27.5 vs 29er Wheels, Which Size is Better?

Let’s start with a little history of mountain bike wheel sizes. History not many know or have forgotten when they get into discussions about 27.5 vs 29ers.

The first mountain bikes were introduced with 26-inch wheels. The main reason being, this was the size of the very popular cruiser bike’s wheel. It wasn’t long before riders discovered that the 26-inch wheel would not do, they needed something bigger with better rollability that could match their crazy and raw descents. This was the beginning of the 29er and it took a stronghold in the mountain biking community. Yet some were still not convinced the bulky wheels were worth the extra rolling ability.

Fast forward a couple of years and another wheel size was thrown in the mix, the 27.5-inch. As soon as it launched, the 27.5-inch wheels took over, creating a middle ground for rollability and speed. It seemed that both the 29er and 26er were completely discarded at the point of the 27.5-inch wheel’s entry.

But that’s not where the story ends… Once the 27.5-inch wheels were introduced, it gave innovators new ideas on how to produce a 29er that was lighter, more nimble, and better equipped to tackle the mountain biking trails. 29ers once again became the wheel of choice for cross country riders. And now, even enduro and downhill racers are re-visiting the 29-inch wheels.

29ers have made such a comeback that some mountain bike manufacturers are beginning to discontinue the 27.5-inch version of particular models. Are they right to do this? Are 29ers really that much better than 27.5-inch wheels?

I hate to break it to you, but there is no answer to this question. One isn’t better than the other, they are simply different.

I hear time and time again the argument over this, almost as much as the tubes vs tubeless debate, and to be honest, it’s just pointless. These mountain bike wheel sizes are designed to excel in different aspects of riding and the best way to succeed is to choose which size suits your style.

To put the debate to rest once and for all, I have detailed the differences, benefits, and disadvantages of both wheel sizes below so you can make an informed decision regarding 29er and 27.5-inch wheels.

Sending a big hip jump on Air Ya Garn in Blue Derby Tasmania on a 29er

27.5 Inch Wheels

27.5-inch wheels have been designed with the intended purpose of creating the perfect all-rounder. To be super nimble and fast in the turns, but support more than enough grip and stability to conquer rough terrain at speed.

Essentially, a 27.5-inch mountain bike wheel is made to thrive on whatever terrain they’re thrown down. 27.5 Inch wheels quickly superseded 26-inch wheels as the best ‘small wheel’ in the mountain biking industry as traction and stability are greatly increased while maneuverability is almost indistinguishable between the two sizes.

But does the 27.5-inch wheel meet the high standards placed upon them?

Let’s have a look, shall we?

Riding With 27.5 Inch Wheels

Poppy. Fun. Playful.

Three of the best words to describe your ride with 27.5-inch wheels. I could just leave it here, but I guess there is more to discuss!

27.5-inch wheels result in a more manageable ride, in that 27.5 inch mountain bikes are more nimble and generally easier to throw around. These traits are great for beginner riders and mountain bikers that love to spend time in the park getting steezy.

27.5-inch wheels are great for snappy turns and the smaller diameter can still hold its own through rough descents. You could say this wheel size fits the bill of an all-rounder, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best!

While the 27.5-inch wheels can handle almost anything you throw at it, occasionally you will notice the wheels getting hung up on rough sections of the track. This is due to the steeper attack angle created by a smaller diameter wheel.

In my opinion, 27.5-inch wheels do an outstanding job to meet the criteria of an all-rounder, but as I mentioned before, being a great all-rounder doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of a 27.5 inch wheel when compared to a 29er.

Sending a big whip on my 27.5 inch Canyon Torque on Air Ya Garn in Blue Derby Tasmania

Benefits Of 27.5 Inch MTB Wheels

  • Easier to manoeuvre on tight, technical trails
  • Quick acceleration
  • Nimble handling
  • More manageable to ride (mainly for beginners)
  • More responsive
  • Easier to jump
  • Lighter

Negatives Of 27.5 Inch MTB Wheels

  • Less stability at high speeds
  • Less roll-over capability
  • Less traction

Best Trails and Riding Style For 27.5-Inch Mountain Bikes

A 27.5-inch mountain bike isn’t built for someone who’s idea of mountain biking is all about racing at top speed down the mountain. It’s for the playful, the ones that want to huck every side hit and get as much air time as possible.

That isn’t to say these wheels are slow, you may just want to keep reading if your only care is racing.

The best trails for a 27.5-inch mountain bike are the flow lines and the jump trails. Trails that demand fast, tight turns and are filled with jumps and playful side hits.

Mountain bike cornering around a excellent berm at Stromlo MTB Park wearing a convertible MTB helmet

29 Inch Wheels

29ers were originally designed for cross-country racers and to the surprise of many, have been around for decades. In fact, much longer than 27.5-inch wheels. But it hasn’t been until recently that 29ers have gained traction, so to speak. What seemed like a publicity stunt only a few years ago has now turned into the most sought-after mountain bike on the market.

It wasn’t until 29ers were introduced into the gravity scene of mountain biking that riders really started to notice the impeccable benefits of stability and control the larger wheels created. And when the podium results began pouring in, inevitably, we all knew 29ers were here to stay.

It’s no secret 29ers are a great wheel choice for any style of riding, but what’s it actually like to be placed on the monster truck of mountain bikes?

Riding A 29er

There are certainly mixed reviews about 29ers, but one thing everyone raves about is speed. 29ers have an outstanding ability to reach high speeds and maintain it while inspiring confidence in the rider thanks to increased stability and control.

The larger diameter wheel has an increased contact point when compared to a 27.5 inch wheel and this results in greater traction in all aspects of riding. But it’s not all about speed, a 29er will brake more efficiently and effectively which is extremely important for those steep descents.

With the larger diameter, a 29er will also support a lower attack angle which is great for increased rollover capability. Basically, a 29-inch wheel has a far better chance of smoothly navigating rough terrain and maintaining momentum effortlessly.

But its not all great news, with such a noticeable improvement in stability, traction and roll-over capability, a 29er is less agile than a 27.5 inch wheel. This makes 29ers a bit of a struggle when trying to navigate tight and tricky trails, while also requiring a lot more effort to throw around.

A 29er can be a bigger and heavier mountain bike that certain people do tend to struggle with. So before you commit to the benefits of a larger wheel size, be sure the negatives don’t outweigh the positives.

Mountain biking through green tree ferns on my 29 inch wheel Canyon Strive

Benefits Of 29 Inch MTB Wheels

  • Great at high speed
  • Superb stability and control
  • Increased traction
  • Increased braking performance
  • Improved roll-over capabilities
  • Able to hold momentum effortlessly

Negatives Of 29 Inch MTB Wheels

  • Difficult to handle on tight trails
  • Slower acceleration
  • Not as nimble
  • Less manageable to ride (mainly for beginners)
  • Heavier

Best Trails and Riding Style For 29er Mountain Bikes

The 29er mountain bikes are most certainly built for those who race and want to send it straight down the mountain. Their rollover ability encourages confidence on the steepest of terrain and handles anything you throw at it. If you’re looking to flow smoothly over the gnarliest rock garden, a 29er may be for you.

However, there is a higher learning curve when transitioning from a 27.5-inch wheel to a 29er in regards to jumping. The less nimble bike isn’t as playful and can be a bit of a slug to jump in the beginning. Though the professionals don’t seem to have too much trouble so I guess practice makes perfect!

The best trails for a 29er mountain bike are the steep and technical descents. Where rollover abilities are of highest importance. But I should clarify. Just because these are best trails for a 29er and flow and jumps are the best for a 27.5-inch wheel, that doesn’t mean they can’t both be conquered on either. We are simply talking about the ultimate trail for each size.

Mountain biking through a rock garden on a Norco 29er in Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails

The Mullet

Now here’s where innovation and creativity are beginning to thrive in the wonderful sport of mountain biking. The mullet has been created with gravity in mind and the idea is to get the best of both the 27.5-inch wheel and 29er.

By running the larger 29-inch wheel up front, riders experience most of the benefits associated with a full 29er setup. This idea is supported by the fact that most traction, braking power, and roll-over capabilities come from the front wheel and the back wheel just tags along for the ride.

But pairing the large front wheel with a 27.5 retains much of the snappy nature freeriders love to be associated with and creates a much more playful bike when compared to a full 29er.

There is no more need to choose between a 27.5 or 29er… Porque no los dos! (why not both).

Benefits Of A Mullet Mountain Bike

  • Great at high speed
  • Superb stability and control
  • Increased traction
  • Increased braking performance
  • Improved roll-over capabilities
  • Able to hold momentum effortlessly

Negatives Of A Mullet Mountain Bike

  • Difficult to handle on tight trails
  • Slower acceleration
  • Not as nimble
  • Less manageable to ride (mainly for beginners)
  • Heavier
Sending the massive Kumma Gutza gap jump in Blue Derby Tasmania

Does Height Play A Factor of Wheel Size?

Basically, no. There is no exact measurement that stipulates whether you should be riding a 27.5 or 29-inch mountain bike and if you have heard otherwise then you have been falsely informed. Height shouldn’t be of concern unless you are extremely tall or short. For the majority of us mountain bikers out there, the selection of wheel size should come down to your approach to mountain biking and what feels best.

What’s Better, 27.5 vs 29er MTB Wheels?

Essentially, the nimble characteristics of 27.5-inch wheels result in a playful and responsive bike, great for freestyle mountain bikers where manoeuvrability is of the highest priority. Whereas the stable characteristics of a 29er make these the ultimate partner for high speed and control, perfect for mountain bike racers looking to push the limits of the sport.

So as you would have guessed by now, there is no one definitive answer to the debate about 27.5 vs 29 inch wheels. Each have their place and your riding style and trail preference will ultimately be the deciding factor for which size suits you best.

The mountain biking industry is making an obvious switch to 29er’s, with more and more people jumping on board. Heck, some manufacturers have all but discontinued their 27.5 inch models.

But is this just a trend? Are people just making the switch because its the cool thing to do?

Even considering the fact that manufacturers are clearly emphasising 29ers, 27.5 wheels are definitely not dead. There is still a massive audience for the smaller wheel and one that isn’t going anywhere in a hurry!

All I can say is, be honest with yourself in the decision. If you love the gnarly downhill descents, where stability and control are of highest priority, a 29er will most likely suit you the best. But on the contrary, if you want to shred the park with your mates, sending massive jumps and slapping berms, then perhaps the smaller 27.5 inch wheel is your match.

Mat Walker riding the detonate rock chute in his full face mountain bike helmet

The Future Of Mountain Bike Wheel Sizes

If history is a sign of what we can expect the future to bring, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing bigger wheels become mainstream.

Though I’m skeptical on the practicality of this.

Sure, a larger wheel size is going to prove even better than a 29er at high speed, but when do we draw the line?

Monster trucking over obstacles is great, but there has to be a point where the negatives begin to hinder rider experience too much.

I’d love to think that this isn’t the direction we’re heading and the mullet is going to be the future of mountain bikes. Coming from a mountain biker that loves all aspects of riding, partnering with one bike that is great for everything resonates highly with me.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s your take? Are you a 27.5 or 29 inch wheel kind of mountain biker?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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