Reading your comments on the benefits of 29′er as an off road touring bike with a rigid fork are interesting. I’ve been planning a Troll for that same purpose (with Rohloff and a coil sprung 100mm fork + Old Man Mt front rack). Given the choice between the two–a 29′er with rigid fork or 26″ Troll with a 100mm coil sprung fork for off road touring, having ridden both, which would you pick and why. Thanks in advance for your thoughts. Carl
Carl, as is probably evident, I’m a big fan of 29ers, largely thanks to how smoothly they roll and how assuredly they corner. I find big wheels more confidence inspiring too – I feel less likely to go over the handlebars when mountain biking. And, being 6’1″, they also seem more in proportion to my own tall, lanky frame.
To some degree, which of the two is better for you might well boil down to where you are planning to tour: there’s no doubt that outside of the US/Europe/Australasia, riding a 29er takes more forward planning. It means choosing suitably burly rims, keeping a close watch on your wheels and having replacement tyres sent out – or at least carrying a spare. During my travels in Latin America, I’ve noticed many larger cities are picking up on the 29er revolution – but you’ll still need to hunt them down, and I expect it’s a whole different ball game in Asia and Africa. 26″ wheels, on the other hand, are to be found in all but every hardware store the world over. And while it’s true that if push came to shove, you could throw in a 26in wheel and limp on, it’s hardly ideal.
In terms of big wheels, there’s also less touring-worthy tyres to choose from in the first place. Schwalbe are finally expanding their range, which now includes a 2in Mondial, and a 2.25in Smart Sam, and there’s some sturdy mountain bike tyres around, like Geax’ Saguaros. Still, the options are considerably more limited.
These factors are definitely worth considering, especially for longer journeys in far flung destinations, or those where you’re especially heavily laden and torturing your wheels.
When it comes to pure dirt road touring ‘performance’, I personally prefer the way a rigid fork and a big wheel/large volume tyre feel, compared to a suspension fork teamed with 26in rubber. I like its directness. And, a rigid fork is also happier carrying a load.
This said, there’s definitely a trade off in out and out plushness – ultimately, a rigid 29er is still passive in its form of suspension. This can be especially noticeable out on the trail, particularly after a few days of hard riding. Adjusting tyre pressure regularly is key, but even that can’t match a 100mm of suspension.
For the kind of riding I do, I feel the pros outweigh the cons. Most of the time I’m carrying a relatively light load, or pulling a trailer. Making do without front suspension means less to worry about, coupled with the fact that the options for coil sprung models suitable for touring are dwindling fast. As a footnote, my titanium handlebars probably take out a little of the sting, as do the Ergon GP1 grips I like to run.
In any case, I’d definitely suggest trying out a 29er if you can before making your choice, and seeing what you make of it. The Ogre and Troll are both very nicely thought out bikes, and there’s plenty of overlap between them. Sometimes too much choice leads to a paralysis of indecision. If I hadn’t had access to the Ogre, I’d have been more than happy continuing on the Troll. As it is, my personal preference hedges towards its big brother.