While a handful of manufacturers had previously dabbled with using 29er wheels on downhill bikes, 2017 is truly shaping up to be the year of the wagon wheel, with a number of bikes already taking high-profile wins.
Here are five of the most promising that we’ve seen so far...
- Intense shows off new prototype 29er for Fort William World Cup
- Rated: the 6 best dogs at the Fort William World Cup
Intense prototype 29er
Intense Factory Racing has always tried to remain at the forefront of the downhill scene. Alongside its unique run of limited FRO (for race only) frames, the company has released many memorable prototype bikes throughout the years, so it should come as no surprise that the California-based brand is now dabbling with bigger wheels.
For the 2017 season, Intense has revived the FRO moniker for this polished looking prototype 29er.
Unlike some other brands that have adapted a frame from an existing twenty-seven-five platform, this bike has been designed from the ground up specifically for 29inch wheels
The swingarm of the prototype pivots concentrically around the bottom bracket, with the shock moving through a cavernous split seat-tube, allowing Intense to keep the chainstays down to a sensible length.
Sponsored riders Jack Moir and Dean Lucas are said to be loving the new bike, with the big wheels especially suited to rough and steep tracks.
And while Intense was reluctant to confirm its future plans for the bike, we think it’s a safe bet that we’ll see this one make it to production in the near future...
Santa Cruz V10 29er
The venerable V10 is among the winningest downhill bikes of all time, and the streak of success continues with the introduction of the V10 29er. The new bike has already been ridden to a decisive victory at Fort William by none other than Greg Minnaar.
The bike’s front end has been borrowed from the current 27.5-inch V10, while the swingarm and linkage were designed specifically for 29-inch wheels.
The brand’s collaboration with Chris King continues on this bike. The V10 29 uses a prototype ‘Buzzworks’ Boost front hub and an offset headset that moves the cockpit 5mm forward to increase reach.
Like Intense, the Santa Cruz Syndicate is running prototype ENVE M90 rims — one of the few carbon 29er downhill hoops available.
Trek Session 29er
The legendary Trek Session is an equally long-standing model. This bike has been ridden to many victories since its introduction, most memorably under the hands of the Athertons.
The prototype 29er frame pictured featured an alloy swingarm, but the final production model is a full-carbon affair.
The Session 29 is also the first production 29er downhill bike that is available for purchase by consumers. So if you fancy yourself as an early adopter, this is your first chance to see how big wheels and big travel work for you.
Bergamont Straitline 29er
Bergamont isn’t a huge name outside of Europe, but the brand is making waves as an early proponent of 29-inch wheels on the downhill circuit.
The bike is actually the brand's 27.5 Straitline downhill bike, with a slightly modified linkage, a shorter shock, and modified flip chips to accommodate the bigger wheels.
The alloy frame is one of the more conventional looking of the lot, with a low slung coil shock and a split seat tube to keep the weight low, but the team is one of the few using Manitou’s legendary Dorado fork.
Commencal prototype Supreme DH V4 29er
This polished alloy Commencal 29er prototype has been attracting lots of attention in the pits this season.
It’s based on the Supreme platform. One of the most noteworthy features is a high-idler pulley to help reduce the effects of pedal kickback.
While exact numbers are hard to come by, the rest of the bike looks remarkably similar to the current Supreme, with only the marginally longer chainstays and a shorter shock giving away the fact that the bike is designed for bigger wheels.
Both Spank and Hutchinson are team sponsors and must have been aware that Commencal was developing a 29er well in advance of this season, so it’s safe to assume that we can expect to see more new products released as the season progresses.