As a slightly vertically challenged individual, or more commonly and ‘endearingly’ referred as a midget, dwarf, hobbit, Oompa Loompa… you get my drift. I am shorter than average; 1.59m to be precise. As most of you can relate, I started mountain biking on a bike with 26” wheels, back in the good ol’ days when another option wasn’t fathomed.
Although 29” mountain bikes are by no means a recent invention, they became a trend a couple of years ago and have since taken the country by storm. I made the transition at the end of 2012. The first thing I noticed was how it seemed to float over rocky, bumpy sections. In places where a 26er would catch and struggle through, the 29er would bomb through smugly, the admin of line choice significantly reduced. The other big advantage is the speed you can pick up and maintain on the flats. Speak to any marathon racer and they will agree that to keep up with a bunch of riders on 29ers in a marathon when you are on a 26er is near impossible.
Now although these pros are significant, there are a fair number of cons. Not only are the wheels significantly bigger, the frame and fork had to grow to accommodate the wheels. Since everything else had grown except me, sadly, major adjustments had to be made to get my setup correct ie. ALL headset spaces removed, negative stem, upside down handlebar, an 80mm fork (less suspension) all to get the front end slightly lower than the saddle. After all this, the bike still felt big under me, the front wheel so far away!
The big wheels took away the responsiveness from the smaller wheels, both on climbs and through tight single track. I felt this especially toward the end of a race when I was fatigued I would struggle to turn the big wheels on steep climbs
Bike manufacturers have noted the pros and cons of 26ers and 29ers and created a new wheel size, the 27.5” or 650B, exactly half way between the two. After doing research, and many people having told me that it would be the perfect bike for me. I spoke to my sponsor Naeem Omar from Valencia and he was keen to see the theory in action. I have been very happy on the carbon 29” Scott Scale 910 which I have been racing on the year, it is light and fast with a superiorly engineered geometry so I was super keen to give the 650B Scale 710 a bash!
I spent the Easter weekend in Sabie and Mankele, the perfect playground for the true test, loads of climbing, single track and kilometers of heavenly Mankele bush tunnels. My immediate reaction to the smaller bike was that it felt like a part of me, and extension of my body. My first ride started on a huge climb out of Sabie, I set a hard pace with sprints in between. The responsiveness of my accelerations was back! The next test was a very bumpy descent. The 710 didn’t float over the bumps like my 29er would but it was comfy enough with impressive rolling power.
The Mankele bush tunnels at the end of a ride are always the highlight, you can seriously pin it through the twisty turny single track shrouded in dense vegetation. There are loads of rocky surprises, small drop offs and roots that keep you on your toes and could easily result in devastating talent and sense of humour failure, the risk making it all the more enjoyable!
With the 27.5” wheels and smaller frame I felt I was able to throw the bike around underneath me, dodging trees and rocks at speed and whipping it around corners. It was exhilarating. THIS is why I ride I thought… The deal was sealed.
650B, the baby bear wheel size… Just right!