26" v. 650b v. 29": a concise comparison.

I get the magazine Mountain Bike Rider [MBR] as a subscription; a relative buys it for me every Christmas. Normally I read my magazines in store; seems daft paying for them when newsagents offer them for free. These day's there isn't much in them for me I'm afraid. Not because I'm some riding God, who knows it all, but because at age 50, mainly riding cross country on a variety of older 26" bikes, I don't fit into their demographic.

To be frank, this seems a good thing.

Take this month's MBR. There are two articles in particular that caught my eye.

The first is an in-depth article on the merits of 650b over 26" or 29" bikes. The writer, who I gather doesn't actually ride very much, which seems an odd qualification to be a writer in a cycling magazine, has two bikes worth when new perhaps $12,000. A spiffing Orange 5 and a titanium Cove. Both 26" wheel size. The writer has been away from cycling for some time, so the new wheel sizes have crept up on him. So, what criteria did he use to decide what particular size was best for him?

Performance increase; that he can ride faster for a given effort? That the bike makes him a better rider in other areas? Or that, well, it was time to move on anyway, so why not go bigger?


650b because nobody now looks at his bikes and all his mates have the mid-size.

How shallow is that? He rides infrequently, and his existing bikes must be fairly new. The ti hardtail must have been a big investment. Kind of sums up the whole wheel size debate for me. I've always been a bit bemused as to how the larger wheel size relates to Average Joe; the weekend warrior who goes out for a bimble each weekend. All the reviews relate to performance gains; that they roll faster over any given distance. Over a typical 5km ride, you can save five seconds type story.

Now myself as a rider, well I know full well that there's a lot at play on a weekend ride. Have you got the squits? Did the cat keep you up all night? Few beers the night before a ride? You're out with a nutter who isn't happy unless blood is drawn? Or are you out with the slow crew, happy to average 5 miles per hour moving time?

On a ride for me there are more factors at play that affect my speed than wheel size. I'm happy with 26" for now as, well, I'm a 50 year old bimbling fool for most of the time. Whatever the merits or otherwise, I'm not about to change out of a decent bike just because I suspect nobody is looking at me anymore.

The second article that caught my eye was an in depth article on alternative rides around Surrey. All those secret routes using little used bridleways. Great I thought....

So we got five or six pages on Yogurt Pots, Barry Knows Best and Telegraph. These are the most used parts of Surrey, the parts every man and his dog knows. It was the most unimaginative, boring article I've ever read. Just pandered to the lowest common denominator.

Could you imagine buying something like Time Out, as you've a special event coming up, and want to know the best restaurant or event in a big city like London. The magazine suggests McDonald's for food and then renting a DVD for entertainment.

That's what MBR, and indeed most of the other magazines, are like these days. Shallow and unimaginative. There are no original articles that look at what actual, real people are doing. I know very few people that don't have some kind of original cycle related story to tell. Those that get bitten by poor service at bike shops; the ones playing with mixing different wheel sizes on their bikes; the route finders prepared to get happily lost; those that disappear for weekends into the hills.

All marginal interests, sure, but these days riding a mountain bike in the first place makes you marginal. There must be room in the magazines to interview the average Joe, to see what he or she does differently? And they are all the same. What Mountain Bike, MBUK; they target the average demograph. Hands up anybody out there who knows somebody they could consider average? And I really don't get the majority of bike tests, especially those undertaken in Las Vegas on £5,000 bikes.

Trying to get an alternative view, I bought some roadie magazines. Now I don't know much about the bikes, events or people involved in the road side of things, so the magazines should have been interesting. Actually they were as boring as the mountain bike ones. None of them really got to grips with any subject, and all seemed to focus on two things; nutrition and exercise.

The nutrition side looked at food to avoid; mainly alcohol and did wee bits on what to eat. I came away knowing that some fat is bad, and green veg is good. That milk post ride works. OK, these are things I knew before, so no news there.

The exercise thing was also odd. Most of it seemed to involve squats in your front room. The only on-bike article I found related to a story about how you could lose weight, both on-bike and off, in order to climb faster, but that increasing your power output made the most gains. Yet the exercises shown were all gym based; nothing showed how to increase power or stamina whilst actually on a bike. I found that odd.

What I also found interesting were the bike reviews. It seems that road bikes are finally moving to disc brakes, and are also adopting tubeless tech. Now the disc brake thing is fine; bit behind, bit of catching up to do. The tubeless? The articles all relate to mountain biking, where tubeless is ubiquitous. Sorry? Did they say ubiquitous?? I use it but I hardly know of anybody else that does.

So both road and MTB based magazines are, for the main, a trifle dull. The only interesting one I found was the Trek publication you get at dealers. I liked that, very arty.

Anyway, thanks for those in-depth articles this month MBR. Really motivational those. Especially if you just want to flow with the herd and be a grey person with no personality.