It has been interesting to watch the 650b groove play out although I have been watching from afar, never actually having ridden one of the 'tweener' wheeled bikes. Likely that is to change at Interbike Demo Days, but I have no practical experience on the little dears, just to get that out of the way.
But every so often I cruise through the different forums and see what the 650b folks are all a-twitter about. Sometimes it is a new tire promised soon or a rumor of another manufacturer jumping into the fray, but mostly it is neither of those. Mostly it is conversions of 26" wheeled bikes to 650b. Many hardtails and some FS bikes readily accept the bigger hoops and there are some very good 26" wheel forks that work nicely, albeit with some limited arch clearance.
Is this the future of 650b? To be a niche up-conversion from existing 26ers? Maybe it is and maybe that is not a bad thing. Let me think out loud a bit.
29ers are here to stay and will only grow in numbers. They are already beyond niche and while they are not for everyone they are the real deal: enough of a difference to be dramatically set apart from 26" wheeled bikes....both good and bad differences, but there they are, obvious and apparent.
26ers are not going to vanish anytime soon or likely ever and not because they are so great, but they are so entrenched and they work well enough that nearly anyone on any kind of a mtn bike will be happy enough on 26" wheels, even if they are not the best choice.
So here they are with the 650b, pushing a mid sized knobby wheel uphill with the nose as it were. Tough battle. But all this has been debated before so lets get back to the conversion bonus angle. Lets just say that the middie-wheel (as opposed to kiddie-wheel and biggie-wheel) never takes off beyond that: lots of folks looking to add some bennies by converting an existing 26er to 650b. It would support a pretty decent aftermarket for tires and rims. Maybe a fork or two, but maybe not if there are enough 26ers out there that do it anyway and folks already have them or eBay sells 'em cheap used. Then, there is White Bros as a source for new 650b forks.
In fact, and I was discussing this with Guitar Ted, I can see a bike maker actually making 26" frames that are made to fit 650b wheels as far as clearance, etc, right from the get-go. They could advertise that as a plus. "Need a higher BB and more wheel size for roots and rocks? Swap to 650b in a heartbeat. Want a lower sitting bike for smooth, fast trails and long climbs? 26" is there for you as well." (Credit to GT for that line of marketing).
I know there is at least one more good sized player getting on the 650B train this next year. There already is Haro. Any more? Perhaps. Some likely waiting in the wings like many of the big guns did with 29ers. I bet a few others will say "H E double toothpicks NO" when asked if they will ever build a middie-wheeled bike, but look at Turner and Santa Cruz. Both of them being outspoken 'no way' to 29ers and now they are both in the game.
Well, I hope that the 650b wheel gets enough of a following to stay around and become a viable choice, even if it is never the next 'big thing'. Choices are good, even if it is just a way to make an faithful old scooter even better.
"Please don't let me die."
4 years ago