Monday, 27 May 2013

Small riders on big wheels

After long hesitation, analysing, reviews reading and watching other riders around, I decided to give the big wheels a go.
A stressful process it was because for all arguments for, there was always one against: I'm 5'5''. And yes, I know that Emily Batty rides a 29er as well and she is a XXS rider, but at her level she could probably ride drops on a monocycle and still be great at it!
From the past failures I've learnt that the most important feature of any bike is the geometry. Even if you have the lightest, best-specified bike ever, if it doesn't fit you, you won't ride it well.

There was really only one bike considered, the Specialized Fate, with its geometry almost identical to my beloved Spec Era - a five year old second hand toy-bike I keep getting back to. Tell what you want, but it just feels great! The Fate's top tube is only 5mm longer, and the wheelbase: only 10mm!
It was nice to feel the big wheels rolling easier on fireroads and even covering roots on the steep climbs better. Whether it's a real time gain or just a perception it's hard to say because I'm riding it on unfamiliar trails, after moving countries a few months ago. Even if it's only a perception - that's enough for me. If you feel better, it means the ride is better, full stop :)

What was surprising however, was how great it cornered. With the big wheels, I expected it to need more space, but it takes none of that. On my first ride I even unclipped a few times before the corner, being sure there's not enough space for that big bike, just to watch it clearing it with a few inches of  ground left untouched. I'll need a few more weeks to learn to trust it, that's all. The bike is fully capable of squeezing through tight, twisty singletracks.
Another thing I like a lot about it is that somehow it feels well connected to the ground making me feel more confident and allowing it to ride faster. Berms, corners, roots - I feel I can trust her. Again, is it the bike, or the rider's head...?
The only thing I didn't like were the very hard handlebar grips but that's not the most difficult component to change ;)

Which one is better: 26" or 29"? After trying both, I'd say it's individual. Ride whatever fits you well, whatever you enjoy riding, whatever makes you smile :)

And one more good news for even shorter riders: at 5'5'' I'm riding the 17'' bike, and there is an even smaller one, at 15''! Specialized really seems to have hit the nail on its head - they've managed to create a comfortable geometry on a small 29er.

Big thanks to Jackie from the Beyond Mountain Bike Shop for sorting the bike out for me within a few days. The Beyond crowd really knows their business, if you need anything bike-related, do contact them and you can be sure you'll get a professional and fully personalised service.

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