Our Tracer 279 and 29 are our pure out-and-out Enduro bikes. That means 170mm of travel front and rear, a super solid construction and a suspension design that is efficient on the climbs and super-smooth on the descents.
The question that we are all faced with is, “which one do I choose, the mixed wheel 279 or the full 29?” And it's a choice that our INTENSE Factory Racing (IFR) team riders also have to face. Seth Sherlock (above) raced in the Under 21 category in last year’s Enduro World Series (EWS, now renamed the Enduro World Cup) claiming a very creditable second place overall. This year he steps up to the senior ranks, and he has a decision to make. Stick with the 279 that he raced on last year, or make the switch to full 29” front and rear?
The choice of 279 (29” front and a 27.5” rear wheel… MX, mixed wheel, mullet… call it what you will) or a full 29 (29” front and rear wheels) is very much an individual one. The subtle differences between the two are noticeable out on the trail, but so much of the decision making comes down to personal preference, the type of terrain you ride and your style of riding.
If you are the local ‘park rat’ or you like to ride tight, twisty and steep terrain, then the 279 may be better suited to you. If you do more distance style enduro riding, where you are covering lots of ground, and the terrain is maybe not so steep, more swoopy and flowy, then possibly the 29 is better suited to you. But this is not a hard-and-fast rule. The choice is yours. The best thing to do is talk to some people (who know what they are talking about!), take some advice and if possible try the two different bikes out.
In preparation for his 2023 race season Seth wasn’t too sure on which bike to pick, so he travelled down from his home in Canada to the warmth of INTENSE’s Californian HQ and tested the 279 and the 29 back-to-back on three different tracks over three days. One day at Greer Ranch, one at Crestline and the last at Laguna.
“Greer is like a fast, carry your speed, flowy kind of thing, with a little bit less elevation. Crestline is a full-on downhill track, with the trail we rode in Laguna being similar to that but with different terrain, more sandy and rocky, so it felt quite different.” Seth
The bikes were matched exactly to team spec, the only difference was that Seth was trying out a coil shock in the 279 (550lb spring) and stuck with air in the 29. Seth is 5’ 10” (178cm) and rides a size Large frame, and he had the Flip Chip in the Hi position on both bikes.
Here are Seth’s thoughts on the three days of testing.
“I wasn’t quite sure which bike to pick. The 29 carried its speed better for sure, especially on flatter terrain with more rough square edge hits. With the 279 I definitely noticed that you had a little bit more room to maneuver around the back of it, and it was noticeably good in tighter corners, so I found I could move it around a little easier, but there’s definitely a slight hit when you hit those square edges and the flatter stuff. It would just get hung up a tiny bit more than the 29.”
“I should stress how important comfort in the corners is for me, that's where most of the time is won or lost at the end of the day! I found that the 279 was quite a bit more confidence-inspiring on that kind of stuff.”
“I think my height definitely plays a factor, the 279 is probably a better call. I hit my butt a few times on the rear wheel of the 29. But if you are taller with the 29 for sure there are benefits that are instantly noticeable.”
Seth has been yo-yoing between an air or a coil shock on his Tracer 279. Having decided out in California that coil was the way to go, he turned up at the first Enduro World Cup of the year in Tasmania with an air shock!
“I played with coil and air shocks and I landed on the coil. It was more noticeable on the 279 that the coil worked better for me. On those square edge hits it felt more compliant with the coil.... but you never know, I will probably swap around during the season between air and coil depending on the track and terrain.”
"People do well at the EWS on both. There are people winning on 29s. I don’t really think that there is a right or wrong answer."
“I’m gonna race the 279. There’s a really good argument for the 29, especially as it kinda caters for my weaknesses. I usually lose a lot of time on those flatter, techier, carry-your-speed kind of stuff, and the 29 is noticeably better in that, but I think just because I’ve spent so much time on the 279 that I was instantly more comfortable on it. So I decided to stick with that.”
Maybe for Seth it was a case of “stick with what you know”?