Why a 650B Boulder Bicycle All Road?

5 03 2011

Semi-Custom Boulder Bicycle Allroad...

If all goes well I’ll be riding my Boulder Bicycle All Road in the SIR 100K today.

All my previous brevets have been on recumbents so I had to think long and hard about what bike to use for brevets this year.

I knew I wanted a bike that:

  • was a fast climber
  • was comfortable for all day riding
  • was reliable
  • could carry a loaded handle bar bag
  • easy to ride when tired
  • had dynohub lighting
  • full fenders for rain riding
  • didn’t suck to look at!

Having a stack of Bicycle Quarterly Magazines at my disposal I was interested in trying out a number of things I had read positive comments about:

  • low trail front end geometry since it seem optimized for use with a loaded bar bag
  • wide supple 650B tires ~40mm for efficient comfortable moderate speed riding
  • ultralight standard diameter steel frame tubes to aid in uphill climbing speed through their flexiness
  • full coverage metal fenders on a performance bike
  • SON Deluxe dynohub because of its lightweight and low drag
  • Edelux dyno light for its powerful beam with a smart vertical cutoff to avid blinding oncoming traffic

There aren’t many sources for a bike like this and I knew I didn’t want to go the fully custom route for the reasons I posted recently not to mention it would be the 2012 brevet season before a custom bike showed up. So the positive review of the Boulder Cycles Randonneur 700c frame in BQ caught my attention. Browsing the Boulder Cycles [aka Rene Herse] website they seemed to have everything I wanted in a readily accessible package that other folks have been riding and giving positive reviews on. I dithered between the 650B version and the 700c version for a bit, but realized that all my riding has been heading in the direction of wider supple tires so it made no sense to stop now. Jan Heine from BQ was kind enough to answer a few 700c vs 650B questions which was very helpful given the fact he had ridden quite a few of each type of bike.

All Road parts unpacked...

So I went ahead and ordered a 650B All Road frame/fork. Mike Kone [owner of Rene Herse] chatted with me about my sizing and we settled on a slightly tweaked version of their size E [57.5cm TT] stock frame. Since I was tweaking things I ordered a non-stock pearl white paint job and silver decals. I wanted Shimano bar end sifters and derailleurs so I ordered the All Road without them and used my own parts. The result was close to a Boulder Bicycle All Road production frame, but met my needs better.

If you read BQ you are familiar with the term constructeur bicycle.  It’s a hybridization of French & English that really means fully integrated bicycle.  Such a bike has been designed for a specific purpose and equipped with everything needed for success.  Lights, racks, fenders, luggage and tires have all been selected and considered as the bike is designed and built. The result is a harmonious optimized bicycle that works well, looks attractive and is easy to maintain.

The Boulder Bicycle All Road is what I would call a semi-constructeur bicycle. It has been designed for a specific purpose – fast comfortable travel over any type of road surface with a modest amount of luggage.  All the components that are required for this to happen have been considered in the design.  However, the level of integration has stopped short of perfection at a level that is functional.  This has been done to keep costs down and to allow the purchaser to equip the bike with a variety of components.

Rene Herse constructeur 650B all road bicycle...

Rene Herse will make you a fully custom integrated constructeur 650B all road style bike if you wish. The cost will be approximately double that of a production Boulder Bicycle All Road. Looking at these photos you can see some hints of what makes the fully integrated bike so special, but it takes a much closer look and keen eye for detail to really understand the effort and thought that goes into making such a bike.

To my mind the semi-custom Boulder Bicycle All Road, which is not an inexpensive bike, provides the best blend of performance and cost.  Although I will admit she is not nearly as stunning a ride as the chromed Rene Herse.

Dealing with Mike Kone at Rene Herse was a pleasant experience. He is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about the bikes he sells. He accommodated all my requests without hesitation including building my bike from ultralight standard diameter tubing vs. the oversized tubing normally used for a production All Road and getting me the custom paint colour of my choice.  Given that these frames are built off site at Waterford the level of organization and management involved in getting an unusual frame through with fast turn around to meet my schedule was impressive.  He assembled my parts list and installed a few items I wanted taken care of in advance of shipping [install fenders/then pack, install headset] since he was at it he installed the BB and cranks.  That wasn’t necessary, but it speeded up my build which was nice.  The frame and parts were packed professionally and shipped to a US address so I could grab them on my way home from Baja.

Parts detail...

The only criticism of my Boulder Bicycle/Rene Herse customer experience was that Mike is super busy and the amazing amount of details that need to be communicated back and forth for a semi-custom bike presented some communications challenges. In the end everything I asked for arrived and the bike looks fantastic. I publish this comment not to identify a problem that Mike should feel bad about, but rather a note to any potential customers that you may need to send an extra email or make an extra call to confirm some detail.  If you are not sure Mike has some bit of info you sent him or if he doesn’t reply to an email don’t assume it’s been read and actioned. Take the time to confirm.  The result is worth it and I would happily buy another frame from Mike.

Photo: Chris Richards - click on image for a lot more lovely bike porn...

The obvious question you might raise is – could I not have ridden a bike I owned on brevets this year? Yes – of course I could.  My Surly LHT touring bike and Bow Cycle 24 cyclocross bike both would have worked.  However, both have a high trail front end geometry which results in compromised handling with a handle bar bag.  Two of my main complaints with my rando recumbents were excessive effort for climbing and difficulty accessing my gear while riding.  I was not prepared to ride brevets without my gear/supplies in easy reach while pedaling.  Had money been tight I would have made one or the other work as best I could.  Since I could afford a rando specific rig I decided to build up a bike that is optimized for my long distance riding needs.



19 responses

5 03 2011

Thanks Vik……..WOW…..looks like the perfect rig for fast commuting too. Up and down steep Northern Georgia hills and roads that wind all over like spaghetti. Thanks for the info. BTW your up pretty early arn’t ya?

5 03 2011

Pretty sweet ride Mr. Vik! Sorry you missed the 100k. Weather happens.

5 03 2011

@Mike – as a surfer/kite surfer I don’t get tweaked about weather. When the ocean’s not in the mood to play you rarely come out well if you force it.

5 03 2011

So what tipped the scales toward the 650B over 700?

5 03 2011

@Foraker – wider more comfortable performance tires were available. The area I live in offers many unpaved roads and trails to explore. Ultimately there was no real downside 650B and a lot of benefits.

5 03 2011
steve Fuller

Vik, had the constructeur route not worked out, would you have considered a different fork for one of your bikes to get the amount of trail that you needed?

5 03 2011
Val Garou

Funny, this post coming on the heels of the “Trouble w/ Customs” post. That is one good-looking bike, Vik. If it rides half as well as it looks, you’ll knock out the SR series next year!

You can get 700c wheels up to x50 pretty easily, so I have to ask how much of the decision to go 650b had to do with owning something new and different? (New to you, obviously. The size has deep roots in cycling history) I’m thinking about building up a Troll frame with 650s as an around-town do-all, and I think the retro-novelty has a lot to do with it.

5 03 2011
Todd Kalyniuk

Hey — did I see you and your new ride on Royal Oak Ave at 4PM today? You were stopped talking to someone.

If it was you, sharp looking bike for sure. Much like Randochap’s Rivendell.

5 03 2011
Steve Park

Hey, I justed started a Flickr group for Boulder bikes. It would be great to have some pictures of your All-Road! Great build, the custom white is nice too.


5 03 2011

@Todd – that was probably me. I was wearing a white helmet and high visibility black cycling gear…=-)

5 03 2011

@Val – a semi-custom bike is the best bang for your buck if you want something a little different or niche, but not something really unique. Low risk and highly effective customization of a few design elements.

You can’t get 700c – 50mm tires fitting into a performance road bike frame with fenders. Even if you did the mass of those tires would slow down the steering so much the handling would be compromised. 50mm tires are best on a 26″ wheel.

Of course trying something new is interesting, but 650B has been on my radar for a number of years. It never really made sense to me until now. 650B with a 38-42mm tire is the limit of what you can fit into a steel road bike frame without doing something drastic. Running a supple fast 42mm tire I can stay with guys on 700c 23mm wheels/tires, but when the road surface deteriorates it really doesn’t matter a whole lot. Even the difference from a 700c 32mm tire to a 42mm 650B tire is significant.

For randoneering it seems fairly ideal. I don’t see myself getting a 650B cargo bike or touring bike or mtn bike. I have folding bikes with 16″ and 20″ wheels and I’ve had recumbents with 650C wheels. So dealing with an unusual wheel size if I can see a rationale for it is not something that bugs me too much.

5 03 2011

@Steve – I’m not sure what I would have done. My Bow cross bike would probably make the logical rando rig, but it has a CF fork so no bending that one. I could have got a new fork for it, but that seems like a lot of work to get an non-optimal solution.

Velo Orange sells a production 700c rando frame that would have been worth some consideration.

6 03 2011
Val Garou


Not arguing with you here, but while you can’t fit a 50c into a high-performance road frame, I’m not sure that adjective applies to these low-trail rando bikes, either, so I’m not sure that’s a fair rebuttal. 650b or 700×32/35/40/50, you’re probably not riding a Madone.

(And I’m not sure about the handling thing either. My buddy and I did a fast tour up the coast last summer, and he never complained about the 50s on his Fargo.)

But overall, yeah, I agree that fat tires are sweet. I tour 40s on my Traveller’s Check and around town I won’t rock less than a 32 these days. I’m thinking more and more these days about looking into the 650b scene.

7 03 2011

@Val – if you can’t fit a 40mm 650B tire or a 32mm 700c tire in a high performance low trail rando frame set plus fenders I wouldn’t buy it. I’d put my 650B 42mm bike up against the same rider on a Trek Madone on a 200K. They are different, but comparable machines.

You can make a lot of stuff work. Especially if you don’t have an option, but that’s not the same as riding the best bike for your particular needs. I see loads of people riding bikes that are setup poorly or are not the correct choice for their needs, but they have no idea so they use them. It’s not that they don’t work at all, but they could have a significantly better experience.

As an example until I read BQ and learned about low trail geometeries I didn’t know they existed. Until I actually got such a bike I had no idea what it would be like. Now that I do I can see they are clearly superior for riding with a front only load. Had none of this happened I’d probably have used my high trail cross bike for rando events with a bar bag and it would have worked, not particularly well, but with no comparison or reason to suspect there was a better option I’d just get on with my ride.

In a similar vein I’ve bought several bikes that I expected to be awesome and riding them back to back with other bikes in my fleet it became obvious they weren’t as good as I had hoped. Had I not had the other bikes to compare with I may well have convinced myself the new bike was indeed great and just ridden it. Since I did have other bikes to compare with I ended up selling the new bikes.

7 03 2011

A 650B rando bike is definitely on my bike wishlist, though i know plans and economics are going to prevent that from happening this year. I might go the route of the Velo Orange frame. I’d probably steer (ha, ha) towards the Polyvalent frame. Not only is it cheaper, but it actually uses 650B wheels whereas the Rando frame uses 700C. And I’ve heard that the Polyvalent is lower trail than the Rando. (Go figure!)

7 03 2011
Val Garou


The low-trail thing is, I think, a separate debate. I’m intrigued by it, but I already have 2 or 3 bikes in the build que.

I think I just bring up the fat 700s because someone who’s interested either in low trail or fat tires could have a custom fork brazed up and give it a shot w/out tackling a weird tire size, which, honestly is going to spook some folks off.

About the low-trail, though, I do have a question. How do you find the handling when the bike goes unloaded?

7 03 2011

Sorry Val you’ve kind of lost me on the first part of your comment. You can try modifying an existing bike, but at some point the cost and the fact it wasn’t designed for that purpose leads to diminishing returns. So it depends what your goal is.

Since tire width, wheel size and front end geometry all work together slapping 50mm tires on a 700c bike with a new fork isn’t really going to tell you a lot about a different bike like a 42mm 650B rando rig. But if as you mention people don’t want a weird tire size than there isn’t much point thinking about 650B in the first place.

If you are sticking with 700c than run a supple 30-35mm tire and you are good for optimal comfort and performance. If you want to stick with 26″ something closer to 50mm will give you optimal handling and comfort, but ~38mm will be the best mix of speed and comfort so you have to decide which you care about more.

I don’t ride my low trail bike unloaded. It always has a bar bag with tools, spares, food, camera, sometimes a lock and sometimes spare clothing.

10 03 2011

Yowza! Congrats!!

11 04 2013
Rod Bruckdorfer

What fenders did you use? What width?

I ordered a lugged Boulder brevet bike from Mike and am hoping it arrives by the end of April.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: