Mountain Gear

From Matt’s Mind: Not Really A Final Word on 29ers

There is the right tool for every job, and on some race courses that ‘right tool' may be a 29er, or a full-suspension bike or maybe even — gasp — a 26-inch hardtail.

Up next? Matt, Utah and a Superfly 100.
Up next? Matt, Utah and a Superfly 100.

As I write yet again about 29ers, I’m hurtling over the Rocky Mountains in an airplane at 36,000 feet doing about 400 mph.

My destination: Deer Valley Resort, Utah.

My mission: Ride Gary Fisher’s new Superfly 100.

Yes, dear readers, that would be a full-suspension 29er. Being in the air is a nice respite from the earlier half of my week in the office, where the bulk of my time was spent responding to the emails that have come in after I further poked at the inadequacies of the 26-inch hardtail.

The reason why I have been writing so much lately about 26- and 29-inch hardtails and 26-inch full-suspension bikes is that after almost a decade, larger wheels have become a legitimate tool on the domestic racing circuit. I think that progressive racers will continue to try new technology to gain an advantage. And I believe that many see it the way my semi-scientific testing led me to see it: There is the right tool for every job, and on some race courses that “right tool” may be a 29er, or a full-suspension bike or maybe even — gasp — a 26-inch hardtail.

My testing made lots of assumptions and it by no means provided an end-all answer to what is the fastest type of bike. We here at VeloNews and will continue thinking and testing to improve upon real world protocol — something more than just a subjective opinion — that leads us closer to answers.

As an admitted technophile I was absolutely stoked to see different bikes duking it out for the win at the U.S. National Championships in Granby, Colorado earlier this summer. Not only Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and his Gary Fisher 29er, but Todd Wells and his Specialized S-Works Epic full-suspension as well as Katie Compton and Heather Irmiger on their 29er hardtails.

Something else that should raise a brow is Willow Koerber’s recent third-place finish at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canberra, Australia; a result she achieved on a 29er. What makes Koerber’s bronze medal even more interesting is that she didn’t start racing with larger wheels until after July’s national championship races. Nonetheless, I have no doubt that the larger wheels allowed her to ride the incredibly steep drops featured on the race course with more comfort and control.

The trip to Utah, meanwhile, has me excited because the new Fisher Superfly 100 full-suspension bike seems to have JHK excited. I’ve known him since we were both at the University of Colorado together close to a decade ago. I can attest he’s been a slow adopter of new technology, especially when it adds weight to his bike. He resisted disc brakes, held out on big wheels and has never fully embraced full-suspension bikes.

We’ve had many dinner party arguments about the efficiency of a full-suspension bike versus a hardtail. JHK has always favored the hardtail. I’ve always had to concede since he knows how fast it is at the front of a World Cup race and I don’t.

But if you’ve followed JHK this season you know that he’s raced the new full-suspension bike more this year than he ever has before; from the winning the marathon national championships and local Colorado series races on it, to the huge feat of just starting the Canadian stops of the World Cup on it. His actions seem to tell us that he sees it as a good tool for the right course.

Finally, I’m stoked to stir the pot. I’m hoping that I may have caused you to think about what type of bike you should test ride the next time you’re in the market for a new rig. Maybe you end up buying another 26-inch-wheeled hardtail, but at least you’ll have thought about and tried some other options.

Last but not least, be sure to check back to for my report on Fisher’s new Superfly 100.

Matt Pacocha is the VeloNews/ test editor. He started in the bicycle industry sweeping shop floors at 13. Since then he’s wrenched, raced mountain bikes on the national circuit for four years, worked at IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) for two years, raced on the road in Belgium for six months and served four years as the tech editor for VeloNews. Matt can be reached at