Mountain Bikes have come a long way since their induction in 80’s. From Dropper Posts to Electronic Shifting, there have been leaps and bonds in regard to the innovation Mountain Biking has seen over the years.
And while many aspects of Mountain Biking and Mountain Bikes have changed over this time, one Mountain Bike feature has remained constant up until recent years – the 26-inch wheel.
Although 26ers have been around since the very start of Mountain Biking, the recent popularity of 27.5- and 29-inch wheels has had a lot of us Mountain Bikers wondering about the fate of our tried and true 26ers.
With 29ers boasting superior speed and stability and 27.5-inch bikes being the middle ground between speed and agility, you may be wondering if they are still worth investing in.
Since no two riders are the same, we decided to create a guide for those who are on the fence about 26ers. Along with a few commonly asked questions, here is a list of the 14 Pros and Cons of 26er bikes.
For a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of 26er bikes, here is an at-a-glance look at some of the points we break down in this article. If you’re interested in how 26ers stack up against other Mountain Bikes sizes, check out these articles on the other popular wheel sizes available; Pros and Cons of 29ers.
1. Stronger Wheels
While there are definitely merits to having larger wheels, you cannot argue with one of the best and most important benefits of 26er bikes – their strength.
Even with all the supposed benefits of larger wheels, it is easy to see why 26-inch wheels have been the standard for years, and why they will be around for years to come.
If you compare a 26-inch wheel to its larger alternatives, you will see that not only are the spokes shorter and closer to the Hub, there is also a considerably smaller amount of rotating mass to go with it.
Along with the more balanced geometry and years of innovation, it is hard to match the wheel strength that you see with most 26er bikes.
This is why you see so many 26ers and smaller wheel sizes in areas like Downhill and Park Riding.
When you’re riding parks like Whistler, hitting berms and corners at breakneck speeds, you want to have the peace of mind that your wheels can handle all that downward force.
2. Lower Weight
Remember how I mentioned that 26ers have less rotational mass? That is just another way of saying that you’ve got a lot less weight to move around.
Smaller wheels mean less material, which naturally leads to a lighter bike.
In fact, wheelsets are some of the heaviest components on a Mountain Bike, hence the reason they are so widely upgraded.
On top of that, Manufacturers of 26ers are able to build a smaller bike frame to match those wheels, making your bike a lot lighter overall.
This is a great option for beginner or smaller riders who are still getting used to handling a 30lb piece of metal all the time.
26ers are also a great option if you’re looking for a lightweight full suspension.
By saving weight on a lighter 26-inch wheel set, you can offset the extra weight that comes with a full suspension.
3. Faster Acceleration
As anyone in the Bike industry will tell you, there are a myriad of benefits to having a lighter bike.
With wheels being some of the heaviest components on your bike, having lighter wheels like a 26er will make it a lot easier for you to pedal up to speed.
26ers are notoriously fast when it comes to acceleration.
They are very popular in disciplines where there is a lot of stop and go, like certain DH and XC courses.
And if you’re still building up your strength and endurance, you will really appreciate the ease of acceleration on a 26er.
4. Easier to Maneuver
26ers are not only fast when it comes to acceleration, they are also remarkably nimble on the trail.
With the lighter wheels and balanced acceleration, 26ers are easier to maneuver.
The lack of the extra rotating mass helps riders make quick and precise adjustments without delay.
Being able to stop, accelerate and change direction on the drop of a dime makes 26ers one of the best handling bikes on the market, especially on those tricky trails.
5. Geometry Better Suites Smaller Riders
Believe it or not, when you change the wheel size on a bike, you have to change just about everything else to match.
Most of the time, this means that bigger wheels equal bigger bike frames. And while there is a selection of bike frames for each wheel size, from small to large, a 26er bike will almost always better suite smaller riders.
Although there is a lot more to it that we can explain, it all comes down to the bike Geometry. Which alludes to how the bike balances with the components and with the rider.
Head to your LBS and try a small frame in 26-inch and then 29 to see what I am talking about.
Personally, I feel like a giant on a 26er. But I see a lot more riders on the trail who are shorter than me, and you can guess what they’re riding.
As I mentioned earlier, the 26-inch bike tire is as old a Mountain Biking itself. And there is a huge benefit to how long 26ers have been around – Commonality.
Since Mountain Biking first gained traction in the 80’s, manufacturers have had years to perfect the market to keep up with demand.
Along with steadily cheaper prices, having a long-standing standard of 26-inch tires allowed for more manufacturers to create quality products supporting that size.
Today, even with the crazy popularity of 29 and 27.5-inch tires, there are still loads more parts and components available to support 26ers.
In fact, 26ers are still some of the best-selling bikes on the market.
Take a trip to your local Wal-Mart and the majority of bike tires sizes and tubes you will see, will be for 26ers.
7. Cheaper Bikes
Whether you’re buying new or used, 26ers will almost always be the cheapest option available in any style of Mountain Bike.
Not only do they cost less in material costs, they are not as novelty as the new and more expensive 27.5 and 29-inch bikes.
8. Cheaper Parts
Stealing a bit from an earlier passage, the fact that 26ers are so common, makes it even cheaper to find upgrades and spare parts.
This is not only due to the fact that there have been years of competition, but also on account of years of innovation.
With all those years dedicated to 26-inch wheel sizes, labor and materials are way more efficient and cost effective.
Plus, it’s a lot easier to pick up 26-inch tubes and parts at your local Walmart.
1. Limited Stability
The first drawback to 26ers is the same thing that makes them so great – the fact that they’re so lightweight.
Unfortunately, the limited amount of rolling inertia also makes it easier for your wheels to be jarred off course.
On a 29er, there is enough weight to keep the wheel going forward over smaller bumps. On a 26er, you are going to feel a lot more bumps and knocks as you ride.
But this is really only when you’re riding over rough sections of trail, its not like you’ll be wobbling over flat and paved surfaces.
2. Bumpier Ride
Again, the fact that 26ers are more lightweight also means that you’re going to feel every bump and knock more than with larger tire sizes.
A lot of riders actually prefer the sensitivity that comes with 26ers or Hardtails, but this can be really overwhelming over long distances.
And its not just how lightweight the wheels are. 26-inch tires also allow less room for conformity, so you will be bouncing around a lot more on technical trails.
3. Less Inertial Energy
While 26ers definitely accel when it comes to acceleration, they are lagging when it comes to maintaining speed.
With just a small amount of rolling mass moving you forward, you will be using a lot more of your own pedaling energy to keep the bike rolling.
And this limited rolling mass also limits speed when it comes to bumpy trails.
It is easier for 26ers to lose some of that forward energy when they’re bouncing all over a trail.
4. Lower Attack Angle
Remember when I mentioned the Geometry of 26ers? That comes in to play more than you think.
On top of the smaller wheel diameter, 26ers have the unfortunate drawback of having a lower attack angle.
This limits your rollover ability, making it harder to climb over bigger obstacles.
This is why it can feel more laborious to ride over large rocks and curbs on a 26er.
5. Limited Traction
You can really experiment with the performance of your Mountain Bike tires by trying different tread patterns, but at the end of the day, you will always be limited by the size of your wheels and rims.
While you can always upgrade to a wider or Plus tire, smaller tires will always have less traction than their larger counterparts.
With the standard 26-inch tire, you are only going to get so much traction.
6. Better Suited for Smaller Riders
Finally, one of the final disadvantages of 26ers can also be an advantage depending on your preference.
With the smaller wheel sizes and corresponding frame geometry, 26ers are often better suited for smaller riders.
This works out great for beginners but can be frustrating for larger riders looking for a more comfortable fit.
What is a 26er?
After all these years getting cultured in Mountain Bike lingo, it is easy to forget that we have quite a bit of slang.
For those uninitiated, you may be wondering what a 26er is.
A 26er is any bike with 26-inch wheels.
Mountain Bikers usually refer to Mountain Bikes based on their wheel size, adding an “er” at the end when possible.
What is a 26er Bike Good for?
Being the main bike tire size for years, 26ers are actually a really well-rounded bike to own.
Even with that, they still have their strengths.
So, what is a 26er bike good for?
Based on their attributes, 26er bikes accel in areas where they can maximize their acceleration and strength. You will see them in extreme sports like Downhill Mountain Biking and Park riding, where the strength and reliability are more than needed. 26ers are also great for smaller riders who need a better fitting bike, that is easier to maneuver.
Who Should Buy a 26er?
Again, a 26er is a well-rounded bike for anyone to own.
However, certain riders will be better suited for 26-inch Mountain Bikes.
Smaller and shorter riders will be the first to benefit from the size and geometry of 26ers.
And with the reliability and strength that comes with 26-inch wheels, riders looking to push their bikes to the limit will feel a lot more confident on 26er bikes.
Are 26-inch Wheels Still Good?
Even with the almost even number of Pros and Cons, you may be wondering if 26-inch wheels are still a worthwhile investment.
While I cannot speak for every rider, I do believe that they are and will remain a great choice for just about any rider.
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to try something new, rest assured that a 26er is still a great investment.
You will still be able to find parts, more than enough in most cases.
It will also be relatively cheap and easy to upgrade certain components on your bike if that time comes.
Are 26ers Obsolete?
With the popularity of 29ers and 27.5-inch Mountain Bikes, there has not been too much talk of innovation with 26ers.
And with the seemingly perfect balance and advantages of 27.5-inch wheel, you may be wondering if 26ers are dead.
While I cannot speak for the future, I have confidence that the 26-inch Mountain Bike will be here for years to come.
In conclusion, it appears that 26ers will still be worthwhile for years to come.
Just like any type or size of Mountain Bike, 26ers have their advantages and disadvantages.
However, there are plenty of benefits to 26ers that will help them remain one of the top selling bikes in the market.