The Final Say on Mountain Bike Wheel Size!

The Final Say on Mountain Bike Wheel Size! All you need to know about wheel sizes and what size is right for you.

All this might get you thinking about test riding a bike so read this article to get the most out of your test ride:

http://betterride.net/?p=2885

First ask yourself honestly how many mtbs you want at any given time. Can you afford one mountain bike, two bikes (a downhill bike and an xc bike), or three bikes, (a xc bike, an enduro/all mtn bike and a downhill bike), four bikes (a xc bike, an enduro/all mtn bike, a dirt jumper and a downhill bike) or five bikes, (a fat bike, xc bike, an enduro/all mtn bike, a dirt jumper and a downhill bike)? Sadly, a friend of mine owns all five of those bikes but he has never invested in is own riding so he rides all of those bikes not nearly as well as he could (slightly out of balance, slightly out of control, entering corners fast and coming out slow, etc.) so don’t be a fool and spend all your money on your bikes, spend some on you!

Then ask yourself what you want to do on each bike as your answer/s will differ greatly if you can afford multiple bikes.

How tall are you? Height is a big factor as you reach a point where 29r’s and even 650b/27.5 bikes will simply be too big (not necessarily too big to ride but too big to ride in control, in balance and efficiently)  if you are vertically challenged. Saying you are tall enough to ride a 29r is the same as saying I am tall enough to ride a 36r, which I am but just because I can do it doesn’t mean it is good. If you are below 5’5″ 29r’s start to become pretty cumbersome (I know people that are 5′ even and love their 29r but if they had a chance to spend a week on a 650 or even a 26r they would probably find the smaller wheeled bike more fun). If you are 4’10″ or shorter 650b/27.5 bikes may be a bit cumbersome, definitely thoroughly test similar 27.5″ and 26″ bikes to figure out which fits you best.

If you want one bike that will do it all well you will want a 27.5 with 5″ of travel and a 66-68 degree head angle.

 

Norco 650b all mountain bike

Norco has imbraced the 650b wheel for most of their mtb line

If your over riding goal is to win xc races your will want a 29r, there is simply nothing quite as efficient a weapon for xc racing as a 29r.

Orbea 29r race bike

If you like all mountain riding and/or enduro racing you will want a 650b/27.5″ wheeled bike with 5-7″ of travel. The 27.5″ tires are the perfect compromise between the rolling ease of a 29r and maneuverability of a 26r. Most medium priced and above non-xc race mountain bikes will be 650b by 2015.

ibis 650 mountain bike

Ibis Mojo 650B is a good looking mountain bike!

Dirt Jumpers, slopestyle and 4 cross bikes will stay 26″ as other than possibly rolling a little faster there is no real benefit to bigger wheels for this style of riding (and one big downside, weaker, more flexy wheels). If this is the kind of bike you are looking for stick with 26″ wheels!

For downhill you will eventually want a 650b but until all the companies (especially fork companies) get the geometry dialed in you may end up waiting a year or two to get one.

 

KHS has their 650b DH machine dialed!

As for me, I have three mountain bikes a Canfield Jedi Downhill bike (26r), a 26″ wheeled dirt jumper and Specialized Evo 29r. I had been waiting for 68 degree head tube angle 29r for over a year and finally got the EVO this spring.  I have been riding the EVO all summer and though it is very efficient it isn’t fun to ride like my old 26r or the 650b bikes I have ridden (it goes straight great and is like cheating going up rock ledges and technical climbs but doesn’t like cornering and switchbacks. It is cumbersome, slow and awkward to throw around). The Evo 29r will be for sale soon and replaced with a 650b. The dirt jumper is great for pumptracks and jumping so it will stay! The Jedi will hopefully be replaced by a 650b wheeled DH bike from Canfield Brothers but that might not be until 2015.

 

Gene Hamilton Canfield Jedi Mountain Bike

My all-time favorite downhill bike, my Canfield Jedi!

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23 replies
  1. David Holshouser says:

    Very well said. It all depends on you (ie: what you want to do with your bike).

    I’m 6′ 1″ and demo’d a dozen “enduro” all-mtn 29′rs last year in search of my next bike because all-mtn is what I like. I found them all to be too big, too slow (agility), and just less fun.

    I rode the Turner Burner 27.5 w/ 6″ travel and was sold immediately (I did shorten the stem to 60mm from the factory spec. 90mm.) I’ve been loving the extra roll-over and it still rails corners quickly and easily. 650 is the Goldilocks for me.

    Reply
  2. Eric Hollander says:

    Thanks! I have been going through some pains trying to decide between trying 29, or going the middle way at 27.5. This has been helpful hearing your experience with 29ers.

    Reply
  3. David says:

    Another valuable article. Thanks. My question is: What are the advantages of the 66 – 68 degree head angle that you recommend for a bike with 27.5 wheels and 5 inches of travel?

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi David,

      Great question! In the past most mountain bikes had 69.5-72 degree head angles which are absolutely terrifying to descend on. Slacker head angles make descending much less scary and more fun (the wheel is further out in front of you giving you a bigger sweet spot (where you weight is on the pedals) and a more stable wheel base (longer). These head angles do make climbing super steep hills (the ones 99% of riders walk) a little harder but with good climbing technique you will not be held back by slack head angle. To give you an idea of how important head angle is my downhill bike has a 63 degree head angle! 66-68 is a great compromise between ideal descending and ideal climbing (and for slower speed riding than dh racing, trying to do an uphill switchback on a 63 degree head angle bike would be tough!).

      I hope this has helped! Create a stable, fun ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  4. L.R. says:

    As someone who’s been riding for two seasons and is pining for a new bike I recently learned one thing: renting a demo bike is an incredibly good investment. I was obsessed with a certain bike for months then had a chance to rent it for a day. I learned that it was an awesome bike, but not for me. For $70 I saved 7000 AND I got to try a 2×10 for the first time as well as an adjustable fork. $70 very well spent.

    Thanks for your articles, am a huge fan.

    Cheers

    L.R.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi L.R.,

      Good job on saving the $7,000! Remember a few things when testing a new bike: 1. Any different will feel weird! Doesn’t mean it is wrong, it is just different from what you are used to (and who knows, what you are used to might be wrong). 2. Bike set up drastically affects how a big will ride (stem length, handlebar width, tire type, tire pressure, suspension set up, etc).

      For more on getting the most out of a test ride check out this article: http://betterride.net/?p=2885

      Find the right bike for you,

      Gene

      Reply
  5. Mike Power says:

    Great article! I love my SB95C for my everyday riding and the Enduro racing I do. A Mach 6 is next on my build list and I anticipate there being some races where I will prefer it to the Yeti, but as of right now I couldn’t be happier with the 95C. I have the fork at 140, giving me a head angle of 67.5. I’m 5’8″ and 210 lbs and only in the tightest switchbacks do I have a hard time muscling the 29er to where I want it to go. The other 99% of the time I point, shoot, and let her RIP!

    Reply
  6. DJ VAGNETTI says:

    Hello Gene,

    I am fairly new to MTB, I am an engineer/hydrologist and I live in Puerto Rico. There are 2 reasons why I chose to try MTB now that I am 38.
    1- I used to play tennis since I was 7 to about 25 very close to a professional level but I have one flat foot and the other normal, at a young age it did not really mattered, I was actually faster than the average. As I got heavier and older it started to hurt, to the point of not been able to run for more than 20 minutes and I had to give up all sports that involved running. I remembered that in training, everybody hated the stationary bikes, except me. I loved it and could stay spinning for hours with no pain at all.
    2-As a professional hydrologist I got closer and closer to the natural environment; rivers, lakes, dams, streams, channels, etc. While working I saw many times guys on these strange bikes having fun. I thought that I should give it a try. I am 5′-11″ and I am riding a 2013 Tallboy Carbon medium. It turned out that it was more physically demanding than I thought. I googled some forums and found James Wilson training programs which I am starting to practice. The next step is to enroll in one of your skills camps. I hope that I am fitter by that time. Please suggest me a location on the east coast or not farther than central time, late winter 2013 to spring 2014. I am going to be there for sure! In the meantime any suggestions are welcome since we do not have a season down here. Actually, we get the best weather during the winter, no humidity, 70 degrees, sunshine, no rain and no work for more than a month. So, if you plan to have a camp down here some time in the near future make sure is during the winter. From Thanksgiving to Valentine Day the Caribbean is awesome. It could also be a good double purpose visit for the people that surf and those that would like to ride their bikes during the off-season. My email is djvagnetti@gmail.com

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Great to hear DJ! I will forward your email to our operations director as we would love to do a camp in Puerto Rico! One of our students in an Austin camp this spring is from Puerto Rico (lives in Texas now) and had great things to say about the weather, people and riding, I would love to visit/coach a camp there!

      As for camps near you the closest one would be in Miami on Dec. 27-29 (please email us before registering for this one, info@betterRide.net) or Charleston, SC 11/15-17, our calender can be found here: https://betterride.mycustomevent.com/ShoppingCart.aspx

      Hope to see you in a camp soon,

      Gene

      Reply
  7. todd papianou says:

    I tested the 29ers before $$ jumping on that train. Now its my go to bike for most riding.
    The first thing I did was made a list of certain rides that had either a difficult section that I usually walked or a section I would call a 50/50 section that I could do most of the time but I needed all my skill and endurance to solve it.
    I then went to those sections with a 29er and tried to clean them.. one by one I checked them off the list and made some ussumptions reality.. Efficiency was the rule of the day after realizing how good the rolling resistance is of the extra wheeel hieght.. only draw back I found was how i approach certain burms and cornering… by changing body position and becoming more compact I can compensate for the extra wheel base and length of the bike .. Now owning a SALSA HORSE THIEF thnks to extra demo time at NEMBA FEST Kingdom Trails Vermont..

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Todd,

      Funny, I did kind of the same thing with my Evo 29r. It felt definitely like cheating when climbing technical climbs! I cleaned sections that I am 50/50 on when riding my 26″ and easily made them on the 29r! Basically here in Arizona it simply is a better bike. However, I spent most of the summer in BC and there it just felt cumbersome on many of the trails. I’m going to 27.5!

      Sounds like you have found the winning bike for you though, congrats! Enjoy Knight’s and the crew’s work at Kingdom trails!

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  8. Andy says:

    Hey Gene,

    What do you think of the 27.5 front/ 26 rear combination? I understand that it would slack out the front a bit more and raise the BB, but I’m curious as to how this would ride.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi Andy,

      Personally I think bikes with a larger front wheel defeat the purpose of 27.5 or 29r. The whole idea is that they roll better, especially when it comes to rolling over things. It is very easy to effortlessly “manual” or wheelie the front wheel over obstacles (I mean with almost zero energy, no pulling up on the bars, no upper body strength used at all) and lifting the rear wheel is also just as effortless and easy but sometimes (such as when g’ing out in a ditch) it is impossible to lift the rear wheel. With this in mind I don’t see a huge advantage by doing it.

      However, you sound like you are talking about putting a 27.5 on the front of your current 26r bike. In this case that will work, some downhill racers have been doing this. As you mentioned it raises the bb (approx .25 of an inch as most 27.5 tires are closer to 27) and will slacken the head angle (approx. .5 of a degree). The geometry difference would be hard to really feel but it should roll over (without lifting the front wheel) things a little better and carry a little more momentum. In short, as long as you have room in your fork I don’t see any harm in this and it might just wake you bike up!

      If you do this please tell us how it feels after 3-4 days of riding it.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply
  9. jason dubin says:

    I recently bought the new Ibis Mojo HDR 650B and I have to say it is by far the BEST riding bike that I have ever thrown a leg over! I have owned XC and Am 26″ and HT 29ers. I used to primarily ride my HT 29er until it cracked. I then finally recieved this bike and Have been loving every minute of it. Everything I have read about the 27.5 is true. You can feel it! I am re building a HT 29er (niner air 9) , but will most likely reserve it for racing only. I am riding the HDR just as fast, if not faster than the Kona King Kahuna scandium 29er I was on before.
    I am SOLD on 650B Fo’ Shizzle!!!!

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Jason, that is one of the bikes that is very high on our list of great all-round mtbs. Thanks for letting us know how you feel about it!

      Keep enjoying your ride,

      Gene

      Reply
  10. A D says:

    Great article as I’m struggling to determine my next bike. I’ve pretty much decided on a Devinci Troy which falls right in the middle of the do everything category in your article. I’m attending a camp next wait and I can’t wait. I may not be able to get all of the components that I want day 1, but I figured improving my riding will go a lot further in making me ride better vs a few different components. Do you have any advice on bike fit? I’m 5’10 with a 32″ inseam so I’m right in the middle between a medium and a large. I was going to ask some of these questions at the camp, but I’d like to get my bike ordered this month. I’ve typically heard to go smaller if you are between sizes, but based on the setup articles it sounds like I may want to go with the large and ~50mm stem. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
    • Gene says:

      Hi A D,

      I would definitely go with the large and a 35mm or 50mm stem. I feel that all riders should move up a size and go with a 35-50mm stem with the possible exception of going from a L to an XL as at least in my case the XL was just too big for the trail (feels great going in a straight line on smooth surfaces, but too big for corners and rocky technical sections). You will have a bigger “sweet spot” where your weight is on the pedals and the bike will be more stable but still easy to maneuver.

      Love your attitude! We are looking forward to coaching you.

      Cheers,

      Gene

      Reply

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