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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.