our local 29er testing ground.
While this snowy ride may not exhibit year-round riding conditions, it did answer the questions I had about the bike. I feared I’d feel higher on the 29er, but in fact I felt lower. Maybe it can be attributed to your center of gravity being lower with relation to the axles, but I definitely felt lower to the ground in relation to the bike which did wonders for getting through technical situations. On none of the steep sections did I feel like I couldn’t get far enough back, nor did the rear tire contact my nether bits. Steep rolls felt smoother than they had before. I can’t say it’s as lively as my BottleRocket on the smooth and jumpy sections, but I can confidently say I had more fun on the Shore XC ride overall than I would have on the BottleRocket. As I said earlier, that’s what it all boils down to: fun on the bike. The Bandit 29 delivered.
Jason popped his 29er cherry on the Bandit and has been texting her ever since.
Jason was lucky enough to have his first 29er experience on one of a small number of long travel big wheelers. What are your thoughts? Ready to pop your cherry?