What wheel size I should use for MTB bike?

What wheel size I should use 27.5” or 29”? 26” – a thing of the past?

Let’s start by saying that point of view depends on where you stand. That might be a cliché, but nevertheless it’s also true with the choice of wheel size. Ask anybody who ride on 29” and you can be quite sure to hear that this is the best option, ask someone with 26” wheels 😉  and you will hear similar answer, only the praise will go to old good 26”. Other people might tell you that size doesn’t matter, but is it really true? Years are passing by and we still do not have a definitive answer to this question. So, let’s do some brainstorming and tackle this problem from more practical perspective with only a pinch of theoretics. Shall we begin?

Our decision depends on three factors:

  • what kind of terrain are you going to ride – downhill, more technical enduro trails, or perhaps many miles of dedicated bicycle paths?
  • what is your riding style – do you prefer slower pace, or do you consider yourself as speed demon?
  • what is your height – short people tend to have problems with heavier/bigger equipment.

26" wheels

26” wheel is indeed becoming a thing of the past with one last application being a dirt/street bike. Bikes with such wheels can also be find among older, mostly second-hand downhill bikes in the category “quality bikes up to 1000£”. For sure you understand how rare it became, if you have ever been forced to look for 26” tubes among your friends or on parking lot next to the trails – a wild goose chase if you ask me! Of course, we are still able to buy parts for these bikes (26” wheels and tires, dampers) and they are cheaper for that matter, but when you think about a new frame or bike you have to forget about 26”. Most bike companies and manufacturers withdrew 26” mountain bikes from their offers few years ago. This kind of MTB had always been and still is a great fun with most potential for jumps and tricks, perfect for dirt jumping, but will it be any good for everyday riding?

27,5" wheels

Do not fear my friend, here comes our saviour – the most universal wheel in bike industry the 27.5” AKA 650b. When comparing to 26”, you will feel the difference from the very beginning. This wheel is big enough to provide smaller angle of rolling over obstacles, what in turn guarantees better, faster, and more comfortable riding. At the same time, it is small enough to maintain good manoeuvrability and flexibility of the whole construction, which – in combination with proper technique – can be valuable advantages when jumping and on more technically challenging trails. Mountain bikes with 27.5” wheels are readily available in any bike shop and every producer has them in their offer. This type of bike is in fact the foundation of present-day MTBs. Trail MTBs, enduro bikes, city bikes – the choices are endless. The truth is that today you will not find an enduro bike on wheels smaller than 27.5”, and some producers (e.g. Specialized) tend to shift away towards bigger size so 29”. That’s the trend we observe in the biking industry over the last couple of years. Yes, right, but what about the people who say that even this interim size, 27.5” wheel, seems too big for them. Let’s relax and think about this for a minute. If we choose the right size of frame, 27.5” wheels won’t cause any problems, even for people shorter than 5.6 ft, and the bike itself will do nicely in any type of terrain. If so, why anyone would want more?

29" wheels

29” MTBs are most often chosen by professional riders, for whom most important factors are speed and time performance. This size of wheel is the preferred choice of world travellers commuting by bicycle and road cyclists where speed is the most important criterion. This type of wheel is also a perfect fit for well-known MTB marathons, as well as for downhill trails, if only the rider can handle such big wheels. They are perfect for maintaining the pace, smoothly overcoming any obstacles, but due to big size and inferior manoeuvrability, bike with such wheels is not a universal choice. 29” wheel is just so… big and heavy. And you will feel that on the trail for sure! It is even more true for people shorter than 5.6 ft.

For the undecided ones who do not feel intimidated by big wheels, there is an interesting alternative called Mullet bikes where front wheel is bigger than rear. Currently you can find this type of bike in portfolio of NS Bikes, who offers hybrid models, such as Define. Combination of big 29” wheel in the front and smaller 27.5” wheel in the back guarantees good rolling in uneven terrain and optimal manoeuvrability of the whole construction. But that’s only one of many options – if you want your biking dreams to come true, we are here for you.

You see, our Bike Builders team is really crazy about two-wheels, and for this very reason we offer custom machines – bikes built exactly to fit the rider’s preferences and expectations to bring him or her 100% joy of riding. So, if you are not sure, what you want to change in your bike, or if it’s time to buy a new model, you can count on our help. We specialize in custom-built bikes, but in our offer, you will also find second-hand MTBs, which we put our work and effort into, so they are just as new ones 😉.

To summarize, each wheel size has its advantages and disadvantages. This article was aimed at showing you in more practical terms, what outdoor conditions are optimal for each type of wheel, so that the rider can utilize its whole potential. If you cannot decide, try focusing on your individual needs, riding style and most importantly – type of terrain you are going to ride in. Remember that not only wheels are of importance, but also frame appropriately matched to rider’s height and weight. Last but not least, we should think about right amortization, since bigger wheel requires less of it than smaller, 26” wheel. Before you make these important decisions, it is best to test the bike on trails. If you are from UK, the best (and fun) option might be to visit a bike park with bike rental place, such as Cannock Chase or Forest of Dean, and test the MTB of your choice during whole-day ride.