Editor’s Note: The Angry Singlespeeder is a collection of mercurial musings from contributing editor Kurt Gensheimer. In no way do his maniacal diatribes about all things bike oriented represent the opinions of Mtbr, RoadBikeReview, or any of their employees, contractors, janitorial staff, family members, household pets, or any other creature, living or dead. You can submit questions or comments to Kurt at [email protected]. And make sure to check out Kurt’s previous columns.
I know this story is going to open a Pandora’s Box, but in the name of mountain bike journalism I’m going to do it anyway because people need to hear the truth, not a bunch of marketing hype – which bike turned faster lap times at this year’s 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, a 26er or a 29er? I brought both this year to the high desert outside Tucson, Arizona to find out which bike could better handle the 16-mile lap with roughly 1,000 feet of climbing per lap. The bikes of choice were the 26-inch Ibis Tranny and a 29-inch hardtail from Bailey Bikes, a custom builder based in San Diego.
I was racing for the defending champion four-man singlespeed team, Single Minded, and set both bikes up with the exact same gear ratio of 55 gear inches (38:18 on the 26” and 34:18 on the 29”). Both bikes also had the exact same tires (Maxxis Crossmark), the same carbon Niner fork (the length of the carbon fork on the Tranny was the exact same length as a 100mm Fox 26” fork) and both weighed in at a scant 17.5 pounds. So for all intents and purposes, the only difference was wheel size.
By looking at the Old Pueblo course profile, it seems the 29er would have a distinct advantage. The opening section called “The Bitches” is an undulating fire road that favors momentum and the big wheels of a 29er, as do numerous section of slightly downhill singletrack that really can get the big wagon wheels rolling and a final, somewhat rocky descent that is much smoother to ride on a rigid 29er.
However, the 26er I was riding is no ordinary 26er, it’s the Ibis Tranny; far and away the most impressive hard tail mountain bike I’ve ever ridden in my life. It should be known that I’ve been racing on the Ibis for three years, so there is definitely a predisposition to the Tranny, but I had already ridden the Bailey enough times to get comfortable and confident on it, as the Bailey rides exceptionally well. In fact, it’s perhaps the most comfortable 29er I’ve ever ridden.
The plan was to swap laps with each bike and let the lap times tell the story. Each lap ended up being just over an hour, so if the difference in lap times was under a minute, I would consider it negligible, but if the difference in lap times was a minute or more, it was telling me something.
Celebrating its 14th running with nearly 2,000 total participants and an equal number of spectators and supporters, the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo has become the premier 24 Hour race in the United States and the perfect venue with which to conduct my 26er vs. 29er test. I elected to start the race by running the quarter-mile LeMans start, trying not to get trampled by nearly 600 crazed, lycra-clad lunatics in the process. Because of my history with the Ibis Tranny, I elected to ride it first.