Bike models change every year, but the last few years have seen some big changes in mountain bikes, specifically in wheel sizes.
From the early days of the off-road sport, 26-inch wheels have been the default size. Then riders found that a 29-inch wheel had advantages, mostly in speed, over the old standby.
Twenty-niner bikes flourished. Trek even designed and sold a unique “69er” mountain bike with a 29-inch front wheel and a special front shock coupled with a 26-inch rear wheel. But the “69er” never caught on.
Over the years, the sport began to branch off from its original disciplines of downhill and cross-country racing into Enduro, free-riding, dual-slalom, big air jumping, etc.
The 29ers are now dominating cross-country racing and recreational riding while Enduro and free-ride enthusiasts have flocked to long-form, multi-day trail events and jump-fests. The 29er just doesn’t work for those Jack-be-nimble riders.
Enter the 650b wheel, a.k.a. the 27.5-inch wheel. Smack between the 29er and the traditional MTB wheel, the 650b is proving to have performance characteristics that work well for Enduro and other trail events that require both speed and nimbleness.
The 650b also allows small-to-average size riders of both genders to enjoy the benefits of bigger wheels without having to grapple with a much bigger frame. What’s not to like?
The 29er has built its army of followers and bike makers have been keen to build dozens of 29er designs. But many have also been hesitant to go with the 650b/27.5 wheel. Companies built some limited runs of 650b compatible bikes, but everyone has been waiting for the next shoe to drop or be put back into the history bin.
But now, the next shoe has dropped, and dropped from a very high place. Trek has announced that it is making two new lines of 650b compatible mountain bikes: A six-bike line of 650b Remedy bikes (three carbon and three aluminum frames) and three aluminum Slash 650bs.
Trek influences the bike market and the market will have to respond. But the market better act fast.
“After a decade of alternative wheel-size development, testing refining and debating, it has become clear that for trail riders wheel size is primarily about riding style,” Trek global MTB brand manager Travis Ott told BIKE Magazine. “29 will be fastest for XC racing , but as we get into more trail riding, 650b and 29 can both excel on the same trail. Then it really comes down to how different riders tackle the same trail in their own way. So the Remedy now has the confidence-inspiring 29er option and the more playful 650b option. The Slash gets the new small-wheel treatment with a ground-up 650b chassis.”
The 26-inch wheel isn’t disappearing, but it will be just one of several options for mountain bike riders.
Let The Bike Lane know how you feel about the 26-27.5-29 evolution.