Over the past year I have had some great opportunity’s to try out all three current mtb wheels sizes and here are my humble ramblings...
|image via www.bikerumor.com|
I have ridden modern MTB’s properly since 1992 and I have always been an early adopter to any new technical advances. My first full suspension bike was in 1993, admittedly it wasn’t that great and I went back to hard tail, but when Proflex nailed it with the 954 I never looked back.
When it came to wheel sizes I have never been anti, just I couldn't be bothered to invest in it. Changing wheels is not like fitting a suspension fork or a disc brake, to run bigger wheels you have got to change wholesale and getting bigger hoops was just not that important to me.
I first rode 650b in Lake Garda this year and to be honest the difference is not really detectable, the bike I rode had lousy tyres and a way too narrow handle bar (not to mention euro brakes) made more of a difference to the ride. I once actually measured the rolling diameter of my 26” summer tyres and they come up as big as XC style 650b tyres, so the difference is negligible. Still, the 650 hoop like for like is bigger and you (and I) may not care too much for that but for racers that are looking for marginal gains it could mean a second or two on a run.
|the 650b Pivot and cool fork decals...|
29” wheels are different, there is no getting away from it they are massive! Using this type of wheel causes manufactures headaches because of wheel base, rear travel, chain stay length and seat tube positioning. There are some modern bikes that have this sussed, the Transition Smuggler being one of them and this is the bike I have spent a lot of time on.
|Transition Smuggler 29"|
So what did I think? Well the 29” is the size I secretly didn’t want to like, but ended up absolutely loving it. 29’rs were always a little awkward and would take some modification of your riding style to get the most out of them. Not with the Smuggler, the bike is so natural you can just get on it and ride it quick. It just feels like a bike, not even overly tight switchbacks could upset it. I enjoyed it so much it made me really think about what I actually want out of a bike.
With the 650B bike the handling and playfulness of the bike is very similar to what you like about 26”, but you will benefit from the latest designs of suspension fork and tyres. If you are looking for a complete new bike it makes complete sense to go 650b as this is where all the development is going.
|26" bikes still rule|
I will say that if you want to keep running a 26" bike, don’t sweat it, full suspension bikes didn't kill hard tails and 650b won’t kill 26”. Spares won’t run out as the aftermarket potential is so huge manufactures will keep making parts if people want to buy them.
Interestingly I did some data comparisons using Stava with the 29 and 26” bikes on the same route, and the results were a little surprising. Now the data is strava so not highly accurate and I rode each bike a week apart, however the 26” bike was quicker on both the downhill, climb and a pedaly farm track! This was not what I was expecting as in certain sections I was convinced the 29 was quicker. To be absolutely sure I need to ride each bike immediately back to back to try and remove as many variables as possible.
|Fun is not always about speed and hard tails are massive fun!!!|
Riding all the wheel sizes have made me realize its about the wheels, its about the bike, the rider and the experiences you have. The bottom line is regardless of wheel size if it is a great bike the wheel size becomes almost irrelevant. I get just as much pleasure out of riding my hard tail as I did out of the full suspension 26/ 650b/ 29er, each bike has different attributes and can be enjoyed for what they are.
If I could pick a dream garage I would probably keep a 26” hard tail, a 650b enduro bike and a 29er trail bike. But to coin a phrase from MBR, just pick a wheel size and just get out and ride…