27.5″ wheels and bikes aren’t dead yet, but the data shows that their glory days are over.
Manufacturers produce what sells and see little incentive to offer a wide spectrum of 27.5″ models. As a result, the market share of 27.5″ units has never been smaller.
27.5″ – The Best Of Both Worlds or a Useless Transition
27.5″ wheels originated as a bridge between 26″ and 29″ models. They were supposed to offer a roll-over-ability close to that of 29″ tires combined with maneuverability similar to that of 26″ wheels.
The task was moderately successful, and 27.5″ wheels gained serious popularity. For a long time, most manufacturers had a 27.5″ equivalent to all 29″ models. Over the years, however, things changed and the 27.5″ offers diminished greatly.
Why? Because at the end of the day, 27.5″ are the middle child of bike sizes. Street and dirt jump riders still rely on 26″ wheels because those are stronger and more maneuverable than both 27.5″ and 29″. Meanwhile, MTB riders like the speed of 29″ wheels and their ability to overcome massive obstacles.
Ultimately, people concluded that it’s wiser to get a 26″ or a 29″ wheel depending on the discipline, and enjoy its maximum benefits than to rely on a middle version/compromise.
What Determines Whether a Wheel Size Is Dead Or Not?
It all comes down to availability. If a wheel size has a decreasing representation in bike shops, then it’s on its last legs.
Bike shops focus on what sells. If people were going crazy for 27.5″ wheels, then the bike shops would be filled with options.
The reality, however, is that most manufacturers have greatly reduced their 27.5″ offers. If you want maximum options, nothing beats 29″ in the MTB section.
Why Is 27.5″ Dying Faster Than 26″?
29″ wheels are dominating the MTB sector and have successfully pushed 26″ wheels into retirement but only in the world of MTB.
26″ wheels are still in great demand for basic/cheap bikes as well as street machines and dirt jumpers. Those two groups of bikes are enough to keep 26″ wheels alive for many years to come as neither of them is likely to go up or down in size.
Furthermore, the world is full of old bikes (e.g., retro MTBs) that came into this world in 26″ format. Those need new parts and continue to maintain the blood support of 26″.
Meanwhile, 27.5″ wheels have a shorter history (the world has accumulated fewer 27.5″ models) and don’t have a secure home outside of the MTB segment. Or in other words, they have no other place to go. Hence why their extinction has been so fast.
Another hit against the 27.5″ size came from the newer and improved frames that made 29″ bikes a lot more maneuverable and nimble.
If your bike is already sufficiently agile, why buy smaller wheels which have a harder time rolling over obstacles?
Should I Buy a 27.5″ Bike?
Even though 27.5″ bikes are losing popularity, there are still plenty of models that offer incredible performance.
Before deciding, look at the bike as a whole. Don’t focus just on the wheel size. If it satisfies your goals and matches your budget, the wheel size shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
It’s better to get a high-quality 27.5″ bike than a 29″ unit with numerous issues and poorly selected components.
That said there are some downsides to buying a 27.5″ bike, namely:
- Fewer options
- Fewer upgrade paths (It’s easier to find a 29″ fork than a 27.5″ these days.)
- Lower resale value (Since people are losing interest in 27.5″ bikes, they cost less on the second-hand market. The same is observed with 26″ units too.)
One Size Makes Things Simple
The industry has a strong incentive to focus on a single wheel size for the following reasons:
- No need to provide separate rims, tires, forks, and frames for the smaller wheel sizes. This saves a lot of engineering and manufacturing resources.
- All research can be focused on the wheel size that sells the most. Why improve units that aren’t best sellers?
- 27.5″ wheels are wanted by a small minority of people. Most pros rely on 29″ wheels today. And if a wheel size is good enough for the pros, it’s certainly good enough for beginners. Thus, 27.5″ wheels are satisfyingly only a small niche responsible for a very limited number of sales.
When Do 27.5″ Wheels Shine?
27.5″ excel in the following cases:
- When the rider is too small to feel comfortable on a 29″ bike.
- When the rider wants the bike to be agile and yet faster than 26″ models.
Prediction: What is the future of 27.5″?
The industry will focus on 29″ wheels because they’re currently accounting for most sales. 27.5″ wheels will not be abandoned overnight, but the number of options will decrease every year until 27.5″ becomes close to instinct.
That said, 27.5″ wheels will not disappear completely because:
a. Some people still like them.
b. Smaller riders could benefit from a 27.5″ setup
c. 27.5″ wheels are often part of the so-called mullet setup.
The mullet bike combines a larger wheel upfront (e.g., 29″) and a smaller one at the back (e.g., 27.5″).
The larger wheel at the front makes the ride softer and overcomes obstacles with ease. It also raises the head tube angle (HTA) of the bike (lifts the front end). This property renders the bike more stable when descending on off-road terrain while also making it easier for the rider to lift the front wheel.
The smaller wheel at the back makes it easier to follow a tighter line, and the bikes feel more maneuverable. Also, the smaller wheel is lighter (it’s easier to light the rear end) and is less likely to come in contact with the rider.
Summary: What You Need To Know
- 27.5″ wheels are the middle child of wheel sizes. They’re neither as agile as 26″ nor as fast as 29″. Consequently, the incentive to keep making them is low.
- The geometry of newer 29″ bikes makes them more agile than before and reduces the chances of unpleasant experiences such as toe overlap. Consequently, modern 29″ models give you speed + roll-over-ability without hurting maneuverability as much as the old ones did.
- Unlike 26″ and 29″, 27.5″ wheels do no have a segment that they can dominate. (26″ wheels are found on basic bikes and dirt jumpers; 29″ dominate the MTB world).
- 27.5″ will not disappear overnight, but their market is certainly shrinking rapidly. At the moment, their most value is serving smaller riders and being part of mullet setups (bikes with wheels of different sizes).