Todd's 27.5+ X In the Wild

So this is the first 27.5 “Plus” bike out the door of 44HQ.  Really pleased with how this one turned out and I think it’s a high time to give you the cliff notes version on wheel size…

If you’re not “hep” to what a Plus sized bike is, here’s the intel you need to know. The mountain bike wheel size was based on a 26″ wheel because that’s what the early pioneers had access to: Lot’s of Schwinn cruisers which had 26″ wheels. However the 26″ wheel has one bad feature: That small wheel size needs constant pedaling to keep it going. Any amount of obstacle sucks the momentum out of it. Early on, a few were playing with the 700c wheel size (that’s a road wheel size) with a 2″ tire… that roughly equates to a 29″ diameter wheel. Far superior in carrying momentum and by definition, travels a greater distance with one revolution of the wheel.  Now there’s math in there and it has to do with comparing the two circumferences of those two different sized circles.  I don’t know why all those “Wheel Size Shootouts” or MTBR threads debated this.  The math was there.  For those who forgot your pre-algebra, it’s C = π · d OR C = 2π · r ..  where C= circumference, d=diameter, r=radius and π / Pi = 3.14… It also has a knack for smoothing out all kinds of chatter on the trail. But, because molds for tires cost money, that size initially never got traction (pun intended).

Come full circle (more puns) to a few years back and the industry started to look at the 29″ wheel again. The problem with 29″ wheels is for say someone in the 5′-5’6″ range, it’s a touch too big.  Someone like myself who stands around 6’1″? The 29″ wheel is proportional. Well then the industry started playing around again with wheel size and the 650b or 27.5″ wheel was introduced. This is about dead in the center in terms of size between a 26″ and a 29″ wheel. What’s interesting about that size is it possesses all the good attributes of a 29″ wheel (momentum carrying, ability to smooth out chatter, or in layman’s terms: ROLLOVERABILITY – How about that one Henry?) but it has all the quickness and muscle of a 26″ wheel.  Quickness and muscle to me is about snapping that front end up and clicking the back end up and over obstacles with ease.  I had to do a lot of prototypes in a 29er to get these things to handle much like what I liked in a 26″ wheel.  In a 27.5? That’s just naturally built in there. I’d say this is the wheel size that mountain bikes SHOULD have always been. It’s that good.  But I really do like that momentum carrying 29″ wheel and how it’s a bit more proportional to my stature.

Somewhere in there people were experimenting with tire size too and well, Fat Bikes were coming into the fold along with modern drivetrain fiddling. 3x set ups were ditched for 2x setups to reduce gear redundancy. Heck, I ditched my front derailleur all together in and around 1994 or 1995?  Then came along dedicated 1x set ups and wider range cassettes which really came about because a fat bike just needs a massive tire to maintain float (4-5″) and you can’t pack a front derailleur in there without making some handling compromises (well you can, but if you’re making them like I am… you make a heck of a lot of compromises with how the bike actually handles). Only problem with fat bikes is they’re great in snow, great in sand but honestly out on the trail? Lot’s of rolling resistance. So now we have a larger volume tire. A bit of a larger rim size that has some unique rolling attributes. AND we have a drivetrain that’s optimized for larger volume tires and a reduction of gear redundancy. Basically all you need and nothing more and room to grow that tire a bit…

The timing was perfect to start playing with what has been dubbed “Plus” size. Typically 2.8-3″ in width, mounted to a 27.5″ rim that’s about 40-50mm wide. It stands around 28.5″ in diameter. What does this all equate to? Well that 3″ tire possesses a heck of a lot of traction. 3″ means we can run a bit lower pressure so now we’re not pinch flatting. Lower pressure also means you can tune traction and tune ride quality.  If you’re having trouble with the way your bike “feels” out on the trail? Man…  Lower that tire pressure!  Especially if you’re running tubeless.  Bikes that come in 44HQ?  9 out of 10 of them all have WAY too high pressure.  But I digress.. 28.5″ diameter wheel means all that momentum we loved in our 29″ wheel’s but we’ve also got a lot of the positive attributes carried over from the 26″ wheel. 1x drivetrain enables us to have only the gears we need. Don’t even get me started about the components available today. From super high end down to the low end: It’s never been better to be a cyclist than it is today let alone a mountain biker. Is this the 21st century adaptation of the mountain bike? Not sure. But it’s certainly the evolution of the mountain bike. That’s for sure. Here’s my take..