Why Women’s Specific 29ers Don’t Work

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Over the weekend I had the opportunity to test ride on a local trail a few women’s specific 29er mountain bikes.   As I had mentioned in the past I was very excited about this new idea of women’s sizing  in 29″ technology but that is where my research ended.

The idea of fitting smaller individuals (men or women) on to the larger wheel technology has been something that I’ve had hopes for.  A few years ago when the 650b movement started I was completed behind it for that reason.  The 26″ wheel, to me, is not the solution for everyone based on how they ride and where they ride.  People deserve options, an example of this is why 3″, 5″, 7″ and 9″ suspension systems exists.

Back on topic, riding women’s specific 29ers

I didn’t have the ability to check saddle fore and aft, saddle to handlebars or any specifics other than seat height.  Now that my disclaimers out of the way….

The bike didn’t handle well.  I don’t know how else to say it….   The geometry of it all doesn’t make any sense.   Take a normal size 29er, keep the wheel base the same length and shorten the top tube.  What you get is a very slack, very flip flop, very slow handling bike thanks to changing the head tube angle to something that would mimic a 5″ travel “all mountain bike”.

Women's 29er Geometry

To a point I understand why they did this.  Shorter top tube to fit women with shorter upper bodies.

My Opinion : How to fit women on 29ers

My bike fit is 140% female.  I have a super long inseam and super short upper body, even my arms are short.   This is my take on fitting my own personal 29ers.  Longer top tube than I would ride on a 26″ bike, and an inch shorter stem. My effective length from saddle tip to handlebars hasn’t changed, but how I achieve it has.  My handling is changed to make up for the bigger (heavier and larger) front wheel and often more raked out fork.  Faster steering is achieved with the shorter stem and my front wheel isn’t tucked up under me either.

Your Bike, Your Opinion

Fitting mountain bikes is a very dynamic effort. It’s not as straight forward as fitting someone on a road bike.  You take everything that you know from fitting road bikes, tie in your own mountain bike experience and then tie in the person RIDING the mountain bikes own feedback.   Test ride, try out things, and repeat.

Depending where you ride, how aggressive you ride, and your own body type (size, shape, fitness, strength &  flexibility) every bike will fit you different.  A bike out of a box most likely won’t fit you.  How the mechanic that built the bike probably won’t be how you need it to fit.

The above feelings about how the 29er women’s specific bikes rode is my own experience, I ride aggressively, I push my bike and body every time I’m out riding.   The handling of the bike was too slow and did not excel for technical riding.   Inquire with your local bike shop, talk about bike fitting and your own needs!

27 Comments

  • Melissa says:

    How do they achieve a shorter top tube while keeping the wheelbase the same? Is the angle of the head tube or seat tube or both changed? I can see a slacker head tube angle causing poor handling.

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Melissa,

      You got it right. The headtube angle is the same as many 5″ full suspension “all mountain” bikes on the market!

  • camille says:

    So glad to find this thread. Thanks! i am testing out full suspension 29ers to replace my carbon 26. I have tested GF Rumblefish and HiFi so far. It feels a bit like driving a bus, but I love the fact I can ride faster than I am usually comfortable with. Of course the bike shops would have me believe that I MUST have a 29er but I’m not convinced I can get one that fits.
    I have a similar build, all legs, no torso, and I’m only about 5’4″. In your experience fitting 29ers for women, do you have a favorite for fit? I don’t necessarily need carbon again.

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Camille – what bikes do you ride now that you like? That would be easiest to figure out what will fit you best on a 29er. Also, what is your standover on a bike?

  • Rick says:

    In response to Melissa’s question, the *easiest* way for a designer to shorten a top tube while maintaining wheelbase is to steepen the seat angle (the reverse is true for us tall, long-waisted guys in lengthening the top tube, only in reverse, of course). This works pretty well for medium-sized folks.

    The *correct * way is a little more complex, and involves redesigning the whole frame, especially at the smallest/largest sizes. The idea is to maintain consistent steering throughout the size run, and keep rider front/rear weight distribution at 40/60% respectively.

    One function of stem length (other than overall reach) is to maintain proper weight distribution. On a correctly set-up bike, my 130 or even 140mm stem does not slow handling. (in theory a longer stem acutally speeds up handling by making the front wheel more responsive to small inputs at the bars, but in practice, the effect is trivial. )

    Hope this helps.

  • Alex says:

    What bikes have you tried?
    My wife (entry level)has specialized 29er size 17(med) and she is 5’4″ and it fits well and she enjoys the ride. I’m interested to know since y’all might be more experienced. Than you.

  • Barb says:

    You stated they don’t handle well in technical terrain. Maybe that’s because these bikes aren’t intended for technical riding. Most women are doing endurance racing, not downhill or highly technical routes, and those trails definitely require a different bike altogether.The suggested use for a 29er is for cross country long distance races where having a larger wheel over long stretches of flat or non-technical terrain, covers a lot of ground much more quickly than a smaller wheel, with the same expenditure of energy.

  • Jenny says:

    I recently purchased Cannondale Flash Alloy 4 29er size medium.
    I am used to my hybrid bike and find the bend in this bike a bit too much. They switched the stem from 100mm to 80mm , and while it does feel better, I did get a back ache after doing trails with it for 1.5hours.
    I am about 5ft 5inches, with an inseem of perhaps 31-32 inches. My fingers and arms are somewhat long. i weight about 107pounds.
    This bike does not come in size Small. Only medium
    Just wondering if anybody has similar experience with it.

  • Bike Shop Girl says:

    Jenny, going from a hybrid to a mountain bike can be a big difference in fit.

    The size seems correct, without seeing you it will be hard to say.

    Do you stretch or work on your flexibility/core strength? This will be very helpful to do well on the MTB.

    You want to make sure you don’t sit up *too* much as you need to keep weight on the front wheel when on loose terrain mountain biking.

  • Amy says:

    I’m new to mt. biking and it has been hard to find a bike that fits me. I’m 5’6 with a long torso and short legs (29″ inseam). (Gotta thank my dad for that!) I’ve tried the Myka Sport Disc 29 in small and the standover height is good. However, they have sold out on the 2012 and have to wait for the 2013 models. I’ve been looking for about a month now and itching to go out there! Do you have any other bike recommendations that’ll fit my body dimensions? Hopefully they’ll still be in stock for me to purchase! Thanks much!

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Amy – 29″ inseam is not short legged!

      The myka is a great bike and one of the best “womens 29ers” I’ve ridden. Saying that… have you tried any standard 16″ 29ers? My gf is 5’5 and is riding a “unisex” Karate Monkey in a 16″

  • Amy says:

    My LBS just told me they got the 2013 Myka in the store today. I’m stoked! Thanks for reassuring me it’s a good bike!

  • Linda says:

    As a 6′ foot gal with a 36″ inseam .. I coudn’t be more thrilled about the fit for the ladies 29ers although finding a 19″ still in captivity is tough in my small city .. 29ers have had huge uptake and seem to be sold out as they come in – so much for a sale. I would venture that most tall people, whether they be female or male, are dancing a jig that these bikes are available.

    • Amy says:

      I’ve had the Myka Sport disc for a couple of months now and I absolutely love it! Brakes are smooth and responsive. I find myself pedaling faster than roadies with these 29ers. Now I’m looking into upgrading the parts!

  • Janie says:

    Giant is the only company that makes a womens 29er try one its near perfect

    • Bike Shop Girl says:

      Janie, there are several now. Trek, Specialized, Giant and a few more for ‘2013

  • Ruth says:

    I am 5 2 ”short legs & short arms and have been riding an orange 26′ full suspension now wish for lighter bike for more cross country endurance but I enjoy twists and down hill. I have tried a Giant small frame dual women 29″, was good up hill yet to be sure for sharp corners. Any one tried the 27′ instead as in between ? Rocky mountain do one.

  • Kirsten says:

    Ruth’s question same as mine, I’m also 5’2 and looking for a lighter full suspension bike for xc racing (now I ride a giant cypher) …29er or 650b?

  • Evelyn says:

    Arrrrrrrleigh! Too funny finding you here after all of these years! I have been diversifying more to cx and mtn bkg, so have been wanting to upgrade my bike to 29er. Good stuff. Look me up when UR in DC. I’m still with Artemis!

  • Bike Shop Girl says:

    Evelyn, THE evelyn that got me into road biking???

  • Bike Shop Girl says:

    shoot me an email so we can meet up when I’m in DC! arleigh@gmail.com

  • Julie says:

    Has anyone tried the Trek Lush 29er?? Or the Top Fuel 9.8?? Any other recommendations are welcomed! I’m considering doing some endurance racing as well as shorter technical rides. I’m 46, 5’6″ , 30 inch legs, long torso.
    Thanks!

  • IbisGirl says:

    Hi, I designed the Ibis Ripley 29er but since I’m 5′-1″, I couldn’t make the geometry for the stand-over height to go any shorter due to the angle and location of the shock mount and desire for a good cross section at that area of theTop Tube. There’s also a bottle cage in there, so what I had to do was flip the shock, so the dial is upside down. The effective standover is about 27.75″ with a 120mm fork. It is about 28″ with a 140mm fork. I can stand over the 120mm set up comfortably with both feet planted flat on the ground. Yes, my crotch touches, however, but It isn’t uncomfortable. I find that the shorter TT length is nice and gives the impression of a smaller bike. I use a very short (about 30mm) Syntace stem and super long handlebars to get good leverage. It climbs really well and when set up with super light carbon components, I can get my build to be somewhere around 25-26lbs, which is as light as my best geared 26″ Mojo SLR. it is currently about 27lbs right now. I don’t think this fits as a female-specific bike, but I guess it allows for smaller riders to be able to ride a 29er.

  • Patti says:

    Ibis girl thanks for your informative response. I know the Ripley just came out this year how have the sales been? Is there an extra small?

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