It’s been coming. Of course it has. The thing they said could never happen, is finally on its way. Downhill bikes are going to become 29ers. Seriously, I’m not kidding.

First off, plenty of people said that downhill bikes would never work with 27.5” tyres. And they were so, so wrong. For the last three years, every single UCI World Cup and World Championship race has been won by a goldilocks bike. Despite being the only size of choice in DH for more than 25 years, it took just two seasons to kill off 26 altogether. All that manufacturers needed to do was work out the right geometry and, as it turned out, the 650b was actually faster in the big drops and just as quick through the switchbacks.

So why not try a bigger wheel still? If rock gardens are more easily tamed by large tyre volume and big hoops are more stable at higher speeds, surely it is only a matter of time until a major downhill race is won by a mountain bike with 29 inch wheels. Actually, a reasonably big race already has been. In 2015, Luke Strobel, riding for Evil, conquered the 4th round of the NW Cup at Oregon Skibowl aboard his 29er Wreckoning. He went on to win a bunch of other races on the same bike. In fact, perhaps we should start our investigation of the possibilities for 29 inch downhill with some of the extremely capable 29er trail bikes that are knocking around right now.

Rugged, hooligan 29ers come in a number of flavours. At the shorter travel end of the market are machines like the Santa Cruz Hightower, Evil Following and Ibis Ripley LS. These bad boys rock about 130-150mm or so of rear end travel, but feature long & slack geometry to make the most of the ‘roll over anything’ potential of the large tyres. They also offer 27.5+ capability for huge days out and nastily gnarly trails. While they are a long way off modern downhill machines, you only need to compare them to some older school race bikes to see that they are capable of a whole lot more than we’d ever have thought possible, just a few years ago. Imagine Tracey Mosely trying to win enduro world cups on an old school DH bike…

The London Bike show seemed a perfect place to do a bit more on-the-ground research, so I popped along for the day to do some digging. First stop, the journalists. Even when they are not supposed to know anything, the magazine guys tend to have a good idea of what’s going down. They speak to everyone, pick up the gossip and watch out for the latest industry trends – it’ their job. Singletrack and Cranked magazines were both at the show, so I paid them both a visit. Keeping things nicely ‘cloak and dagger’ I subtly asked them what they’d heard about developments in the downhill scene for the new season. Any gossip in the 29ers at the world cup level? Blank looks. Any production kit coming out following pre-season testing? Blanker looks. Anything at all on prospective downhill 29ers for 2017-18? They all shook their heads. Next!

With the most likely candidates for a wagon wheel DH racer (Trek and Specialized) missing the show and Biketarts favourite brands (Santa Cruz, Evil, Ibis, Yeti and Banshee) also absent, I had to get inventive. First stop, Scott. That Gambler that Neko had put up online should give me a clue. At the first mention of big wheels and steep hills, they went very blank. Impressively so. Curious.

Well. It certainly looks like my original source was right. 2017 will see the first serious 29er DH production machine to hit the market. Who, exactly, it will be coming from, I’m not yet sure, but keep your eyes peeled. Before you know it, the rock gardens at the season opener will be getting pummelled by the biggest wheels yet. As little teaser to see you off and a possible hint of who might just be first out of the blocks, here’s sneaky shot of the one and only Greg Minaar testing a modified Santa Cruz Hightower with DH forks and coil shock. You saw it here (almost) first folks: