Wheel size has been one of the hottest issues in the mountain bike industry.
It all started with 24-inch wheels back in the early ‘90s. And then made its way to the 26ers we’re all familiar with. They’re playful, but they’re slowly being phased out by bike manufacturers these days.
Then came the 27.5-inch and the more recent 29ers. These two-wheel sizes create a fuss in the industry because people prefer one over the other. They even have their own cult base these days! So, what size do you really need?
In this article, we’re going to answer the age-old question of “What size mountain bike wheels do I need.” We’ll also give some tips on how to know the right size for you.
Mountain bike disciplines that use 26er wheels
26-inch wheels are already phased out by many bike manufacturers. Many people even call them obsolete. But they’re still present in other mountain bike disciplines such as dirt jump.
Dirt jump mountain biking is all about doing tricks in mid-air while jumping. Riders will benefit from the small 26-inch wheels. They’re lighter, more maneuverable, and more playful.
Trial mountain biking is doing tricks on urban environments. Examples of these are bunny-hopping on benches, park tables, and gutters. You can check out Danny MacAskill’s YouTube videos to see what trials are all about.
It’s easier to jump from one platform to another with 26-inch wheels. They’re lighter, more nimble, and have lower chances of error. Also, note that there are also trials bikes which have 24-inch wheels. They also don’t have any seat post and saddle.
What are the benefits of 26er wheels?
One of the biggest benefits of 26-inch wheels is their agility. You can do anything you like with them because they have a smaller wheel diameter.
You can easily hit corners and twist and turn through flow sections with 26ers. Maneuverability is also excellent with 26ers because they can easily turn.
Another agreeable thing about 26ers is that they’re playful. This is ideal for mountain bikers who love to do tricks on jumps and drops.
Whipping on tabletops and giving steeze on jumps is easier with the smaller 26-inch wheels. This is what you need if you’re the kind of rider who wants to have fun on their mountain bike.
The small 26-inch wheels of 26ers have faster acceleration compared to 27.5 and 29ers. You’ll surely have a jump-start advantage on the initial start of the race with these. This happens because the wheels can easily turn as soon as you pedal.
What are the downsides of 26er wheels?
Unstable on high-speed sections
26ers are small wheels, which is why they are not very stable on high-speed sections. They can easily wobble and lose momentum because the smallest obstacles can slow them down.
An example is when the bike slows down once it hits a small root or rock on high-speed sections. You’ll have a rougher ride with 26ers compared to the larger wheel sizes.
Small rollover clearance
You’ll also have a bit of a problem with rollover clearance because bumps can easily soak up your wheels. 26ers have a small rollover clearance because they occupy a small portion of the ground. They have a smaller ground contact, which makes them prone to toppling over.
What makes 27.5 mountain bike wheels popular?
27.5-inch wheels are currently the most popular wheel size. This is because they are versatile and can fit anyone.
You can use them for tricks and style. And you can also use them for mountain bike racing. They might not be the most playful or nimble. But they also have a good balance between ground contact and maneuverability.
There’s no doubt that 26ers are more playful than 27.5-inch wheels. But this doesn’t mean that they’re no fun to ride. You can still easily do whips and tricks on jumps. They’re heavier than their smaller counterparts.
27.5-inch wheels can overcome any trail obstacles. You don’t even have to turn around and find another line because you can smash through them. Just don’t expect it to be buttery smooth compared to the larger rim found on 29ers.
When do you need 29er wheels?
If you race
29ers are an easy decision if you race. They’re the perfect choice for racers because they are very fast once you’ve gained momentum. You won’t have any problem reaching your time goal if you have a 29er.
If you prefer straight lines
Another agreeable thing about 29ers is you don’t have to turn and find other lines. This makes them great for racing. You can just smash your way through huge rocks or roots and don’t have to go around them regardless of your weight. This saves you lots of time!
If you want huge ground clearance
You also don’t have to worry about ground clearance. Remember that 29ers have a 29-inch wheel diameter. This means that there’s a very low chance your rims, spokes, frame, or bottom bracket will hit rocks or roots on the ground when riding.
If you like huge rolling capabilities
Rollover large rocks and roots. You don’t even have to jump drops because you can just roll over them!
What Size Mountain Bike Wheels Do I Need: Conclusion
Most, if not all high-end mountain bikes these days have 29-inch wheels.
This covers almost all mountain bike disciplines such as:
There are even brands that don’t any more produce 27.5-inch wheels, let alone 26ers! Bigger wheels are the trend, and it’s safe to expect that this will be the case in the foreseeable future.
So, what size mountain bike wheels do I need?
It all depends on you! But we recommend you go for 27.5-inch wheels, or even better, 29ers.