Interesting thread happening over on MTBR right now regarding short chainstays and 29er’s. I’ve heard this debate before and read countless discussions to it’s regard. I’ll take some time here to let you know what I think so here goes.  Let’s establish some criteria first:

1.  According to what I’ve heard and personally what I believe, 17.00″ chainstays for a 29er that see’s trail duty, especially here in New England is on the long side.  Tight turns, twisties, rocks, roots etc. and especially trying to hop all of the mentioned become a bit laborious.  The ride is a bit sluggish.  In contrast, 17.00″ chainstays in steel do reap the full benefits of steels resilience.  So handling bad, feel good.

2.  16.75-16.00″ are considered short for a 29er.  You could argue that as you get closer to the 16.00″ mark, you’re really pushing the envelope.  But to get that low and lower, you must make some compromises.  And those of us wanting really quick, easily hopped 29er’s are most likely running 1 x somethings already. (My personal build is a 1×6)

3. Compromise.  This is the key-what are you willing to give up?  The old adage of “Strong, Light and Cheap: PICK 2″ comes to mind.  If you want short stays, you’re going to give a little to the cause.

So we have our criteria above.  Here’s what I personally have found and believe.  Yes, sub 15″ chainstays are possible on a 29er.  I’ve been building with curved seat tubes and apply a lot of manipulation to the chainstays to achieve my own short stays: 16.5-16.75”.  But, I am not running a front derailleur, I am curving the seat tube and I’m only running 6 gears.  Some of this can be adjusted with a wider bottom bracket (once you go over 73mm, now you run into bottom bracket and crank availability and choice), you can run a wider rear dropout spacing (again, hub choice is limited to higher end components which cost more-but are available), subtle tweaks to where the seat tube meets the bottom bracket, how the chainstays are built, yoke – no yoke, seat stay manipulation, etc.  The list goes on and the possibilities are pretty endless.  If a customer really wants to pay for the labor involved with that type of detail, why not?  Here is the biggest reason for me:  Ride quality.  The shorter the stays, especially in steel, the more resiliency you take out of the material and ride quality is effected dramatically.  It does not have as much to do with “can it be done”, but “why it should be done” for me.

The above is the biggest reason for me to try and temper how short is too short.  Personally, I believe the tipping point for a 29er’s chainstays is between 16.5 – 16.75″.  You have a very nice balance in the ability to pick the front end up, wheelie, unweight the tires, pick a line through tech and maintain good handling, ride characteristics are maintained and the chainstays have some life left in the material.  That nice snappy feel; not a sharp jarring feel but a bit of butter mixed with sweet, sugar kind of feel.  Example: I’ve experienced this first hand with 26″ chainstay’s.  I built a 26″ version of my 29er with 15.00″ chainstays, and although that thing was super flickable, it felt like a brick in certain conditions.  That rear end banged all over the trail.  To say it was stiff was an understatement.  Different tires, tire pressure, adjustments in how I pedaled and rode really didn’t make any difference.  Yes-that rear end was following me over the log jump even before the front tire came off the ground, but the life was taken right out of the material I have come to really enjoy.  That I took notice of and put that on the list of “What not to compromise”.

So that brings me full circle:  I know that short chainstays are achievable on a 29er, but care must be taken on the builders part to ensure that the ride quality is still there.  That is one of the reasons why we hire a custom builder in the first place: to help balance all the attributes you, the rider, are looking for.  In the end, if that is what the customer really wants: you sign the front of the check, I’ll sign the back and I’ll make whatever you want.  You were warned.  But remember that with this region of the bike, to get a little you need to give a little too.  How much are you willing to give up and what criteria are absolute musts?  15.50″ chainstays, 3×10 and a front derailleur and you’re looking at a whole host of problems not to mention the ride quality of the material will be severely compromised.  Pick 2.  In contrast, I do believe with just the right amount of sugar you can get everything you’re looking for: Short stays, quick handling, gears, flickable, 2.5″ + tires, easy to hop AND a really great riding bike made from steel.

And of course the last and most important ingredient: Shredability. In regards to a 44: THAT’S GUARANTEED.