I remember when 29ers became mainstream and a debate raged on whether 29 inches was just too much. There were plenty of people arguing that the 29er was only suitable for taller riders (six-foot plus) and the inertia caused by those big hoops meant these lanky steeds would only ever be suitable for cross-country. Fast forward a decade and we’ve got 29ers for five-foot riders and big wheeled downhill monsters shredding descents. Oh, how attitudes change.
Today, there’s a buzz about 36ers - yes, that’s 36-inch hoops, which tower above the ubiquitous 27.5 and 29ers. The 36 inch MTB is not a new invention and, in fact, they’ve been kicking around for a number of years. Up to now, there’s only been a handful of companies building custom frames, and they have focused on the taller rider who would struggle to buy an off-the-shelf 29er from any of the big manufacturers.
In common with other MTB wheel sizes, 36-inch is not a randomly chosen size. You’ll probably remember that the original 26-inch wheel was a throwback to the adapted cruisers that became the original mountain bikes. Then, 27.5 and 29ers are existing road bike wheel sizes (650B and 700C respectively). Likewise, the 36er is a standard wheel size in the world of unicycles.
The claimed benefits of the 36er are those of the 29er, but exaggerated. TrueBike, for example, claim that you can roll over rocks, roots and stairs easily, reach higher speeds with a longer distance covered per pedal stroke, enjoy a more comfortable ride because of the air volume in the tyres, and gain greater traction due to the larger tyre footprint and your lower centre of gravity relative to the wheels’ axles.
Obviously, large wheels have their downsides. Increased wheel inertia means that you’ll need to work with the bike on turns, the increased weight of those huge wheels and tyres add several pounds of additional weight (although, Alchemist are now producing carbon rims), and sizing is currently tricky for smaller riders who may struggle with standover and toe overlap.
Whatever the ups and downs, there’s one thing for sure - 36ers are going to offer a very different mountain bike experience. I know what I want for Christmas, that’s for sure.
Photo Credit (header and inline): TrueBike