Only The Lonely: Riding a 26 MTB Wheel

With so much development taking place within the cycling industry, we take a look at wheel sizes and try to convince you to let common sense and your riding style take over, by simply choosing the wheel that suits you and not the one that marketing wants you to ride. 

By all accounts the bike manufacturers are developing a new wheel size, a 30” beast called ‘my wheel is bigger than yours.” Nah, of course they’re not, because ultimately it doesn’t really matter what you ride. Your bike should be comfortable, well built and ideal for the terrain that you ride most frequently. Add to that the retro scene, where lots of people seem to be buying up old 26ers in order to recapture the awesome ride feel that a 26” bike gave and yes, still does.

Yes, you’ve probably guessed it, I have 3 x 26” mountain bikes in my collection, with 2 x 27.5ers also hanging up. I’m not sad, nor lonely, I don’t go to counselling or wear a duffle coat even in spring and I don’t collect stamps, albeit I think stamps are kinda cool. I do however see no reason to change a bike that rides perfectly well when I have other priorities in life – yes, in truth I do have a life outside of bikes, it’s called a family and it’s a great reality checker, especially where finance is concerned. I guess that the truth is that nobody can justify a bike change simply because the wheel might be a slight bit larger, especially when ultimately you still have a very good bike. Yes, life is about priorities and not about folowing trends – be yourself and feel the freedom from the social media crowds.

Let’s get back to the good old 26” wheel then. It’s a bike standard that still handles remarkably well on tight and twisty technical terrain. Yes, where quick reactions are required on twitchy trails, the 26” is an ideal choice. It provides increased lateral strength for more adventurous riding and whilst it’s less forgiving over roots and rocks, if you have the handling skills it’s perfectly fine – so go work on your handling by riding flats for a while. In terms of decreased efficiency due to the suspension pedal bob which can be an issue with a 26er, I’ve fitted Rotor Q Rings to the bike and this has been easily dealt with, producing a great climbing bike too. Coupled with the Pro Pedal dampening on the rear Fox RP23 unit, it’s an ideal setup for the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales natural riding routes.

In truth, if I needed a new machine then yes, I’d certainly be looking towards a 27.5, as it provides a perfect balance across most rider requirements. However, as it stands I have a great set of bikes, nicely set up with XTR, Hope hubs and brakes, and lots of DT Swiss wheels alongside the highly tuneable and very reliable Fox RP23 at the rear, which my good friend Guy Kesteven gave 4.5 marks to in his early review. My main bike has a Talas 32 looking after my overall comfort upfront, ensuring things don’t dive under on descents in particular and definitely keeping things smooth, especially when set at 120. Now I’d say that’s not something to simply throw aside for an inch or two.

Anyway, it boils down to this: most bikes these days are great and yes, there’s thankfully lots of differences. However, you should always ride the bike that you like the feel of and not the one that you think looks good in a crowd, because ultimately it’s about adventure and enjoyment and a bike is the ultimate device to take to you there – so choose the bike for you, not for the marketing. These days you can pick up a 26 wheeled full sus for next to nothing, yet it’ll be kitted out like a dream bike, so what’s not to like if the ride suits you. Yep, it may just be time for you to go retro – be brave, be different.

In the meantime I’m off for some lonesome pine trail riding on a classic and well kitted out 26er, because it rides just nicely thank you and it would cost an unjustifiable amount to replace right now. Furthermore it’s has been lovingly looked after, like every bike should be, because they’re part of who we are. Yes, just love tight technical trails and the type of twisting single track where the 26” is still right at home.