• Country

Choosing Wheels? Size Is Everything

By Christopher Ashley

Few subjects are as divisive among trail riders as wheel size. You can’t put a 29” wheel on a 26” frame without cutting your frame and welding it back together, so your choice of wheel size is the first decision you should make when choosing a bike.

Today we are going to answer a simple question that we’re hearing a lot lately: What wheel size should I go for when buying a MTB? 

Here we look at the standard 26” as well as the larger 650b and the tank-like 29”.

Why 26” is the baby of the group but also the strongest

The 26” are known as wheels of the most common size to see in first and second hand bike shops and big brand stores. The smaller wheel is inherently stronger, and easier to make lighter – spoke for spoke. Wheels add a lot of weight to your bike, not just due to their size but due to the fact they spin. It’s called rotational energy – remember those roundabouts you played on as a kid?

The closer you were to the middle, the faster they’d spin. 26” are stronger, and lighter. On flat land they’ll use less energy to accelerate and they’ll be faster than the larger wheels.

650b is the pretender to the throne

Slightly larger than 26”, 650b won’t zip away from the pack on the flat. On rocky and gritty terrain it’s another story. The arc of a 650b wheel is “flatter” than the smaller 26”´s which means it suffers less from dropping into large gaps or holes in the terrain and keeps you moving.

Red Bull sponsored professional trials bike rider Danny MacAskill races his mountain bike

Arguably this compensates for any speed lost on less forgiving terrain, and keeps you zipping along where it matters the most – off road. That’s probably why this wheel size has captured the imagination of big names like Danny MacAskill, who used 650b Enve wheel upgrades in The Ridge.

Is 29” too big?

The manufacturers have been trying to get 29” right for some time now. Big wheels have been around since the Penny Farthing, but you’ll note that only the front wheel was big, and the seating position didn’t exactly invite pelting off road.

The biggest problem is making a frame that will fit 2×29” wheels and still be possible for someone under 6’5” to ride. Orange have been making their Clockwork range for 25 years, and the latest 29er rides like a tank. It doesn’t fly around a trail, but you barely have to lift your weight off the front to mount a curb, and it trundles over rocky debris without skipping a beat.


Pick the wheel size you’re going to use the most. The most common 26” bikes are easiest to get spares for – they’re everywhere. But all my local bike shops stock at least one of every wheel size bike, and you can order parts easily – if not from your LBC, you can order online.