All the reviews you read of a 27.5″ vs a 29″ mountain bike are from “Experts” who know it all and can tell the slightest differences between things. This is great for experts but how does that transfer to the average rider like you and me. Can we see and feel these differences?
UPDATED INFO AT BOTTOM OF POST
Lets start out with some background information on the riders.
- Been riding pretty continuously for over 20 years
- Good amount of knowledge on bike design and riding techniques
- Owns several different bikes in the $3,000-$5,000+ range
- Been riding a lot over the last 18 months but still only 18 months
- Basic knowledge of bikes.
- Owns a 29″ full suspension XC bike (rides it like it’s an all mountain bike)
So how and why did this review come about? As I said I’ve been riding for about 18 months all over the country. I got an entry level Kona and love to ride, way more than I thought I would, but now I’m outgrowing that “style” of bike I feel. So like most riders in my shoes we all want to know “What’s Next?” We all want to think we can ride Red Bull Rampage stuff or scream down the downhill courses doing awesome and crazy stuff. At 43 I’ve decided that I want to push myself and have fun but the chances of me riding anything like that are somewhere between not a chance and hell no. Don’t get me wrong I’ve ridden at a downhill park and some narrow exposure lines out in the Colorado dessert but I’m not launching 10’+ into the air and never will unless I make a wrong turn.
With so many choices of bikes out there it’s overwhelming for everyone unless you spend tons of hours doing research and you have been riding along time to understand “what you are reading”. Unless we are these people we circumvent this problem by going to the local bike store and asking their opinion. Of course that bike shop wants to sell you what they offer and you might get a straight answer about a brand they don’t sell and you might not. Remember this is “Sales”. Most bike shops will educate you the best they can without overwhelming you but your still at the problem “which bike”. With Categories of XC, Enduro, Trail, All Mountain and Gravity (downhill) and each company making very similar bikes and putting them in different categories it adds more to the overwhelmingness.
What do you do. First you figure out what you want to ride and then you go demo bikes. Oh wait you can’t demo a bike? Yeah that’s the big problem. They will let you ride around the parking lot but more and more shops are not letting you actually take the bike out to the trails. This is what I have found on the east coast anyways. Out west this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Most of the manufacturers do tours as well but most of these also seem to be on the West Coast to Colorado area. Here in the Atlanta area I’ve found a super bike shop that will let you demo bikes and they are right next to 2 awesome trails, Blankets Creek and Rope Mill.
So being in this “What bike Next?” predicament I reached out to Angel and set up a demo. I wanted to demo my entry level full suspension XC Bike vs a Carbon full suspension All Mountain Bike. I wanted there to be no similarities so I could see 2 opposite ends of the spectrum to see what I liked and what I didn’t. I needed to ride both bikes back to back over features so I enlisted the help of a good friend and great rider, Charles.
We picked up the demo bike at Sixes Pit and drove just a few miles to Blankets Creek. Here’s exactly what we compared.
2014 Kona HEI HEI (my bike)
Full suspension 4″ travel
2016 Orbea Occam AM M30
Full Suspension 5″ Travel
This was in NO WAY a comparison between brands. We wanted to test a 29er XC with smaller suspension vs a 27.5 All Mountain with more suspension to see what differences amateurs could see.
We rode each piece of terrain twice, once on each bike back to back to do comparisons. We made some incorrect judgements at first which we figured out later on. Here’s what we came up with.
First Impressions & Last Impressions:
- Charles rides nothing but 26″ bikes so he instantly felt more comfortable on the 27.5. It took some getting use to but by the end of the day he was riding the 29 much better and he said he could see himself possibly buying a 29er in the future although he really liked he 27.5 much better out of these 2 bikes because the 27.5 was more playful. (remember there is really no comparison)
- I ride the 29er (one of the demo bikes) so I was of course very comfortable on that and the 27.5 felt odd to start off with on the 27.5. By the end of the day when I got back on the 29er it felt odd and I had because accustomed to the smaller “feel” of the 27.5
- We both thought the 29er had much more top end speed and efficiency.
- Charles was sure the 27.5 turned better and I couldn’t push either bike hard enough to tell really
- We had mixed feeling on the technical climbing abilities. In some areas both bikes spun out on steep bad traction but the 27.5 did get a bit further. On a section not as steep I thought the 29 was easier but Charles thought the 27.5 was easier. We attributed this to being comfortable with our current riding styles.
- We felt the better shock made a huge difference with riding over roots and maintaining control of the bike. The shock made such a difference there was no way to tell if the difference in wheel size made any difference at “high Speeds”. However, when riding at “low speed” down rocks the 29 was smoother due to wheel size.
- The better shock also made a huge difference on impact absorption coming off jumps. Now this also probably has to do with the bike geometry of a XC vs an All Mountain but you could definitely tell the difference in shocks on landing.
- We both felt the 27.5 was a smaller bike front to back until we put them side by side and measured them. The 27.5 was actually about an inch or two longer from where the wheels contacted the ground and axle to axle.
- We both decided that if we bought that “exact” 27.5 we would want a larger frame. Charles has different size frames from different companies because this is not s standard throughout the industry.
So amateurs can tell differences between bikes. If we put two bikes next to each other that were very similar though it would be much harder.
Figure out “How you want to ride”. For most of us this is going to be a combination of some XC with some playfulness. If you’re in a position like mine demo drastically different bikes. See what you like and what you don’t. Then try and find a bike that combines the features you do like and test it. Try a few different size frames, remember that you can adjust handlebars and stems to dial in a bike that feels slightly off. Also remember every bike will feel off at first but your body will adjust to it. At the end of the ride I had adjusted to the feel of the 27.5 but I still preferred the efficiency of the 29.
Progressing as a Rider
I bought a Kona Process 134 in February this year and really started riding it right around the beginning of April. Three and a half months after riding it on all different trails in different parts of the country I have considerably improved as a rider. THE RIGHT BIKE MEANS EVERYTHING! I am jumping table tops, riding steep rock drops, technical climbs etc. Not just trying them but riding them. My wife just got a Kona Precept ($1,999 retail) all mountain entry level bike after trying several $4,000+ bikes at festivals in Utah and Colorado. We weren’t even super serious about the bike when we tried it but we wanted to eliminate it as a possibility. We’re glad we did the bike fits her and lets her ride at a whole new level. She did upgrade the wheels to 30mm rims and put a KS lev dropper on it so the bike came in right around $3,000 but she likes it better than the $5,000 bikes she rode and it fits her! She has been riding it for about a month and her progress is 10 fold at least.
What we have learned?
Both our bikes are 27.5 Kona all mountain bikes. Mine is the Process 134 DL and hers is the Precept 130. They both have very similar riding styles and geometry. If you’re looking for a fun mountain bike I would say a 27.5 is the way to go. lets look at why.
- Riding over stuff: Kelly was worried that she wouldn’t be able to ride over things because 29ers are suppose to do that better. Most 29ers aren’t going to be able to support the suspension a 27.5 can so hitting that thing you want to ride over is going to be more jarring which can easily throw you off line. Also a 29er is going to be much bigger underneath you so you can’t adjust the bike as easily as a smaller bike.
- Turning: No doubt that a 27.5 is nimbler than a 29. The smaller frame allows for easier movement
- My 27.5 is a lot faster than my 29er ever could be when really riding it. If you put the on a paved road the 29er would probably be faster but my 27.5 can ride trails much quicker due to weight, nimbleness, turning and acceleration. Kelly and I switched bikes when she still had her Kona XC bike and we compared them. Normally I can leave her in the dust if I want to, this wasn’t the case. Even though the XC was a 29 I couldn’t outrun her on it on some pretty easy trails while she was riding my All mountain 27.5.
- Dropper Post: This is an absolute must have feature if you are going to ride features or anything technical. Combine this with a 27.5 and your bike is super nimble, super responsive and you can almost throw the bike over features.
- All bike brands are different…very different. They might have similar geometry or similar suspension travel but after riding them back to back you will be able to tell if you have any riding experience.
- You will get much better on any bike if you ride it regularly, a few times a week. if you have the ability to ride the same trails over and over you will get better much faster.
- Price doesn’t equal what’s right. Like I mentioned Kelly felt the best on the least expensive bike she rode. You can upgrade components once you have that base.
- Get a “Bike Fitting”. I might be a medium frame with one brand a a large with another. Seat height, handle bar height, angle and width and more equal your bike fitting you correctly.
- Bike deals. There are some companies which just don’t charge as much as others for the same stuff. Most components on a bike are made by someone else. You are really just getting a frame for the most part from the company that makes the bike. Smaller quality companies like KONA, ROCKY MOUNTAIN AND NORCO make great bikes at 10%-20% less than other manufacturers. If you want a Specialized or a Yeti you are going to pay for that name.
I hope all this helps with your decision process if you’re looking at a bike. If you have any questions please post a comment or shoot us an email we’d be happy to help.