Last year some of the biggest news in our sport revolved around the sudden arrival of 29-inch downhill bikes on the World Cup circuit. Santa Cruz, Intense, Mondraker, Commencal and Trek were just a few of the companies that built 29-inch downhill bikes for their teams last year. If there is one person who gets the most credit for that change, it would likely be South Africa’s Greg Minnaar, a three-time UCI downhill world champion.
Minnaar, at 6-foot-3, had long been asking Santa Cruz to build him a 29-inch downhill bike. Knowing how much faster 27.5-inch wheels were than the 26-inch wheels of the past, his sponsor had agood reason to see what they could do. First, they had to get Fox to develop a new downhill fork for the 29-inch wheels, and then Santa Cruz had to design the frame to go with it.
Once Greg got his 29-inch prototype V10 and began testing it, he was convinced of the benefits of the bigger wheels. He persuaded his colleagues on the Santa Cruz team to try the new bikes as well. Once they did, teammates Loris Vergier and Luca Shaw wanted to race the new bikes as well.
Last year’s first World Cup race gave a good indication of the potential benefits.
Greg Minnaar. Photo by Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool
The three Santa Cruz riders were the three fastest racers in the qualifying runs. A bad rainstorm that intensified during the finals pushed the top riders from the qualifiers to the bottom of the results page in the finals. It was hard to prove anything with those results, except that it was a huge disadvantage to race in heavy rain, strong winds, deep mud and dense fog.
The second round of the series was held in Fort William, Scotland, and that race offered an even better indication of the prospects for 29-inch downhill bikes. Minnaar won the final on his 29-inch V10, and Australia’s Jack Moir, riding a new 29-inch-wheeled Intense downhill bike, finished second.
By the time the final World Cup race of the year came around, roughly half of the top downhill men were riding 29-inch- wheeled bikes. In the final tally, Greg Minnaar won two of the seven World Cup events on the bigger wheels, and America’s Aaron Gwin won three events on his 27.5-inch YT bike (Gwin also won the overall title.) It’s hard to say now whether the 29-inchers will take over a big share of the downhill market this year. We can say this, however—the battle will resume again soon.
Back to Fontana
Every year brings changes in the world of racing. Fontana, California’s Southridge Winter Series offers one of the first venues in the U.S. to start offering races when a new year begins. It’s a time when riders get to show up on their new bikes, riding for new sponsors and aiming to hit the big time in the realm of professional mountain bike racing.
Dan Johnson (racer) Phil Beckman (photog legend)
It’s too early to tell what will happen during the rest of the year, but we can say that the opening of the Winter Series at Fontana brought out a lot of riders, a lot of teams, and the kind of warm, sunny weather that has made Southern California a winter mountain bike destination for more than 30 years.
How far will your money go?
It’s no secret that mountain bikes can be expensive, but how do they compare pounds per dollar against other means of transportation? We gathered five test bikes from different price points, as well as five drastically different vehicles greatly ranging in price and weight. Here’s how everything compared.
Can you name them all?
The legends of our sport have helped paved the way for future generations, transforming mountain biking into what it is today. While many of these iconic figures no longer compete, although some still do, they have made everlasting names for themselves in the mountain bike history books. Well, if you believe you’re an expert on mountain bike trivia, then this quiz was made for you. Test your knowledge of a few mountain bike legends by matching each profile photo with the appropriate name. The answers are listed at the end, but don’t look just yet. Let’s first see if you or any of your riding buddies can name them all, and if you want to play on expert mode, try covering the names with your hand. Now, let’s see what you got.
1-C, 2-B, 3-G, 4-A, 5-I, 6-H, 7-D, 8-E , 9-F
Pro GRT champ changes teams
Bruce Klein, America’s Pro GRT downhill champion, is racing for Commencal this year. The former KHS star came to the first round of the Southridge Winter Series in Fontana with a 27.5-inch-wheeled Commencal downhill bike and the 100% gear to go with it. Klein didn’t have his official team bike yet, so the company gave him one of their demo bikes to race. It worked out fine. Klein won the opening round of the Southern California Winter Series aboard his new sponsor’s bike. When asked if he would be racing Commencal’s 29- or 27.5-inch-wheeled downhill bike for the rest of the season, Bruce told us he wanted to race the 29ers. Whichever bike he ends up riding, we expect that Bruce will be a serious contender for the rest of the downhill races this season.