Wednesday, March 18, 2009

650b Wheels and My Bike!

I don't know how much everyone knows about this new wheel size, but there's a lot of buzz around 650b. You've probably heard of the 29r (a 29" mtn bike wheel, same as 700c road) and the standard mtn bike size of 26".

Back in the day (late 1970s), the stony guys that 'invented' mountain bikes in NorCal knew that something big was gonna happen. But for a random Soviet move (damn Ruskies), we'd all be riding 650b bikes. Apparently, when the early boys of mtn biking were looking for good, strong, light wheel sizes, they looked at 650b first but the Soviet (army?) bought up everything from Nokian (I think). So, there were plenty of 26" stuff around and that's how the 26" thing started. A few Asian manufacturer's (Araya?) filled the need with 26" light, strong rims.

Here's more details from His Holiness, Sheldon Brown on the topic.

I wasn't into the 29r thing when it came out. I rode some bikes but there were ZERO full suspension bikes. And since that's what I ride, I wasn't into going back into riding singlespeeds and hardtails. BigDaddy is too old for that. Occasionally, sure, but me likey squishy. The bikes that I did ride didn't really turn my crank. The bikes felt slow, the wheels didn't turn really well and I just didn't think the bikes were responsive enough for my type of riding. I'm not alone in that opinion either.

So when people on the tuberwebs started talking about 650b, I took notice. I heard a few people trying it out, custom fitting bikes with 650b stuff. This guy Kirk Pacenti (a frame guy) got Panaracer to make a run of tires and the US got 650b 2.35 tires. That's what I got.

It would be good to step back and explain 650b. This tire/wheel size is very normal in Europe. It's mostly for touring bikes and a lot of people put 650b on 700c bikes to allow larger tires and fenders. So we aren't talking about building up an infrastructure like 29 required. Well, 29 required A BIT more for mtn biking...

So, we have 26", 650b (27.5") and 29". I went a bit nuts and bought spokes, rims and tires from Family Bike Shop last week and built up some wheels Saturday night. Breaking a cardinal rule of mtn biking, I put the wheels on for the Sunday morning ride at the Watershed. If you haven't ridden out there, it's rocky. Potentially the rockiest trails on the planet.

And I loved it. I've been riding a 6" travel, 2.3" tired, dual-crown fork bike with 26" wheels. It kicks arse, for sure. I rode the Stumpjumper (2008) FSR Pro Carbon with the 650b wheels thrown into the bike and WOW! It handled pretty well. I should mention that I just rode that bike on the same trails just two days prior and the bike was all over the place. The wheels (and tires, of course) really stabilized that bike. It really changed its manners.

So, I'm not turning into a 650b wheel zealot. It's just a bike. But the 650b thing is a real benefit. I think the fact that I can run 650b or 26" on my bike is pretty money. I can race my super-light 26" wheels on non-technical courses with narrow tires OR I can rock the 650b with narrow tires on kinda technical courses or run the 2.35 up front with the 2.0 in the rear on more technical stuff. And it's all the same bike. All that really changes is the height of the bottom bracket. And that only goes up about 18mm from 26" to 650b.

I know that SRAM/Rock Shox, Hayes/Manitou, Marzocchi and Fox are all ignoring 650b right now. Couple that with the fact that a lot of these smaller builders shouting about 650b are asking for custom offsets and new lowers that would cost Rock Shox or Fox a good chunk of change and the 650b thing seems stuck.

Haro has a 650b bike. Jamis is rumored to be coming out with a bike in '10 or '11. Specialized MIGHT be thinking about tires for next year. White Brothers has a $800 fork (which will leak or creak or just not work within a year of being ridden hard).

These pics aren't great. They do give you an idea of how much clearance there is when the bike is actually ridden. There's some dirt in there and nothing's hanging up. Fork, chainstays, seatstays... It's all good!

I'm just here saying that 650b is worth checking out. If you like throwing your bike around or are short and can't ride a 29r, 650b is probably a better choice than 26. And the GREATEST thing about 650b is that most bikes ALREADY WORK JUST FINE! Of course, you have to find a friend like my buddy Cargo Mike so you can borrow his wheels and see if they work before you spend money buying a set for yourself. Yes, you can borrow mine...

This last pic is kinda sideways: that's actually the seatstay bridge. There's more room than the pic shows but you get the point.


At 4:26 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

what size is that tire in the rear, 2.3" neo-moto??


At 11:06 PM, Blogger Big Daddy Mike said...

Yup. 2.35.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Darren said...

I think the 2.3, 2.0 in back is a money combination. Having been a 29er convert, I think the 650b makes allot of sense, especially for Gambril, shed, Ride the Ridge race I did. The 29er works for me but I still have to plow through things instead of finessing my way thru

At 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to try that 650B wheel and tire combo on my C'Dale Bad Boy Ultra. I think it may just work.

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

can you run 26" wheels on a 650b frame without problems?

At 1:30 PM, Blogger FatOldGoat said...

I am going to have to give this a try on my 2006 Santa Cruz Superlight. I usually ride Schaeffer and Patapsco - I would welcome a little extra roll for the rooty and rocky sections, but I don't want to spend the scratch on a 29er.


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