26 vs. 27.5 vs. 29 bikes – Which is The Best Mountain Bike?

If you are into mountain biking and mountain bikes, you might get confused over which bike to buy for the best performance on the undulating and unpredictably rocky trails that you are about to take. With 26, 27.5, and 29 bikes regarded as some of the best wheel sizes for mountaineering, understanding how these three sizes differ is essential. There are full suspension and hardtail bikes in these sizes, and if you are looking for the perfect bike, it might help to know what sets these bikes apart from each other. Well, apart from the wheel sizes.

In this article, we’ll look at everything you need to know about these three mountain bikes and how they differ from each other.

A word of caution though – there really isn’t that one perfect bike for everyone. Bikes come in different designs, and they have variations in their advantages and disadvantages. What would make a bike perfect for you would be how the bike feels when you ride it, how it fares on different terrains, and whether the bike gives you that ultimate biking experience or not.

Below, we look at the features that set these three types of bikes apart. Most importantly, we’ll help you select the best bike to match your needs, height, and terrain you are planning to conquer.

How do the 26, 27.5, and 29 Compare?

Short Riders
Cross Country rides
Single Track
Hardtail/ Full Suspension
Hardtail Suspension
Full Suspension
Full Suspension

26 vs. 27.5 vs. 29 bikes – How do they differ?

26” Mountain Bikes

Word has it that the 26 mountain bike is dead (or is dying). While the rise in sales for the 27.5/ 27.5+, and the 29er are on the rise, the truth is that the 26” isn’t completely dead yet as there still are a few of these mountain bikes around.

Although this bike isn’t the most popular option around, it’s pretty much the standard bike for mountaineering thanks to the smaller size of the wheels that make for excellent riding on fast and twitchy terrains that call for fast reaction times. Unfortunately, the 26” bike isn’t the ultimate mountain bike because the small wheel size makes the bike less forgiving, especially when going over roots, bumps, and rocks. The other thing you need to know about the 26inch is that the smaller wheel size means the need for the extra suspension to make up for the size of the wheels. And even with the extra suspension, the wheels and the suspension system need to be designed right to avoid a decrease in the bike’s overall efficiency or an increase in the pedal’s bob.

Ask yourself if you are willing to compromise on stability and control of the bike for the bike’s lower weight. The smaller wheel footprint leaves you with less traction, the suspension will soak up the terrain resulting in lower efficiency, you’ll need higher tire pressure, and the bike is less forgiving.

Given these considerations and the negatives that come with dealing with the 26, upgrading to the 27.5 or the 29er would be a good idea.

27.5” or 650B Mountain Bike

The next best upgrade from the 26inch is the 650B or 27.5”. The wheel size is larger and works best for anyone looking for a bike that balances out the pros and cons of the 26 and the 29er.

Since the bike’s tires are wider, these bikes tend to be more forgiving and offer faster speeds. The responsiveness could be better, though, which is why most riders will choose the 27.5plus over the 27.5.

Some of the advantages of the 27.5 bike include higher forgiveness than the 26, higher speeds, and acceleration; you’ll need less suspension hence a higher biking efficiency; it also offers better traction compared to the 26” bike. It’s imperfect, though, and all its features and pros are unmatched to the 29ers.

29er Mountain Bike

The 29er has to be the most popular mountain bike on the market today. It’s the perfect alternative to the 26” and the 27.5” bikes as it boasts larger wheels, which not only make the bike an ideal option for longer rides but also more stability and great traction on the uneven rocky trails. The large 29er wheels mean higher speeds, improved traction, and easy-rolling over roots, ruts, stumps, and rocks. This bike is quite stable, and it offers travel between 100 and 120mm.

Some of the advantages of this bike include the reduced need for suspension; hence an increase in efficiency, fast top-end speeds, a higher level of forgiveness, great traction, and you might also like it because it’s an excellent fit for tall riders, as well as steep descents and climbs. Also, you get to ride more confidently, it has a high rotational weight, and it offers very confident rides.

There are drawbacks, though – it’s not ideal for FR/ DH riders, the extra weight of the tires reduces its efficiency, it’s reaction speed is low, and it’s not ideal for shorter/ smaller riders.

26 vs. 27.5 vs. 29 diameter

As the name suggests, the diameter of the 26inch bike is smaller than the 27.5 and the 29 bikes. To understand how the diameter of the wheels affects the performance of the bikes, think of that tire as a ramp or an inclined plane.

When that wheel is in contact with a bump, a triangular shape forms at the top edge of the block in contact with the wheel and back to the point that the wheel makes contact. If the triangle is steep, it will be harder for that wheel to get up and over that bump/ block. The diameter of the wheel comes in question here. If the diameter is small, the angle of contact with the bump is steeper, and the bike might be stopped in its tracks because it’s too small to get over the bump. In case of the 26”, 27.5”, and the 29er, the difference in the strike angle might be very small, but that difference matters. Even a 5% difference between the 26 and the 29er, for example, will change the cumulative effect for rolling up that bump, and the larger diameter wheel will roll over the bump with a noticeably reduced rolling resistance.

The difference in diameter further affects the relationship between the wheel axles and the bottom bracket center. Bikes with a larger wheel diameter have a reduced bottom bracket, hence a lowered center of gravity, hence a more stable feel for the chassis. For the 26, 27.5. and the 29ers, the difference in the bottom bracket might seem little, but close examination reveals that the 29-inch has a larger cornering axis; it puts more of your weight below the axles, hence an increase in its stabilization effects. So, for more stability, you need a larger diameter wheel.

Note that the 26” has a diameter of 559mm, the 27.5 is 584mm in diameter, and it’s also called the 650B, and the 29er is 622mm (700C).

26 vs. 27.5 vs. 29 for short riders

An increase in the distance between the ground and your head affects the bike’s comfort and your riding ability, which is why considering your height is a very important factor.

For tall riders, the 29er is the ideal choice, especially if you are over 6ft tall. But if you are in the 5’6” range, then the 27.5 would make a good choice. Some tall riders enjoy the 27.5 bikes as well.

If you are a mid-height rider, you might be the lucky rider that can comfortably fit in the 26, 27.5 and the 29er. But if you are a short rider, 5ft and below, the 29er might not be the ideal ride for you, but you will do well with the 26 or the 27.5.

26 vs. 27. 5 vs. 29 for cross country

Wondering which of these bikes is ideal for cross country rides?

While these bikes are all designed for mountain riding, we find that the 29er is the best option for cross-country riding thanks to its versatile design. It does an excellent job of blending with hardtails easily because it’s design offers a good balance of the 26 and the 27.5. It’s resilient on climbs and descends, and the wider wheels offer great traction and stability for maneuvering different terrains.

But for long-distance cross-country rides, you need a bike that offers the best balance of weight and performance. So, in as much the 29er offers better ground contact and good rollover capabilities, the extra weight will pull you back, and you need to save on weight, which is why the 27.5 is a preferable option for those cross-country rides. Besides choosing lighter bikes, you also need to consider a bike made of ultra-lightweight carbon fiber frames, rims, seatposts, and handlebars. A tubeless bike would be preferable.

If you don’t mind the extra weight, you could still take the 29er on a cross-country ride.

26 vs. 27.5 vs. 29 Enduro

Enduro racing is a type of mountain biking, a multi-faceted cycling sport with 3-6 timed racing stages. The races call for a great deal of mental stamina for these XC-style races, and you need to invest in the right racing equipment and gear.

In this case, the best Enduro bike is one capable of riding uphill and downhill all day, while remaining comfortable. The ideal Enduro bike has a travel of between 100 and 140mm if there isn’t much of an elevation change, and between 140 and 160mm for steep trails. The brakes should be perfect, and if you are riding on steep areas with loose, muddy, rocky, or hard areas, you will need wider and tough wheels. With these considerations in mind, the 29er is the perfect bike for Enduro racing. The tires of the 27.5 and 26 aren’t as wide or sturdy for Enduro.

5 vs. 29 Single-Track

Single tracks are the most common type of trail in mountain biking, and the riding trail is just a little wider than your shoulders and just wide enough to fit two bikes. These trails are open to one-way rides, which means that the bike selected should be highly maneuverable, with good traction, and capable of handling different terrains, descents, and climbs. The selected bike should have an overall sensible weight, fun, and efficient. Between the 27.5 and the 29er, the 27.5 better fits the profile for the best bike for single-track riding. It’s fast, maneuverable, offers good traction, and good stability.

26 vs. 29 Hardtail and Full Suspension

The full-suspension mountain bike comes with both the suspension forks for the front and the rear shocks, while the hardtail bike will only come with the suspension fork. Understanding the difference and the type of suspension that each bike has is important because the suspension of the bike affects the bike’s traction, control, and comfort, not to mention how confident the ride feels. One of the primary factors that determine the differences between thee bikes is your budget. You need a hardtail bike if you are shopping on a tight budget, but if you are splurging a little, you can go for the full-suspension bike.

Between the 26 and the 29er, we’d recommend choosing a full-suspension system for the 29er for an enhanced riding efficiency, especially if you will be riding over rocks. The full suspension will translate to better traction on the rough terrain areas and by soaking up jarring bumps, less fatigue, and more comfortable rides, not to mention faster-riding speeds.

The 26 will be fine with the hardtail suspension, especially since this bike is ideal for smoother rides, and you don’t need extra traction or shock absorption. Hardtail suspension also means faster rides over moderately bumpy areas. Given then smaller diameter wheels, the hardtail suspension will work fine with the 26-inch bike.

Compare 26 and 29 mountain bikes

Though fast, the 26-inch bike comes with smaller wheels, which unfortunately means that you will feel more impact from bumps.

The 26’s circumference is smaller than 29er’s, its rim is stronger, and it’s more capable of resisting deformations from impact; which is why this bike is great at handling crashes and hard drop-off, with no risk of loss of shape. This bike is also very maneuverable, hence a good option for technical rides, especially on the tough courses. Thanks to its design features, the 26 is ideal for downhill rides, as long as the bike has excellent suspension. The bike also works great in technical rides.

The 29er (700C), on the other hand, is a 622mm bike that boasts an excellent level of rolling resistance, which means more speeds. This bike also has a large circumference, which translates to more tire space in contact with the ground, and a higher level of traction. It rolls over large obstacles with ease. The 29er is ideal for longer races, including cross-country races and rides.


Will a 29er wheel fit a 27.5 fork?

Yes, but keep in mind that this conversion will leave you with a 27.5+ bike.

The main reasons why you’d want to convert or transfer a 29er’s wheel into a 27.5 fork include the need for better handling and more versatility should you need to come up with your own trail.

The conversion of the 29er into a 27.5 bike is a move that will make it possible for you to create a big fat bike with better suspension. You need to know what you are doing, though, and for the most part, this means working with someone who gets bikes. The good news is that the top-to-bottom clearance is hardly an issue for these 29er conversions because the outer diameter of the 27.5+ will be almost similar to that of the standard 29er. However, you have to work around the side to side clearance.

You’ll be happy to know that the biking industry has settled for the 3inch difference, and these bikes are regarded as plus-size. While the 27.5 tires vary in diameter from 2.8 to 3.25 inches, you will be safer working with the 2.8-inch tire as a start.

An important consideration to note is that the geometry will change a little, which means that you might find yourself bashing on roots and rocks more often.

The good news, however, is that the new changes will cause an upshot in the bike’s performance from the drop in the center of gravity. These changes will result in an improvement in the bike’s handling, as well as an improvement in the bike’s cornering.

For these changes, you only need a 27.5 bike whose tires are a little wide.

Can I put 27.5 wheels on a 26 bike?

Converting your 26-inch bike will help in making your rides smoother because the wider wheels offer more traction, and they have better shock absorption capabilities, hence comfortable rides on rocky and uneven terrains.

Unfortunately, this conversion doesn’t always work because not all the 26-inch frames will be compatible with the 27.5-inch wheels. You also need to keep in mind that this conversion would be challenging, especially where you will face geometry trouble or where you have inadequate clearance. Regarding geometry, the 1.5-inch difference in wheel sizes will mean that the resultant bike will stand 0.75 inches taller than the original 26inch’s height.

So, for this conversion to be successful, you must work on creating enough clearance that will allow for the 26 to 27.5 conversion. You’ll need fox forks since these are the only forks compatible with your 27.5 wheels.

Finally, make sure that the chosen wheels are compatible with the 27.5 because any incompatibilities would mean that the frame either rubs on the seatstays or the bottom bracket.

Are 26-inch mountain bikes obsolete?

No. While the 29ers, 27.5, and 27.5+ have become the market standard for the best mountain bikes; the 26-inch isn’t dead. You can still enjoy riding this bike if you are looking for a bike that offers higher riding speeds and more agility on smoother surfaces. Keep in mind that the small size of the bike means that the wheels are stronger, which is a good feature for fast downhill rides.

Can you convert 27.5 to 29er?

Yes. Thanks to the larger diameter of the 27.5 (close to the 29er), the conversion is possible. Unfortunately, this conversion is better with the 27.5+ rather than the 27.5 standard bikes. With the standard 27.5 bikes, there will be changes in geometry for you to deal with, and the bottom bracket’s height will drop significantly. These changes will further result in the lowering of the pedal stroke’s bottom point at the crank arm, forcing a spike in the pedals. The new geometrical bearings will be lower and longer, and you have to work harder on crank placement when riding over rocks or logs. The conversion will affect the gearing as well.

For seamless conversion, you need disc brakes. If you have caliper brakes, you should avoid this conversion.

Can you upgrade 26 to 29 rims?

Yes/ No.

Yes, if your bike has a suspension front fork, that would allow you to swap out the fork for the regular or the hybrid fork. After the suspension correction, you’ll need new disc brakes for the 29er. Use rims or the disc brakes (depending on the fork) for the regular suspension.

No. There are cases where the 29er’s wheel won’t fit in the 26 frame.

Even with the possibility of this change happening, it’s a complicated process, and the results won’t be satisfactory. Depending on the type of brakes you are dealing with, be ready to changes in the distance from the front rims and the fork crown, as well as the clearance between the tire and fork crown.


Choosing which of these three bikes to use will depend on your needs, height, and the trails you will be riding.