Wheel size, wheel size, and wheel size. That seems to be the buzz around the bike industry these days. Six-inch travel 29ers, 650b… or err… is it 27.5 wheels, and the coveted, classic 26 inch wheels are a hot brimming topic that we can’t escape. More and more brands are diversifying their range to accommodate for all the new wheel sizes. Consumers now have more choices than ever when it comes to discipline of mountain biking they prefer and the right wheel size to go along with that. I had the chance to ride a new bikes with the big wheels, so here is my 27.5-inch mountain bike wheel review.
What’s The Deal With Big Wheels?
Big wheels, specifically 29-inch wheels, do roll faster. This has been proven by a couple of nerds with sweet computers and testing equipment in Nastola, Finland. Actually, these nerds are pretty smart and figured out all sorts of cool stuff. So yes, it’s true; wheels with a larger diameter will roll faster. I haven’t seen any specific research for 27.5-inch wheels (also called 650b), but by the powers of deduction, I conclude that 27.5-inch will roll faster than a conventional 26-inch wheel. Awesome! Your tire also has a larger footprint on ground, providing more stability and traction. Also awesome!
Larger wheels also affect the geometry of the bike, making it ride as if it has a slacker head tube angle. This is due to the ability of larger wheels to roll over rough terrain easier. So engineers can play with the head tube angle to optimize handling while also making the bike stable on the descents.
This 27.5-inch ‘tweener’ wheel size has been largely set aside for the trail bike market, which is exploding, and hasn’t ventured too much to any sort of cross-country platform. Cross-country bikes need to go fast uphill, and designers like to keep their athletes rolling on the bigger 29er wheels for the podiums sake. So if you’re looking for a new cross-country bike, your choices are most likely going to be limited to 29er wheels.
Riding 27.5 Wheels
The Santa Cruz Bronson I rode definitely felt different. I could feel the bike roll faster, especially uphill. However, due to some smart engineers in the bicycle world, the bike handled a lot like a 26-inch bike. The bottom bracket heights are all the same, chain stays are similar lengths, and seat tube angles and head tube angles are all very similar to traditional bikes. You get the benefit of the faster rolling tire and enhance traction. The wheels still feel lively and fun on the descents and the climb definitely felt faster. The bike handled a lot like a 26-inch bike and didn’t feel terribly different.
However, it isn’t only about the wheels. A Santa Cruz is going to pedal and ride differently from a Specialized or Giant regardless of the wheel size due to differences in suspension configurations and other factors like frame materials.
All in all I determine that 27.5-inch wheels are great! The Bronson rolled faster and handled great. 27.5-inch wheels definitely have their place in the trail bike market. Though they are trickling onto more and more downhill bikes. But you won’t find them on dirt jumpers or cross-country race bikes any time soon.
I still don’t think the 27.5 wheels were that different from 26-inch wheels. Yes, I could roll over terrain better and faster, but not to the extent that the new wheel size deserves a ton of praise. The handling only felt marginally different, and once I learned to truly ride the bike, it felt more or less the same as the 26-inch bike I have been riding for some time.
If you’re on the edge and are looking for a significant advantage, make sure you try out 26, 27.5 and 29-inch wheeled bikes. Demoing a bike before you buy it is key to making sure that it is the right bike for the type of riding you like to do.
By Paul Boyle, Marketing and Ecommerce