Can bigger really prove to be better?
The best Plus bikes deliver more traction, more control and more comfort. Plus bikes aren’t just for plus-size riders. Plus refers to the tyre width.
Plus bikes come with tyre widths in the range of 2.8in to 3.0in. That’s compared to regular 2.2-2.3in models commonly found on most current bikes and not as huge as 4.0in+ tyres found on fat bikes.
Hardtails with 2.8in tyres on 27.5in wheels are what most people would think of if someone said “Plus bike”. But you can get full suspension Plus bikes and Plus bike with 29in wheels. With this in mind, we cover all these Plus bike guises in the buyer’s guide below.
Plus bikes explained
Plus bikes come with their own unique set of design issues. Is the upheaval worth it? Well, if manufacturers’ claims of increased traction and control are to be believed, the fatter Plus tyres sound like they could catch on.
Plus size wheels use rims with the same diameter as regular 27.5in and 29in rims, but the massive 2.8-3.0in tyres give two new wheel sizes that require dedicated frames and forks.
There are still plenty of still unanswered questions though. Such as, are they just for beginner riders? How soft can you run the tyre without puncturing? Is there an increase in the rolling resistance, and can they cope with mud?
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Given that one tyre manufacturer’s 2.8in tyre can look more like a 2.6in, while others have profiles that measure up closer to 3.0in, there’s a lot of variation between brands.
Fatter tyres need wider rims for extra support. So, even though the Plus size rim diameters are the same as 27.5in and 29in, the rim widths need to increase in proportion to the tyre width.
The bottom line is that, while tyre construction is important on any bike, but it’s even more critical on Plus bikes.
According to Schwalbe, a 2.8in Nobby Nic at 15psi has a 21 per cent bigger contact patch than a 2.35in Nobby Nic at 25psi. More rubber on the ground equates to more grip, and with all other things being equal, wider tyres with more air volume should let you run lower inflation pressures while still providing the same level of support.
Unfortunately, things aren’t equal. To stop the weight of the bigger tyres from creeping up, tyre manufacturers can use thinner casings, with less rubber. In practical terms this means you can’t run some Plus size tyres as soft as you think, as they have less inherent support and damping. It also means that the sidewalls are more prone to cuts and will degrade more quickly.
27.5in+ or 29in compatibility
In more recent years we’ve seen more companies hedging their bets and designing Plus bikes that can also run regular 29in wheels/tyres.
The idea being that by slotting in a different set of wheels you can have two bikes in one ie. run it as as a 27.5in PLus bike for most of the year and switch to 29in hoops for winter
The outside diameter of a 27.5in x 2.8in tyre is not very different from the outside diameter of a 29in x 2.3in tyre, so it’s relatively simple to design a frame that can accept either without much issue.
Sometimes the frames have flip-chip adjusters built in to deal with the slight change in BB height but more often than not they just leave them as is because they feel that the change is not significant.
We expect to see more folks trying the hybrid combo too; running a 29in wheel up front and a 27.5in Plus wheel in the rear. Some e-bikes come supplied this way. And it’s the norm to have mismatched wheels in motocross too, for example.
The best plus bikes 2019
Can bigger really prove to be better? We round up the best Plus bikes currently available. Hardtail Plus bikes first, then full suspension Plus bikes. In price ascending order…
Voodoo Wazoo 275+
mbr review: “Voodoo Wazoo brings two firsts to our usual £500 hardtail test: first bike to sport 2.8in Plus tyres and to benefit from the extra stiffness of a bolt-thru fork. Of the two, it’s the high-volume tyres that are game changing. By increasing the amount of rubber on the trail you can turn in harder, brake later and find traction where other bikes spin out. But it is not just grip that’s increased. With bigger tyres you can run lower pressures so they offer more comfort and control too.”
Sonder Transmitter MNX1 Recon
mbr review: “Within the first few pedal strokes we knew that the Sonder Transmitter NX Revelation was the bike to beat. It instantly felt faster and more agile than its rivals. Maybe it’s the slacker head angle putting the fork in a better position to absorb the hits, or it could simply be that the Sonder’s riding position meant we instinctively knew that any effort would be returned with interest. Either way, it just felt right. And over the course of the test nothing presented itself to make us think otherwise.”
Vitus Sentier VR+
mbr review: “If you couple the Sentier’s impressive sizing and weight to its aggressive geometry, then add in the perfect selection of components, you’ve got a cocktail that delivers a mind-blowing hardtail for £1,000. Yes, it lacks a dropper post and isn’t the slackest bike on test, but the ride is still standout. In every respect the Sentier VR + is a true performance hardtail and Vitus has raised the bar once again.” Note: comes supplied with 2.6in tyres so you’ll need to budget for 2.8-3.0in tyres to make it truly Plus.
Norco Fluid 2 HT
mbr review: “Its smooth welded frame gives ample stand over clearance allowing you to move around above the bike with ease, and its bang up to date in the aesthetics department too. The build kit is also on point, with 1x drivetrain, dropper post, short stem and wide handlebar, all of which help making for a super playful and enjoyable ride.The riding position is commanding too, even if the geometry isn’t as progressive as the Vitus Sentier VR+ or Sonder Transmitter.”
Trek Roscoe 8
mbr review: “If you only looked at the geometry of the Trek Roscoe 8 is would be easy to write it off as being too steep and too short. Ride it however, and it’s clear that this bike is a total ripper; the 2.8in Plus size tyres providing comfort and control that no amount of complex tubing manipulation could ever match. That’s not to say the Trek wouldn’t be even better with a 130mm travel fork and extra length in the frame, so much as we love the addition of the SRAM Eagle drivetrain, it’s not quite enough to elevate the Roscoe’s status.”
Trek Full Stache 8
mbr first ride: “Despite being relatively pedestrian uphill, this hard-to-pigeon-hole bike feels ridiculously surefooted down the gnarliest, most technical descents, and by steamrolling through the rough stuff you feel like a bit of a superhero blasting at high speeds. Fair play to Trek for delivering a machine that floats over the sea of dull, copycat MTB geometries and attitudes. It’s a properly good laugh, amazing at technical climbing and super stable downhill.”
Santa Cruz Hightower C
mbr review: “You can’t failed to be won over by the stunning looks of the Santa Cruz Hightower C. The beauty goes beyond skin deep, too, with capable suspension, an assertive riding position and impeccable trail manners. We can’t fault the spec, either, and it’s tough to ignore the prestige of the Santa Cruz brand itself. There’s a lot to like then, but somehow we never really fell in love with the Hightower.”
Intense ACV Pro
mbr review: “If you want to cover the most ground, with the least effort, and you’re a surgeon on the descents rather than a steamroller, then the ACV is the bike for you. Its sharp handling and eye-watering pace are addictive assets, and let’s face it, who doesn’t want that head badge hanging in their garage? But the traits that ensure it stomps away from the competition on pedally trails also hinder it on more challenging terrain. It’s a balancing act, and you have to decide which side of the scales you sit.”