The Subaru-Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team has decided to go for “29 all the time” this year, after enjoying remarkable results with a string of victories and podium finishes on the big wheels.
Last year, the team started weaning their riders to go from the 26-inch wheels and move up to the 29-inchers, but it was not a smooth start. Most of the complaints were from their women riders who felt uncomfortable with the steering and overall quality of the bike.
However, it turned out that the big wheels were not the problem, but the frames. “It took me until early season 2009 to realize that my troubles were due to the [small] frame size rather than due to the wheel size,” says Heather Irmiger. She adds that once she started using a bigger frame, the problems got solved and she was “blown away by the quality of the ride.”
The results were similarly striking, as well. Heather Irmiger started using the 29-inch wheels for the last three events of 2009, and finished on the podium each time. This included her becoming the overall National Short Track Series champion and winning the Singlespeed Worlds; all on a 29-inch bike. She started loving the big wheels after that, so much so that when she was offered the option of using 26-inch wheels for her race quiver in 2010, she refused.
Willow Koerber also enjoyed a string of successes with the 29-inchers. She got 2nd place at the Mount Snow Pro XCT, won the gold at the Pro XCT in Windham Mountain, and got the bronze in Australia at the MTB World Championships.
The men on the Subaru-Gary Fisher team had no problems with the 29-inchers. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski rode a Superfly bike on his way to winning the national cross-country and marathon championships, plus becoming the first winner of the debuting Pro XCT event. Sam Schultz also had his mind made up for him and is now a 29er as well.
Travis Ott, brand manager of Gary Fisher, says that seeing the team get used to the big wheels was “gratifying”. He’s now looking forward to the possibility of seeing their women riders strengthening the case for using 29-inch wheels at the World Cup level. The potential of seeing Willow Koerber winning the championship on 29-inch wheels, for example, “would completely disarm all the 29er skeptics.”