This article originally published on BikeRadar
Crankbrothers Race Club rider Judy Freeman is in a uniquely privileged position to evaluate the performance characteristics of 26, 27.5, and 29in wheels.
She hasn't just ridden extensively on all three standards – she's raced all of them on the same model of bike over several years of international competition. After a long road, she's finally happily settled on 27.5in (650b) as her 'just right' wheel size.
Freeman last raced on the 26in-wheeled Scott Scale back in 2009, as part of the Tough Girl/Scott team. That machine was the quintessential cross-country racer in its day, with an ultralight carbon fiber hardtail frame and smaller wheels that accelerated well under power and felt agile through corners.
After a stint with Felt on the Kenda/Felt team, Freeman found herself in familiar territory when her crankbrothers Race Club team switched bike sponsors from Ibis to Scott in 2012, and she was once again on a Scale. This gave her the opportunity to finally race on a hardtail 29er, which most of her competitors were already using. Freeman said she enjoyed the flat-out speed of the 29er, not to mention its confidence-inspiring stability in the rough and smoother ride.
"The 26 [Scott Scale] was definitely quick on the pick-up, whippy around corners, and a touch lighter – I loved that bike," she told BikeRadar. "The 29er would haul in a straight line. Going down rocky stuff it was really solid and the climbing was good. It was a borderline monster truck but it was definitely different on the acceleration and around corners."
At just 1.57m (5ft 2in) tall, though, and with a modest 641mm saddle height, Freeman found getting a proper fit and feel tricky. "It was different getting it to fit quite the way I felt comfortable on," she said. "I had to run my riser bar upside down and had a negative-rise stem. We had to make some significant changes to get it to fit but there was still a sense that I was sitting on a bike that was much bigger than I was used to."
Luckily for Freeman, Scott was already well into the development cycle for its 27.5in Scale, which was originally designed for Nino Schurter's (Scott-Swisspower) 2012 Olympic bid. After spending the early season this year on the 29er, Scott has spread the 27.5in love to its crankbrothers Race Club squad, and Freeman now says she feels back at home.
"On this, I definitely feel the pick-up back, the acceleration is really good, and it feels as stable [as the 29er] riding down big rocky stuff like at Porcupine Rim [in Moab, Utah]."
Build kit highlights include a SRAM XX1 group (with chainring sizes varied to suit the course), Magura's 100mm travel TS8 fork and MT8 carbon fiber disc brakes, and a smattering of high-end goods from title sponsor crankbrothers, such as the carbon fiber Cobalt 11 riser bar and seatpost.
Freeman subs in a forged aluminum Iodine 3 stem, as crankbrothers doesn't make the top-end Cobalt 11 model in the length she needs. For now, she's also riding on aluminum Cobalt 3 wheels because crankbrothers has yet to release a carbon fiber Cobalt 11 version – although we don't expect it to be long.
Rounding out the package are a variety of Kenda tires – typically inflated to about 18 or 19psi – a Fi'zi:k Vitesse saddle, and Blackburn's carbon fiber Camber CF bottle cage.
Total weight as pictured is an already super-light 9.14kg (20.15lb). However, we expect that figure to bust through the 20lb barrier once those 27.5in Cobalt 11 wheels are factored in.
crankbrothers' wheel design uses a novel method to anchor the spokes to the rim