Are you really, really bored with hearing people bang on and on about wheel size? So are we. Yes, wheel size is important. But it’s not everything. Here are ten things that you need to consider way before the size of your wheels.
Roadies talk about weight too much. Mountain bikers don’t think about it enough. Lighter bikes are faster on everything other than super steep descents. Lighter bikes require less energy expenditure, so you can ride for longer. What’s a heavy mountain bike? It’s open to debate but I’d say any bike over 30 lbs is edging into the weighty spectrum. A 30 lbs 26in wheeled bike will be faster than a 35 lbs 29er.
2. Suspension setup
If you’re riding a badly set-up suspension unit then it will rob you of of both power and control. You’ll be bouncing around, plunging through travel, wandering and weaving around the trails, not getting as much traction as you could and generally carrying around the extra weight of suspension but experiencing none of the benefits.
The only things that are in touch with the ground. Get these wrong and nothing will be right. Are they the best choice for your terrain? Are they grippy enough to deal with what’s asked of them? Are they tough enough to withstand the beating? Are they dragging you down with excess weight? Are they even pumped up to correct pressure? Compound, tread design and carcass construction should come above tyre diameter.
Brakes are more important than suspension. By a factor of about a million per cent. With good brakes you can get down pretty much anything even on a basic rigid bike. If you’re running bad brakes on an otherwise amazing full suspension bike it’ll still be an exercise in fear and frustration.
You can chuck in ‘bike sizing’ into this category. Too many people are riding bikes that are too small for them. And too many people are afraid of slack head angles. The myth of ‘compact’ bikes handling better is still lingering on. Which brings us on to…
6. Cockpit dimensions
Yer stem length and yer handlebar width in other words. How long is it taking us to leave behind roadie-length stems and too-narrow bars? Too long, that’s how long. Running a stem longer than 70mm? Using handlebars narrower than 750mm? Have a word with yourself.
Yes, shoes. Shoes are one area where it’s well worth splashing some cash. Cheap shoes are some leagues below the performance of more expensive shoes. Great shoes make you appreciate just how much of your bike you control with your feet. Your feet aren’t just there for pedalling. With a good pair of shoes on, the melding of man and machine becomes closer.
This is the other thing – besides weight – that mountain bikers like to pretend doesn’t matter. Fitness? That sounds dangerously like roadie talk! You don’t have to be fit to have fun. But if you are fit it enables you to have even more fun.
As fun as it is to throw technology (and money) at your bike until it enables you just about stay aboard as you hurtle through a tricky technical section, it’s not a very sustainable approach to expanding your riding range. How many mountain bikers actually stop and practice something? Even if it’s just having one more go at something that’s just stalled you, it’s well worth the turning around and retrying.
10. Just riding your ****ing bike
No, a new wheel size won’t solve your problems. Stop looking for scapegoats or free speed. Put some effort in. Ride your bike and enjoy it. Nothing is more important than that.