RAAW Deep Dive: Madonna V3 Wheel Size Options
In the first deep dive, we took a closer look at our Toolbox Concept and the reasons behind the UDH Seatstay option. This time we’re going to focus on wheel size options.
It’s been a few weeks now since the Madonna V3 was released and there has surely been a lot to digest. The V3 has been the biggest overhaul we’ve ever launched. There are hundreds of details that we’ve worked on that create our most capable, adjustable and durable bike. The feedback we’ve received from you has been amazing. But it also prompted us to dive a little deeper into some of the new features of the V3.
29 Inches or Mullet?
Before the Madonna V3, all three bikes, in all the iterations, we’ve offered over the years were designed around 29-inch wheels. But, the Madonna V3 is now the first bike to offer the option of a mixed wheel setup - 27.5 inches out back and 29 inches in front. Many refer to the setup as mullet - Business in the front, party in the back. Sounds like a sweet recipe, right?
Changing the rear wheel diameter is a very simple change, but one in a very complex system. A bike consists of hundreds of details, wheel size is one of them, and they all need to cooperate to create a bike that works as a whole. So the first thing that’s very important when it comes to wheel sizes is that the bike needs to be designed around it from the beginning. A bike built for 29-inch wheels is going to change drastically by only swapping to a smaller rear wheel, with no adjustment to the frame itself.
The Madonna V3 features a modular lower shock mount. We use this to offer suspension progression and bottom bracket height adjustment when running 29-inch wheels. But we also exploit it to make a mixed-wheel setup work.
Small difference, big changes? Well, it's complicated…
With our MX-Lower Shock Mount, the BB is raised up, compensating for the smaller rear wheel, and results in geometry that is very close to the full 29-inch setup. The lower shock mounts for adjusting progression and BB height are designed to be used with a full 29-inch setup only. The mixed wheel setup unfortunately has to forgo these adjustment options to allow the bike to work with the smaller rear wheel.
We’ve decided to offer the mixed-wheel setup option with the Madonna V3 because many of you have asked for it. Anything else wouldn’t be honest. Personally, I am convinced that 29-inch wheels are a great fit for the Madonna. But I’ve also learned that there isn’t one truth and there are differences in riding preferences. We designed the Madonna V3 to work with both wheel setups, but there are a couple of things I would like to clarify and share from our experiences.
Making Two Wheel Sizes Work in One Bike
To make two wheel sizes work there are certain clearances in the frame, mainly around the suspension, that simply need to work. The geometry changes that the lower shock mounts make on the Madonna V3 require very specific clearances simply for it all to fit. The frame parts should in no situation interfere with each other, the rear tyre needs to move freely in all stages of travel and all shock options need to clear the rocker link, down tube, seat tube and cables.
But, there is also a second challenge in making two wheel sizes work in one bike, and that is in suspension kinematics. The geometry changes required to make two wheel sizes work also changes the characteristics of the rear suspension. We took this into consideration from the start of development to ensure as little compromise in the mixed wheel setup when compared to the full 29-inch setup.
The suspension details of the previous Madonna iterations simply wouldn’t have lent themselves to what’s needed to correct the geometry with a smaller rear wheel, which would have resulted in reduced suspension performance.
Why I Think Mullets Get The Attention
I honestly thought this deep dive would be pretty straightforward and to the point. But there is a lot to the different wheel sizes and we have only looked at the fundamentals up to now. Far more interesting is the why and how do they compare?
Mountain bikes have grown in size over the last decade and the result is that we now have very capable bikes that allow us to ride hard and improve our skills way beyond what was possible years ago. But bigger also means heavier, longer and requires more energy input from the rider. Or to put it differently, today’s big bikes aren’t as inherently lively as bikes from a decade ago.
But is that true? It’s a very subjective topic, but I think the mixed-wheel setup is an idea that many people like because it pulls the trend of bikes growing back an inch. One and a half inches to be exact. It’s the idea of having a capable modern bike, coming from all the advancements in geometry and suspension, but with a little fun thrown into the boot. But is it that simple?
If you’ve been following RAAW for a while you’ll know we always emphasise how important balance is. And that’s the first thing that needs to be considered with wheel sizes. The balance between the front and the back of the bike, the balance between the rear contact patch, BB position and handlebar height, and the balance between the front and rear wheel grip. Balance is undoubtedly key to feeling confident on a bike and being able to ride it hard. 29-inch wheels have always worked exceptionally well in the concept of our bikes, but a mixed-wheel setup isn’t going to completely ruin that.
In the first deep dive, we mainly looked at the adjustability of the geometry and suspension. I see the two different wheel sizes in that same category. It’s a small change that can be used for personal preferences and to be honest, the difference in ride feel between the two wheel size setups isn’t miles apart.
How Do The Two Compare?
When we compare the two setups, mixed wheels or 29” front and back, there are a couple of differences. The first one is the ability of the 29” wheel to roll over obstacles better. With the mixed wheel setup, you do get hung up on technical climbs a little more as the wheel needs a bit more time and energy to get up and over the steps and bumps.
But also the amount of grip changes. The bigger contact surface of the 29” tyre simply creates more traction. There is less slippin’ and slidin’ in the back. It’s not much, but it’s noticeable in direct comparison.
So far those differences will sound more in favour of the full 29” setup, and honestly for me, that is the case. But the handling of the bike changes ever so slightly. The very small changes in geometry between the two wheel size setups, as well as a bit less weight and inertia at the rear wheel, means that the mixed wheel setup does need a touch less energy input to get the bike to move. It does mean you’re a little less in the bike, something a full 29” setup offers well. But to be honest, the difference in handling between the two wheel-size setups is small to me, and can be considered more a subtle adjustment of the bike’s character, rather than defining a completely new one.
The last point in ride feel differences between the two wheel sizes is a bit more practical. The smaller rear wheel simply offers more trouser clearance on steep trails. I’ve got long legs that allow me to use a 240 mm OneUp dropper. But for those of us with shorter legs, more trouser clearance is definitely a benefit for having less rear wheel contact when you’re moving around.
Finally, a smaller rear wheel also simply is stronger. When you’re not the most gentle person in rock sections, you might prefer a smaller rear wheel, simply because it keeps being straighter for longer.
So there you have it, I’ve just written four pages about the difference one and a half inches can make. And to summarise, not all that much.
The mixed wheel option adds to the list of fine adjustments the Madonna V3 offers to make it suit your preferences. I would always recommend a full 29-inch setup as the first setup to go to. It’s proven itself over the years, it fits the concept of the Madonna the best, and it was what the bike was primarily designed around.
But, if you prefer a small rear wheel for the changes it makes, you’re also going to have a blast on the Madonna V3.