Trans-Sylvania Epic: Which wheel size is best?

Top racers in Pennsylvania weigh in on the 29er-versus-27.5 debate

Which wheel size is best?

Meghan Korol (Lead Out Services/Industry Nine) went big at the 2017 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic, rolling some Industry Nine Ultralite 235 29er wheels. Photo courtesy of Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team

Despite the popularity of 27.5 wheels, 29ers remain bike of choice among top contenders at the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race in State College, Pennsylvania.

Find out which brand and size of tires were most popular with these top racers.

A survey of the top 10 elite men and top 10 elite women racing the solo category revealed that 14 riders (70%) were racing 29ers as their primary bike for the five-day event. Six riders (30%) chose 27.5. The 27.5 bikes were overwhelmingly more popular with women. In fact, all six riders that chose that wheel size were women. None of the men opted for the smaller wheel size.

Which wheel size is best?

Sonya Looney (Freakshow Scott) put her 27.5-inch Stan’s Arch MK3 wheels to the test on the rocky descents of Wildcat Gap at the 2017 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic. Photo courtesy of Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team

While a few riders of both genders explained their choice by saying they were too tall for 27.5 wheels or too short for 29ers, most justified their picks by claiming that their respective wheel size performs best on the infamously rocky terrain of central Pennsylvania.

What The 29er Racers Said

“The increased rollover of the 29-inch wheels feels like it lets me stay on top of the rocks at speed and not get so bogged down on the really techy trails here,” said Dan Chabanov.

Cory Rimmer agreed, noting that he selected a 29er “to keep on truckin’ over them rocks!”

Which wheel size is best?

Dan Chabanov rolled over the rock gardens of the 2017 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic on Maxxis Crossmax SL 29er tires. Photo courtesy of Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team

Under-25 race leader and stage 3 winner Kyle Trudeau, who has been mixing it up with elites at major cross country events across the U.S this season, took a broader view. “It’s the best wheel size for cross-country mountain biking,” he said.

Meghan Korol not only mentioned rocks, but also highlighted a different 29er advantage — efficiency on road climbs. While the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic does have plenty of gnarly, rocky singletrack, many of those trails are connected by significant sections of gravel roads which often include sustained climbs.

What The 27.5er Racers Said

Women’s overall winner Kaysee Armstrong had a different opinion. “My 27.5-inch-wheeled bike is the best bike I’ve had in years. It works better than the 29er for me in these rock gardens, and it has a bit more travel in the front.”

Which wheel size is best?

Kaysee Armstrong (LIV) could carve some tight corners on her Nox Composites 27.5-inch wheels at the 2017 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic. Photo courtesy of Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team

Sonya Looney, who was leading the women’s race on a 27.5 bike until her frame cracked, said, “The 27.5-inch wheels are the best tool for the job when it comes to slower speed, technical singletrack. The trails at the NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic are not very steep, with long rock gardens with huge rocks. The 27.5-inch wheels are great because even at slower wheel momentum, it is easy to maneuver through the rocks.”

What About the Enduro?

The NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic features an enduro competition within the race, with timed enduro segments on every stage. One of the five days is also dedicated fully to enduro. On that day, only the enduro segments are timed, and the total time of those segments counts toward the general classification.

Half of the racers surveyed said that they brought a special bike with them just for the enduro stage. Of those, eight men were on 29ers and two women were on a different 27.5 bike for all the regular stages.

Which wheel size is best?

Kyle Trudeau (CZ Racing) made easy work of the enduro sections on Stan’s carbon Valor 29er wheels at the 2017 NoTubes Trans-Sylvania Epic. Photo courtesy of Trans-Sylvania Epic Media Team

Bike Breakdown

For the race, most riders said they didn’t do much to change their usual setup other than adding a dropper post if they didn’t already have one installed. A few who tended to primarily race cross-country increased their front suspension to 120mm while another rider who tended to race enduros reduced his front suspension from 140mm to 130mm.

Scott Bikes proved the most popular, accounting for 26% of the rigs of the top contenders. Each of them was on some version of the Spark, the Swiss company’s go to XC race rig. Trek Top Fuels and Kona Hei Heis were the next most popular, with Cannondale Scalpels and Liv Pique Advanced also getting honorable mentions.

Bike Breakdown

To learn more about the Trans-Sylvania Epic visit

About the author: Mtbr is a site by mountain bikers for mountain bikers. We are the best online resource for information for mountain bikers of all abilities, ages and interests.

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