The Disappearance of the 26er: Wheel Size Trends at Interbike 2013

Last year we slung a veritable well of virtual ink at the emergence of the 650b/27.5in wheel size. For all of our coverage to date on the ‘tweener wheels, check out our 650b (r)Evolution channel.

At first, when I showed up to Interbike this year, I thought there would be some big 650b news to share. Well, to be perfectly honest, the news isn’t who’s doing 650b, it’s who’s not… because almost everyone has fully embraced the 27.5in wheel size! The only notable exceptions are Specialized and Niner. Niner hasn’t produced a 27.5-er for obvious reasons, and with Specialized… it might just be a matter of time.

27.5 Santa Cruz Bronson Carbon

Consequently, I can’t even begin to write about all of the new 27.5 bikes this year, as there are so many of them it would make your head spin! However, what is interesting, is that some companies seem to be abandoning the 26in wheel size altogether.

This trend that is just now beginning to emerge, and it might not go anywhere, as there are plenty of wheel, tire, and bike companies that are producing a full complement of products in all three wheel sizes. But even with those companies who are supporting all three, almost all of the 26in products are simple carryovers from last year. Almost all of the new-and-improved products are 27.5 or 29.

Syd primarily noted the slow, but visible, disappearance of the 26er. He noted that Marin and Norco “are dropping 26 on nearly everything, except bikes under $590.” While most wheel and tire companies are running a full three sizes, Syd noticed that “Race Face and Reynolds are exclusively 27.5 and 29.”

Sure, there are still a few slow-adopters out there. Aside from the companies mentioned above, Felt still hasn’t embraced 27.5 like some of the other companies. However, they’ve produced what appears to be a token entry-level 27.5er, essentially just to show that 27.5 is on their mind and that they’ll have something more coming down the road.

Felt's entry-level 27.5 hardtail.

Wheel Size Vs. Application

Over a year ago, I postulated that wheel size would eventually filter out by application. Here’s how I broke it down:

  • Entry Level: 26?
  • Women’s/smaller frame bicycles: 26?
  • XC (hardtail and short travel dual suspension): 29?
  • Trail: 29? & 27.5?
  • AM: 27.5?
  • 4X: 26?
  • DJ: 26?
  • FR: 26?
  • DH: 26?

So far, as I expected, most 27.5in bikes are falling into the all-mountain/enduro category. I expected, even then, for there to be some outliers. Still, this year at Interbike, the number of outliers was a little surprising. Jeff observed, “all the wheel companies I spoke with seemed to be offering wheels in all sizes except at the extreme ends (no 29 for DH, no 26 for XC).”

Personally, I found the number of hardtail 650b bikes to be the most surprising. I already mentioned Felt, but there are many other brands offering this strange breed of mountain bike. Foundry, for one, recently announced their brand-new Tomahawk. With shorter, beefier chainstays, this rig is stiffer and more maneuverable than the Broadaxe 29er.

MSRP on the new Tomahawk with an X01 build is $4,050, and MSRP for an SLX 2×10 build is $3,175. Frame with headset will retail for $2,050.

While KHS stirred the pot with their 650b downhill prototype last year, Intense was actually first-to-market with a production 27.5 downhill rig. This actually shouldn’t be too surprising, as Intense has helped lead the 650b charge in recent years and is traditionally a gravity-oriented brand.

The Intense 951 Evo features a full 8.5in of travel, 62.5-degree head tube angle, and the frameset with Cane Creek DB shock retails for $2,900.

The Name Debate Isn’t Over

While I personally had hoped that the industry would settle on a name for the ‘tweener wheel size by the time Interbike 2013 rolled around, the debate is still far from over. Right now, it seems like most brands are playing it safe, and using both 27.5 and 650b. This makes for some pretty entertaining bike and wheel labels:

I’ve noticed that “27.5” has continued to gain more traction. In my estimation, while “twenty-seven-fiver” doesn’t roll off the tongue nearly as easily as “twenty-sixer,” “niner,” or even “six-fifty-b,” “27.5” might eventually come out ahead simply because it makes more sense when lined up next to “26” and “29.” Still, this debate is far from settled, so stay tuned to see what eventually shakes out.

29ers

I haven’t mentioned much in the way of 29ers in this article, but based on overall trends, the 29er isn’t going anywhere: there were plenty of new full-sus (as well as hardtail) 29ers on the Mandalay Bay showroom floor.

In fact, some companies are running 29in and 27.5in wheel sizes in many of the same bike models. Mostly these are larger companies that have the money to do so, but it’s still an interesting phenomenon. Take a look at Trek’s Remedy lineup:

While they currently have six 27.5/650b Remedy models compared to three 29er models, it doesn’t look like Trek has decided which way this part of the market will go, so they’re trying to split the difference and cover all of their bases.

Conclusion

Has the 26er disappeared already? Heck no. Will it ever disappear completely? Probably not, because some people will always want to be different. But if current trends continue, coming by 26in bikes, wheels, and tires might be more and more difficult as the years roll on.

As always, we’ll keep our eye on the market, and see what actually ends up happening, and what doesn’t!

Your Turn: Do you think the 26er will disappear?

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