Is bigger better? As someone who has never felt the need to drive a jacked up, extended cab four-wheel drive pickup I can emphatically say with complete confidence, and no need to compensate for any perceived inadequacies...not necessarily.
When I started researching mountain bikes suitable for riding in the Leadville 100 I was instantly drawn to the phenomenon known as "29er." I'm not completely immune to fads, but I don't just go with the crowd without reason. I like to see that there's some benefit to any new thing before clambering aboard the bandwagon.
So I read and read and pondered and wrestled with mental alligators until I finally came to the conclusion: No New 29ers!
I was on the cusp, ready to throw down some earned cash, when a couple of things occurred to me.
One of the issues I have with the OBS (which has 26in wheels) is that it seems sluggish. And all of the reviews I've read that address the issue agree that the 2009 Specialized Hardrock Sport Disc is a slow bike. I've felt it. It just seems like something about the bike is waller-some. I keep the proper PSI, and even a little more for paved commutes, but I just can't get the derned thing up to full ramming speed.
I was prepared to go with a 29er if somehow the alternate wheel diameter would give me an advantage on long mountain bike rides. And based on everything I can glean from the magical world of the internet I just don't think 29 inch wheels are going to give me the edge I want. Even though reportedly they carry momentum better (whatever that really means) it takes more energy to get them rolling and if you have to slow for sharp turns, climbs or Leadville bottlenecks then getting them rolling again is going to expend more calories.
Bigger wheels means more weight. On a 100 mile ride weight DOES matter. Physics tells us that a larger diameter wheel will require more energy to spin at the same speed. Physics...not the marketing people for a bike company... And while the lure of smoother rides due to greater diameter is there, it's just not enough for me. I like riding on rough trails for the bumps and jolts. I need proprioceptive stimulation in my life. Front suspension is all the smoother-a-tor I need. If I'm enough of a wuss that the smoothness of the ride is going to be a deciding factor then I might as well go with a full suspension 29er while I'm at it. If the bumps are really a problem then I probably don't need to be mountain biking at all.
Then there is the practical/efficiency aspect. My Cannonball has 26 inch wheels. I regularly migrate my flat kit from bike to bike. It makes sense to keep my wheel sizes/configurations the same so I don't have to juggle a few different size tubes. I also want to set up my mountain bike wheels for this coming winter with studded tires for icy and snowy commutes. I don't want a third wheelset floating around the Bikeport. I mean, my next logical step as I winterize is to install a 203mm rotor on the rear wheel of the MTB so I can just swap straight out with the Cannonball's rear and still have full braking capacity. I can't do that if my second bike has 29 inch wheels. And let's not even open up the 69er can of worms...
I won't look down my nose at those who have purchased or built a 29er. I don't think they're bad. In fact, for many bigger boned guys (and gals) they probably are a godsend in the sense that the frames are a better fit. But seeing as how I'm pretty much average in every respect (well, not EVERY respect) I can't justify a 29er frame for size benefits. 26 will work fine for my needs and I know I'll enjoy the bike as much, if not more, than a 29er.
In the end it was easy for me to stick with what I know, what I know works and with something that is not just a fleeting whim. In about a week I'll have a new Cannondale Trail SL 2...with 26 inch wheels.
I finally worked out my hitch project. I opted not to attach it to the Xtracycle frame, but instead put one of the recycled roof top racks and one Rocky Mounts tray and hitch on the recently converted cargo trailer. It seems to make more sense. Then I can haul a bike with a few different bikes and not just the Cannonball.
And now I'm ready to go pick up the new Cannondale next week...