Choosing mountain bike wheels used to be easy and wasn’t worth worrying about, the best mountain bikes had 26-inch wheels and that was pretty much that, you didn’t question it. It didn’t matter if you were riding a cheap mountain bike or a fully loaded ride 26-inches was considered the “standard” wheel size in the mountain bike industry.
Sure there are different mountain bike wheel sizes and they have been around since to dawn of biking but for some reason they never gained traction with mountain bikers. However, that is all starting to change, mountain bike companies are now pushing various wheel sizes to the masses. Modern day mountain bike wheels can be readily found in 26”, 29” (29er), 650b (27.5”) and 69er specifications.
Now buying a mountain bike has become whole lot harder, and new riders might be left wondering exactly which mountain bike wheels to choose. If this sounds like you keep on reading because in this article I am going to explain the different types of mountain bike wheels. So if you are a casual rider, an avid hill climber or someone in-between I’m sure there is a wheel for you.
Does Size Matter with Mountain Bike Wheels?
Choosing the right size of wheel for you bike can mean the difference between a smooth ride or a bumpy ride and can improve overall handling. Are you a 26, a 27 or a 29er kinda of guy? Let’s take a look at the real differences in how mountain bike wheel sizes ride and which one is the best size for you?
✓ 26-Inch Bike Wheels
This is the old favorite that embraced nearly all of the best mountain bikes in the past and it still has a lot going for it. For starters, the 26-inch rims combined with the shorter spokes means the wheel scan be made lighter and are more responsive than other larger wheel sizes. The 26-inch wheel is also stiffer too which is why this size of bike wheel is still a favorite among downhill riders.
However, because 26-inch wheels have a steeper angle and drop into holes easier because of their size they lose speed more than bigger wheels in the rough terrain. Also they do not offer as much grip and stability when compared to the larger 27-nch and 298-inch alternatives.
✓ 27.5-Inch (650b) Bike Wheels
One of the main advantages of 27.5-inch wheels is that they’re significantly faster to accelerate and easier to flick around and control than a bigger 29er wheel. With 27.5-inch wheels there is less steering inertia as well as flex in the overall handling too which helps to make for a more balanced and responsive ride.
27.5-Inch (650b) bike wheels are the best bike wheel size for anyone looking to upgrade from 26-inch wheels but doesn’t want to go as big as the 29er. They roll over rugged and rough terrain more smoothly and grip a lot better than the than 26in equivalents (although not quite as well as 29-inch wheels).
✓ 29-Inch (29er) Bike Wheels
The 29er bike wheel size is the latest must have size of wheel on your mountain bike. They offer a completely new feel when compared to the smaller 26-inch bike wheels. However, because 29er bike wheels are larger they tend to be heavier and harder to get moving. Once you get moving the 29-inch wheels hit the rough terrain at a shallower angle and combined with more momentum they roll over rocks and roots easier.
The larger surface contact the 29er wheels provide means that they grip better or for the open road you can use speedier, slicker, rubber without slipping.
How to Choose the Right Mountain Bike Wheel Size?
Ok, so what is the right wheel size for you and your riding? To be honest the biggest question now is should you even consider buying a 26-inch wheel. The smallest wheel size is still the strongest but if you are not going to be hurling yourself down a mountain side the 27.5-inch (650b) is going to be the better option for most of you reading this.
The 27.5-inch (650b) is where the current fork, wheel, and frame development is now focused by the big name bike manufactures. The 27.5-inch (650b) wheel size offers the best of both worlds for all riders buying a bike, particularly those who are after maximum fun and versatility from their mountain bike.