The Troublemakers

The evolution of the 29er

There’s no doubt that mountain bikes with 29-inch wheels have gone through a significant evolution since they rolled onto the scene in the early 2000s.

  • This feature was inspired by the Evil The Following MB, one of BikeRadar's Headline Bikes for 2018. We've collated 11 bikes that we think you should know about in the coming year. Some are super bikes, while others might display great value for money, but they all have one thing in common: they're all important bikes that show how incredibly varied road and mountain biking is today.

In their formative years the front ends were steep, with head tube angles better suited to road riding than mountain biking, and at the back their chainstays were excessively long. This combination was often as bad as it sounds, resulting in awkward handling.

If steep, gangly angles and rangy rear ends weren't bad enough, the lack of robust rims, forks and tires hindered the growth of the breed for many years.

Despite the myriad factors conspiring against them, the speed and rollover benefits of 29-inch wheels were undisputed, so it was no surprise when cross-country racers readily adopted them — despite some of their early failings.

It took a host of refinements before the 29er would finally emerge from its awkward pubescent struggles to become a legitimate contender outside of Lycra land.

Yep, 2017 saw 29ers enter the world of the DH bike with a number of examples and some stunning results
Yep, 2017 saw 29ers enter the world of the DH bike with a number of examples and some stunning results

With their growing-pains solidly in the rearview mirror, big wheels now reign supreme in the world of cross-country, but they have also shown they can be a force to be reckoned with in enduro, and even World Cup downhill racing.

“I think having 29ers on the DH scene normalizes 29ers and helps people realize it’s a faster wheel size,” said Travis Ott, Trek’s mountain bike brand manager.

For riders looking for one high-end mountain bike to cover the broadest range of uses, the 29er trail bike puts forth some very compelling arguments. With sorted 29-inch tires, wheelsets, forks and dialed geometry, there’s nothing left to hold the breed back.

One of the original trail 29ers, the Tallboy continues to impress
One of the original trail 29ers, the Tallboy continues to impress

Bikes such as Kona’s Process 111, Yeti’s SB 4.5, Evil’s The Following MB, and the latest incarnation of the Santa Cruz Tallboy, exemplify how incredibly capable short-travel 29ers can be.

“Doing more with less” is the mantra that comes to mind when describing these short-travel trail slayers. These are the troublemakers of today’s mountain bike scene. The roll-over attributes of big wheels paired with dialed geometry make up for their meager suspension numbers.

The Following redefined Evil as a brand. It also tore apart preconceived notions about how much travel was necessary for aggressive trail riding.

Evil's The Following MB is a super tight package that, despite being short travel, is rowdy on the trail
Evil's The Following MB is a super tight package that, despite being short travel, is rowdy on the trail

“When we made the original Following, we had a lot of riders who were taking it in so far above its head. They were comparing it to 160 and 170mm bikes. We were like ‘Hey, man. It’s only 120mm bike, an inch and three-quarters of stroke isn’t a lot to play with,’” Evil’s CEO Kevin Walsh mused.

In the hands of an expert pilot, 29er trail bikes can keep pace with their smaller-wheeled brethren on trails usually reserved for enduro rigs.

Bigger wheels meet gnarly trails with little sweat
Bigger wheels meet gnarly trails with little sweat

Do you consider yourself more of an average Joe than an aspiring pro? Fear not, more often than not, these bikes are also forgiving enough that weekend warriors can still get themselves into and out of trouble while riding like a hooligan.

If you’re looking for a raucous-riding partner, do yourself a favor and look past suspension numbers and give one of these trail bikes a go.

BikeRadar would like to thank Brittany Ferries, the Commune of Peille, France, and Kieran Page at La Maison des Activities de Pleine Nature de Peille for their help and support during our Headline Bikes test.

Josh has been riding and racing mountain bikes since 1998. Being stubborn, endurance racing was a natural fit. Josh bankrolled his two-wheeled addiction by wrenching at various bike shops across the US for 10 years and even tried his hand at frame building. These days Josh spends most of his time riding the trails around his home in Fort Collins, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, cyclocross, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Anywhere with rock- and root-infested technical singletrack. He also enjoys unnecessarily long gravel races.
  • Current Bikes: Trek Remedy 29 9.9, Yeti ASRc, Specialized CruX, Spot singlespeed, Trek District 9
  • Dream Bike: Evil The Following, a custom Moots 27.5+ for bikepacking adventures
  • Beer of Choice: PBR
  • Location: Fort Collins, CO, USA
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