My 26, 27.5, 29 debate

Whether or not to get a 29er was never even a question until I signed up for Joberg2C. I loved my Specialized Safire and saw no need to switch over.

Plus, the wheels and tires looked huge on the 29s. I couldn’t think of a reason I would need a bike with a tire the size of a tractor’s but then… for the ride is SA I need tubeless tires – it is a requirement. Switching out the rims and tires on my Safire would be about a grand. Ok so maybe it was time to see what else is out there and if I was doing that I thought I should at least consider a 29er given the daily distances and terrain I would be riding. After consulting a friend that has ridden the ride on both he fully endorsed the 29.

The other reason a 29er was never on the list is that I am only 5’6”. Not exactly short but certainly not tall. I feared that the step over height of a 29er would be too tall and that the bike would feel enormous under me. But given the upcoming ride I caved and began my search. Perhaps this is the only time that it was an advantage being a woman looking for the right bike. I only say this because it narrowed my options immediately. I have no idea how a guy with the hundreds (yes, literally hundreds) of options would ever decide which bike was the right bike to buy.

I know there are people out there that swear by their 27.5 but it seemed like a half of a commitment to me. The 27.5 is the choice that someone that can’t make a decision would default to because it is a compromise of other two options. As soon as I realized that the stepover height of the 29 was manageable and that I didn’t feel like I was on an enormous bike, I knew that the advantages of the 29er far exceeded the disadvantages of the extra 1.5 inches.

The search for the 29er began with the Big 5 – Trek, Giant, Specialized, Santa Cruz/Juliana and Cannondale.

Cannondale was nixed immediately upon the first visit to their site. They are just not taking the female mountain bike market seriously. You can pick up an adequate entry level full-suspension MTB but nothing beyond the minimum requirements for the casual weekend rider.

Trek was off the list because they named their 29 the Lush. Really? Yes, it’s only a name but names are important. And when it comes to naming Giant didn’t do any better, their 27.5s are named the Lust, the Obsess and the Intrigue. Do only men work in their marketing departments? Do they think this is “edgy” or appealing to a fringe market? Must our bikes be sexualized – I am usually not so uptight about these things but this is a bit over the top. Obviously, they are selling high-end mountain bikes to some women riders out there but what we call things really does matter! Riding is about empowerment, being strong, pushing oneself physically. I don’t need or want my bike to have a sexually provocative name or one that implies that I can’t control myself. I had hoped the world had progressed beyond the 90s when the strategy was to paint it pink, add a butterfly and give it a girly name but Trek and Giant appear to have missed the memo. Rant over.

NorCal is now home and I wanted to support a local bike brand. Plus I wanted to ride the bike before I made a decision. Really ride the bike – not just a cruise up and down the bike path or around the parking lot. I narrowed my choice to the Specialized Rumor and Santa Cruz/Juliana Joplin Carbon CC XX1. Mike’s Bikes has a demo program where they let you have the bike for 24 hours to take wherever you want. Santa Cruz offers a 3-hour demo out of their factory store in Santa Cruz.

Christmas Day at Top of the World, Marin Headlands

Christmas Day at Top of the World, Marin Headlands

The Rumor was the first bike I road and I really was not expecting to like it. If truth be told, the primary reason I demoed it was to appease everyone that was telling me “you really need a 29er because yadda yadda yadda”. My intention was to try one out so I could say “I gave the 29er a try and it was too _______” and then I could happily go back to my much loved 26” Safire.

My ride started with a fairly long climb on a familiar route. I expected that it was going to be a slog getting that big front tire to roll up the hill but it wasn’t – not a bit. Ok – so this wasn’t going to be so bad after all… By the end of a 3-hour ride, I truly felt that I was on my Safire except that it was faster on flats and rolled over anything in front of it. I didn’t feel that I needed more strength or power; my cadence was consistent with my normal riding I was just covering more ground with greater technical ease.

From the Juliana website

From the Juliana website

I jumped on the Juliana expecting my experience to be similar to my Rumor ride. Unfortunately that did not prove to be the case. I demoed the medium frame Juliana (which is actually just a small Santa Cruz Tallboy frame – yup the same exact frame with a different paint job and a new logo – disappointing Santa Cruz. If you are going to make a women’s specific bike start with considering a women specific frame. Ugh.) Don’t get me wrong, they built this bike out with sweet components and it was a carbon frame but the fit was completely wrong for me. I felt sprawled out like a cat wearing rollerskates. Climbing was an effort. The bike felt squirrely and I had little confidence that the bike’s front tire wouldn’t washout. Perhaps a simple tire swap would have made the bike feel as if it was gripping the ground rather than slipping on loose sand but I was riding the highest end Joplin they made and given the impressive build out of the bike I assume they speced the tires accordingly.

Specialized won the side-by-side comparison hands down without a second doubt. I do wish there would have been a carbon option (and here is where I will be critical of Specialized – why is the equivalent men’s bike nearly a grand cheaper and the men’s carbon option comes in at the price of the base model Rumor?). I ended up with the Rumor Evo. I couldn’t be happier with the performance; it is a climbing machine, a nimble descender and it is fast on the flats. The Rumor is one FUN bike to ride.

If you are in the Bay Area and want to demo one of these lets go for a ride!

First day digging in the mud

First day digging in the mud