Slalom suspension bikes. Slack geometry, 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 cm) of travel, and low bottom brackets make slalom suspension bikes corner like they’re on rails. You sacrifice some burliness and efficiency over hard-core dirt-jumping hardtails, but the increased traction and error margin serve racers well.
Not sure what to get? Throw a dart at the chart on the facing page. Hopefully, you’ll hit near the middle, which is perfect. A trail or all-mountain bike with a 4- to 6-inch (10 to 13 cm) travel will climb as well as it needs to, and it’ll treat you right on a wide variety of terrain. These bikes are very adaptable. If you want to ride epic, run a long stem and light tires. For a more downhill feel, run a short stem and sticky meats. If you’re more concerned with climbing and covering distance than ripping descents, go for a trail bike. If you climb only to earn your turns, go for an all-mountain model.
Most mountain bikes have 26-inch (66 cm) wheels. Twenty-six is not a magical number handed down from Zeus on a strip of sweet Mt. Olympus singletrack. It just happens to be the diameter of the wheels that were widely available when mountain bikes started crawling out of the primordial road bike/cruiser ooze.
Twenty-six-inch wheels have proven themselves to work fine. Rim manufacturers make them strong and light and in every style and price range to fit everyone from weekend bike-pathers to World Cup downhill racers. But can bike wheels be better?
Many say, “Yes, bike wheels can be better!” and their answer is the 29-inch (74 cm) wheel. As you might guess, a 29-inch wheel has a 3-inch greater diameter than a 26-inch wheel. Just a few years ago, 29ers were found only on niche bikes; today every major bike maker offers at least one 29-inch model—and the 29-inch trend has solidified into a viable category all its own.
Advantages of 29-Inch Wheels
Bigger wheels roll more easily over rough terrain than smaller wheels do. To be more precise: On a rough trail, a 29-inch wheel rolls about 6 percent more easily than a 26-inch wheel.
With 29-inch wheels, you can pedal at the same speed as with 26-inch wheels with less effort, or you can pedal faster with the same effort, or you can just coast faster than with 26-inch wheels.
Bigger wheels are more stable than smaller wheels. Depending on your riding style, you might love this or hate this. Keep reading.
This is an excerpt from Mastering Mountain Bike Skills, Second Edition.