Matt Pacocha of VeloNews/Singletrack.com has declared the 26" hardtail dead. Of course, many of us have been hearing the "hardtail is dead" mantra for years, now it just has a wheel size qualifier. And yet, somehow it still lives.
I've been on the 29er platform for many years now and am quite happy with it, but I've still got a 26" in the quiver and in fact, was just out having some fun on it recently. Of course, if you dig a little further in the article you'll get another qualifier: "if you are racing" a 26" hardtail. Oh, now I get it, the 26" hardtail is dead because all mountain bikers are serious racers, right? I'm sure the industry numbers would show that the majority of mountain bikes are sold to individuals who are occassional racers at best and most of these individuals aren't concerned about shaving 1:21 off of their lap times on a 3.1 mile course.
While I applaud the attempt to do a semi-scientific comparison of the various bikes, constraints such as the ones below just aren't based in mountain biking reality, this is not how people ride day to day: "They were ridden in the same smooth-pedaling manner; riding out of the saddle created power spikes and was therefore avoided" and "Climbing was limited to 300 watts and flats limited to 250 watts... Downhills were all ridden at zero watts, simply coasting, and we abstained from pedaling out of corners." Mountain biking is too fluid and requires constant adjustment of tactics to draw any real conclusions from such a sterile experiment. Was there a 6" wide line painted on the singletrack that the rider kept his tires on at all times? Because really, that's what would be necessary as well to even attempt to draw any meaningful conclusions from riding in this style. Like it or not, real world mountain biking can't be measured as if you were in a scientific lab.
Lacking in the article is a discussion of rider size when it comes to wheel size choices. Should a tiny rider who wants to be on a hardtail automatically be placed on a 29er? I don't think so. Fit should be number one n my book. I hate to quote myself, but I had a few thoughts on this when I did the interview over at The Unholy Rouler a few months back: "My personal opinion is wheel size should be proportionate to the rider size. Youíll hear people say they have fit riders 5í0" and under on 29ers but there are compromises to be made and it just seems stupid. 29ers arenít a magic bullet. The 650b movement for MTBs seems unnecessary. Nothing wrong with the wheel size necessarily, but splitting the difference between 26 and 29 seems unnecessarily small. That said, run what works for you. Who am I to say whatís best for you?"
Remember, in the end it is the engine that wins the races and minor performance advantages in equipment, if they exist, are going to matter most to the elite, top tier racers. The 29er is here to stay, but that doesn't mean the 26 inch is going away. Read the full article, see what you think.