The debate in mountain biking between 26ers and 29ers is really all about the type of riding you do. There is no question that 26ers handle better on tight, fast, technical single track. There is no question that 29ers handle better on long, rocky ascents and descents, as the wheels roll over obstacles much more easily…sort of point and shoot riding. You just point the bike up or down and go. You do not have to ‘pick a line’ as you do with a 26er.
The distance you ride to and from your favorite trails enters into the equation as well. 29ers cover ground much faster and easier than 26ers. If you ride a few miles just to get to the trailhead, you will be much happier with a 29er, and you will soon learn to allow for the slightly larger mass of the 29er as you negotiate the trails. Any of you who have ridden a 26er with a group riding mostly 29ers have had the experience of falling further and further no matter how hard you pedal to keep up. You will never catch them!
So which size is for you? The riding down here in far Southern Arizona, anything south of Tucson, demands 29ers. It is truly expedition riding, where old ranch and mining roads slowly degrade into barely visible double tracks which degrade even more into overgrown single tracks and then suddenly become fire roads again as one traverses the canyons, rolling hills, mountains, abandoned mines and occasional declivities of the Santa Ritas, Tumacacoris and Cayetanos.
Pack lots of food and take plenty of water (with electrolyte additive) as well as tools, a few extra parts, GPS, phone (service is spotty) and first aid and survival gear. There will be moments on these rides where you wonder about the advisability of your itinerary, as you recover from a long, rocky descent and contemplate the next endless climb, just up ahead. Hours go by with no one in sight, just you and the raptors circling lazily overhead. Or as those vultures! This is definitely not for everyone.
While the rides are short on high speed single track thrills like one finds at Fantasy Island and Sweetwater for example, they are long on stupendous views, absolute solitude and that wonderful feeling of adventure you get when civilization is left far behind. This is Arizona.