"Any UK rider that travels around to different trails is going to end up having both a 26 and 29-inch wheeled bike in his or her garage."
That’s the belief of Lynskey founder Mark Lynskey, whose firm is this year to produce two full suspension frames for each wheel size.
"In the UK we have seen acceptance of 29ers grow significantly in the past two years. However, the UK with its widely varied terrain is the perfect example of a region where both wheel sizes will always have benefits," added Lynskey, who is convinced that, in certain territories, the three-inch larger wheel could become dominant in the long run.
"This is based upon the reality that most riders are out for recreation, fitness, and enjoyment of the outdoors. Larger wheels do offer a smoother ride. The larger contact patch offers better braking and better overall traction, and they are much more forgiving when it comes to that unexpected rock, or ditch."
Though still early days for the big-wheeler in the UK, sales are beginning to accelerate. Dickon Hepworth, MD of Jungle Products, which carries Santa Cruz bikes in the UK told BikeBiz: "We have seen a huge increase in our 29er sales over the last 12 months, and in particular the last four-month period. The Santa Cruz Tallboy has been outselling the Blur XC consistently over the last year, and the uptake among dealers over the last three months has been astonishing – even the sceptics are now admitting that the volume of customers asking for 29-inch product is too large to ignore."
Availability of product is without doubt becoming greater, with many of the UK’s larger distributors dipping a toe into the water with at least one complete bike and back-up bits.
Juergen Falke, head of design at Merida, told BikeBiz that his firm is taking the market very seriously: "Some of our 29-inch bikes are among the most anticipated and sought after bikes in Merida’s history. Dealer response has been fantastic throughout the world, with the 29er in our current range selling out within weeks of becoming available. These bikes flatter the rider in every sense and make it easier for the amateur and professional to enjoy off-road riding."
Santa Cruz’s engineering and quality director Joe Graney, though "not as bullish on 29ers as saying it’s going to take over other wheel sizes", anticipates great things from the market. He told BikeBiz: "The US and UK have been more broadly accepting of our one 29-inch wheel offering, the carbon tallboy (100mm travel). This bike will soon also come in aluminium in order to broaden its reach. However, we just introduced two new 29-inch wheel models, a lightweight carbon hardtail and aluminium tallboy frame. We expect strong sales of these in North America and UK, and for other markets to start welcoming the larger wheels as they become more ubiquitous."
It’s been a manic month of news on the 29-inch wheel front with the web awash with product news of prototypes and builds for production. Rumour has it that both Ragley and Merida are currently in the process of building full suspension 29-inch wheel builds. Rock Shox is also said to be working on a ‘SID like’ 29-inch suspension fork.