Sunday, December 18, 2011

650B - Finally a reason to exist?

When I first heard about 650B, I figured that it would replace 26" wheels at some point, but I did not expect 29ers to be so quick to take over XC duties, basically making 26ers antiques as far as a hardtail or shorter travel XC/Trail applications.  That rapid acceptance killed any momentum that 650B had gained.

26ers are done...stick a fork in 'em (to paraphrase a bit...sorry RC).  But where is 650B?

650B seemed to die on the vine as an XC app, offering less than the full bennies of a 29er wheel and only slightly more than a 26" wheel, but vastly complicating things for a bike shop or manufacturer who had to stock a whole bunch of new SKUs.  Then, tire selection, fork options, etc, never happened in any real numbers.  Brands that made 650B bikes were few and Haro dropped them, leaving, what, Jamis?

So here we are in 2012 and 29ers are poised to take over the hardtail to 120mm XC/Trail bike world.  But the clamor for bigger travel 29ers has been loud, even though it may be a small group doing the yelling.  130mm and above seems to be a place where the complications of a 29" wheel and tire really start to be a bother.  Forks get tall, swingarms and wheel bases get long, front ders get in the way, wheel are heavy and a bit fragile, and a true DH ready 29er tire is heavy.  Want a 6"+ travel 29er that is ready for heavy trail use?  You have one choice in frames (Lenzsport) and hardly any forks or tires to match.

But, 650B may be the solution to all that.  If the biggest wheel that makes sense for any application is the right one, then 650B as a 'big wheel' for AM/DH may just be the niche it was looking for all along.  It could allow frame designers to fill all those needs into a reasonable package as far as keeping things tidy and manageable.  It would allow for a lighter and stronger wheel/tire combo (well, it could...when they make them) compared to a 29er, but still give a bit more of that big wheel feel to the bike.

I dunno...I bet it will happen, but it will take a major player to believe in it and forge the initial cost, then the middle players and smaller builders will follow suit,  Will 2013 be the year of the long travel, 'big wheeled' bike, even if the wheels are only somewhat bigger?

I think so.  Ready for a 150mm travel 650B bike?  I might be.  Sounds like fun.

New motto:  Ride the biggest wheel that works for you.


Fonk said...

When it comes to bigger travel bikes like that, do you think 650B has enough of an advantage over 26" for the manufacturers to bother? I agree with you that it probably doesn't make sense as a 29er application, given the limitations, but wonder if that limited niche will be enough for manufactures to adopt the 3rd wheel size. I suppose if 26" does truly and completely die away...

Walt said...

You know, I've been building 6+ travel 29ers since 2005... the limitation is the lack of decent rims, tires, and forks. Fitting in the wheels (yes, with "short" chainstays) is just not that hard. And I'm just one guy in a garage...