What is the Best Mountain Bike Wheel Size


M Callaghan

10/6/20236 min read

26 twenty six mtb
26 twenty six mtb

This blog post explores why the 26” wheel is the best size for mountain bikes. We discuss the versatility of 26” wheels, which can handle a wide range of terrains, and their ability to provide a comfortable ride. We also touch on their widespread availability, affordability, and their crucial role in the evolution of mountain biking history. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, 26” wheels can provide you with an excellent riding experience on a wide range of terrains

I have something to say,

I'm not going to lie!

I have thought long and hard about how I want this to sound when I tell you this, as it's not something you hear every day.

Here it goes, I'm going to say it……

26-inch wheels are the best size for MTB!

Cycling has had wheels of all sizes, but MTB kept to one size for so long that it became the norm, until 2007 that is when Kirk Pacenti pioneered the way. When the switch to 27.5 started to happen in 2013, a plethora of companies introduced the 650b wheel but the bikes didn't have the best geometry. The frame sizes were way out of sync, and some of us (ME) couldn't let go of the past. I'm still holding on tight to the hope “I can relive my misspent youth.”

I still own multiple 26-inch wheeled mountain bikes, granted most of them are 15+ years old, but that's not a problem. They all still ride as well as they did the day they rolled off the production line. So the tech might be old, but “it ain’t broken, so why change it?” Im sure that's how the saying goes.

Information suggests that the concept of the purpose-built mountain bike was thanks to Joe Breeze around 1977-78, but it's hard to pinpoint when the wheel size was introduced. I’m not going to profess to know the in’s and out’s of the history of cycling (I’m learning as I go) but I am going to drop some great information I have found online from my investigations.

In the 1990s, the 26” wheel size became the standard for mountain bikes. This was partly due to the availability of lightweight and durable rims and tires that were specifically designed for off-road riding. The 26-inch wheel size also allowed for more suspension travel, which improved the bike's overall performance on rough terrain.

During this period, mountain biking was becoming increasingly popular, and many manufacturers were experimenting with new designs and technologies to make their bikes more capable and efficient. One notable development was the introduction of full suspension bikes, which allowed riders to tackle even more challenging terrain with greater speed and control.

However, despite the advancements in bike technology, the 26-inch wheel remained the most popular size for mountain bikes throughout the decade. It was seen as the perfect balance between agility, stability, and comfort, making it a favorite among riders of all skill levels.

Even today, many mountain bikers still prefer the 26-inch wheel size, especially those who prioritize maneuverability and responsiveness over speed and efficiency. However, larger wheel sizes have become more prevalent in recent years, and some manufacturers have even stopped producing bikes with 26-inch wheels altogether.

Nevertheless, the 26-inch wheel size remains an essential part of mountain bike history, marking a significant milestone in the evolution of the sport. It was a time when riders were pushing the limits of what was possible on a mountain bike, and the 26-inch wheel played a crucial role in making that happen. Today, we can look back on the 1990s as a period of innovation and progress that helped shape the modern mountain biking landscape

So back to the wheel size. 26” wheels give a great basis to start on as that’s where a lot of riders started. One of the most crucial components of a mountain bike is its wheels, they've got to be durable enough to withstand the punishment of the trail. While there are various sizes of wheels available, the 26” wheel has been the standard for mountain bikes for many years, and for good reason. In this blog post, we will explore why the 26” wheel is the best size for mountain bikes. Now in 2023 we have several sizes and we’re spoilt for choice, it used to be so simple.

Firstly, 26-inch wheels are incredibly versatile, there might be a great deal of bias due to nostalgia on my behalf when wheel size is considered, but there are tests that show for some disciplines, stages, and terrains, that suit 26” wheels. They can handle a wide range of terrains, from rocky descents to technical climbs. 26ers provide excellent traction, which is essential when riding on loose or muddy terrain. Their smaller size also allows for more nimble handling thus making it easier to maneuver around tight corners and obstacles on the trail. Riders of all skill levels can benefit from the versatility of 26-inch wheels.

Benefits also extend as far as when jumping a bike, a bike's maneuverability and flic ability are more controlled and take less effort they just work better.

Secondly, 26ers offers a more comfortable ride. The smaller diameter of the wheel means that it can absorb more shock from bumps and rough terrain, resulting in a smoother ride for the rider. This is especially important for longer rides, where comfort is crucial for endurance. A smoother ride also means less fatigue for the rider, allowing them to ride for longer periods without feeling as tired.

So there are some benefits to the size wheels on trails, in dirt jumping for instance riders still use 26” wheels in Trials 26” wheels are still used although the bikes themselves are no longer what can be described as a modified mountain bikes but more like something from a sci-fi movie. The 26” stays the same throughout though.

Lastly, 26-inch wheels are more affordable than larger sizes. While larger wheels, like the 27.5- 650b and 29-inch, have become more popular in recent years, (dominated the new bike market) they are also more expensive to produce. As a result, bikes with larger wheels end up being more expensive than those with 26-inch wheels. This makes 26-inch wheels an attractive option for riders who are looking for a reliable mountain bike at an affordable price.

I do want to compare a more up-to-date 27.5 and 29er to the 26” bikes I’m racing this year in the Welsh enduro series. If you haven’t read that blog yet go find it that’s going to be a series of blogs following my journey back into racing. But hopefully, I’ll be able to get some testing done by visiting some bike parks in between racing and seeing what sites suit my 26” Cannondale Gemini 2000 and my Devinci Dixon.

In conclusion, the 26-inch diameter wheel is the best size for mountain bikes due to its versatility, comfort, availability, and affordability (and the fact it’s just the best)! Whether you are a beginner or an experienced rider, 26-inch wheels can provide you with an excellent riding experience on a wide range of terrains.

So if you are in the market for a mountain bike, consider the benefits of 26-inch wheels and find the perfect bike for your next outdoor adventure plus you can Scruge McDuck it just like me and get a cheap used one for a fraction of the cost for a new bike in 2023.

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Thanks and remember Go and Cycle.

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