When you hear the term “wheel wars,” you immediately think about the recent battle over 26-, 27.5-, and 29-inch wheels. Now, what if we were to tell you that the wheel
wars began 20 years ago in our May 1994 issue? The only difference is that in 1994 the wheel wars weren’t about going bigger;
they were about going smaller.
Downsized: “The Mountain Bike Action
wrecking crew wants to change the size of
a mountain bike wheel from 26 inches to
25 inches,” we said in 1994. Our reasons
were that the 25-inch wheels would be
lighter and stronger and would accelerate more efficiently because of decreased
moment of inertia. The smaller-wheel
diameter would also lower the gear ratios.
Now that you have stopped laughing and
managed to pick yourself up off the floor,
let us remind you that in 1994, a lightweight hardtail was 30 pounds. Most
drivetrains were 3x8, wheels bent or
snapped like Pringles potato chips, and
tire clearance was mud-packingly tight.
Now you realize why the 25er didn’t sound
so crazy at the time.
Too early: We were well ahead of the
curve in questioning the logic of 26-inch
wheels—even if we were looking at a
smaller diameter. Bicycles had always
been designed around the wheels that
were available. Mountain bikes changed all
that, because mountain bikes were being
designed with frames at the heart, not
the wheels. Yes, it would take around a
decade, but when the 26er dominance was
finally questioned and challenged, a sea of
change was in store for our sport.
Straight Arrow: Arrow Bikes had already experimented with smaller-diameter wheels.
Instead of 25-inch wheels, Arrow had borrowed from the youth market and designed their
frame around 24-inch wheels. Just as with the first 29ers and later 27.5s, the lack of tire
selection held back the concept.