photo: Aaron Chamberlain

At the 2016 Sea Otter Classic, we couldn’t walk into a booth without tripping over a new plus bike. For a brief moment, it seemed plus tires (2.8″-3.2″) would relegate “normal” width tires to the trash heap of mountain bike history. But as we all know, hype doesn’t always accurately reflect reality. I for one, felt pretty “meh” about the early plus bikes because most I tested were awkward, cumbersome, and frequently hamstrung by lackluster tires. There were, however, a couple standouts, namely the Ibis Mojo 3 and the Rocky Mountain Pipeline.

No new product is perfect though; manufacturers continue to work on improving frame geometries, and tires continue to get better too.

See Also
By Jeff Barber

One of the few plus bikes I’d actually want to own (photo: Aaron Chamberlain)

When we returned to Sea Otter in April of 2017, we noticed a distinct lack of new plus bikes. E-bikes and slightly-less-plus 2.6″ tires had shoved plus bikes out of the limelight and off the stage. But again, a trade show isn’t necessarily indicative of the market as a whole. With that in mind, we asked our readers about plus bike ownership as part of our annual gear survey.


Just shy of 2,000 of you responded to our question about plus bikes

In 2016, we published a lengthy infographic all about plus bikes and tires. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to check it out below. Our results show that, at the time, just 4% of our readers were riding plus bikes. A little over a year later, the proportion of riders on plus bikes increased dramatically to 20.1%. Around 4% of respondents are riding a bike they converted to run plus tires, likely a 29er to 27.5+ conversion.

Most surprising, however, is the fact that nearly 16% of our readers are riding a dedicated plus bike. Considering plus bikes have only been widely available for about a year, that’s rapid adoption.

Two percent of respondents weren’t sure if they had a plus bike or not which is completely understandable. Plus is an admittedly mushy term, but basically it covers tires from 2.8″ to 3.2″. At least 2% of you don’t know — or care — what size tires your bike runs.

Of course, that leaves 77% of respondents who are not riding plus bikes.

The Future

A Schwalbe 27.5+ (left) next to a standard 27.5 (photo: Greg Heil)

Alright, time for some predictions. Will the rate of plus bike adoption continue apace? My gut tells me probably not. For one, we aren’t seeing companies debut the sheer quantity of plus bikes that they did just a year ago. After a couple seasons of cooling off, 29ers — especially long-travel bikes — are back en vogue. Although how long that will last is anyone’s guess. That said, there are plenty of companies offering plus builds or at least plus compatibility on their bikes. Thanks to Boost spacing, which increased tire clearance on frames and forks, a 27.5+ tire will fit just about any new 29er frame today.

29er trail bikes, like this 150mm travel Trek Slash, seem to be sucking up all the new bike oxygen (photo: Sterling Lorence)

Anecdotally, from conversations with people in the business, plus bike adoption is somewhat regional. Our data for last year’s infographic didn’t bear out any regional bias, but we collected that data at the beginning of the trend. Similar to fat bikes, plus bikes excel in certain terrains and not in others. With a narrow range of applications, plus bikes will eventually saturate those markets. Everyone who wants and can afford one, will have a plus bike.

Maxxis rapidly expanded their 2.6″ tire offerings this year in both 27.5″ and 29″ diameters (photo: Chris Daniels)

And finally, the emergence of 2.6″ tires looks to halt further plus adoption. This crop of tires offer increased traction and better damping compared to 2.3″ tires, but do so at a lower weight than a 2.8″ or 3.0″ tire. The 2.6s are also more likely to fit on a 27.5″ trail bike, where the taller and wider 2.8s might not.

To clarify, I don’t think plus tires are going anywhere. They offer some distinct benefits and more importantly, people like riding them because they’re fun. But far from taking over, plus tires are just another option on the overstuffed mountain biking menu.

# Comments

  • Plusbike Nerd

    The Plusbike revolution is over and Plusbikes have won! Most “Narrow” trailbikes now come with i30 rims and 2.4 tires. Only a few years ago before Plusbikes, most trailbikes came with i23 rims and 2.2 tires And now, many of the new 2018 trailbikes are coming with i35 rims and 2.6 tires. Yes, the original Plusbikes wheels with their i45 rims and 3.0 tires were just to heavy and slow rolling. I think that i35 rims with 2.4 to 2.8 tires go along way to solving those problems and will become the new “Tween” trailbike normal. Think how great it would be to just switch tires and go from Narrowbike to Plusbike – one wheelset for both! Both the 2018 Ibis Mojo and the 2018 Trek Slash pictured above will accept 2.4 to 2.8 tires. Narrowbikes are going to become XC racer only where all that matters is light weight and fast climbing. The increased traction and flotation of high volume, low pressure tires cannot be denied. If you like the Narrowbike your now riding, keep riding it. But, when you are ready for a new bike, you are going to want something wider. Wider really is better!

  • mongwolf

    Aaron, you mention that plus tire adoption is somewhat regional and that the tires/bikes excel in certain terrains. So what regions are showing the most interest for plus bikes? And in what specific terrains do the bikes excel?

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      Again, keep in mind that this is anecdotal, but the Southwest and Midwest seem to have higher adoption. From my own experience, plus bikes don’t do well in wet, rooty places like some of our riding here in the Southeast and I’m sure it’s a similar story in the Northwest. I really liked the Rocky Mountain Pipeline I rode in Moab. It muted the constant lumpiness of the slickrock and transitioned well to the sand sections. Much different than riding a plus bike in Georgia.

  • Slyham

    I bought a new bike this year and it was a plus bike. I went plus to try it out and also I can throw a set of 29er on as well. Might as well have the option when buying a new bike.

    Also, as a 215 lbs rider I was breaking spokes on my non boost 29er every month. I’ve been riding for a while with the plus tires and haven’t had a broken spoke yet. As I bigger rider I like having a little more cushion from the tire.

    When I get a set of 29er wheels I plan on trying the 2.6 tire size to see how that feels.

    • Aaron Chamberlain

      The spokes breaking shouldn’t have anything to do with what size tire you’re running or with the hub spacing.

      How/where were the spokes breaking?

  • fwrider

    All I know is that when I test rode a plus bike with 2.8 tires, it was so dramatically better that I bought one. It doesn’t slow me down at all, it’s way more confident and fun on any terrain, especially rocky. So from a riding standpoint there’s no question in my mind that it’s better. And I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon. Dis-advantages however, at the moment since it’s a new thing, you’ll find that there are only a couple of tires on the market to choose from at 2.8 size. And they’re about $80. Plus if you need tubes for backup you most likely won’t find them in your local shop in stock, or the tires for that matter. So if you’re not stocked up on an extra tire and/or a tube you may be off the bike for a few days if you have a flat or an un-repairable tire puncture until you get one in. Which is exactly what happened to me on my second ride when I ran over a large piece of glass. I’m sure this will change as the popularity of plus bikes increases but for now it’s an inconvenience.

    • Jeff Barber

      You can use 29er tubes–they work great in my experience.

  • ironhead700

    A 29+ bike (2016Trek Stache) is definitely a game changer for me. As a predominately XC rider, 6′-2″ & 210lbs, this bike allowed me to ride…………and enjoy……….. more technical trails with confidence. The “steam roller” front end, Manitou Magnum 34 Pro fork with the 29 x 3 tires, allow the bike roll over just about any obstacle with little effort. This bike is all about the tyres, though, and with lower pressures, a giant contact patch, fairly aggressive tread and good rubber compound, the 3in Chupacabras have tenacious hold. The Stache is my “go to” bike and I believe 3″ tires are here to stay and will eventually be the norm.

  • TuacaTom

    Let the market decide. I’ve already seen Plus Hard Tails less than $1,000. I’ve ridden my share of low cost bikes and prefer the best I can afford for my personal taste.

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