The Advantages of Riding 27.5″ Wheels

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For years, buying a mountain bike was simple. The frames were metal, the suspension was in the front (if at all), and the wheels were 26″. Then, along with amazing changes in the materials, suspension technology and components, a new wheel size was introduced. Measuring 29″, this new beast was coined “the 29er.”

This larger wheel provided more efficiency, better traction and a smoother ride, but at the cost of increased weight and compromised handling. And now, as if this wasn’t complicated enough, another wheel size has been introduced and widely adopted by all of the major brands. The 27.5″ wheel, aka the 650B.

I’ve had the good fortune to ride 26″ and 29″ wheeled bikes extensively, and a recent trip to the Chilcotin Mountains of B.C. gave me and a crew of friends the perfect opportunity to put a fleet of 27.5″ bikes to the test and see if the mountain bike holy grail of wheel size has finally been found.

27.5″ versus 26″ Wheels

Why Ride 27.5"

A larger wheel rolls over obstacles more easily than a smaller wheel due to what’s referred to as a decreased “angle of attack.” On a mountain bike, this translates into a smoother ride, uphill or down.

Why Ride 27.5"

Larger wheels hold more speed than smaller wheels due to rotational inertia, making the 27.5″ a faster ride than a conventional 26″ wheel. Once you get moving, it’s easier to stay moving.

Why Ride 27.5"

A larger wheel provides better traction due to a larger contact patch, or more simply, the larger wheel means more rubber is touching the ground. This is a huge advantage for maintaining grip on rugged trails.

Why Ride 27.5"

Larger-wheeled bikes are more stable than smaller-wheeled bikes due to the longer wheelbase and the position of the cranks relative to the axles.

27.5″ versus 29″ Wheels

Why Ride 27.5"

The primary complaint about 29″ bikes is that they don’t handle well. The 27.5″ wheel size allows bike designs that are far more playful and dynamic to ride.

Why Ride 27.5"

Smaller riders have had a hard time finding 29ers that fit well. The 27.5″ size doesn’t require nearly as drastic a change from the geometry of 26″ bikes, meaning that there are a lot of great 27.5″ options for smaller riders.

Why Ride 27.5"

On a mountain bike, weight is the enemy. A 29″ bike is heavy compared to a 26″ bike. The 27.5″ platform offers up to 2 pounds of overall weight savings over the 29er.

Why Ride 27.5"

Frame stiffness translates into better acceleration, cornering and overall handling. A 29″ bike is significantly more flexible due to the elongation of the frame and flex inherent in the larger wheel size. A 27.5″ bike brings back a lot of the snappy feel of the 26″ system, while still maintaining the benefits that come with a larger wheel.

Conclusion

In recent years, I’ve experienced rides where my good times on a 26″ bike were tempered by the fact that riders were constantly pulling away from me on 29ers despite my best efforts to keep up. I’ve also experienced rides where my efficient pedaling on a 29er was offset by the feeling that I can only compare to trying to take my mom’s ’70s road bike off of the jump I built in the front yard.

And my experiences on a 27.5″? Pure bliss. Climb like a mountain goat, cruise like a racing yacht and descend like a banshee. The 26″ and 29″ wheels still have their place, but for my money, at 27.5″ my next bike will be not too big, not too small. It’ll be just right.

  • ChiChiChiba

    Every time I climb aboard my Cannondale Flash 29er, I am disappointed with handling. 29ers just don’t change direction! They lack precision. Instead of tracking smoothly around corners they tend to high side, that is they straighten out. Takes some getting used to.

  • edwallace

    The 27.5 aka 650b wheel has been around for years it’s a European size just now coming into se in he states

    • SamWayneSmith

      Lots of 28s or 700s in Holland.

  • That’s What’s Up

    Size Queen !

  • PL1

    Nice pics….. Another mountain biking spot to add to my “must ride some day” list.
    I have ridden 26″ and 29″ wheels and everything in the article is correct. I want to add that a 29 ‘er is pretty clumsy riding on tight trails in the trees of the Pacific NW & BC. A 3″ increase in wheel diameter, plus tire wall height doesn’t seems like much but it does make significant difference to handling.
    Many of the Enduro / long travel XC bike designs were early adopters of the 29″ wheel size and have backed off to the 27.5″ wheel size. It’s also called a 650B because that’s the metric measurement.

  • http://socialentrepreneurship.change.org/actions/view/twenty-first_century_metric_america_in_your_state BeholdersEye

    What’s this bs 27.5? It’s 700 mm….

  • Beehivelimo.com

    Good article thanks, plan on acquiring new bike and now a 27.5 in future.

  • dotgov

    My specialized 29′ Comp Carbon stumpjumper handles great and after upgrading the wheels to Mavic SLR and going tubless I dont feel that the weight penalty of the 29″ wheel is a issue. I ride a 19″ frame and cant imagine riding anything other than the 29r on a hardtail. Especially here in Utah where there are a lot of hard packed trails full of roots and rocks that poke out everywhere. The angle of approach advantag of the 29r makes the trails feel so smooth. Ive even been thinking of ditching the front fork for a Niner RDO rigid because the wheels take to the terrain so well.

  • G Cody

    I only ride park.. keep your xc and your 650b!

    • William Noah

      isn’t that special…

  • http://www.rei.com/ REI

    Need specific advice? Our customer service representatives can help you safely outfit your gear. Call 1 (800) 426-4840 or visit REI.com to live chat with a representative.

    • quaybon

      So, there was an ulterior motive to this article: to advertise your business.

  • DiscoHarvey

    I thought size didn’t matter… Lied to again. I blame the liberal media.

  • William Noah

    I enjoy my 93 M2000 it makes these Louisiana roads smooth but will check out 27.5. Thanks for the review.

  • Max Smith

    Blah blah blah…..27.5/650b is like drinking lite beer. It’s not really beer.

  • chrisnfolsom

    What about a 29 in the back and a 27.5 up front? The frame could make up the diff…

  • quaybon

    The industry is force-feeding these changes to make more money. I still prefer 26″ wheels for several reasons, but new bikes no longer provide that option. I’m 5-7, so these new wheel sizes do require a change in geometry. Try finding a 17.5″ frame anymore.

  • Amy

    I’d like more specs, Specifically how many more square inches is the ‘contact patch’? How much easier is it to say moving over the 26″ ? How much more stable is the bike with larger wheels, How much heavier is the 27.5 over the 26? How much longer is the wheel base? Look I hate to dis your article, but it seems completely subjective here and I suspect the margins are so small most would hardly notice the difference between 26 and 27.5. If you want pure bliss on a bike, find one that fits you well or is lighter or stiffer. Whatever the direction is you need. I highly doubt switching to 27.5 wheels will make a bit of difference to most people.

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  • Ivagoc

    Im getting a fully in 27.5 in a couple of weeks, excited to know if i will like it since currently i own a fully in 26 and hardtail in 29, keep you posted.

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