Above photo: http://thepeopleofsantopoco.blogspot.sg

For those of us who had been mountain-biking for a while, the venerable 26 inch mountain bike has been around for the longest time and many honed their handling and riding skills on the 26 inch platform. Then about a decade ago, the very first 29 inch mountain bikes appeared which received a less than enthusiastic welcome to those who were so used to 26inch mountain bikes. Fast forward today, almost every bike company has a 29er model and improvements in ride geometry and availability of related accessories make it an irresistible choice for those considering a new mountain bike.

Another more recent trend (though not new) is the 27.5inch wheel size and some companies have been producing 27.5 specific models in the hope that it will take off and really start becoming popular.

So there are a few schools of thought to wheel sizes: Some say bigger is better (especially for 29ers which roll over everything on the trail) while others contend that a smaller wheel size means that the bike will be more agile on a very technical trail (the classic 26 inch mountain bike seems to be the winner here).

Well, to help our readers have an easier time in making a decision amongst the three wheel sizes, I summed it up in this chart:

Other factors to consider

What has been presented is a rather broad sweep of the various advantages and disadvantages of each of the 3 wheel sizes. Other useful things to consider apart from just the 3 wheel sizes and its characteristics are rider profile/characteristics and wheels/front suspension upgrade options.

Rider Profile/Characteristics

If you prefer a more ‘lively’ and ‘responsive’ ride, the 26 inch mountain bike will definitely be a good choice. However, the 26inch mountain bike would likely require more rider input to negotiate with the challenges in the terrain (good for training your bike handling skills, I suppose). In addition, the fact that the 26 inch mountain bike has been around so long means that there are plenty of choices and sizes out there in the market.

29ers have been fast gaining traction (pun intended) in recent years and will probably suit taller riders due to the frame geometry. Given the big wheel size, it will definitely have an edge on long descents and will be suited for long-distance event lovers.

The new old and ‘in-between’ wheel size of the 27.5inch may appeal to someone who wants the best of both worlds? It may also be helpful for those considering to ‘upgrade’ from the 26inch but do not want a sudden jump to the 29er.

Wheels/front suspension upgrade options

Well, there are no shortages of wheel and front suspension upgrade options when it comes to the 26inch platform. The 29er market may not be as comprehensive as the 26 inch but it is definitely catching up.

The more interesting question though, will be the current availability of the burgeoning 27.5 inch related wheels and front suspension. A quick research shows that major brands like Rockshox and Fox Racing Shox have a substantial range of 27.5 inch specific forks:
Rockshox 27.5 inch specific forks
-Pike RCT3
-Revelation RCT3
-SID XX (below left image)
-SID RCT3
-REBA RLT
-30 Gold TK
Above (Left to Right): The Rockshox SID XX & Fox 32 Float 27.5 100 FIT iCD
Photos: Rockshox & Fox Racing Shox
-32 Float 27.5 range (above right image)
-32 Talas 27.5 range
-40 Float 27.5
-40 27.5
On the topic of wheels, wheel/rim manufacturers have also noticed the potential of the upcoming 27.5 wheel standard. Brands like American Classic and Enve Composites currently have 3 models each for the 27.5 inch wheel size. Stan’s No Tubes has 4 models of 27.5inch wheel sets in their product range. Shimano has also a range of 27.5 inch wheel sets slated for release for 2014. Just a few weeks ago, Mavic introduced the Crossmax Enduro (below photo), the industry’s first enduro specific wheel and tire system, available only in 26 inch or 27.5 inch. The commitment by big companies with the likes of Shimano and Mavic can only mean that the 27.5 inch is here to stay.
Conclusion

While the classic 26 inch mountain bike is unlikely to fade away anytime soon, her 27.5 and 29er siblings present lots of viable alternatives for the mountain bike enthusiast/weekend warrior/racer. Apart from the various pros and cons each respective wheel sizes entail, it is also wise to consider the cyclists’ personal riding style/preference as well as the types of terrain the cyclist rides on. Last but not least, unless you really want to have plenty of upgrade options and convenience, do not underestimate the continued rise in the variety of aftermarket wheels and forks available in both the 29 and 27.5 inch segments.