650B Baby!

17 10 2012

Intense Tracer 275 – 650B All Mountain shredder…

I’ve been wanting to post something on wheel size for mountain bikes for a while. Thing is that even though I own bikes from 26″ to 29″ and a fatbike which is a 26″ rim with a 29″ external diameter – I just don’t have enough time on enough bikes to justify my opinions well. It’s really not fair to compare a 26er 6″+ full suspension bike to a 29er 4″ travel hardtail or a rigid fatbike. How do you separate out the differences in geometry and suspension from the differences in wheel size?

I’d love to own long travel full suspension bikes in 26er, 650B and 29er wheel sizes for back to back comparisons, but that would require a ton of $$ I don’t have. :(

What I will say is that wheel size does matter. There are distinct pros and cons, but they have to be evaluated in the context of the specific bike design. You can’t just pick a wheel size and throw down a blanket statement that it’s going to be better than another wheel size. So these days you can’t afford to ignore wheel size if you are buying a new mountain bike. Especially if you keep your bikes for a long time.

I think it’s safe to say that the differences aren’t worth upgrading from a bike you own and love. Any trail you can ride a 29er or a 650B bike on you can ride a 26er on. It you have an existing bike you want to tweak I’d spend the $$ on new tires for an easy high bang for your buck performance boost.

If you’ve been paying attention to any media outlets in the mountain bike world you know 650B is coming on strong. They are also calling it 27.5″ even though it’s actually closer to a 26″ wheel/tire than a 29″ wheel/tire. It looks like a lot of brands will have 650B bikes in the line up for 2013 and I suspect almost all of them will for 2014.

Based on my limited experience with bigger wheels it looks like 650B will be popular as it blends some of the 29er roll over ability with a smaller package that is easier to design into a long travel frame and retains the playful feel of the 26″ format. “All Mountain” style bikes with 6″-7″ of travel are the ideal candidates for the new wheel size.

Photo: Intense action from MTBR.com

My Santa Cruz Nomad sports wheels that measure 26.75″ with 2.4″ tires on Velocity P35 rims. Sharon’s Nomad with 2.3″ tires on narrower rims measures 26.25″. It’s amazing that the Continental Trail Kings on my bike are so much bigger than Sharon’s Nevegals. Given the size of my wheel/tire combo I don’t have any huge urge to upgrade my mountain bike to 650B.

Having said that as I ponder a new mountain bike for 2013 or 2014 I’ll restrict my choices to 650B machines. I don’t think it will be long before the all mountain category, where my interests lie, will be made up of a majority of 650B designs. This has the added benefit of giving me an incentive to keep riding my Nomad while more 650B options hit the market and these designs have a product cycle to mature. I’m not in a rush to roll on 650Bs, but when I do get a new rig it might as well have ‘em.

Sharon wants this bike!


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8 responses

17 10 2012
Mike

Well said Vik on all counts. I’d add the point: “less is more” on a 29er, such that a 4″ bike feels like a 5.5″ 26er. Chili, Zeus, & Burner on your 650 frame-only shortlist?

17 10 2012
thelazyrando

@Mike – so far the list would be Knolly Chilcotin, Ibis Mojo HD and Banshee Rune. Of those the about to be released Rune is the only one that fully 650B compatible right now. The HD can take 650B wheels with reduced travel and the 650B Chili is in the works. I’m not particularly stoked about Turner or Ventana FS bikes.

I hope to get my Nomad re-sized by visiting Santa Cruz this winter on the way to Baja. If that works the pressure will be off and I’ll just wait and see what 650B stuff comes out in 2013 – maybe even wait until 2014.

17 10 2012
thelazyrando

Intense is going hard into the 650B segment. The upside is I could get a hot pink bike and make Sharon jealous. The downside is it’s a VPP bike which won’t be much different than my Nomad.

17 10 2012
champs794

I’m against 650B because there isn’t a good nominal inch name to give it.For better or for worse, MTB wheels use inches, but “27.5” is a mouthful, and there’s no way to abbreviate or mumble your way into something that’s either ambiguous (which kind of 27/28 inch?) or alien sounding (two-seven-five is not a number between 26 and 29).

17 10 2012
Doug (@ecoDoug)

I’ve been enjoying my 650b steel hardtail quite a lot for the last 3 years. Looking forward someday to getting a 650b trail bike, eyeing the Norco Sight Killer B.

17 10 2012
thelazyrando

I think Killer B is a good generic name for the 650B MTB wheel size ;)

17 10 2012
blobby

It’s quite funny to observe that lots of brands have now great interest in 650B, while several years ago, this wheel size almost disappeared (only saved by groups of touring fanatics who urge tires and wheel builders not to abandon production).
But I think it may be a nightmare for shops to store all these different tires and tubes sizes.

17 10 2012
thelazyrando

@Blobby my guess is XC will go mostly 29er, 650B will be the all mountain/long travel size and 26er will hang on for DH and the low end/rec market. That will let a LBS stock tires in mainly 1 size per segment of their business.

I can’t see many companies wanting to build and sell 26er and 650B models after a year or three to transition.

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