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Mountain bikes come with a variety of different-sized wheels, and 29ers are the biggest among them.
How good are these bikes and wheels for commuting? Wouldn’t you be better off with a nimble 26er MTB or even a road bike?
In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of 29er commuting compared to other types of bikes and wheel sizes.
Can You Use A 29er For Commuting?
A 29er is a mountain bike with wheels that are the same diameter as 700c road tires (i.e., approximately 700mm).
Is it any good for commuting?
29er For Speed
If you’re commuting on perfectly smooth road surfaces, there’s no empirical evidence to suggest that a 29er will be any faster than an MTB with 27.5” (650b), or 26” wheels.
The above being said, plenty of people report that a 29er is faster for commutes than MTBs with smaller wheels, so there’s anecdotal evidence to support this idea.
A 29er is known to be slightly faster on rougher riding surfaces than bikes with smaller wheels, at least on courses without too many twists and turns. That’s because it has a narrower angle of attack and rolls over obstacles with greater ease.
If you’re going to be commuting mainly on paved surfaces, tire choice makes a big difference to speed.
Fitting a slick road tire will make a 29er faster on asphalt, though you must ensure the rim isn’t too wide for the tire. The road tires you put on a 29er won’t be the same relatively skinny tires you’d put on a road bike. They’ll likely be 32mm minimum.
Read more: Guide to commuter bike tires
Hardtail vs Full Suspension
A hardtail MTB is a better commuting bike than a full-suspension MTB, as it’s better suited to road riding. This applies to all sizes of MTB, including a 29er. If you can lock out travel in the front suspension fork of a hardtail, so much the better.
MTB suspension will make your pedaling less efficient on smooth surfaces by reducing power transfer.
Are 29ers Okay For Shorter Riders?
The big wheels of a 29er make the bike taller, so is a 29er suitable for shorter commuters?
Years ago, a 29er was more of a tall rider’s bike, but use of modern frame-building materials enables a sloping top tube and lower standover height for shorter riders.
Toe overlap is a potential problem for short riders on small frames with big wheels. This, too, is less of an issue with modern bikes, but it still exists. For commuting purposes, you’re less likely to be turning the wheel enough to catch it with your foot.
While some short riders may find that 29ers are too big for them, most of the time the extra height doesn’t pose a problem. It’s always a good idea to test ride a bike if possible before committing to it.
Are There Downsides?
For commuting purposes, there aren’t many true downsides to riding a 29er. You won’t be as quick as you are on a road bike, because rolling resistance will be higher and you’ll be less aerodynamic. But, you won’t be slow.
Bigger wheels with longer spokes are not theoretically as strong as smaller wheels with shorter spokes. Will this matter to you, given the wheels are still likely to be fit for purpose? If you’re a heavy rider carrying a shed load of stuff—maybe.
Shorter bikes are more aerodynamic. Smaller wheels accelerate faster if they’re otherwise identical to larger wheels. They’re more agile and can make tight turns more easily, but that’s a trail-specific benefit.
Read more Commuter bike wheels guide
Video: The All-Purpose 29er
Be wary of gears when choosing a 29er for commuting. The gear range of a 29er, as with most MTBs, errs on the low side. This makes it easier to haul the bike up gnarly inclines.
Many commutes don’t include much climbing, so you could end up being undergeared.
A rough rule of thumb might be to make sure the front chainring has at least 34 teeth if the highest gear at the rear has 11 teeth (11t). If the rear cassette has a 10t gear, you can get away with fewer teeth at the front.
Best Of Both Worlds
A 29er is really a bike that bridges the gap between MTB riding and road riding. In that sense it’s a bit like a hybrid, except it’s a superior machine for off-road riding.
The bigger wheel of a 29er will help it glide a little easier across more challenging road surfaces, like cobbles, while the extra tire width affords you sublime comfort.
A 29er makes a great commuter bike, largely because of its versatility. You can ride it on pavement or trails with equal ease and enjoy a smooth-rolling ride into work!