20in > 29in.
Wheel sizes don’t win races, racers do. And Aaron Gwin made it three Leogang World Cup wins in a row last weekend.
Yeah let’s talk about wheel size again. Everyone loves that. Woo!
But seriously, if you’re reading this then you are interested in talking about wheel sizes even if it’s reluctantly interested, or you have morbid interest in it despite yourself!
Don’t forget about Gwin
If, like us, you watched last weekend’s World Cup Downhill at Leogang you probably watched Loris Vergier’s superb beyond-the-limit race run and thought, “well, no one’s going to beat that are they?” and you assumed it was going to be the second ever World Cup DH win on 29in wheels.
But we forgot about Gwin.
Aaron Gwin’s skills and Aaron Gwin’s athleticism won Leogang. Not his wheel size.
Regarding wheel size, contrary to popular belief, it’s on smooth tracks where the advantage of larger wheels is less pronounced. 29ers excel when it’s rough not when it’s smooth.
(There’s also a theory going around that at super-high speeds, 29ers are slower than 27.5in bikes. The reason isn’t exactly clear yet – it takes more energy to keep the bigger wheels spinning? – but the stopwatches don’t lie.)
Regarding technique, Leogang was won by the rider who landed the jumps the most accurately. When landing transitions it’s arguably the smaller wheel that generates more drive than a big wheel. If you get your landings spot-on you get extra speed for free. BMX anyone?
So not only did 29ers not have any advantages at Leogang, they actually had three disadvantages: lack of rough stuff on the track, slower on the super fast sections, and less drive on landing slopes.
Aaron not airing
It’s a known fact that Aaron Gwin rides BMX tracks a lot. He says he goes to gate practice every week at his local BMX track. Gwin knows very well that keeping low over jumps and being millimetre perfect when landing on downslopes is where time is gained.
This may not ‘look’ fast or cool – it’s wholly invisible in fact – but it’s how Gwin won Leogang.
It’s not over yet
As with all the best World Cup races there are still questions to be answered.
Would Jack Moir have won if his front wheel hadn’t washed out and made him lose a few seconds in a crash?
Will Aaron Gwin’s winning form be able to overcome the advantage that his opponents’ big wheels are going to have at Vallnord?
Is Danny Hart going to stick with his 29er?
Is Loic Bruni going to eat his words and take the big wheel Spesh Demo out for a run at Vallnord?
Will we see the return of Rachel Atherton and her winning ways?