We’re in the midst of testing 4 sets of wheels that range from 26 x 4.8 to 27.5 x 3.8. All 4 wheels are pictured below and labeled A-B-C & D for reference. Starting last November, I ran 27.5 x 50mm Wheelset C and wrote an article about how stoked that I was to be able to ride them over the summer. When the snow started to fall, back in December I switched over to 26 x 80&100mm Wheelsets A & D and closed the winter season with the addition of 27.5 x 75mm Wheelset B, which we spotlighted in an article here. In this post, we’ll compare the height and weight of 26″ and 27.5 wheels.
The question that always nagged me about 27.5 wheels was how much taller would they be compared to 26″ wheels and how would that affect handling, etc? We determined the height of each wheel by accurately measuring the circumference of each set of wheels. We measured each front wheel inflated to 10 psi.
Here are the numbers taken from 4 sets of wheels to begin to compare 27.5″ wheels to 26″ wheels.
A) This is a wheelset that closely resembles the size (rim diameter and width) that have been spec’d as original equipment on most fat-bikes that have been sold for the last five years. (80mm wide 26″ rim). The rims are a made in the USA Reynolds Elite, double-wall carbon hoops that are tubeless ready. The rims are laced to a set of Industry-Nine Torch hubs and for this test/measurement, we have a 45N ‘old-school’ HuskerDu mounted. This winter we had a variety of tires mounted to these wheels that include tires like the Terrene Cake Eater – 45N ‘gnu-school’ HuskerDu and Dillinger 4 studded – and my favorite front tire in the 4″ category, the Vittoria Bomboloni. This wheel’s size was the old standby for most fat-bike riders. Back when life was more simple if you weighed less than a deuce and a quarter, this was the way to go. This is the second lightest of the group and also the shortest in overall height.
B) This is a 27.5″ set of wheels that starts with a Pub double-wall carbon rim with a 75mm outer width and a 70mm inside dimension laced to a set of DT Swiss 350 hubs. The tires on this set are the Terrene Cake Eater in 27.5 x 4.0. A great all around tire. This is the tallest wheel of the group, but they’re only four one-hundredths of an inch taller than the 26 x 4.8 wheel D. You get the advantage of a big & taller wheel’s attack angle, which translates into the bike rolling over things easier and a slightly narrower, yet longer footprint, that helps with both traction and flotation. I just recently rode these wheels on the beach and in fresh ungroomed snow and I have to say that I’m impressed with the amount of flotation that I was getting out of a 95mm wide tire. We could be looking at a better mousetrap for an all-around set of fat-bike wheels. Testing is ongoing, but I like what I see on paper and my initial impressions out on the trail and beach.
C) My amigo Thad Carson recommended this narrower 27.5″ wheel/tire combination last year. We start with a Borealis Carbondale double-wall carbon set of hoops that are 50mm wide, laced to a set of Borealis hubs with a set of Maxxis Minion sneakers. This is the set of wheels that I’ll be running this summer for Camrock and Kettle Singletrack. For the first time in the last few years, my fat-bike will be my full-time mountain bike. These wheels are the missing link, where plus and fat meet. These are a 1/4″ lower in overall height from 26 x 4.8 (Wheel D). This is the lightest of the 4 wheels, but not by much. More to come about these wheels.
D) The fattest and just shy of being the tallest wheelset features the Made in the USA – HED single-wall Carbon BFD 100mm wide rims laced to Onyx Racing Hubs. The Maxxis Colossus 26 x 4.8 snow tires round out the build. This has been my go-to setup (with a variety of 4.8″tires) for fresh snow over the last few years. I ride more ungroomed snow than groomed track, so I like the extra flotation that the 120 mm wide footprint provides. This is the heaviest wheel of the four, but this is the wheelset that can keep you riding in the soft sand or deep snow. If you weigh less than 170 lbs. you probably won’t require the extra flotation that these wheels provide riders that are closer to a deuce and a quarter. (YMMV)
Last winter, I switched between the (A) Reynolds80’s and the (D) HED1oo’s and never gave it any thought. While those two wheels have a little over one half an inch difference in the height I never felt any adverse effects in handling. I’d go as far as to say that if you like the way that your fat-bike rides with 4.5-4.8″ tires, you won’t feel any negative difference between your 26″x 4.8 and a 27.5 x 4.0. But I do think that are some positive differences that favour the 27.5″ wheel. The 27.5 wheel is lighter and on rooty singletrack displays less undampened rebound, due to the smaller pneumatic envelope. #lessbouncy
One of the best upgrades that you can do to your fat-bike is a new wheelset. If I were in the market for one new wheelset that was the best all-arounder, I’d seriously consider a 27.5 wheelset. You get the taller rollover characteristics of a 26×4.8 wheel in a lighter 27.5×4.0 footprint. The one drawback to the Low-Fat wheels is the limited number of tires currently available. They don’t make a Bud & Lou in 27.5 (yet). The best part about our wheel test is in the testing. It’s another reason to go out and ride every day! We’re going to be putting all 4 sets of these wheels (and more) through a season of super-fun ride testing and report back at the end of the Summer.