Is this still as big of a deal as we think it is? Working within the action sports industry, naturally I dipped into the cycling industry. This topic is something that I hear about on a weekly basis, if not more. So, I decided to break it down in my own opinion as to what you should be looking for when looking for a new mountain bike.
I deal a lot with Specialized and their mountain bike model line. So, I'll be using this as reference in this article.
First thing most of you will do is start looking online for information (let's be honest, it's probably what led you here) and you suddenly realize looking for advice in forums and places like that leave you feeling overwhelmed and unassisted in making your decision. Hopefully, that overwhelming feeling or the attitude of the responses of others hasn't turned you away from getting into mountain biking.
Some of the biggest questions I hear are: "What should I be riding, 29 or 650B (27.5")?"..."How do I know what I should be on?"...or "What is the difference?" Well, the first thing I always ask is "What type of riding do you want to do?" This will be the biggest help in deciding on which direction you should go in your selection. Once you figure out what type of riding you want to do, or what type of rider you are then you are on the right path.
I come from a background in motocross, so I tend to be a more playful rider. I move around a lot and jump a lot of things. So, for me 650B is my choice of size. I have ridden both sizes and while I have enjoyed both I just feel more comfortable on a 650. I loved my 29er but when I was jumping or throwing around the bike it just felt like a lot of wheel to deal with. The 650 feels much better to me in the air and even in most cornering scenarios. It feels much more comfortable in handling for me and my style of riding.
29 inch wheel sizes are great if you plan on riding XC (cross-country), or just want to get out and have a good time on the trails. You'll have plenty of ground clearance for obstacles and a fast wheel for the trails. Yes, test after test has proven that 29ers are the faster size wheel. There is no doubting that fact, which is great and all but what if you aren't concerned about speed? I hear the comment from people constantly that, "I am not a racer." Well, the good thing is, you don't have to be! You're looking to have fun, right?! You're going out and riding and that's all that matters. I understand that saying that "it is a personal preference" might not be the concrete evidence you're looking for. The above-mentioned points are just something to think about when deciding which bike to ride.
Another point to make in this great debate is that if you are a shorter rider, then 650 might be your best option. A medium 29 will sit higher than a medium 650 and let's be honest..the last thing you would like to worry about is your stand-over height on the bike. Racking yourself on the top tube every time you step off the bike (on flat ground, much less on rough trail terrain) will likely leave you wanting a solution or wishing you'd gotten a different bike. You'll find that most manufactures have models of the same bike in both of these wheel sizes so don't worry about having your selection narrowed because of that.
This article is focused mainly on tire size alone. Once you have figured that out (or have a sense of direction), there becomes a few more doors you get to open and look into. Frame geo, suspension travel, components, etc. Don't stress out though, all of that falls into place once you get these main points figured out and then figure out what you are looking to spend. You can go from $700 to $9,000 real quick, but picking the best bike for you starts to get easier at this point. This is the part where you might start feeling a little overwhelmed and don't know which trim model to choose.
SO...The best option I can offer from here is take a trip to your local bike shop and try them out! They will always be willing to help. Also, they will most likely have them in stock so then you can ride them back to back and see how you feel on the bike. If you want to take it farther than just around the parking lot, ask them when or if they ever have demo days. This is your best chance to ride some really nice bikes and actually take them on a trail to see how the bike acts with how you ride. Honestly, you can read all day long on this topic, or you can go out and give it a try.
Thanks for reading and I hope I cleared up some concerns. Maybe even put some things in your mind that you might not have thought of. Whatever the case, good luck in your search. If you have any other questions or concerns, then comment below.
Then....get off here and go find your bike!