29er vs 26 inch Mountain Bike

Ending The Debate: 29er vs 650B (27.5) vs 26″ Mountain Bike

by Robb Sutton

With the widespread adoption of the 29er mountain bike in manufacturing and the mountain bike community, the growing debate of 29er vs. traditional 26″ mountain bikes is getting hot amongst riding groups. If you are in the market to upgrade your current mountain bike or get into the sport, your options are wider than ever which is a good thing for the sport but can be debilitating when looking to purchase a new rig.

Due to recent changes in the industry, the 650B mountain bike platform (also known as 27.5) has been growing in popularity. This article was originally written in 2011 and has now been updated to include the 650B wheel size. You can see the addition down below.

There is no “right answer” for every mountain biker, so let’s take a look at the 26″ vs. 650B vs. 29er mountain bike debate and see where it shakes out in my opinion. This topic is probably the most debated in the industry, so you will find that every rider has what they think is the right answer for you (typically what they bought).

The 29er Mountain Bike: What is the big deal?

Before we get into what will work best for you, let’s take a look at this larger wheel size and see how it affects the mountain bike in a general way.

What does a 29er do well?

  • Rolls over rocks and roots easier due to the wider circumference.
  • More distance covered per pedal revolution.
  • Higher air volume in tires smooth out ride.

The larger diameter wheels of the 29er mountain bike can create the sensation of having an 1″ more travel than the bike is spec’ed due to the larger air volume and larger contact patch with the ground. For this reason, it has become the go to size for much of the hard tail and shorter travel mountain bikes in the industry. The racing world has really embraced the larger wheels size for these benefits it brings to the trail.

What are the drawbacks of a 29er?

  • Large size equals larger weight.
  • Harder to maneuver in tight, twisty single track.
  • Longer travel (5.5″ and higher) 29ers feel REALLY big.
  • Sizing and geometry issues with smaller riders.
  • Larger radius needs stiff wheel build and fork to prevent deflection.

Just as with any big change, it is not all good news. While the true 29er zealots will probably tell you these things are not true, the reality is that you are adding bigger wheels to the mountain bike than traditional 26″, so there are going to be negative side affects that go along with the positive changes.

650B Mountain Bikes: What is different?

The 650B wheel size literally cuts the difference between the 29er and 26 wheel size in half at 27.5″. When you think about what the 650B platform in mountain biking does, it is actually pretty easy. It averages the strengths and weaknesses between the two sizes. You get some of the benefits of 29ers without the size and you get some of the nimbleness of 26 while increasing the ability to roll over objects.

What does a 650B (27.5) do well?

  • Rolls over rocks and roots easier due to the wider circumference over 26″.
  • More distance covered per pedal revolution.
  • Higher air volume in tires smooth out ride.
  • Brings a bigger wheel size to longer travel platforms.
  • At this time, 650B based frames, forks and tires are hard to come by (but that is changing quickly)

What are the drawbacks of a 650B?

  • Large size equals larger weight but lighter than an equivalent 29er.
  • Sizing and geometry issues if you are going to try to convert your 26 to 650B.
  • Larger radius needs stiff wheel build and fork to prevent deflection.

26″ vs. 650B vs. 29″ Wheels: Which is right for me?

When you are taking a look at the 26″ vs. 650B vs. 29er mountain bike, there are several personal questions you need to ask yourself as you make your decision. As with all things, there is no right answer that fits all people. How you ride your bike and how you want it to react is the most important factor when making this decision…not what your friend bought and says is the best.

So here is how I see it shake out…

How tall are you?

As the distance from your head to the ground increases, the 29er wheel size actually becomes more proportional to your size. Riders in the 6 foot and up crowd that are looking for a XC to light AM mountain bike should test ride a 29er just to see how they like it. You might find that it fits perfectly and you have finally found a bike that feels like it actually fits. Shorter riders in the 5’6″ range and lower will need to take a serious look at geometry and test ride different frames as they might find the bike feels too big or isn’t able to maneuver as well. I have known shorter riders that have loved the bigger wheel size, but that is typically in hard tail applications.

The 650B wheel size does an interesting thing in this situation. It can bring that proportion that the taller riders see down to mid level height riders in the mid 5 foot to 6 foot range. It can also bring a 29er like experience to shorter riders that are used to riding small bikes.

  • Taller Riders: Yes on 29er and 650B
  • Mid Height Riders: Yes on 29er, 650B and 26
  • Shorter Riders: Maybe/No on 29er; Yes on 650B and 26

How much travel are you looking for?

While the argument that a 29er “adds an inch” of travel is almost true in theory, there is a big difference in 140mm forks and 160mm forks in mountain biking. The thicker stanchions and construction make a huge difference for riders looking to get into the more technical side of riding. If you are in the market for a 140mm or 160mm travel mountain bike, a 120″ travel 29er is not going to give you that same stiffness and confidence from a bike build and component standpoint. Also, as you move up in travel the bike feels bigger and when you add in the larger wheel diameter, that gets multiplied and can hold you back in slow tech and DH situations.

However, if you are looking at lighter 130mm to 140mm travel 26″ mountain bikes and you are taller, the 120mm travel 29er might be a great option. It will roll over technical rocks and roots on most single track easier and you will still be able to keep the overall bike weight under 30 pounds in most cases.

The 650B platform is bringing thicker stanchion, longer travel forks to the bigger wheel market. It is almost as if 650B wheels were made specifically for “enduro” style riding.

In the short travel and hard tail mountain bike market, the 29er mountain bike has almost completely taken over. This recommendations are used in conjunction with the height recommendations above.

  • HT and 100mm travel and under: 29er or 650B
  • 120mm to 130mm: 29er or 650B
  • 140mm: 650B (27.5) or 26″
  • 150mm to 160mm: 650B (27.5) or 26″
  • 160mm+: 650B (27.5) or 26″
What type of trails do you ride?

As mentioned before, 29er mountain bikes do take more to maneuver through tight single track. If all of your riding is filled with tight turns in trees, you will want to try out a 29er on your own local trails before making a decision. On the other side of the spectrum, if your trails are more open and rocky, the 29er wheel size can really excel and bring more speed as you can hit sections faster.

Do a lot of racing and forest service road riding? A 29er is almost a no brainer in those situations. If you don’t believe me…just try to keep up with a 29er rider on a FSR. This adds up with the shorter travel and hard tail mountain bike market. Even 650B bikes will be no contest for a short travel 29er in these situations. If you are looking for a bike that will do a lot of things well and you ride a wide variety of trails (assuming you can only own one bike), the 650B platform might be a great “do it all” option.

  • Tight and twisty: 26″ and 650B
  • Open and rocky: 650B and 29er
  • Racing and FSR: 29er

What do I personally use? 29er or 26″ or 650B?

When I spec out my personal mountain bikes given trail conditions, this is how everything lays out for me personally given my specs. I would describe my riding style as technical/enduro. I like to find the nasty lines possible and make them ridable at speed. For this reason, I typically like to ride mountain bikes with big forks and more travel, but I also like to dip into the XC and race side every now and then as I have a background in those applications. At 6’1″ tall, I fall into the taller side of the sizing spectrum in between large and x-large. To fit my need to find all tech riding, I am on large size mountain bikes to keep the bike easier to move in slow tech.

  • Singlespeed and Hard Tails: 29er
  • Short Travel Race Bikes (100mm and under): 29er
  • Trail bike (140mm and 150mm): 650B
  • 160m+: 27.5″

As of right now, I have not found a 29er mountain bike that has been able to handle what I want to throw at a 140mm travel or higher mountain bike. It has not been agile enough and the 32mm stanchion forks mated with higher radius wheels are not built to withstand the abuse. Given the specs of 29ers, I do not see this changing for me as a rider.

On the shorter travel end, there are a lot of advantages of the larger wheel size that have made a couple of 29ers the fastest bikes I have ever ridden for those applications. I doubt if I will ever go back to 26″ wheels for anything under 140mm worth of travel. The 650B is almost completely tailored to the largest percentage of my riding and brings a larger wheel size without compromises to my ideal travel range at 140mm to 150mm. I get the benefits of a larger wheel without having to sacrifice geometry or stiffness of components. While 26″ would still be the choice for dedicated DH rigs, 650B is taking over trail bike duties while 29ers take up the XC side of things.

What is the right bike for you?

As you take a look at all of these specs, you have to look inward at your body type and riding style to see which wheel size will be the best option for you. There is no right option for everyone and the 29er wheel size is not going to take over the mountain biking industry like a lot of the Kool-Aid drinkers are trying to say. The larger wheel diameter does have some serious advantages in certain situations, but it also does not work for others.

The best option…test ride your top 26″ candidate on your local trail and the top 29er candidate if they are available. I would also swing a leg over a 650B bike to see if that platform works for you…especially in one mountain bike quiver situations. Although, at this point in time, that demo might be hard to line up.

If they aren’t, find the closest substitute. At the end of the day, you are the one making the investment in your mountain bike and you will be the one riding it…not everyone else that is trying to inject their opinion in your buying decision. There are a lot of riders that are going to scream that one platform is better than the other. The reality is that all riders are different and that is why we have so many options. Take an honest look at how you use your bike and what body type you are. This is the only way you will get the right wheel size for you while trying to ignore the fanbois.

2016 Update – The Death of the 26″ Wheel

As of 2016, the 26″ wheel is seeing its way to the “remember when” category. 27.5″ wheels have essentially taken over that market to the point that you rarely even find a 26″ tire on a long travel bike. We’ll now just refer to the 26″ tire as the size dedicated to Walmart bikes. With 27.5, 27.5 plus and other new standards, the 26″ wheel is officially dead.



The 29er | Bikeridr May 23, 2012 - 3:01 am

[…] another good article here, from Bike 198. Tweet No related posts. « Build Your Own […]

Bill April 26, 2012 - 1:10 am

I eschewed the whole 26 vs 9er debate and just pulled my 1982 Redline BMX bike out of the garage. All you big wheel types can eat my dust! 20″ single speed rules!

mhinds21 April 22, 2012 - 1:24 pm

Still getting used to blogs, forgive me for posting this in two areas, I am old now and technology is passing me by :)……Being somewhat of a traditionalist, I have been committed to the 26 inch wheel set as well as hardtail. I recently had my Orbea Lanza stolen and spent a month reading and researching for my next bike. I was admittedly all over the place on what to get. I enjoyed my 26″ Orbea and did not think I could replace the enjoyment and performance I got from it. After 5 weeks without a bike, I had to make a decision, I missed riding desperately. After all the research, I decided on the Niner Air 9; wow…while I still miss my Orbea, I do not regret my decision in anyway.

I would say 70% of my riding is road, I like to ride as opposed to drive so use it t commute as well. However, if you know Manila, road is only slightly smoother than rough trails. I love the trails and the more technical the better. I had a chance to take the bike on some highly techical trails this past weekend and going in with the worst in mind, I was pleasantly suprised. Yes, I had to take some of the sharp turns a bit slower but not to the extent I was disappointed. The climbs were great, I can honestly say I took out every 26″rider ahead of me, really cant say that was wheel size or experience, I tend to believe more experiecne than size…could make a joke here but nevermind.

I still like the hardtail vs. FS and the only downsides of the 29 I have found to date is on grades in excess of 55 degrees and agility on highly technical trails. The agility is not a big deal, just need to move slightly slower than on a 26″ and the steep grades may be gear ratio of the 3×10 vs the 3×9 I was used to, I am still investigating this one.

I did go with front suspension as opposed to the rigid forks the Niners generally come with, I am not sure this was necessary as the bike rides as close to a FS as your can get without the weight and power loss.

If you are only into highly technical trails, 26″ is the way to go. If you ride a wide variety of road and trail, I do suggest the 29er.

I do love the new bike and am pleased thus far with my choice.

ajez April 22, 2012 - 12:56 am

hye…let me share my opinion on these debate ya..please be open minded..we are all a rider…29er n 26 are the same actually..just depend on the rider either the bike is suit for them or not..some people like 29er n some 26…i ride a 26 for 12 years..and now im converting to 29er..i fell the same and i admit 29er is very easy in tackling on the rock and root..but difficult a bit in sprinting during climbing…both have their on advantages and vice versa…all are depending on the rider itself..if u like 26..juz use a 26..if like 29er..buy a 29er..no a big deal…both are enjoyable..goodluckk…

Jamison504 April 3, 2012 - 10:14 pm

I’m 5’8, 180 lbs, fit, and want an alternative to running for cardio, but also love Northern Michigan, and planning on living out west after school. I’d want to cover a solid amount of distance, and kinda what I’d describe as adventurous sight-seeing riding, with strong challenges up and downhill, board, curvy trails.
Whats best for me? A hardtail or FS 26er with some nicer components, or a medium frame 29er FS?
I’m aware I need to test both these bikes for myself, but if anyone has any input for someone looking to get their feet wet in this kickass sport.

Steve February 28, 2012 - 12:44 am

Will appreciate anyone’s thoughts on the following aspect of the 26 vs 29 debate. I am looking at purchasing a hard tail with 29″ wheels but worry about the 29’er aspect. Me- 5’8″ and 175 lbs. Not a racer but quite fit, get after it, and a strong climber, riding mostly in my home of Park City and around Utah.

Issue at hand-I am 59 years old, so less interested in super fast technical downhill and leaping over boulders in a single bound. But love to climb and like a fast and responsive bike. I like hard tails too.

Will a 29’er hard tail be OK for a guy like me? At this point in my life it will likely be the last mtn. bike for me.

Many thanks!


Jesse March 19, 2012 - 4:54 pm


Not sure if you pulled the trigger on a purchase yet, but I too live in Utah (Draper, Corner Canyon area). I purchased a 29er (hard tail) last summer as a beginner rider, and I found the bike easy to ride, climbs easy….I am not a technical rider at all, but I did find that riding a 29er in corner canyon was a bit tough as there are a lot of tight corners….I am buying a 26 full suspension so I have a bit of something for corner canyon, but I am planning on keeping my 29er for rides in Big Cottonwood Canyon and at the resorts. I think for someone your age, a 29er would be a good fit if you are not planning on doing tight downhill rides.

Best of luck.

Bruce February 3, 2012 - 1:18 am

And the purpose of going fast on a bicycle is? If you want fast, buy a motorcycle. It makes your bike speed experience lame by comparison. If your argument is that speed equates to a better workout and a better level of fitness again I say bunk. Try pedaling your 26er or your 29er or your what-have-you carbon whatitz in the highest possible gear combination but only go about 2mph. That takes far more effort and thus works the muscles harder. Given the two truths above I prefer to cruise along on one of my bikes enjoying the woods and the smells and the birds and stopping to take a photo or take in a vista. Sometimes I do that on a 29er and sometimes I do it on a 26er…they are different but both are fun. I have more than one of each. I like them all. Sometimes I go fast, sometimes I go slow. I dictate the pace, not the bike or the trail or some other rider l’m trying to impress. It’s probably the same for you n’est-ce pas?

richard gasguet January 28, 2012 - 8:54 am

in my experience, the people that have ‘told’ me to get 29er aren’t fast riders. they’re not going fast enough to feel the disadvantages of a 29er. hence, all the feedback they get are the benefits. they’re not going fast enough to feel that the bike doesn’t want to turn. they’re not going fast enough and braking late enough to feel that the bike doesn’t want to stop (more rotating mass). all they’re doing is rolling through trails, of course they feel its smoother and faster.

i’m not saying there’s no place for a 29er, there is. i’m saying you’re the only one that can say whether you want/need one or not. not some fox wearing poser who’s slow as a snail.

Gimmesumore January 16, 2012 - 4:37 am

Reading alll the above has made my purchasing a new MTB very difficult.
I quit riding 3 years ago due to financial reasons..now when having the means to get involved again, there is the 29er vs 26er choice. Have ordered my Rocky Mountain 29er Vertex930 and will be riding it as soon as this Saturday up ahead! Just the whole idea of being back on a mtb again is gratifying enough. My thoughts are..”Will the 29er be like I remember riding cross country 3 years ago. Well, I suppose the proof lies in the pudding and will be back to tell you all about it. Thanks for all the feedback as above!

rich January 10, 2012 - 10:16 pm

I read people have trouble bending rims on a 29er. If your are bending rims you need to take riding lessons as you don’t know ho to jump a bike. Been riding for 15 yr and never bent a rim have done 5ft drops on a hard tail 29er many times with no problem. Also poorly built rims and low tire pressure will bend rims.

mareshia stumpy January 5, 2012 - 9:42 pm

i am happy with my stumpjumper fsr pro 26er
no need to change

go Gadget go December 16, 2011 - 11:00 am

All I hear is that a 29r is faster and rolls easier. The problem I see is that people equate faster and easier as being better. Why would I do I mountain bike? For the challenge of it. If I’m out there challenging myself on narly terrain, why would I want to make it easier?

In the end what it comes down to is the individual: where they ride, how they ride, and what they want out of the experience.

For me, a 29r can’t do anything my 26 ride can’t, so what’s the point?

29" Mountain Bike Racing in China | Bikedan in Asia December 15, 2011 - 10:42 pm

[…] I had put together a press release about the Guangzhou event which can be found on Cyclingnewsasia.  Adopting the 29" trend has its advantages but of course there are two schools of thought and many top riders are still sticking with the traditional 26" MTB. Singletrack wrote a good article about the benefits of both types of bikes 29er V 26er. Dirtmag highlights the fact that many prominent bike brands are now rolling out with 29er versions of their mountain bikes. Men's Fitness also wrote an introductory article about the 29er boom and discuss the benefits of riding a 29er and recommend some bikes. See Wikipedia for the history of the 29er.  For more debate on the 26 V 29 mountain bikes and to find out which is the right bike for you, check out Bike 198 – Live the Ride. […]

Roland February 16, 2012 - 12:21 pm

why does one have to be “Better”

I think it’s odd that many consider the 29er faster, easier for rocks, logs. When I hear these comments I it’s like I hear someone complaining about the trails being too rough. Or they are faster, so racers want an advantage, sounds like cheating or something.

although, I have a few tall friends who ride 29ers and it makes perfect sense for them. the bikes fit them significantly better.

if you like the way they ride, then great, not trying to sound like a hater. But if you are doing it to make the trail easier or gain an advantage in speed then, well, not sure what to say about that…..

Bigfoot Johnson November 8, 2011 - 5:32 pm

3.4mpg BIGFOOT Says: Physics vs psychology is what I see happening throughout all of this debate. The physics is clear that the rotational drag would have to be greater with 785 gram tires than with 545 gram tires; even without factoring in additional tube weight. EVEN that equivalent weight requires a greater force for the same work on any wider outside diameter. In ancient Alexandria even they understood it, Principles of orbits, how often do we rotate around the sun vs Venus ,, Mercury etc… NOW, us modern spoiled humans are very tricky lot, and thus, Pyschologically many people would be willing to work harder and even consume more in order to attempt at proving concrete emphirical tangents of scientific data are wrong. Yet, I have still never seen any GUMBO MONSTER MUDDER 42″ s under a lil’ Priuses’ skirts,,, NOW have you ?
And possibly why we are failing in the world both economically and in education as well. Not tampering with onesself psychologically, one must admit, races are most likely determined by ones’ minimum speed (Most frequently occuring number when climbing), not by that flashy peak maximum that was obtained only by gravity.

Grannie Gear November 7, 2011 - 5:39 pm

I took that plunge and bought a FS HIFI 29er to replace my aging KHS 4″ FS 904R (2003). I test rode but apparently not enough. The thing feels amazingly sluggish, especially on long climbs. Yes it rolls over stuff better, but it is a bear to accelerate and climb and noticeably slower.

I assembled all my old rides on Garmin connect and it is running 5-10% slower on average for the same rides and same percieved effort. I am 6’3″ and a cross country non-technical rider. I thought I was the perfect candidate for this bike. Anybody want an almost new HIFI, XL?

LargeHuman October 6, 2011 - 3:03 am

Anyone for the round vs oval chain ring debate ?? Anyone , anyone ??

Dan September 29, 2011 - 11:14 pm

so, its settled
a great 26″ bike is better than a crappy 29″
I cant believe some of the comments here. You cant generalize 26″ vs. 29″, half the replies here compare a sub 25lb bike to a 30lb 29er and then they say “well the 26″ is more nimble” or the 26″ is faster

riding a 29er is like riding a 26er in a higher gear. does a 29 accellerate faster? if your legs are strong enough yes.
when I switched to 29 all my riding buddies commented on how I was pulling away on hills and was generally faster.

29″ wheels roll over things easier, you will notice this after riding a 29 for awhile and going back to 26″ suddenly your fighting the bars as the smaller wheel gets knocked around

which climbs better? 29 for several reasons. higher real gear ratios, less resistance to trail debris and ruts
which desends better? again 29

as far as weak wheels, not anymore. I’ve been running stans flows with I9 hubs and spokes since 08, I weigh 225 on a good day and I ride highly technical new england rocks and roots. I’ve broken 3 full frames and 3 extra rear triangles, yet the wheels are still true and round.

what it boils down to is comparing apple to apples. does a dedicated DH rig out perform a xc 29er on decents? of course. is a 20lb xc race bike faster than a 28 lb xc 29er? again yes

real world is this, I can ride farther and faster on my 29, I can climb as well if not better than a equal weight 26 and I can desend faster than an equal 26

if youre into big hucks and lift rides then a beefy 26er is your bike
if youre into xc racing 29
if youre just an average trail rider taller than 5’5″ 29
if youre shorter than 5’5″ or just cant accept change get a 26

Mike November 12, 2011 - 2:02 am

Best explanation ever. I agree 100%!!!

Donnie Conger January 5, 2012 - 9:31 pm

and we’re done here.

Chantheman September 25, 2011 - 3:50 am

I ride a 09 xc fsr 26er and I’ll dust a 29er any day !! 29er wheels always ends up like soft tacos. I tend to bend things when I ride, at 155lbs and 5’10” I feel a 26er with 5″ travel is more than enough, I’m never on the ground most of the time. My opinion, its based on the rider and the type of riding he/she wants to do.

Notme September 20, 2011 - 12:13 pm

As the market was slowing down,something had to be done to keep the sales up.
Enter the 29er : A niche segment of mountain bikes,pushed by agressive marketing to the mainstream.
“Thank you for buying our 26″ bikes,but THIS is what you definitly NEED”
Think for yourselves,for once.

29er full squish doesn't ride right? August 31, 2011 - 1:09 pm

[…] long version of what I believe to be the answer can be found here –> Ending The Debate: 29er vs. 26" Mountain Bike | Bike198 The short version… I like full suspension 29ers up until about the 120mm rear travel mark. […]

Steven Berger August 30, 2011 - 5:34 am

All you need to do is ride the Santa Cruz Tallboy and you will quickly feel the total advantages of the 29er, super quick steering through the tightest single track, way smoother on all the bumps, much faster uphill, flats and downhill, way easier to ride everywhere and way more fun! The days are over for the slower, heavier flexier 29ers. Mt bike.com says the Tallboy is their “Best of the Best” for 2011.

go Gadget go December 16, 2011 - 10:51 am

i don’t want a bike that makes the trail easier. I ride for the technical challenge. Like the writer, I look for the narly twisty lines that others avoid or go around. What’s the fun in making that easier?

ben h. August 14, 2011 - 10:12 pm

You said that the 29 inch whell size would feel really big… I thoght so too the first time i rode one but you get used to it very fast.

Al August 10, 2011 - 12:07 am

I find this discussion boils down to a point that holds true in many other areas (guitars, cameras, etc. — name your vice): you need both — it’s not either/or.

I have a ’94 Cannondale M600 hardtail (26r) with no suspension that I love. I recently bought a Cannondale 29r. I love it too. I continue to ride both depending on the situation (I’m 6′ btw). That said, I do generally like the more nimble feeling of the 26r and if I could only have one it would be that. Can’t beat the 26r for powering up steep stretches in the woods. The 29r still feels big at times but it IS smooth and great on most applications other than twisty single track.

Elias July 27, 2011 - 10:18 am

There is one more tradeoff not mentioned here. It is true you get more distance per pedal revolution, which equates to more pedaling efficiency at a constant speed. However, it takes MORE energy to accelerate the bigger wheels. This is a real issue on long steep climbs; the steeper the climbs the more acceleration you need to supply to the bike to overcome the negative acceleration due to gravity.

Another way to think about this is looking at the car analogy. Smaller wheels always yield faster acceleration (less momentum to overcome due to smaller radius of applied force) while larger wheels always yield a greater top speed (more distance covered per revolution). On off road vehicles, the trend is to put larger tires on which helps handle the terrain better in a similar fashion. However, there is always a limit to how big of a wheel you can put on before you start snapping your differentials as they cannot handle the additional torque needed to accelerate the load with the larger wheels. And, if the drive-train survives, 4x4s have big engines and so are not affected by additional load (i.e. my truck never gets “tired”). I get tired on long climbs…

I have seen heard the trade-off as follows:

* XC trails that are meandering: 29er due to all of the benefits listed above
* AM trails (long steep climbs and long steep downs): 26er as it is more efficient up and more nimble down.

Part of the issue with the debate is that mountain biking terrain is very, very different from regional location to location. It all comes down to the above trade-off based on where you live and what you ride.

Bryan September 1, 2011 - 2:11 am

Bill & Elias, I think you nailed it. It’s harder to keep up with my (26er) buddies on the long steep climbs like at Douthat State Park, VA. Not only does the 29er require more torque, it’s heavier. I’ve had my 29er for more than a year and still don’t have the confidence on the technical downhills. Because it has a slightly higher center of gravity, I have to go slower through the trees and turns. Yes it goes over the bumps better, but because it’s heavier, I can’t bunny hop as high. I am 5’10” and was hoping to overcome these issues with time but I haven’t. I like technical riding with speed, so I’m having 26er withdrawals. I think my 29er will be on Craigslist in the next month.

Bill July 24, 2011 - 1:35 pm

I live in the Boulder, CO area and have really enjoyed my 29er on the trails in the area and even on-road – a 26″ always felt like I was riding a kiddie bike – until yesterday.

On my first trip up to Vail, I tried to navigate the trails the way I used to on a 26″ rental and couldn’t navigate one of the medium, not even tight turns and scraped myself up really badly and can barely walk.

For this reason alone I’m thinking of dumping my 6 month old HiFi Plus and getting a 26″ bike as I want one that can handle most trails without needing to walk them first. 🙁

Oh, and don’t try trails at Vail on a 29er or you’ll be hurting too; I should have just gone wide and fallen in the grass. 🙁

Jed August 16, 2011 - 11:09 pm

Your experience confirms my current thoughts. I ride a light 26″ hardtail that I built 15yrs ago. I love it, but I’m limited when I have an opportunity to do some downhilling. I’m looking into more of an AM bike, but have been undecided regarding 26 or 29. Since I live in MI, the trend is heavily in favor of 29ers. But, when I was in Aspen, CO this summer, bike shop owners were saying that the 26er still rules the mountains … very few 29ers are ridden out there. I imagine the Vail trails to be pretty similar to those in Aspen. At this point, I’m leaning toward a more versatile lightweight/stiff 4in to 5in travel 26er. It might not be quite as good as a 29er on many of the trails I ride in MI, but I’ll be able to take it anywhere and ride with confidence.

ooten July 11, 2011 - 9:39 am

Two questions. Whats the difference in bunny hopping or manualing a 29er vs 26. Also anyone have a chance to try out the Gary Fisher 29er’s with the offest fork. Thoughts?
I know this is late hope this thread isn’t completely dead.

198 July 14, 2011 - 5:38 am

There isn’t any real huge difference between bunny hopping the two bikes. Manual’ing can be different due to the geometry differences between 29ers and 26″ bikes. I typically find it easier to manual a 26″.

I am not really a fan of the GF G geometry’s. Not enough benefit for the limited fork selection.

BigDave July 4, 2011 - 2:08 pm

I’m 6’2″ and weigh 280-290lbs and i highly doubt i will ever go back to a 26er.

React5 June 15, 2011 - 10:41 pm

Another biased article towards 29ers. What a junk website.

26″ hardtails and short travel XC bikes still work great for many riders.

198 June 16, 2011 - 5:37 am

Actually if you read back through the article, you will notice it is not biased and actually favors 26″ wheels in a lot of situations.

React5 June 18, 2011 - 11:52 pm

Then why aren’t 26″ hardtail/single-speed/XC-FS bikes given their due?

Why not just say, “Try both. Keep the one you like?”

Rez May 3, 2011 - 6:49 pm

Still….on going….

March Review April 5, 2011 - 9:06 am

[…] 29er vs. 26er. Still? […]

SIMON SPRAGG March 31, 2011 - 6:17 am

I ride a Giant VT – had it since August 2005. Only the frame is original, now runs on the superb ZTR Stans flow 26″ rims C/W 20mm front axle using RS SEKTORS (U-turn coil always set at 150mm travel, matched to Manitou 2009 platform shock (140mm rear travel) wITH 720MM NUKE PROOF BARS layback thomson post 110mm thomson stem (I am 6foot 2 ish weigh 80kilos) the bike REALLY works well. Before the new RS 20mm axle front it used 130mm RS Revelations with 9mm drop outs and was O.K. Now it handles rocks & roots, twisty and technical with EASE, climbs like a demon its all about the WHOLE set up not just the sum of individual parts AS ALWAYS.

mountaincross March 26, 2011 - 7:30 am

This article is one of the fairest assessments of the two wheel sizes. I’m 5’9″, 148 lbs, and race xc, marathon (main focus), and aggressive trails (most of my miles). I have one bike for all these conditions. I ride a 26er with 140mm of travel, carbon fiber frame that weighs sub 25lbs with race wheels/tires. My thoughts on the question are from the perspective of my body type and riding strengths.

The only aspects of the article I disagree with are the comments concerning racing. If the xc course isn’t overly technical, and is tight, twisty, mostly low speeds with many accelerations, and punchy climbs the 26er hardtail, is still a great choice, perhaps the best. Nothing is lighter or will accelerate faster in the conditions I describe, which fits a lot of East Coast racing circuits. I don’t believe the 26er hardtail is dead, unless xc course design changes significantly across the board.

Likewise, I think the 29er hardtail (or short travel FS) vs 26er full suspension is a toss up for more technical xc racing. They will perform differently depending upon terrain and riding style. I will say the 29er full supsension bike for a guy my size, in races under 2hours, is too heavy, performs great, but just too heavy. If I were in the market for a dedicated technical terrain race bike, I’d go 29er hardtail or 26er FS. For Colorado races (and I’ve done a bunch because I work in Colorado in the summer), I think the 29er hardtail or FS gets the nod. But for East Coast (where I live most of the year), the 26er hardtail or 26er FS gets the nod. But again, it depends on the course and rider. Its a toss up, not a clear 29er decision as the article suggests.

thanks for the well reasoned, dispassionate article.

david metzelfeld March 25, 2011 - 12:25 pm

Why don’t they just make a 27.5″ wheel and everyone will be happy?

CA-syndrome October 3, 2011 - 3:25 pm

Just wait until the sales numbers stop being good enough as the market gets saturated… nothing better than “invent” something new and convince people that it is better. Or at least worth trying out. I can see the press releases already: “twenty seven and a halfer” gives you best of both worlds

go Gadget go December 16, 2011 - 10:43 am

It already exists. It’s called 650b. Much like the 29″ rim is just a 700c rim built for mtb abuse, the 650b is an existing size from the past and falls into the dimension around 27.5″.

Saipan Island RIder March 24, 2011 - 10:31 pm

Hey DAB, I have a 16″ recently abandoned by my son that I’ll sell you fairly cheap. Those little wheels will make that 26er of yours seem like a Cadillac on a concrete runway. Take that over a few 2 ft logs. Now THAT is real riding skill.

DAB March 25, 2011 - 11:06 am

I’m learning MUni right now, so those little wheels you referred to would seem like cake compared to my one! Go back to riding your cadillac down your paved road. 🙂

Saipan Island RIder March 27, 2011 - 12:01 pm

HAHAH, I have a hard enough time keeping the rubber side down using 2 wheels. One wheel just isn’t in the cards for me. Good luck with it.

shakes March 24, 2011 - 8:26 pm

Ive been on a HT 29er for some time now. But as my riding has progressed (Ive always been a little fearless and agressive in my ridding and i jsut keep trying to go bigger) I have been considering looking to get away from my 29er…

Yes it climbs like a champ
Yes can gain distance/retian more speed in the rooty techy sections

The bigger wheel just isnt as strong, it cannot hold up as well as a similar 26er. (a bent 29er will gain you no time)
They are harder to finesse. Bunny hopping, manual, and controling the rear exactl where you need it, seems to be more difficult

Your assesment, IMO, was pretty spot on – but the more aggressive riding/the need for stronger parts – smaller wheels win!

A Full Squish, high travel 26er is next in my stable – now how many pennys do I have to dig out of the couch cushions for my Transition?????

Joshboro October 5, 2011 - 3:20 pm

It’s actually a great time to find a nice used 26-inch bike. So many people are making the switch to 29ers, there are a lot of bikes on the market. I got a 2008 Stumpjumper FSR Expert that had been run as a single speed. It came built with the original new 3X9 drive train, better wheels, better bar, better fork, for $1800. I think this bike retailed for more than double that without the upgrades.

CWWmtb March 24, 2011 - 2:18 pm

“More distance covered per pedal revolution”

Anyone care to explain? does this mean the bike travels a greater distance per pedal stroke or that more of the tire is touching the ground?

Brian August 1, 2011 - 3:44 pm

“More distance covered per pedal revolution” … well that’s a little bit of a mis-statement. “More distance covered per WHEEL revolution” would be more accurate as distance covered per pedal revolution has to do with your personal gearing on your bike. Basically when the wheel rotates once around, you travel forward a distance equal to the wheel circumference (which equals 3.14 x wheel diameter). A 29″ wheel is about 10% larger diameter which equals 10% larger circumference, which means, dundudda dun! You went 10% farther for each wheel rotation. Since 29ers tend to have smaller front chainrings, all your gears are slightly smaller, so this kind of becomes a moot point. The gears undo what the tire size gained.

Dan September 29, 2011 - 9:19 pm

actual measurments using same gearing. lengths are how much further a 29″ wheel rolls per 1 revolution

22/34 5″
32/34 8″
44/34 9″
22/11 19″
32/11 20″
44/11 33″

jay March 24, 2011 - 10:43 am

In response to DAB- using his reasoning, I guess people riding full suspension bikes want roads in the forest too because the FS technolgy makes getting over rocks and logs easier. In fact, you might as well take your beach cruiser out on the trails like the original mountain bikers to really “show your skill.”

9er Do roll over obstacles easier. They also roll faster and climb better. This means you can cover more ground in less time, take on bigger, longer rides, attempt tricks you couldn’t hit before, and tackle climbs you couldn’t clear before. This all equals more fun, and more incentive to ride.

jay March 24, 2011 - 10:25 am

I’m a shorter rider (5’8″) and love the 9er’s. I have both a geared and single speed 9er hardtails, and both are incredibly fast and climb like mad. But, I also have 6.5″ all mountain full suspension 26er that I love just as much. It’s almost the perfect stable of bikes. The only thing missing is a FS 9er, and my debate is whether to ditch the AM bike for an FS 9er. I’m still undecided. I like riding techy trails, but I’m not a daredevil and pretty much stay on the ground. I think a mid travel FS 9er (e.g., Niner RIP) can handle my riding, but it’s difficult (and expensive) to part with my AM rig, and your point about the stiffness of a 26″ AM bike is well taken. It gives me a headache thinking about it.

What you don’t address is the new generation of long travel 9ers like the Niner WFO and GF Rumblefish. How do they compare to 26ers on stiffness and stability in rough, steep sections? Also, in terms of manueverablity of the 9ers, I think any concerns can be addressed with a shorter stem. I have 60mm stems on both 9ers and they handle just fine.
Thanks for the article- the debate continues.

DAB March 24, 2011 - 10:15 am

I keep hearing that 29ers roll right over the rocks and logs with ease. Why would you want that??? This is mountain biking, not road riding. I want difficult rocks to maneuver and show my skill. The closer I am to a wipeout the more fun the ride is. 29ers are lazy and want to turn mountain biking into a paved road thru the center of a forest, bahhh.

Dan September 29, 2011 - 8:41 pm

using your logic then you shoould ride a rigid single speed

apoc May 27, 2012 - 10:44 pm

ride bmx.

Saipan Island RIder March 22, 2011 - 8:29 pm

I am 6’3″ 205LB. I have some of each and find myself on the 29ers (1 hard tail – 1 full sush 120F&R) most of the time. I take out one of the 26 hard tails just ot exercise them once in a while but really don’t iike it anymore compared with the GF 29 hardtail/rigid fork.. On trails, tight or not, the 29er goes over stuff I wouldn’t dream of trying on my 26. It’s faster too.

Much of this may have to do with my height. I always felt that 26 was like riding a kiddie bike and that the bike was way down below me somewhere. Finally, on a 29 I feel like I’m sitting on the bike instead of above it.

Like most things in life, it’s ‘different strokes for different folks’ so try out a 29er if you haven’t already, and then you decide what is best for you.

E March 22, 2011 - 2:43 pm

definite for 29’r because of rocks and logs.

SS March 22, 2011 - 1:18 pm

Let’s tally up the scores from the article:

6 – definite for 29’r
3 – Maybe for the 29’r
2 – definite for the 26’r

29’r wins!! Debate over!!



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