There is no denying it, 27.5 has become a big thing and it looks like it has taken a firm hold on the MTB market. Unlike some protagonists though I’m not going to herald the end of the 26-inch wheel, far from it. There are plenty of bikes here with a solid mix of 27.5, 26 and 29.
We all know the advantages of the 29er, unless you have been living in a cave they have all but taken over the XC race scene. Talking to one XC racer a few weeks ago, Dan Wells commented, “you can’t even sell a second hand 26inch race bike anymore, no one wants to buy one.” Uphill and down the big wheel offers many advantages, and having ridden them extensively I often struggle to find those disadvantages that everyone talks about, poor cornering and slow acceleration.
I’ve found them to be lightening quick and if you know how to rail them into a corner then they grip like shit to a stick and ping round faster than you could imagine. That said; my bike of choice still has 26inch wheels. Why? It’s more fun for the style of riding I do, we have a few DH trails near us and I can combine these in an XC loop on my 160mm Transition Covert and have a lot of fun, pedalling up and down the hill.
I’ve ridden 29ers numerous times on the same loop and while they are no doubt faster, they somehow don’t feel as fun, especially in the air. Not to mention you turn up on a group ride looking like an accessory from the circus… For some big wheels really work, and for riders like me, I just haven’t been converted despite the advantages.
There is one area of mountain biking that is getting a lot of attention at the moment, the burgeoning Enduro scene has taken the world by storm. In this discipline speed is everything, seconds count and you need to be the fastest rider on every section. In the last two days I could honestly count on one hand the number of enduro style 140mm to 160mm bikes that have been sporting 26inch wheels.
Talking to the designers they haven’t just stuck some 27.5’s on their stock 26ers either. While new to many of us the development of the “goldilocks” wheel size for MTB has been chugging along behind the scenes for a while. It stands to reason that when 29ers took off the designers wondered if they could take the advantages from them and combine those with the advantages of a 26inch wheel.
A new wheel size demands changes in the geometry to make the bike work, and while the bikes might look similar, if you get the measuring stick out you’ll see that work has indeed been done. Oddly enough it’s actually been a struggle to spot the 29ers amongst all the razzmatazz, they are here, but have clearly been overshadowed by their younger brethren.
If you ride XC, then the 29er still offers many advantages, however if you are a smaller rider then you might find the big wheels a little cumbersome, 27.5 solves that and there are plenty of 27.5 XC bikes here. If you ride Enduro, smash Strava or just want a capable all mountain bike that can handle anything, you’ll want to be looking at a 27.5 in the future. Don’t panic, your current steed is by no means out of date, but over the next few years it will become harder and harder to buy a new bike in this category with 26inch wheels.
The one area where the 27.5 hasn’t really taken hold yet is Downhill. I’ve seen one 27.5inch prototype, there are a few that have 27.5 in mind (tuneable geometry to take a bigger wheel size in the future) and that is about it. But before you cry hurrah for the prevalence of the smaller wheel in this category, keep your eyes on Pietermaritzburg this weekend. Talking to the designers there aren’t many new DH projects involving the 26inch wheel. Almost every new DH bike being developed right now is either 27.5 or capable of running both wheel sizes.
The track in South Africa is notoriously hard work; flat sections where you have to pedal hard will lend themselves to the faster wheel size. Plenty of riders will be testing and riding prototype frames with 27.5 wheels this weekend, and it might just be a 27.5 that takes the podium.
In the future it is really going to be about choosing the right bike, and wheel size for you. Not just in terms of your stature, but looking at how you ride and the terrain you are on most of the time. You’ll also want to make a choice based on the type of riding you like to do. Don’t let the marketing hype choose your bike, consider what it is you want to do with it and make a decision yourself. It’s refreshing to see at least for the moment we still have a choice…
There are still plenty of 26inch wheeled machines here, but by far and away the most noticeable wheel is the 27.5. The odd thing though is your really have to “look” for them. Unlike the gigantic and obvious 29er, the 27.5 is hard to spot, it looks almost identical to a 26 when it is on the bike. So fear not, you can ride a 27.5 without sticking out like a sore thumb on your group rides. There is no need to apply for a job at the local circus either, these bikes look “just right” although lets hope this fairytale has a better ending…
Eurobike Enthusiast #notatypo