650B or 700c?

6 12 2010

Photo: Chris Richards

I’ve been enjoying the bike porn on the Rene Herse website [such as the fine bicycle above click on the image for many more lovely photos]. Between bikes rides and surf sessions here on the west coast I’ve been pondering a fantasy build of a low cost Boulder Bicycle Randonneur.  Low cost and fantasy build – is that possible? Well I guess lower cost is more appropriate since the Randonneur frame/fork are still ~ $1300…not cheap, but much cheaper than a fully custom Rene Herse.

One detail that I cannot settle in my mind is the choice between 650B or 700c wheels.


  • I have some decent light weight 700c wheels I can put on the frame so my cost is much less
  • I have 700c tires I can use as well
  • My Surly LHT is 700c so I can share wheels, tires fenders between them [ie. only have to build 1 dynohub wheel]
  • I’d use 30mm Grand Bois Cypres tires on a 700c Randonneur which is a proven fast comfy road tire I like
  • If I’m on the road and need to buy spares in an emergency 700c is well supported at LBS
  • can’t use uber wide tires and can’t try out 650B to see what it’s like


  • frame has clearance for tires up to 41mm with fenders for supper comfy fast riding on road or dirt
  • I’d likely start with 35mm Grand Bois tires and see what they are like
  • I’d try 41mm tires depending on how the 35mm tires were or later when I felt like tinkering
  • I’d need to build a custom wheel set incl. a dynohub that wouldn’t work on my other bikes
  • I wouldn’t be able to share wheels. fenders and tires with my LHT
  • If I needed spares away from home I’d have to carry them or get someone to overnight me parts
  • I’d get to tryout 650B which is a wheel size I’d heard lots of good things about

Here are some build ideas I’ve had [PB = already have in my spare parts bin new = need to buy]:

  • drop bars [Salsa Short n’ Shallow] – PB
  • Deore V-brakes – PB
  • Cane Creek drop bar v-brake levers – PB
  • Salsa stem – PB
  • FSA Orbit XL-II headset – new
  • seatpost – new
  • Selle Anatomica Titanico saddle – PB
  • Honjo hammered fenders [always lusted for a set of these] – new
  • 700c wheels Shimano R500 [from previous bike] – PB
  • 700c dynohub wheel built up later in year – new
  • 650B new custom wheels with dynohub – new
  • Grand Boise tires [30mm Cypres if 700c, 35mm if 650B] – new
  • custom front small PR rack from CETMA – new
  • DIY removable coroplast front rack box – new
  • dynohub headlight BM IQ CYO- new
  • Planet Bike Superflash Stealth tailight – PB
  • platform pedals [not sure which ones] – new
  • 1×9 drivetrain from parts bin [not sure exactly what yet]
  • bar end shifter

I had thought that a Shimano Alfine 11 might be a good match for this bike, but I have tried every conceivable way to mount IGH shifters to a drop bar and the only one I like is the JTek bar end shifter.  Unfortunately they don’t make one for the Alfine 11 yet – although that could change.  Based on my experiences with 8 speed IGH drivetrains and my fixed gear bike I think a 9 speed wide range cassette should be fine for this bike as I won’t be riding it with a big load [I won’t even install a rear rack so I am not tempted]. If I end up wanting more gears I can always add a second ring and derailleur up front.

Please do me a favour and don’t bring this post to the attention of the folks at Rene Herse.  If I decide to place an order for one of their frame/forks in 2011 I don’t want them to know what sort of franken-bike it will become.  Gauging by the super sweet looking rigs they show on their website I risk being blacklisted due to my DIY coroplast rack box alone!…=-)~….j/k!



25 responses

6 12 2010

Whichever size you decide on, I heartily recommend Rene Herse/Boulder Bicycle. Their shop is about thirty minutes from my apartment in Denver, and Mike Kone has always been helpful and kind when I stop in to ask stupid questions. His bicycle knowledge is encyclopedic, and from I’ve seen, he spends a ridiculous amount of time on the phone with remote customers making sure they get exactly what they want.

6 12 2010

Bike Quarterly did an issue in which “[they] did another test with three identical bikes, to determine how wheel size affects the handling of a bicycle. The results surprised most of our testers.

We explored the physics of wheel size in relation to bicycle handling. A must-read before you decide on 700C, 650B or 26″ wheels for your next bike!”

Hope you can get a hold of the issue and that it helps.


6 12 2010

oops, should have read down further

6 12 2010

I was just reading that issue on my flight to TO. I also emailed Jan H and he replied that the 700c frame with 30mm tires would be a great road bike while the 650b frame with 40mm+/- tires would be a great all surface bike to explore further afield than the 700c version.

If I had only this one bike I’d go 650b for versatility. Since I have multiple bikes I need to think about how much off paved road riding I’ll do with it and weigh this use vs. the economies of sharing a common wheel size with my other bikes.

At the moment I’m leaning towards the 650b size.

6 12 2010

I have the 700c Boulder Rando. It is terrific, my favorite among many bikes. 700c vs. 650b? I’m not sure the shared 700c rear wheel and fenders means that much because wheel sharing is a pain and you might a want snazzier fenders on the Boulder rando anyway, right? You can’t go wrong. I too am tempted by the 650b frameset.

I recently inquired with Mike of Rene Herse about a custom change to the Boulder 650b for an Alfine 11 too, namely 135 spacing and horiz dropouts. He soft-quoted me a few hundred above the base price – reasonable. I’m holding on the matter for other reasons, but Mike seems open to tweaking the standard frame.

Here’s mine.

6 12 2010
Chris Hunt

Hey Vik – if cost is a big consideration, check out the Rando frameset from Velo Orange: http://store.velo-orange.com/index.php/frames/rando.html

Design and geometry like the Boulder, but lugged instead of TIG’ed and Taiwan-built instead of USA-built. But for $750.00…come on!

Calgary AB

6 12 2010

Hey Vik,


Is 650b similar in size as a 26″ wheel??

Are these frames specially designed around this wheelsize.
I mean, if, for example, you look at a Surly LHT, the 700c frames seem in proportion. But i feel the 26″ seem kinda odd looking.

Why would you go for 650b? Is there something special about the ride??

6 12 2010

650b is between 700c and 26″ wheels in size, but since wider tires are used the wheel has a similar outside diameter to a 700c wheel with a narrow tire.

There are handling benefits to using 650b over 26″.

6 12 2010


When you say you’ve tried every conceivable way of mounting an Alfine shifter on a drop bar, I assume this includes mounting the original Alfine trigger shifter on the bar tops? It’s theoretically not possible but in practice it’s doable. At first, I didn’t think it was actually possible but the clamp diameter can be stretched a bit over a non-oversize bar (e.g. something with a 25.4 stem clamp diameter which has a thinner bar diameter).

The shifter sits near the stem and the shift levers are accessible just below the bar, allowing shifting when on the bar tops. If you ride in the drops or on the brake hoods, you’ll have to take a hand off the bar but that’s true for the j-tek as well. The Alfine 11 shifter looks similar to the 8 speed so it should work just as well.

This setup requires a small modification to the bolt hole on the shifter. The hole needs to be drilled out a bit to give the bolt a bit of extra room to sit in the nut on the other side of the clamp (as the clamp stretching changes the angle at which the bolt lines up with the nut). I can send you a photo if needed.


6 12 2010

The only two shifter options I’ve found acceptable for drop bars are brifters and bar end shifters. Both fall to hand instinctively and are a pleasure to use.

Every other option required me to remove my hand from the bar and locate the shifter. This is enough hassle to diminish my enjoyment of the ride and make me not bother shifting when I want to.

I haven’t tried triggers on drop bars, but I don’t ride on top much and I think that will be as much hassle as reaching for a twist shifter near the stem on an accessory bar.

Thanks for posting this idea. There may be folks that find it works well for them.

My preference for bar end shifters is so strong I’m willing to allow it to dictate what I use as a drivtetrain.

7 12 2010

@Chris – I’ve had a look at the velo orange frame set. I’m quite impressed with the review of the BB Rando in BQ as well as the testimonials from cutomers. Getting a waterford frame made in the US is also a bonus plus I can tweak my frame to get standard diameter tubing in the colour and wheel size of my choice.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from owning a lot of bikes it’s that small differences really can add up to a big difference in my enjoyment of a bike. The BB Rando seems to strike the right balance between low cost and fully custom in terms of aesthetics and performance.

I would love to ride that VO frame set to see what I thought.

7 12 2010

@Steve – nice looking ride. I’m looking forward to seeing those pics on a large monitor.

Are the decals on top of the clear coat and easily removed?

Jtek will be making an Alfine 11 bar end shifter at some point next year, but I think inhale talked myself into sticking with derailleur back there.

7 12 2010

You don’t really have a go fast road bike, other than your fixie, correct? Then you should get the 700C bike. The BB Rando w/ 30-32mm tires will be more than enough bike for any mixed terrain riding on the island.

7 12 2010

@Paul – I do have a Cannondale cross bike setup with 700c 23mm road tires and fenders. I’m not sure if that bike will be in the fleet long term. I could run narrower tires on the 650b if I wanted. The other interesting issue is in the BQ review of the Terraferma 650b they mention swapping back and forth between the 650b bike with 41mm tires and a carbon road bike with 23mm tires. The bike with the 41mm was faster for both riders.

This leads me to wonder if I need a go fast bike beyond the BB Rando 650b?

It’s an interesting question.

7 12 2010

The prospect of an Alfine 11 bar end is exciting. Thanks for the tip.

Re: Decals….the decals on my Boulder rando appear to be under the clear coat and not easily removed. However, they are fairly minimal by modern standards and are perfectly fine as is.

8 12 2010

First time commenting here, but I’ve been reading your site for ages…

I’ve had bikes with 17″, 20″, 24/520, 650c, 26/MTB, 700c, and 29er wheels (yes, the last two are kinda the same), and wheel size differences are massively overstated. Getting replacement parts, however, is a genuine issue. Given your two options I’d stick with 700c, as you’ll have far better options for keeping the bike going in the future, and you’re far less likely to get trapped mid-trip due to a broken part. That said, have you looked at something like the Pashley Moulton TSR family of bikes? 20″ wheels, but fast, great carrying capacity, and very, very comfortable.

If you’re still sold on those gigantic 700c wheels (!), why not look up island to Naked Bicycles , one of the best builders on the continent, and located on Quadra Island. Hope whatever you choose keeps a smile on your face!

8 12 2010

@tenspeed – having used lots of wheel sizes from 16″ to 700c I’d say they all work, but there are significant differences between them that would sway my choice for specific types of riding.

Bicycle Quarterly tested a Moulton and it did poorly both with respect to comfort and speed relative to a 650B bike. That doesn’t surprise me narrow tires on a small wheel bike are fatal mistake IMO.

I’ll definitely check out Naked Bicycles, but my experiences ordering custom products is that you need to be ready to order 3 of them to get the perfect result. The first one is ~70% on target, the second one is ~85-90% on target and the 3rd one close to 100%. I actually prefer semi-production bikes where you can tweak things, but they build lots of them so the overall result is well known.

Thanks for your comment! If you are an islander drop me a line for a ride/java sometime.

8 12 2010

I’m not too sure about BQ’s methodology, as my posterior would disagree with their conclusions… 🙂

I’m in snowy Winnipeg, but sometimes fly into Vancouver with my bike to visit some hills. I’ll keep in touch.

8 12 2010

One of the most interesting things to come out of BQ’s tire test was that they asked the experienced cyclist on the bike if they thought the tires they were riding were faster or slower. The test rider often guessed wrong.

In the BQ Moulton test the bike’s owner thought his bike performed well until he did some timed climbs up a hill to his house on a 650B test bike and had to agree it was faster.

You can determine comfort from qualitative perceptions while riding, but for performance issues you need a clock and a method of testing bikes back to back…otherwise you might as well flip a coin.

8 12 2010

Get 650B and run Hetres. You’ll know why on your first ride.

9 12 2010
Don Koch

Read what Esteban said. Then read it again very slowly. The man does not lie. I got a Boulder with 650B wheels this fall and I know exactly what Esteban is talking about. If you drop by to see me in Burnaby, I might even let you ride it–well maybe to the end of the driveway and back– and then you’ll know too.

10 12 2010

I chatted with Mike at BB. He is quiet stoked about 650B as well. He’d be using some super-light tubing for me so I’d have to go with a custom frame vs. a stock one.

My previous experience with bigger volume tires has been really positive…this would be taking it to a new arena though – performance road biking.

15 12 2010

Thanks for all the feedback on this post. I thought I would let you know I decided to go with 650B. The huge air volume in a 650B x 40mm tire plus the chance to try something new trumped the smaller volume 700c x 30mm and some cost savings/interchangeability.

12 01 2011

Excellent choice. I had one bike and constantly waivered between 650b and 700c. Then I got a second bike. After toying with making the second a “performance” 650b, ultimately I decided to keep one, an old Maruishi lugged frame, set up as a grocery getter with 650b wheels and Col de la Vies (more confortable and faster than the Nifty Swifties I got for the “performance” 650b) and the second, a Marin Argenta, as a dedicated road bike with 700c wheels and Challenge Triathlons (GREAT tires). I think on anything but perfectly smooth pavement, the 650b bike is just as fast if not faster than my road bike. I’ll probably get Hetres once the C de la Vs wear out, which should make the grocery getter even faster. It’s definitely worth diversifying.

4 02 2011

Follow-up to a dormant thread… Regarding the Alfine 11 hub, there is now a drop bar shifter available. It’s the Versa, VRS-11, which is an update of the VRS-8 (Alfine 8), and is designed to work with road brake calipers. The VRS-8 has good reviews, and is an STI-style lever based on the Microshift lever. Still no word on the Jtek, but it’s been confirmed as “in development”.

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