Velonews.com's Matt Pacocha has been experimenting with different wheel sizes and different platforms this summer. It all started in his article on the National Championships where in the top 5 a 26 ht wasn't represented. A 26 hardtail wasn't represented until 6th place. Interesting fact, out of the top five in the mens category three were Gary Fisher Superflys. His conclusion that technology had progressed in suspension design and in the design of 29ers that it would only be time until the 26 hardtail was dead.
The most interesting part of the article was this paragraph that ended the article,
"Is the 26-inch hardtail dead? Yes, I think so. Of course, you’ll continue to see the traditionalists and Europeans using them. And you’ll also some of the world’s most talented riders, like Orbea’s Julien Absalon, on them. But I would suspect that if these racers aren’t careful they’ll eventually be caught out. Maybe then, if the manufacturers can keep the steep technological development curve going, it’ll mean our U.S. racers who are willing to accept 29-inch wheels and full suspension will have the upper hand they need to win some big races."
Now there's a couple things that this paragraph entails:
1) The current US riders are using inadequete bikes, and that with more technological development the 29er and full suspension bikes will eventually be the better bike.
2)Europeans appearantly are staunch tradiontionalist and won't switch over away from 26 ht's and if they do it will be too late.
3)And most importantly an American will only win when they have bike that gives them an advantage.
His second article which was titled "Despiste the world's results, Velonew's Matt Pacocha says tests show 29-inch wheels are faster." In this article he did a test to see which one platform was fastest. The 26 hardtail, 26 full-suspension or 29 hardtail. Here's him describing the test:
"Over the course of 14 days I rode a full-suspension bike and hardtail bike 28 times on our 3.1-mile test course. Both bikes were built from aluminum and the position of the bikes was matched. The weight of the bikes differed by roughly one pound. The same wheelset was used on both bikes and tire pressure was kept the same. The bikes also used the same gearing. They were ridden in the same smooth-pedaling manner; riding out of the saddle created power spikes and was therefore avoided. Data was gathered using Garmin’s 705 GPS unit and a PowerTap Disc hub."
Now I give him the benefit of the doubt for trying to make the test as scientific as possible, however, his real world tests weren’t real world. Well let’s be serious it’s the real world that defeats any test of a bike. The most blatant and hard thing to control is the human factor, each riders size, style and skill will determine what bike will be best for them. He doesn’t give us any information on what the human factors. We also don’t know what bike’s he was riding. He states that “positions” of the bikes are the same. That is all well and good, but it doesn’t say the dimensions where the same. A different head angle, shorter wheelbase all lead to a different ride. If we really want to know what’s faster in wheel size, then the test should be the same dimensions with the only difference being the wheel size.
I also feel that taking away standing skews the results because that is the main reason why I chose my 26 hardtail as my race bike, I spend a lot of my time when I climb out of the saddle, I also sprint a lot more and it’s those features that make a 26 hardtail what it is.
Now the course description:
“The test course consisted of just under a mile of rolling, lightly technical terrain, a half-mile climb gaining 50 feet in elevation, 1.2 miles of non-technical but bumpy flat double track and a half-mile of twisty, fast-descending singletrack with three moderately technical sections.”
Roughly 3 miles of riding? I understand wanting to make it a smaller course to keep rider mistake out of the equation, but how often do most riders do a three miles loop? The other thing is 50 feet of climbing in half a mile is not a climb. That’s a 1% grade. Which isn’t enough to test the climbing prowess of each bike.
So, the conclusion of the test was that the 29er was a minute faster than any other bike and the Full suspension bike was second. Hence, the 26 hardtail was dead. Now I’m a numbers person on the bike, I keep all my information from my Garmin. Now on my 3.6 mile loop I’ve found the fastest times have been on my 26 inch fully rigid single speed. Now on other trails, my Full suspension is faster (think West Branch). Even on different days a different bike may be faster because of my fatigue level and line choice.
I think instead of arguing which one is faster, cause no matter what bike your choose it’s your legs that are powering it, instead lets focus on the good. Now we have an excuse to have another bike. No matter what bike you choose it’s going to be the rider who makes it faster. So stop the fighting, ride what you brought and have fun!