CYCLING: A wheel profound question – Does size matter? |

CYCLING: A wheel profound question – Does size matter?

Chris Brown
Cycling Correspondent

The current trend in mountain biking is 29-inch diameter wheels. Historically, for the last 100 years, bicycles have had the same 26-inch wheel size. The 29-inch trend is so popular that I expect to see 26-inch wheels disappear all together in the next two to four years. One-hundred years of cycling tradition hurled off a cliff. The other up-and-coming wheel size is 650b, or 27.5-inch wheels.

Last year, Dirt Rag Magazine wrote an article comparing the 26 to the 29 amid marketing claims that the “29er” was a faster size and would make everybody a faster rider. The magazine tested two identical bikes, save for the wheel size, with power meters installed and rode them around the same track for the same lap times. After multiple laps, the efficiency determined by the power meters concluded that there was no significant advantage to either wheel size. The data sounds like a squeaky chain in view of all the current cross-country-geared and single-speed racers that seem to have taken over competition cycling by winning on 29ers.

The physics of a larger diameter wheel would normally pivot on the concept of “momentum.” Whenever I can’t conclude after much rational study of an argument, I usually discover that both sides are correct. I read a book about Major Taylor, an early 1900s bicycle racer. Whenever I ride and think about Taylor wearing a cotton unitard, his well-defined muscles cutting into the wind (like mine), I actually ride faster (I now own a handmade unitard, so watch out). Momentum.

The “Lance Effect” led to measurable bicycle sales surges after every one of his seven fake Tour wins. He told us it wasn’t about the bike. People bought Treks and rode them thinking they were Lance. We jumped our bikes over my neighbor’s little brother and visualized ourselves as Evel Knievel when we were kids. We usually cleared them by a mile. Super Bowl games are often shut-outs shortly after half time; not because one team is bad. Momentum. Obama’s “Yes you can,” “Braveheart,” Inigo Montoya when he decides to “go back to the beginning” — it’s the classic underdog beats technology in the middle of adversity story.

Do new shoes make my wife look skinnier? Of course not. That would be crazy. Does my wife look sleeker when she asks, “Do my new shoes make me look skinnier?”

“You bet they do, Momma! Turn and face me, I can’t even see you!“ — Momentum.

That poster that used to hang by the water fountain in my high school gym said, “Athletic Endeavors and Success. 20% Physical, 80% Mental.” When I’m relaxed, focused and confident I enjoy the ride. If the purchase of some new skids takes me to that trailhead in my head, then yeah, these wheels are awesome.

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