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Buying Guide - 26" VS 27.5" / 650b VS 29er Mountain Bikes

Are you new to mountain biking and confused about all the different options available nowadays? If so, trust me, you're not the only one. In the past few years, there's been an explosion of different options, designs, sizes ect.... for a rider to choose from when deciding which mountain bike is best for him or her. There's hardtail, full suspension, 26", 27.5", 650b, 29er among a whole other list of options, and we know that making the right choice can be a rather difficult and confusing decision. That's why we've made a straightforward, easy to understand mountain bike buying guide for our customers to read, which we hope will make that deciding process a little bit easier.

To start with, lets first realize and accept the fact that there is no "perfect bike" for everyone, and each design has its unique advantages and disadvantages. Deciding on who you are as a rider, what type of terrain you like to ride and what you're looking to get out of your mountain bike will help you best decide which bike will best work for you. Please use our buying guide below to educate yourself about the characteristics of each mountain bike design. Our goal is to make your bicycle shopping experience less confusing and to point you toward the type of bike which will best work for you. 

26" Mountain Bikes

If you haven't shopped for a bike in quite a while, chances are your last mountain bike had 26" wheels.  26" mountain bikes have, for decades, been the standard size for most mountain bikes.  This all started to change around 2010 when 29er mountain bikes came onto the market, and even more recently in 2013 when 27.5" mountain bikes also became a popular alternative.  Like 29er & 27.5" bikes, 26" bikes offer their own unique advantages & disadvantages.  Generally speaking, 26" bikes are great for fast twitchy type terrain that requires the rider to be able to react quickly.  On the flip side, 26" bikes tend to have a slower top speed, and their smaller wheels are less forgiving when going over bumps, roots, rocks, ect...  This in turn requires added suspension to make up for the smaller wheels, which if not designed properly can increase pedal bob and decrease overall efficiency.  If you're upgrading from a 26" bike, you may feel more comfortable sticking with what you're familiar with; however we do suggest that you consider some of the advantages of 29er & 27.5" bikes before making your decision.

26" Advantages
Tend to weigh less than 27.5" & 29er bikes, as their smaller wheels and forks save weight
Smaller wheels are often better for technical terrain that requires fast reaction time, such as quick twitchy trails
Fits all size riders very well; whereas larger bikes such as 29ers are often difficult for smaller riders to fit onto
Quick off the line acceleration
Increased lateral strength for riders who require high travel DH / FR bikes
26" Disadvantages
Less forgiving while going over bumps, roots, rocks, ect....
Slower top end speed than bikes with larger wheels
Smaller wheels require added suspension to soak up terrain.  This can lead to decreased efficiency in the suspension by adding pedal bob to the bike.
Smaller tire footprint than bikes with larger wheels often means less traction
Requires a higher tire pressure than larger wheels

29er Mountain Bikes

Starting around the 2010 season, 29er mountain bikes became a popular alternative as they offered multiple advantages over the  then standard 26" mountain bike.  The larger wheels on a 29er gives the rider the ability to reach a higher top end speed.  They also improve overall traction with their larger footprint and they roll over objects such as rocks, roots, ect.... much easier than smaller wheels.  Because 29er wheels roll over obstacles much easier than 26" wheels, many 29er riders quickly notice that they no longer avoid roots, ruts, rocks, stumps, ect.... that they once used to on their 26" bike.  All of this combines into a bike that's generally more stable and adds to the riders level of confidence.  Furthermore, with the more forgiving 29er wheels, designers soon realized that they needed less suspension to obtain the same feel as a 26" bike, which in turn improves the efficiency of the bike as there's less pedals bob.  It's generally understood that a 29er mountain bike with 100-120mm travel has a very similar feel to that of a 26" bike with 140mm travel.  Essentially speaking, if you're riding a 29er, you're able to do more with less travel!

29er Advantages
Faster top end speed
Larger wheels are much more forgiving than smaller wheels when going over roots, rocks, ect....  Picture the difference between a full size truck and a Honda Civic going over the same pothole.  The pothole would hardly be felt in the truck, where as it'd probably feel like it was swallowing up your Civic because of the difference in wheel sizes
Larger wheels mean you need less suspension travel to soak up terrain, which generally leads to less pedal bob and increased efficiency. 
Great for taller riders
Larger tire footprint on the ground at all times means increased traction, which is great for climbing & descending
• Because of increased traction, the ability to confidently ride over more aggressive terrain without avoiding obstacles which you might with a 26" bike and overall increased bicycle stability, the 29er will make you a much more confident rider
More efficient on longer rides
• Can be run with lower tire pressure, if you so choose, than smaller wheels, allowing for a smoother more comfortable ride
• Increased rotational weight
29er Disadvantages
The larger wheels make these bikes slower to react quickly to fast twitchy trails; however where you may have simply avoided obstacles in the past on your 26" bike, you may simply find yourself rolling right over them with the larger 29er wheels
Generally harder for smaller riders to fit onto
Larger wheels, fork and frame tend to add a slight amount of weight to the overall build
Slower off the line acceleration
Generally not suited for DH / FR riders

650b / 27.5" Mountain Bikes

In the 2010 biking season, 29er mountain bikes really started to catch on.  Their larger wheel size offered many riders a significant number of advantages over the traditional 26" mountain bike; however not all riders saw the 29er advantages as being beneficial to them, or for some, the drawbacks of a 29er wheel were not worth it's advantages.  Seeing the huge demand for 29er wheels, yet also realizing that there was a a large segment of the population that couldn't accept some of the 29er drawbacks, designers in 2013 started coming out with 27.5" bikes, or otherwise known 650b mountain bikes.  27.5" mountain bikes attempt to meld the advantages and disadvantages of 26" & 29" bikes into a nice sweet spot that providers riders with the best of both bicycle designs.  Essentially speaking, many riders like the faster speeds and more forgiving ride of a 29er, but couldn't accept the trade off in terms of responsiveness on quick twitchy style terrain.  The theory behind 27.5" bike is to meet in the middle

27.5" Advantages
Provides a higher top speed than 26" bikes while having faster quick reaction times than 29er bikes.  This is the main advantage of a 27.5" bike, as it's goal is to utilize the advantages of both 26" & 29er bikes
More forgiving than 26" bikes
Larger wheels mean less suspension needed, which increases overall bike efficiency
Higher top speed when compared to 26" bikes
Good off the line acceleration than 29ers
• Better traction than a 26" bike
• Good alternative for small riders who want a larger wheel bike, but don't fit comfortably onto a 29er
27.5" Disadvantages
While more forgiving than 26" bikes, these bikes are still less forgiving than 29er's
Slower top speed when compared to 29ers, even though they're faster than 26" bikes.
Slower off the line acceleration when compared to 26" bikes
• While having better traction than a 26" bike, 29er's still have better overall traction because of their large wheel size