There’s more choice than ever these days when it comes to mountain bike wheel size. The 26er, 29er, or the inbetweener 650b wheels all have their advocates, and a long list of pros and cons exists for each of them.
One of the main recognized benefits of using a larger wheel is the ability to roll over bumps or obstacles more easily, together with some increased traction which may help to offset the extra weight that a larger set of wheels and larger frame would otherwise burden you with.
But why stop at 29 inch wheels. Isn’t it time we asked ourselves (and the bike manufacturers) whether even larger wheels are even faster, and even more fun?
Luckily for a steel enthusiast like me, there are already a bunch of framebuilders who are playing around with 36 inch wheeled mountain bikes!
Yes, that’s right: thirty-six-inch wheels!! Here are two rather exquisite 36er mountain bikes, both handbuild from finest steel, by Walt of Waltworks.
Speaking for myself, I think they look absolutely awesome, and I hope to commission Waltworks, or a more local frame builder if I can find one willing to build such a beast.
As you can see, you’d probably need to be fairly tall to ride one of these leviathans. Being 6′ 4″ in height (193 cm), I reckon I’d manage it without looking like a circus act, and certainly no sillier than a short rider on a 29er.
I’ve already mentioned the positive aspects of riding a 36er, which are basically just a bigger helping of the advantages of 29 inch wheels. There are, however, some drawbacks (for many riders, at least):
- A 36er will be somewhat heavy – Significantly more than 30 lbs or 14 kg. Those heavy wheels may also feel a bit sluggish when trying to accelerate.
- Cost – A hand made steel frame and the custom wheels (adapted from unicycle components) will bring the price tag to at least 2000 Euro / USD for a typical build.
- Lack of suspension options. Although Waltworks (and others, I expect) offer the possibility to build a Head Shok, this would give limited travel and raise the front end of the bike such that the bars would be higher than the saddle, except perhaps for riders taller than 7 feet.
- More sluggish handling than a more nimble, smaller-wheeled MTB.
The first three points could, in time, be mitigated if 36ers ever get taken up and built by more mainstream manufacturers, in the same way that 29ers have eventually become dialed in regarding geometry and components, and competitive in terms of weight.
But despite the potential problems, I do plan to commission a 36er at some point in the near future … but not until I add a new 29er to the collection.