THE GREAT WHEEL SIZE DEBATE
THE GREAT WHEELSIZE DEBATE:
“Its not the size of the wave. Its the motion of the ocean.” Jeff Spicoli from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
There are many areas of bicycle tech that spur debate: 2x vs 1x, hardtail vs full squish, tire pressures, suspension setups, form fitting road jerseys or baggies, for example; but perhaps the most often asked question on the sales floor is in terms of wheel size. We asked our professional staff what their thoughts are on different sizes; and besides tread patterns and width of tires, we all agreed on wheel sizes…mostly.
700c or 650b for ROAD/GRAVEL/TOURING/ADVENTURE
We all ride tubeless setups (which if you haven’t done yet, you should), and everyone is pretty much of the same thought for drop bar whips: 700c for performance and 650b for comfort. There was some discussion about which is better for traction in certain dirt or gravel forms, but that is really splitting hairs. “Plush ride for adventure/gravel I like the 650b, but for pure performance across varied surfaces I like the 700c and run 28 for pure road and 38 for gravel”, sums up the groups thoughts nicely.
27.5 or 29 for MTB
26” wheels dominated for decades. Then came the 29er, which ripped apart the time/space continuum. As suspension technologies evolved, engineers reinvigorated an old standard of 27.5” wheels. 29” are higher off the ground, require a longer frame (in order to accommodate the longer wheelbase) and roll more efficiently over rough terrain. For shorter riders and those riding smaller frames, the 27.5” wheel is often a better fitting option. Outside of the science of the wheel size, there are many who simply prefer the feeling of the 27.5 wheel, especially in difficult climbing situations where the small diameter wheel turns more quickly. The popularity of the 29” wheel, however, should not be swept under the rug. Even World Cup Downhill racers have begun to use them…which is saying something. Contrary to some thinking, 27.5” wheels are not dead…yet. In fact, some bike companies are releasing new frames in 27.5” only. BTW 650b and 27.5" = same same (just maybe the internal width being different).
The reality is many short riders love 29ers, and many tall riders prefer 27.5”. It’s best to make your own decision and go ride! One staff member recommended simply to “ride the biggest wheel that fits. For comfort and traction on the trails 27.5 or 27.5+ is awesome. But for efficiency, its hard to beat a 29” wheel”.
Fat tire bikes are evolving and becoming ever more popular, especially in winter. A 4-5" tire is amazingly tacky in loose media, and with the high volume of air, one can run pressures as low as single digits for improved performace. Most manufacturers of Fat Bikes are using a 26" hoop with an internal width of 3"!
DONT FORGET THE KIDDOS
Kids bikes come in wheel sizes of 12, 16, 20, 24 and 26". As the wheels (and kiddos) get bigger, more options become available on the bikes, but for now we are just talking wheels. Pro Tip: if you keep feeding the kids, they keep growing.