Buying a bike used to be easy. You just went to your friendly neighborhood bike shop and picked one you like. But today, with so many types of bikes to choose from, picking one that suits you seems to have become much harder.
This is especially true in the world of mountain biking where new stuff gets unveiled and marketed almost every day. 29ers used to be cool. 29ers were once the hipster anti-mainstream enfant terrible of the mountain biking universe. But nowadays bikes with 29-inch wheels are more often seen as “the establishment.” Like all rebellions that became all too successful, the 29er movement seems to have lost its aura of defiant nonconformism. It is now the mainstream.
Now it seems that 27.5 inch wheels or 650b is where the action’s at. Bike manufacturers are betting big on 27.5, with Giant even putting all its eggs in the 650b basket. So what’s the hype all about?
Since I don’t actually own a 27.5 bike, I asked a friend of mine who recently made the switch to this format about his thoughts on the matter. Like every other mountain biker, Bong started with a 26er. Last year he made the switch to a 29er bike. And now he also owns a 27.5er. There’s also hardly a week when Bong isn’t hitting the trails of Timberland, so he knows his stuff.
Slacker: So what’s the big deal about 27.5?
BM: For some time before I actually built one, I often read articles that in effect state the following: It’s supposed to have the rolling capability of a 29er and still retain the agility of 26er. It should also be easier to pedal because of the smaller wheel diameter compared to 29er.
I’m 5 6.5’ not tall by US and Euro standards, and so it also seemed that 650b or 27.5 might be a better fit for my height compared to 29.
Slacker: What convinced you to buy a 27.5 bike?
BM: I wasn’t really intent on building a 27.5 bike. After riding the new Green Zone at Timberland San Mateo several times on my 29er with varying success on the switch backs, I figured maybe a smaller wheel size would be a better choice. I wanted smaller wheels when riding technical trails like the Green Zone, or tracks like those at Filinvest Alabang. I wanted to build a 26er for XC races.
When I went to canvas for a 26 inch frame at my “suki” bike shop, they didn’t have a 26 inch frame anymore. So I ended up building a 27.5 XC using a Vision 650b hard tail frame. I transferred SLX group set and the Epicon fork which was lowered to 80mm so that it would feel like 100mm with the 27.5 wheel set.
Slacker: Are you keeping the 29er? Why?
BM: After stripping the group set and fork from the 29er to transfer to the 17.5, I purchased a rigid fork and was able to rebuild my 29er from spare parts that I had kept. Will I keep the 29er? Yes I will, first for the practical reason. I have 2 teenage boys, and they said they want to join me on my bike rides. This leaves us just one bike short, and I’m planning to buy a built bike 27.5 too. The other reason is because the Vision 650b 27.5 is configured for XC race and that is where I will use it. If a ride is 80% trail, 20% road, or 100% trail, I will use my 27.5.
If it will be 50% road, 50% trail I’ll use my 29er. If it’s going to be an epic, long ride like Sierra Madre loop, or rides that will involve the likes of Kennon Road, Ambuklao, Benguet province and the north, I will still use my 29er.
Slacker: Where have you ridden your 650b, and how does the ride differ from your previous bikes?
BM: I’ve used 650b mainly for training at Maarat, for the 7-Eleven Trail 1000. In fact you can say that I built it for that purpose. The race kind of expedited the project. I joined 3 recon rides before the 7-11 race. On the first one, I used my 29er. On the second track read I used the 27.5. For the third track read I just changed front tire of the 27.5 from SB8 to Slant 6 to get more front wheel traction. I loved the ride and feel after the third recon on the 27.5.
When I used to ride a 26er, the one thing I hated about when riding technical trails (up or down), is that it tended to go to the places I didn’t want. It tended to veer towards deep sections of ruts. When climbing up technical ascents with lot of rocks and lose gravel, I would often dismount and just walk up and push the 26. When I shifted to 29er, I became more confident and braver when attacking technical ups and downs. On the 29, I could climb or descend what I use to dismount on my 26. So I sold the 26 frame, wheel and Fork. Now I believe I have keepers, one 29er for long distance and epic rides, one 650b for technical tracks/trails and races.
Slacker: 27.5 is supposed to be the perfect wheelsize for Enduro races and “all mountain” riding. Any thoughts on this?
BM: There may be some truth and logic to this since Enduro races have uphill and cross country sections where it would be easier to mash and pedal up with a smaller wheel size. For the more technical longer DH sections of an enduro race 27.5 will also offer better rolling and handling than a 26.
Slacker: You already have a road bike, a 29er cross country bike, and now this—isn’t that a bit excessive?
BM: I don’t think so, each one has its intended purpose. 29er for epic rides, 27.5 for XC races and technical trails, the road bike if I want to go all out speedy, peloton riding (which is also fun every Sunday at QC Circle), road bike also for duathlon races. So you see it’s not excessive at all, and all my bikes are, bang for the buck setups, and not high end rigs which cost thousands or hundreds of thousands per bike.
Slacker: Where do you plan to ride your 27.5 next and why?
BM: Helipad and the Licao trails, It’s been a while since I’ve been there. I remember going fast down from Helipad on my 29er, and so I also want to test the 27.5 there.
So there you have it–the low down on this new wheel size and bike frame format.
The emergence of 29ers and then of 650b’s led a lot of bikers to believe that 26er bikes will soon crash into the dustbin of history. More and more manufacturers are shunning the 26er format for 29ers and 650bs. But is the 26er really going the way of the penny farthing?
It seems that the conventional wisdom these days is that the mountain biking world is splitting into three very distinct disciplines with its own wheel size:
- 29ers are for cross country races and ‘epic’ rides (and tall riders)
- 26ers are for downhill and freeride (and not-so-tall riders daw)
- 27.5ers are for all mountain rides and enduro races (for anyone who feels that his height is just right hehe)
I myself am actually very interested in getting a 27.5 bike. The On One steel 45650b looks particularly appealing to me. It’s either that or I get a fullsus all mountain 26er bike for the rougher terrain.
And just to add to the confusion, Surly has announced a bike that blurs the lines between a 26er and a 27.5er. The new bike dubbed as the Instigator 2.0 has massive 2.75 inch tires on Surly 50mm Rabbit Hole rims which make for really big volume tires that almost approach fat-bike territory. Surly dubs the new bike as 26+ and says it has the total tire diameter of a 27.5 Surly adds that: “All this means you get loads of traction and cushion yet you can still accelerate like mad.”
So maybe the 26 is just evolving into something different.
But if you’re someone who is just getting into mountain biking, don’t let these things confuse you. In the end, it’s just you on a bike on a trail. Personally, I think what matters is not the size of your wheel or even the type of riding you do. It’s the size of the grin on your face when you’re out there riding.