29er or 27.5 - A small wheel first-timers experience
Updated: Aug 21
by Ken Fung (IG: @kenchifung)
The reverse mullet collage with @ukeethebordercollie
As a follow up to my bike check last month. I wanted to share my experience of being on a 29er and 275; and how the wheel sizes feel for me.
I'll start by saying that the Warden is my first 275 bike. Yes, I'm behind on the 275 wheel size "trend". I converted from a 26er to a 29er and stuck with the larger wheels size for the last 10 years and over 4 bikes.
These are my 7 weeks of untainted thoughts about the two different wheel sizes and I will be comparing the Fugitive versus the new Warden.
Note: my builds are similar between the two bikes in size Medium.
Suspension: 150mm Pike + 55mm stroke DPX2 (Fugitive), 160mm Lyrik + 60mm stroke DPX2 (Warden)
Tires: 2.5 Assegai + 2.3 Aggressor (Fugitive), 2.6 Assegai + 2.5 Dissector (Warden)
Wheels: i9 System 270 (Fugitive), i9 hubs + weareone Agent rims (Warden)
Drivetrain: X01 Eagle + carbon X01 crank (Fugitive), GX Eagle + Raceface NEXT R Carbon crank (Warden)
Brakes: CODE RSC (Fugitive), CODE R (Warden)
Both bikes have been ridden and compared in the Metro Vancouver area on the North Shore and Tricities. Rides have been on the same trails during the July-August COVID season in hero dirt, summer slop post-rain, and also in dry conditions.
The 29er wins hands down in terms of speed to get to the top - if that's your thing.
As the sporty rider in the office and the sicko that likes climbs, I find the 29er a very competent climber if you're KOM hunting. And predictably, the 29er rolls over roots and rock with ease, but not much more than the 275.
Now if you're a diesel engine and just want to get up to the top without being rushed, I actually found the 275 very grippy, even more so than the 29er; Going up D'yer Maker at the upper rooty section or the Baby Doll heads on Burke Mountain. I was very surprised at how capable and confident the 275 was. There is something to be said to be closer to the ground too. I found that the lower center of gravity was enabling me to pick and chose climbing lines better.
But again if you're riding with a bunch of friends and they are chasing that Strava badge go with the 29er. If your frequent riders are cracking open a beer at the top of every climb and being last isn't a bad thing, go with the 275.
Depending on how you like to ride your tech trail and what your definition is of "tech" is.
With low to mid speed North Shore-style trails like Fat Bastard, Bean, Nescafe, Seventh, Corkscrew and Boogie Man, I found the Warden has a slight edge because of the sharp corners after technical drops or rolls. The smaller wheels and the lower center of gravity also enabled me to stall/balance the bike at the top of techy features and have the time to look and assess before dropping in; with a 29er, I would come to a feature sometimes a bit too hot and either fumble my way through it or just monster truck it. With the 275, there joy in riding tech features at a slow pace with total control.
But by far, the lower center of gravity (the Warden already has a really low stack height) versus the 29er gives a sense of groundedness that make you feel confident in slow speed features like woodwork, steep slabs, and old school trail.
Fast Flow Trail
My first couple 29er ride experiences were on flow trail at the Whistler bike park. I was completely blown away at how fast a 29er was and how well it maintained and kept speed on groomed trail. This even translates to locally built trails in my area: Trails like Espresso, Manhandler/Three Pigs, and Boogie Nights are where I find the 29er fun and fast. I'm not much of an in-air and send-it rider but a grounded rider that love brapping corners. Gyroscopic effect of the 29er wheel is real; In the air you can feel the rotational effect versus a 275 and when making quick directional changes, there is slight hesitation with the 29er. However going into bermed corners with the 29er, the exit speed is ridiculous. Once the trail straightens out or smooths out, the larger wheels just want to accelerate.
With trails that have less quick directional changes and slow tech features, the advantage goes to the 29er. If you are hunting that downhill KOM or just "feel the need for speed", the 29er is a very appropriate wheel size.
275 over the 29er for acceleration from a complete stop or trying to get over a rock feature on a climb. The smaller wheel combined with the same gearing, there is a faster ability to get the wheel to a quick speed to get over an object on a climb. With the 29er, I feel that you have to break the initial momentum and weight of the larger tire and rim to get over objects; but once you get the 29er up to speed, it wants to roll over things easily.
It's tough to decide on technical climbs. If I'm feeling like a "climby" day, I will hammer at the pedals and the 29er is in it's environment and happy. But there are days when I just want to spin my pedals and the 275 feel good just to spin the legs at a constant cadence with minimal amount of hammering at the pedals.
Buzzing the crotch
Yes, I've had my shorts taken off by my 29er as going down steeps or sending it and trying to keep my weight behind and low on the bike. It's a real concern with 29ers; if it's never happened to you, you're not riding steep enough or you're really tall and have really long legs.
With the 275, I've yet to have my shorts removed by my Dissector; if you can picture the name of the tire plus the crotch buzzing, you can't unsee it.
This is a tough one for me to really make a decision on which one I would pick over the other.
I like fast, I like to motor through trails fast on the up and down; both bikes in my average rider perspective feel very similar. The 29er with it's 135mm travel and the 275 with it's 160mm travel evens out in terms of shock absorption (now this could be a Knolly Fourx4 thing) .
I truely find the 29er really fun on new school-style build up trail for pure speed and just monster trucking over armored or rock-paved trail. Conversely, I find the 275 really fun on tech trails where I need a slow approach because of exposure or sketchy roots/rock to drop.
The 275 feels more fun when the bike is in the air and it's easy to change direction at all speeds - which makes this wheel really fun! If I just want to be ahead of my riding group and have bragging rights, I'll take the 29er.
So what do I think?
The industry wants to push the newest thing and people are sold on the marketing versus ride quality and enjoyment for a given rider size and riding style. As someone that's not experienced a 275 till about 7 weeks ago, am I sold on 29ers? I'm not so sure anymore.
Having said that, I'm beginning to wonder on the mullet concept of my Warden. Maybe I'll take the best of both worlds and take my Fugitive fork and install it on my Warden to get that perfect 29/275 combo.
Trail Thanks to