The Angry Singlespeeder: 26er or 29er – Which was Faster at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo?


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.

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About the author: Kurt Gensheimer

Kurt Gensheimer thinks the bicycle is man’s most perfect invention. He firmly believes ‘singlespeed’ is a compound word. He sometimes wears a disco ball helmet. He is also known as Genshammer. He is a Gemini and sleeps outside in a hammock.

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  • shredchic says:

    Great article!!! Loved it. Very well done! For a team relay effort or shorter cross country races, it makes sense to me that the loss of acceleration in the 29’er would be a big consideration (all other things being equal). I ride both 26 & 29″ bikes, and am a complete Ibis fan-girl (own 2). So no surprise that the Tranny performed so well! But I wonder if a 29’er might still be a better choice for all those soloists you were passing. 🙂 I wonder what the outcome of this experiment would have been on 2 separate 24 hr. solo efforts where acceleration wasn’t such a big deal but momentum and conserving energy was more key? Anyway, I see lots of opportunities for more fun 26 vs 29 shootout experiments!

  • Nate says:

    If the 29er is more comfy, then essentially it is more forgiving on the body. This translates to a less fatigued body over a long period of racing time.

    Seems like the 29er hardtail is the weapon of choice for a fairly smoothe endurance type race…

    For XC in Souther California, I prefer the 29er. I would like to do a nice 27.5 build soon.

    Thanks for the “study”…good read!

  • Pat says:

    Interesting read. I was at the race as well and pulled 5 laps for my team, just not as fast as you. I was on a Tallboy, didn’t need all that suspension for this course. I would agree that the constant need to accelerate the big wheels on a course like this is a detriment. If it were a pure TT, without all the lap traffic, I think your results would be closer. Really glad the wind died down at night. 🙂

  • The Mad Rhino -B.P.R. says:

    @Kurt – I can’t tell from the pictures, what method of chain tension are you using on the Bailey? Are the cable guides removable on the down tube?

  • SLuck says:

    You mentioned gearing ratios being the same on both bikes but isn’t the ratio of the rear cassette to the wheel size different? Maybe it would be more “fair” to maintain identical ratios between crank rotation and ground coverage; i.e. 1 rotation = 10 feet moved. I was just wondering.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    @ The Mad Rhino – The Bailey was a magic gear – 34:18. No tensioner needed.
    @SLuck – both bikes had 55 gear inch ratios (The 26er was a 38:18)

  • Bstok says:

    Great write up. I just did a little statistical analysis where I compared the three Ibis 26″ times to the two Bailey 29″ times. Statistically there is no difference between the two bikes. You would need many more runs to actually tell if they were different with times this close. The best thing you can say at this point is they are not different, at least with that data. This in itself is interesting…you are saying that the 29 does not give a clear advantage. Warning: the test has very low statistical ‘power’ with this sample size, and no ‘pairing’ of laps was done.

  • Carlos says:

    So what was the winner of the race on? 29er or 26? 2nd place on? 3rd place?

  • RexKwonDo says:

    As much as I want to justify my purchase of my Niner Carbon Air I have to admit I am faster on my 26. Great article got me researching a ibis tranny now I want one sooo bad. Its good to know that the retro wheel is still pretty cool for xc and endurance racing. The media has stated other wise. As for DH, AM, Enduro etc… 26 will always be the wheel of choice.

  • kurt says:

    Seven years ago, a very similar test was done on the same course. Except that one also had power data associated with it. Check it out…

  • Oliver says:

    I would say energy used on previous laps, and amount of rest between laps as well as day and night time laps had more to do with time differences than wheel size.

    Take lap 4 and 5 for instance. Lap 4 started at 1:30am in the dark verses 6:00am on the 5th lap. Everyone is slower in the dark, and given your lap time, you would have finished your lap at 2:40am, giving yourself 3:20 of rest and refuel before you started your next lap.

    These difference alone can skew your results.

    Poorly run studies are not helping anyone make the right choice.

    Ride what makes you happy regardless of wheel size.

  • BikeThrasher says:

    I also don’t beleive you should have to get used to a bike. That’s a bunch of Bull! It either feels right or it doesn’t. Yeah if you try hard enough you can put a square in a round hole, but you shouldn’t have to.

  • turbogrover says:

    I’ve done similar tests in different parts of the country, different terrain, and had similar results. Even though I expected the 29er to be clearly better than the 26er in certain elements, It was never apparent. I’m not a large rider either, and I think this biases my decision as well. My personal results were not scientific, but seat-of-my-own-shorts, tells me that I’m a more efficient rider on a 26er. The only noticeable effects for me were that the larger wheels felt larger and heavier. They were also a bit flexier. I’d probably feel more comfortable on them if I were over 6′ tall.

  • turbogrover says:

    Thom Lamourine · Lyme – Old Lyme High School said:

    “pretty cool, but you state that “both bike have the exact same gearing” which isn’t true testing then.. A 29er travels farther per tire rotation, if you TRULY gear them the same the 26er will have a slightly taller setup so that for every pedal rotation you have the same forward travel. then you’re actually riding equally geared bikes and you’ll find closer times. This is the biggest thing 26 incher riders don’t get and they need to learn to shift to a slightly easier gearing,.. you’ll still travel the same distance forward, and the “slow acceleration” becomes nothing. not that for some people a 26er might just be faster, just the claim of slow spin up isn’t compared properly”

    Most people include the wheel size when calculating gear inches…

    • turbogrover says:

      Most people include the wheel size when calculating gear inches…

      Gear inches = how far the bike has traveled per one crank revolution. The author had a direct comparison to draw his conclusions from. The gear inches were the same.

    • Micky says:

      I totally agree with you. Just got a stumpy 29er with the same gearing as my Titus 26 and noted that on rough terrain life became harder.
      However, probably if I change gearing I hope to enjoy the pros without the cons.
      (although I can’t imagine something better than my Titus ML)

  • Iowinos says:

    After hearing this debate for the last 10 years, I still wonder who really cares. Aren’t we all just trying to justify our favorite purchase? Use what makes you feel comfortable and confident, which allows you to push yourself faster and farther – that’s what drives lap times. For me, that’s a 29er, but I’ve been passed by both wheel sizes.

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    @lowinos – I agree. But what bothers me is that the entire industry has written off the usefulness and validity of a 26in hardtail. Nobody seems to make them anymore in the name of them being old technology. That bugs me. Well designed bikes ride well regardless of what wheel size they have.

    And for anyone who wants to figure out gear inches, the simple mathematic equation is – wheel size X chain ring size / cog size = gear inches

  • Ed says:

    I am cracking up how people keep talking about the gear inches not being the same.
    It’s interesting article and comparison even if its not very scientific.

    The one big bonus for the Tranny is the transport advantage of small packing.

    If a Tranny 650 came out that still worked for Airlines and 650 tires flooded the market then that is the bike I would want to have. For now the 26 wheels are stronger for their weight and tires easy to find.

  • b says:

    Interesting read, thanks for posting.

    Although the bikes weighed the same, we don’t know the sprung and unsprung component weights of each bike. What I’m getting at is we don’t know the total wheel weights (wheel + tyre). For all we know the 29er has a heavier rotational mass coupled with a lighter frame then the 26er, or, vice versa. Pushing a heavier rotational mass is a significant factor that shouldn’t be ignored and yet unfortunately has been here.

    Finally, a t-test on this data…are you serious Bstok? A model with 4 degrees of freedom isn’t going to be good for anybody.

  • Kurt Gensheimer says:

    @ b

    Don’t have specific numbers, but Bailey frame was definitely lighter than the Tranny, and Bailey wheels were heavier. They had basically the same hubs and hoops with the same tires (of course the 29er version of the Crossmark is heavier), just in different sizes. But really, the 29er wheels are supposed to be heavier. That’s the whole point. If we are doing a fair comparison, a bigger wheel should be a heavier wheel.

    @Ed – yes, the transport advantage of the Tranny is huge. The fact that this is a travel bike which can shred the most technical downhills you can throw at it makes the Tranny an even more attractive rig. We actually have a rear triangle that’s been clearanced for 650B wheels. So yes, there’s a 650B Tranny out there already!


  • mopartodd says:

    Good article. I feel the same way about my 26 vs 29 and agree with your conclusions.

  • criscobike says:

    Interesting read. The only two things I would point out is that the improvement you experienced with the 26 is not quite as clear as the conclusion states. The second lap was faster than the third. And the second point is that one problem with a “scientific study” in any case that involves humans is the the human involvement. The human variable is one of the most difficult to account for in any scientific study. We tend to screw everything up. Also, were temperatures, wind conditions, light, other riders, tire, pressure, energy use, etc all identical in every lap? The variables that can get involved can boggle the mind. This is one big reason why environmentally controlled rooms and robotics are used so much in data collection. However, I don’t think it’s wrong at all to say that for you the 26 worked better for you in this case. Emotional conclusions can have a big effect on performance in humans (Placebo’s sometimes work for a reason). Ride whatever you feel most awesome with and you will probably perform the best. Hard to really go wrong with either bike choice you had handy that weekend.

  • Jack says:

    Ride what you like, don’t ride what you don’t like. Who cares what the other guy/girl is on?

  • Todd says:

    Nice!!! Finally someone came out and said it. Sorry but you should have also said it was all marketing hype. As the author stated if you listen to the hype and marketing you would think the 29 inch wheel is like what disk brakes did to replace V brakes. Don’t get me wrong I have a 29 inch wheel SS and I can appreciate some of the benefits of the big wheels but bottom line is the differences are small and in most cases the lighter 26inch wheel bike (yes they are ALWAYS lighter) will not be slower going up hill with and the slight advantage you get elsewhere just isn’t going to make up the difference. All you fools out there that are discrediting the author for his non scientific approach are just in denial. There never will be a complete scientific approach to testing this because the bikes will always be different and the conditions can never be exactly replicated. I knew it would just be a matter of time before someone started discrediting this theory that 29inch wheel bikes are faster, and I am glad I am not the only one now.
    By the way I think the smaller stature people riding these bikes are crazy. The things that these companies have done to twist the bike to fit big wheels is crazy and there’s just no reason for it. That said I am a tall guy at 6’3″ and I can see the bigger wheels being more realistic and practical in those cases. Bottom line if you compare equal bikes I think the author here is dead on in most cases there are little difference but there are some distinct advantages to a 26 inch bike, those being weight, better acceleration (oh that has to do with weight by the way), and handling in tight technical single track. I will give the rolling over things and through things to the 29 inch bike but that’s about all it gets.

  • crraig says:

    The problem I have w 29ers is that they were shoved down our throat’s. Who asked for them? The 26ers were just fine for 20 yrs in an effort to sell more bikes, they came out w the 29. I’ve ridded the 29 its ok. I’m not racing anymore. I like to ride on technical terrain yeah the big wheels roll over some stuff so what . I can do it just fine w a 26 too. Have fun racing the dirt road and stuff. What I want from a bike is wheels that stay true, shocks that last, durability Not some new stuff like 10 speeds 8 was fine heck 7 was fine. The fat handle bar didn’t ask for it. Get out and ride.

  • Jake Rad says:

    Good review and good read, thanks!

    The only thing I don’t agree with us this

    “People have told me I’m faster on the Tranny because I’m used to it, and that if I just ride a 29er for a month or two and get accustomed to it, I’ll go faster. What logic is that? If the 29er was truly a better bike, I should have seen immediate improvements in lap times, not gradual improvement over the course of a month or two.”

    I would say, put simply, it’s not that you’re unfamiler with the 29er but that you are quite accustomed to the 26er after, what, 3 years of riding it.
    You said yourself that you felt you had to work harder to get through DH Trina on the 29er, but is it not probable that you used a slightly different body position? The geometry is quite different on a 29er, and therefore every body/foot/hip/etc. position will be slightly different. I think of it like buying a new car even if the new one is better suited for everything it still takes some getting used to even for a prefessional.

    Just some food for thought…

    But just be glad that we have options and its not like some sports where everyone uses the same thing… Freedom of speech, freedom of choice.

  • Luther says:

    The key phrase here is “for me.” For years I didn’t time myself or even ride with a computer. I was just having fun. I started keeping track with various bikes a about a year and a half ago and for me on the trails I ride a FS 29er is the faster bike. This from someone who, for years, felt just as fast on his ultra light rigid 26″ bikes. It really boils down to the person and the trails that they ride.

  • Micky says:

    I just received several email from all of the marketing directors to remove this test from your site ; P.

    While I am not convinced on the pure objectiveness of the test, it has come closer than all the other tests I have seen. Only issue I see is, fatigue in a race, night/day riding issues. I like the test. The main point that I see here is that 29rs are not a wholly superior product though I do beleive they have their advantages just like a 26r does (even if it is not endorsed by the general riding population anymore).

  • Chris says:

    Do it next year but switch bikes/lap
    Regardless of where you sit, you have to love the enthusiasm (debates) over the 26 v 29 bikes. I rode the 24OP race this year (on a Scott Scale 29er) and loved it; the race and the bike. I’m new to the sport so any discussion and debate fuels and furthers my love of this fantastic sport. I have not read all the posts here so this may have been suggested already but Kurt why not perform the same test next year but in reverse? It’d be interesting to see how your first lap on the Bailey matches up to the first lap on the Tranny… I know the variables are still huge as far as a true scientific study may go, but but it would make for interesting reading and further the discussions.

  • Joe says:

    Heck, it matters. You know how much training you need to do to drop your lap time 2 minutes? And if the little wheels are faster…I’m just saying that it’s a discussion worth having. If you’re not racing then “ride what you like” but if you’re paying money to compete you want to be on the faster platform. I agree the little wheels seem to spin up faster, seem to climb better too.

  • Joe 29er says:

    I have a few questions about this:
    1) Isn’t a 29er like 1.5″ higher and give you that much more BB height? Or does Ibis have some really high BB?

    2) It took me months of riding before the 29er really started to shine for me. You notice right away the difference rolling over stuff but it really does take some time to learn how to flow on it and not ride it like a 26″ bike. This would be like someone in the 125cc class comparing to a 500cc. Power to weight might be identical but you have to ride them completely different.

    The 29″ wheel has more contact area so you actually do climb and corner better because you have that much more traction.

    I also think that doing this test as a single speed probably doesn’t work well. Having gears would change the whole “acceleration” problem and you would be burning more matches getting those big wheels up to speed.

    Did you have to add weights to your 26″ bike to get it the same as the 29er? Last I saw, a 29er is like a pound heavier by default.

    Lastly, obviously Kurt is a good rider with great bike handling skills. I think the 29er works better for really tall guys and folks that lack the bike handling skills of a pro.

    Anyway – fun experiment. Next time I would recommend putting at least a month on the 29er and then go ride your 26″ bike. I bet your Tranny would go to your granny!

    • Dan-O says:

      Given equal weights the contact areas for both wheel sizes will be the same. The shape of the contact area will be different. It’s simple physics. How this affects handling depends on many other variables.

  • David Ross says:

    Again, he 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”).

  • Mark says:

    an uncontrolled test, with too many variables (night vs day, etc) and lack of statistical analysis. as someone else pointed out, the lap time per bike type appear to be equal within the noise of this pseudo-comparison.

    on a side note: i knew that when he wrote ‘equivalent gear inches’ a bunch of technically slow readers would miss the point…even though the author, to his credit, listed the gearing ratios that led to the equivalent pedal rpm per distance travelled.

  • Ride Bully says:

    Northeast reports 26er sales for XC and Racing applications are virtually non existent. You won’t find more than 5% of 66 and EFTA Elite/Pro/Expert/Cat I racers left racing 26ers. The terrain dictates usage. Volume and attack angle give a clear advantage on our rooted rock infested courses. Trails here are also being constructed around larger hoops. Even the growing enduro popularity is progressing towards 29″ 650b has not caught on to date. A Northeast comparison report would be great.

  • Ian S says:

    Based on that data, Harris concluded that his Salsa required more average power to achieve the same lap times over the same terrain in the same conditions as his Trek (175 watts for the Fuel, 188 for the Dos Niner). He says that by his measure, if he rode both bikes at the same power output (presumably a limitation of his physique and fitness), Harris calculates that his two-niner lap times would be about two minutes slower. “I think I can attribute some of the difference to the power required to accelerate each bike,” he says. But adds, “I can only base this on impressions. And my impression, my sensation, is that Dos Niner does not accelerate as fast as the Fuel.”

  • ian noack says:

    This could all be done on a closed course at a with a power meter. You could tell within a few minutes without any ambiguity or subjective influence. When I clicked on this link I honestly thought I was going to find an objective measurement of the differences. Apparently how you “feel” something is going to be, is not necessarily how things actually are. So how about someone with a power meter go out and actually measure the power requried on both sizes on the same course and lemme know.

  • Kelley says:

    Turn that 26er into a 69er and you will have the best of both worlds!

  • Road Dog says:

    “People have told me I’m faster on the Tranny because I’m used to it, and that if I just ride a 29er for a month or two and get accustomed to it, I’ll go faster. What logic is that? If the 29er was truly a better bike, I should have seen immediate improvements in lap times, not gradual improvement over the course of a month or two.”

    If a 26 is all someone has ridden then it will take time and miles in the saddle to become adept at riding a 29 and get the most out of the bike.

    Interesting read but too much of a human factor to take the results seriously.

  • Pablo says:

    I wonder if your results would change if you reversed the bikes & started on the Bailey, slightly more tired on each lap- but the last lap seems to disprove this. Unless you knew that you did not have to save anything by that lap. This is a debate I am struggling with as I live in a place with many tight trails (although little elevation change) and I am shopping for a new rig… Good read.

  • Patrick Bacalis says:

    OMG! 650b! I can’t believe no one has brought that up yet…

  • Xtyling says:

    Props to the author for his good intentions and writing. I appreciated the honest attempt to write an unbiased review and analysis for his two bikes and performance. However, all the results should be classified as a subjective conclusion because as many other critics have previously pointed out, there were too many variables that need to be controlled to make this experiment have any scientific merit.

  • Mike says:

    Great job! Excellent comparison.

    Armchair statisticians will always nitpick, but your results fall in line with my experience. On most courses, the slight speed advantage gained in some sections with a 29″ wheel does not make up for the lost energy climbing and accelerating those big hoops, no matter what distance one rides. A 26″ wheel will always be lighter and more responsive, period. For a suspension bike, lower sprung mass makes a noticeable improvement in suspension performance too.

    No one is condemning the comfort & traction that a larger wheel & tire can offer, so use what you like, but I still choose the 26″ bike anytime agility and speed through corners matter. And there’s nothing stopping most people from putting 2.4″ wide tires on their 26″ bike if they want most of the benefits of a 29er at almost no cost.

    … written from the saddle of a classic Klein hardtail.

  • turbogrover says:

    Just the fact that this is still even being debated without clear statistical proof, is proof enough that there is no clear advantage to either wheel size. All that I have read here is a lot of nervous hand-wringing from people trying to justify their bike purchase.

  • James says:

    If you are not that interested in bettering your times I found that the 29er feels as though I can maintain a more constant pace for less work, as an older rider that makes more sense than improving my times per se as I am looking to maintain a fast consistent lap with less energy….of coarse that’s unless the comment of traffic is actually true.

  • eMike says:

    “The only noticeable effects for me were that the larger wheels felt larger and heavier.”
    So true!

  • Rk1 says:

    “But really, the 29er wheels are supposed to be heavier. That’s the whole point. If we are doing a fair comparison, a bigger wheel should be a heavier wheel.”


    A lighter set of wheels will make a huge change in the bike. Nice article but not even close to a realistic test between the two bikes.

  • Lee McCormack says:

    1) It’s rad that the author can rally a racecourse on a rigid single speed. That takes real kung fu.

    2) It would be interesting to see video of him riding. I suspect riding style and passing strategy play a role here.

  • BikePig says:

    69’er !!
    Rollover with the 29″, accelerate with the 26″.

  • Iowinos says:

    I still can’t get over how fired up people get over wheel size. “Innovations” claim to revolutionize the industry every year (anybody notice all those carbon frames out there?). How is the 29er different from fat bikes, carbon fiber, suspension, 2×10, dropper seatposts, disc brakes, isis/isisII/BB30/PF30/BB90, etc etc etc? I really don’t care what others ride as long as what I like is still offered.

    And it’s hard to blame the industry ramming 29ers down our throats if we all go out and buy them – it’s the consumer’s choice.

    All I know, as a sad wannabe racer, I go faster on my FS 29er. Does that make the rigid 26er that blows by me obsolete? I guess I’ll ask that guy if I ever catch up to him.

  • john tonis says:

    You should have put your 29er front wheel on the Ibis , since you were using a 29er fork.

  • flyguy says:

    Wow, I just had to chime in here, great discussion! I have both and I would have to say for me they each have their unique purpose but probably are pretty equal overall, just depends what you want. My Camber 29r is like a Cadillac and pretty much point and shoot. Just roll over it, you don’t have to go around it, very comfortable! My 26r is like a sprint car and lots of fun! IMO it seems like it would be better suited in a tight twisty woods kind of trail, lots of fun to flick around. That being said, I gotta feeling the 27.5 is gonna be the overall hot ticket, kinda sounds just right!

  • ascar larkinyar says:

    i had the opposite results when i tried this same experiment. i could get my 29er up to speed just as fast as the 26″, but being able to get over the rough stuff, especial up hills i was 4-6 mins faster per lap on the 29er.

    my body does have a lot of torque being a long time SS rider. both bikes weighed the same, with the same tires and very close geo’s

  • Julius says:

    This is utterly ridiculous why must we pit which wheel size is faster 26 or 29? It’s utter nonsense and I’m just sick of it. The fastest bike is up to the fastest cyclist, that’s it. Buy what you like you where you feel most comfortable in and have fun. All technology have different trade-offs whether manuevaribility, acceleration, weight and angle of impact.

  • phsycle says:

    Did you feel fresher/less beat up after a lap on the Ibis or Bailey?

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