What is the difference?
The 29er wheel needs no introduction, but we will anyway! First introduced to the mass consumer by Gary Fisher in about 2001, the 29er has since gained a large following. The larger wheel size creates a smaller ‘attacking’ angle on the terrain and thus, results in a smoother ride over a 26 inch wheel. The increased stability of the 29er wheel will increase your confidence on the bike and with a larger footprint than a 650b wheel, traction will also increase.
The 650b wheel (also known as 27.5 inch) has been out since 2008 or so, but has only gained attention in the last few years. They are marketed as a wheel that is more agile than a 29er but rolls smoother than the humble 26 inch wheel. As the wheel is smaller and in a like to like comparison, the wheel will accelerate quicker than the 29er wheel. Currently with bike designs, if you want more than 130mm of travel, then the 650b wheel is the only option as it is difficult to make correct geometry for a long travel bike with 29er wheels.
Which one should I opt for?
It is very much dependent upon the rider and where they ride. Here in Cyclehouse, as a general rule we advise riders who only ride trail-centres and those wishing to jump the bike, will generally get on better with a 650b wheel, whilst those into classic mountain bike routes and all day riding, will appreciate the rolling speed of a 29er.
Obviously there are no hard and fast rules to choosing wheel size. Last year, the womens XC World Cup winner was on a 29er, whilst the girl that came second overall, was on a 650b.
My preference for wheel size (standing as the shortest member of staff in the store at 5’7″) is the 29er. Most of my riding is in Delamere Forest, the Clwyds and the occasional days out in Snowdonia. I love the versatility of the 29er, they can take 2.3 inch tyres to offer lots of grip on the rough stuff, but can be easily changed to 28mm tyres if you fancy riding on the road.
If you think its all very confusing, here’s a list of current wheel standards;
- 26 inch (quickly becoming redundant to the 650b wheel)
- 650b+ (same rim diameter as the 650b but with even wider tyres)
- 29+ (think Surly Krampus)
- Fat tyre in 4 inch and 5 inch widths