After the mountain bike community was finally starting to simmer down about all the hype surrounding 29 inch wheels, what better way to keep the ‘hate’ flowing than by introducing a whole new wheel size again!
As people became more aware of the benefits of the 27.5 inch craze it caught on pretty rapidly and inspired some testing on the world cup downhill scene. It didn’t take long for manufacturers to start prototyping frames and forks to accommodate this new wheel size.
I have been riding 26 inch bikes for as long as I can remember, until recently when I decided to cut a few laps on my dads new 29er trail bike. After initially feeling like I was riding a monster truck, the benefits became quite clear and without even riding a 27.5 inch wheel I knew it was something I definitely wanted to try on my downhill bike. Fortunately for me, the Bilt Eight I am currently riding and racing is designed to fit both 26 and 27.5 inch wheels, which makes a direct comparison very simple. After somehow convincing the boss (Bill Dengate, from Bilt Bikes) to give me a lend of his brand new 27.5 carbon wheelset, we were up and rolling in no time.
I kicked things off at some local trails, only making a few small adjustments to head angle and suspension settings to adapt to the big wheels. I also had to make slight adjustments to my body position on the bike and the way I approached obstacles. However, after a couple of hours I felt right at home on the new setup and was definitely enjoying what the big wheels had to offer.
I felt that the bike rolled noticeably faster and had more grip which allows for faster cornering and exit speeds. The wheels seemed to allow me to float over the top of holes and skim through rock sections that I was previously getting bogged down in using my 26 inch wheels. However, I did notice the big wheels were lacking in a few areas as the bike rides a bit higher off the ground and is not as maneuverable in the air.
In a nutshell, I found the positives of the 27.5 inch wheels definitely outweigh the negatives, but I don’t think it will suit all downhillers, offering greater benefits to taller riders with a flowy and smooth riding style. The bigger wheels I think would hinder riders with a more aggressive and loose style as the bike is less manoeuvrable. The only way to really know is to try it out yourself.