The mountain bike (MTB) industry has sort of moved away from 26-inch wheel models. Today, the 27.5er and the 29er are all the rage. However, there are still some best 26 inch mountain bikes available on the market. For example, there are Giant 26 inch mountain bikes and Specialized 26 inch mountain bikes. Here we review some of the best 26 inch mountain bikes out there.
What are 26 Inch Mountain Bikes?
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When we say dash inch dash bikes (_inch _ bikes), what we really mean is that the diameter of both wheels of the bikes is that size. Therefore, a 26-inch mountain bike refers to a mountain bike with 26-inch wheels. Similarly, a 26-inch road bike is a road bike with 26-inch wheels.
What other size wheels do mountain bikes have? You get a lot of choices for bike wheel sizes for Kids’ bikes, starting from 12-inch bikes for toddlers. Typically, Kids’ bikes have wheel sizes of up to 24 inches or 26 inches.
When we come to 26 adult mountain bikes, we normally talk about 29-inch and 27.5-inch mountain bikes. However, this does not mean that 26-inch mountain bikes are not available. As a matter of fact, the 26er was the standard for MTB for 3 decades, until the 29er overtook it pretty much completely. The 27.5er attempts to strike a balance between the 26er and the 29er, and it also is very much in vogue.
Unfortunately, today, the 26-inch MTB is outdated, if not obsolete. The main reason is due to the lack of availability of high-end 26-inch mountain bikes. Whenever new technological developments in the bike industry occur, the 29er and the 27.5er are targeted, leaving the 26er industry mostly catering to entry-level or kids’ bikes.
Advantages of 26 Inch Mountain Bikes
That being said, there are still a great many 26-inch mountain bikes that are not only good but can serve you better than their more mainstream counterparts. Behold the advantages that 26-inch mountain bikes provide over their larger wheeled models.
Smaller wheels mean lighter weight. The more lightweight a bike is, the easier you can carry it. But that isn’t even the most important advantage of having smaller wheels.
More importantly, the smaller wheels make the bike easier to maneuver. You can twist and turn it easier than you can do a 27.5er and 29er. Admittedly, in hilly areas, you don’t really have to make a lot of turns like in the street. However, if you do use your 26-inch MTB on paved areas, the nimbleness will aid you greatly.
Being nimble, however, doesn’t necessarily mean higher speeds. Actually, a 26-inch MTB is slower than a 27.5-inch MTB and slower still than a 29-inch MTB. The larger the wheels are, the more ground they can cover.
And although the size discrepancy between a 26-inch MTB and its competitors (especially 27.5er) might not seem much at first thought, the little edges in distance covered per rotation the rpm, or rotations per minute add up quickly, making the 26-inch MTB distinguishably slower than a 27.5er and especially a 29er.
While the 26-inch mountain bike isn’t that fast, it does have the highest acceleration out of the three models. The smaller the wheel size the nimbleness results in a 26er picking up speed faster. Therefore, if you frequently ride on the road and require stopping here and there, a 26-inch mountain bike will best serve you out of all mountain bike wheel sizes.
Accommodates Riders of Average Height
If you are below 6 feet tall which is a lot of us then you might struggle to ride a 29-inch mountain bike. Yes, you can ride a 29er if you are at least 5’8”, but being comfortable is of utmost importance even if you are not an avid cyclist. 26-inch mountain bikes comfortably fit people with heights between 5 and 6 feet tall.
Of course, the appropriate range of rider height is not a rigid one. You may prefer a bigger bike even if you are below 6 feet tall, and vice versa. The point is that 26-inch mountain bikes are suitable for teenagers and adults of average height.
Perhaps most importantly, 26-inch mountain bikes are significantly cheaper than 27.5 and 29-inch mountain bikes.
One of the main reasons for the lower price, however, is the lack of up-to-date components. That said, we have compiled here a list of the best 26-inch MTB, including the best 26-inch mountain bike under $500, and even the best 26-inch mountain bike under 300 bucks!
Full Suspension Bikes vs. Hardtails
Full suspension bikes are bikes that have suspension forks attached to them. The suspension technology is especially important for mountain biking because it adds stability. Suspension forks are basically shock absorbers. When mountain bikes encounter rough terrain, contact with rocks and dirt, and other obstacles create a shock. Such shocks are minimized by the suspension forks.
Full suspension bikes have a suspension fork both at the front and the rear, whereas a single suspension bike or a hardtail features a suspension fork at the front. Full suspension bikes are much more stable due to shock absorbers at both ends.
However, they are also heavier and less nimble than hardtails. This is not only due to the addition of an extra fork but also due to the extra frame components needed. If you don’t typically ride in the hills, you can opt for a 26” hardtail.
Another detail to consider with full or dual suspension bikes is that using them to ride uphill is a chore. The rear suspension makes an uphill climb an even steeper one (speaking figuratively here). Thus, if you buy a full-suspension bike, try to get one with the rear lock-out option. This essentially locks out your rear suspension, allowing you an easier ride uphill.
Naturally, full-suspension bikes cost more. Many full suspension bikes will be well above a thousand dollars. Thus, if you are on a budget, opt for a 26-inch hardtail.
Frame Material: Steel vs. Aluminium vs. Carbon
The frame of a bike is important for a number of reasons. First, it holds the bike components together, including the wheels and the seat. Frame geometry is crucial for comfort and efficiency.
Also important is the frame weight. And that largely depends on the material it is made up of. Low-end bikes have steel frames. These, however, are the heaviest and slow the bike down. High-end bike frames are made of carbon. Carbon is expensive but the lightest. Mid-tier bikes, both in quality and price, have aluminum frames.
As it happens, only high-end bikes have carbon frames. This also means that 26-inch mountain bike frames are unlikely to be made of carbon. But aluminum frames are common in 26ers. If you don’t mind a heavy bike, though, you can opt for steel-framed bikes which cost less.
Brakes: Rim vs Disc
When it comes to choosing how the braking system applies to a bike, you will most likely come across the rim braking system and the disc braking system.
Rim brakes are the traditional but slightly outdated choice, similar to a 26-inch wheel mountain bike for bike enthusiasts. The way rim brakes work is that the braking power is applied to the rim of the bike wheels. Rim brakes are cheaper and easier to do maintenance on.
On the other hand, disc brakes are more up-to-date and modern. On a bike with disc brakes, the braking pressure is applied to a motor that is mounted on the wheel hub. Disc brakes offer numerous advantages, including rider-friendly braking options and better adaptability against rough weather conditions.
There are other intricacies in bike brakes, such as hydraulic brakes (mostly used in disc brakes) and mechanical brakes (mostly used in rim brakes). We will not go further into detail about these, since 26-inch mountain bikes are not typically equipped with the latest technology. However, if you are interested, we have delved deep into bike brakes in an article in our Blog section.
However, we feel the advantages of disc brakes outweigh those of rim brakes. Unless you are on a super tight budget, opt for a bike that uses disc brakes.
5 Best 26-Inch Mountain Bikes
Huffy is an Ohio-based brand with almost 130 years of experience in the bike industry. They make bikes for men, women, and kids. And though this is advertised as a women-specific bike, teenagers can ride it as long as they are above 5 feet tall.
Although a pretty heavy bike at 42.35 lbs with a steel frame, this women’s mountain bike is quite the budget choice. With 21 speeds, a removable rear derailleur guard, and easy seat adjustability, the Stone Mountain Women’s MTB can be argued to be the best 26 inch mountain bike.
This product also comes with a package deal with a bike lock cable and a bike helmet, but you have to dole in some extra cash for that.
On a side note, if you want the kids’ version, the Stone Mountain bike is available with 20-inch and 24-inch wheels.
We have said that people over 6 feet tall should avoid 26-inch mountain bikes. However, this Mongoose model is suitable for people of heights from 5”4 to 6”2.
This 26-inch mountain bike is comparatively lightweight with its aluminum, not steel, frames. You can also choose from 21 speeds. Indeed, this is another competitor for the best 26 inch mountain bike.
Can you believe it? A dual suspension 26-inch mountain at such a low price? Dynacraft is probably the best 26-inch mountain bike.
And the quality isn’t low either. With 21 speeds and a quick-release seat post, this is a versatile 26-inch full-suspension mountain bike. And even though the frame is made of steel and heavy v-brakes are used, the weight isn’t that high, at around 38 lbs.
By the way, if you are interested, there is a package deal going on with two helmets to choose from, and you can choose both if you wish. This comes at a slightly extra cost, though.
Enter a foldable bike on our list. And we all love foldable bikes, right? A folding bicycle is very convenient to store and carry. What’s more, the price is quite reasonable for this one as well, making it yet another contender for being the best 26-inch mountain bike under budget-friendly.
And not at the expense of quality either. Although it’s not a dual suspension bike, you have 21-speed options. The bike also comes with a 1-year warranty and a 30-day return policy. The frame is also made of aluminum, which keeps the weight at a reasonable 38 pounds. One disadvantage, though, to keep in mind is the rather narrow height range: 5’5”-5’9”. Another is that this bike uses rim brakes.
You may find some reviews complaining about the uncomfortable seat of budget bikes. This problem is solved by the package deal this Eurobike model comes with, as you can get a highly comfy seat. Also available in the package deal is a set of LED bike lights.
Although this 26er breaks the $ mark, it is still a very reasonably priced 26-inch mountain bike. And, as specified in the name, this Schwinn bike is suitable both for the youth and adults.
This 26er is quite versatile, having 21-speed options. You can ride it not only on hilly routes but also elsewhere. The alloy crank makes for efficient gearing, and the bike seat is adjustable. Even disc brakes are used. What’s more, at around 32.5 pounds, it isn’t heavy for a mountain bike. Overall, this is arguably the best 26-inch mountain bike, or even the best 26-inch bike, period.
Frequently Asked Questions
A 26-inch mountain bike is suitable for what height?
Typically, a 26-inch mountain bike is suitable for people with heights between 5 feet and 6 feet. However, the range will be tighter for some models. Some 26 inch MTBs will not be appropriate for people above 5’10”, whereas some accommodate heights of up to 6’2”. In general, the height range suitability for 26-inch mountain bikes is quite good for average-sized people.
A 26-inch mountain bike is suitable for what weight?
Just as the height threshold is average, the weight threshold is also not super high. A 26-inch mountain bike, in general, cannot support a weight over 250 lbs. If you weigh more than that, you may want to consider using a better quality bike and also a bike with bigger wheels. Any weight you carry with you also plays a factor. This includes your bag, a built-in rack, or some packages hanging onto your handlebars.
Is a 26-inch mountain bike good for downhill racing?
Yes! It is good for downhill racing or simply downhill climbing because of its lower center of gravity. This means that you feel grounded when going on a road with a decline. On a 29-inch mountain bike, in contrast, you may feel frightened of toppling over and falling head over heels. This scare factor is real, though the risk isn’t as high as it seems. Still, we imagine you wouldn’t want to feel unsafe when going downhill, and so a 26er will make you feel more grounded and stable.
Is it okay to use 26-inch mountain bikes on city streets?
Yeah, it is totally okay. Although the primary function of mountain bikes is to ride in the mountains, not on the road, if you don’t have a road bike, it’s completely fine if you use your mountain bike.
Additionally, a 26-inch mountain bike would be more suitable for road use. Why? Because of many reasons. One, the lighter weight adds to the speed, especially acceleration. Two, greater maneuverability is helpful for making turns. Three, there is very little need for having less rolling resistance on paved roads. Therefore, larger wheels and tires are not required for using a mountain bike on the road.
Should I replace my 26-inch mountain bike to get a mountain bike with larger wheels?
You can. If you are a cyclist enthusiast and want the best that mountain bikes have to offer, we recommend you try 27.5 and 29-inch mountain bikes. If you are into competitive mountain biking, then yes, you should replace your 26-inch wheels with bigger ones.
However, it isn’t necessary at all to go for a 27.5 or a 29-inch mountain bike if you don’t want the latest technology. Moreover, if you are content with your 26 inch mountain bike and have ridden it for many a year, then consider buying another 26-inch mountain bike the next time as well. Experimenting with a different wheel size is welcome, but so too is sticking to your comfort zone.
A Final Word
We have intentionally listed budget choices. The reason is that one of the most important reasons for opting for 26-inch mountain bikes over larger wheel models is due to the lower price. You probably didn’t come here to see thousand-dollar high-end bikes. If you want top-tier quality, go for 29ers or 27.5ers.
That isn’t to say that 26-inch mountain bikes are not capable enough today. As we have discussed, the quality they offer may not be top-tier (with carbon frames and 1x drivetrains), but they do offer 21 speeds and dual suspension technology even. Indeed, these are the best 26-inch mountain bikes on the market.
However, if you don’t mind spending a few hundred extra dollars, then consider going for electric mountain bikes. We have reviewed many e-bikes in this review, many of which are under $!
Besides e-bikes, you can also opt for big-name brands when looking for the best 26-inch bike, but then you would have to stretch your budget. For example, you can choose a stellar Giant 26-inch mountain bike from here. Keep in mind, though, that buying from such big-name brands is somewhat expensive. It is especially expensive if you select a Trek or a Specialized 26-inch mountain bike.
Steven is a professional cyclist and his passion is cycling. He has been cycling for the last 6 years and he loves using bikes while outing as well. Based on his experiences with the different types of bikes; he is sharing his opinions about various bikes so that a beginner can start right away. Find him on Twitter @thecyclistguy Happy Biking.