Click here to read “The 650b (R)evolution, Part 1: Jamis, KHS, and Tires.”
The Godfather of 650b Mountain Bikes: Tom Ritchey
While most of what we’ve been writing here on Singletracks refers to 650b as a new mountain bike trend, if you look at the history of the sport this wheel standard is anything but new. We stopped by the Ritchey booth at Interbike and spotted a 650b Ritchey from the 70’s standing right next to Ritchey’s newest 650b hardtail wonder bike:
According to the rep we spoke with, the silver bike pictured above is one of the first mountain bikes ever built from the ground up… and it sports 650b wheels! 650b tires were the ones available with the most aggressive tread patterns at the time, so Ritchey built this bike around the 650b wheel size. He wanted to continue making 650b bikes but, according to legend, the Soviet Union bought up all of the 650b tires and wheels, so none were available. As a result, mountain bike builders had to resort to using 26″ wheels and tires that were available for cruiser bikes. No word on why the Soviet Union bought up all the tires and wheels to begin with, and it’s unclear how much of this is fact and how much is urban legend, but if the Cold War is responsible for the long-time dominance of the 26″ wheel in the mountain bike world, well that’s pretty crazy!
The rep we spoke with also mentioned a characteristic of 650b wheels that I hadn’t been aware of before: the bottom to top height of a 650b wheel + tire is often equal to that of a 700c road wheel + tire:
For riders coming from a background in road cycling, the rep claimed that riding 650b wheel feels much more natural because they already know how the wheel size handles, so it helps ease the transition. Now, I’m not sure how much of a difference that really makes, since even a mountain bike with 650b wheels will handle radically different than a road bike due to its unique geometry, altered cockpit, etc. Also, I’m sure the bottom to top height also depends on the tire: some mountain bike tires have a much taller profile than others.
While some parts of these legends may or may not be true, I found my interview at the Ritchey booth an enlightening experience!
The (R)evolution: Are 650b Bikes Actually Selling?
While the push for 29er mountain bikes seemed to be a very organic, consumer-driven movement, the production of 650b bikes seems to be radically different, in that it is more of a top-down movement with the bike companies leading the way. Sure, there have always been some 650b diehards out there, but the demand for the tweener wheel doesn’t seem to be widespread. Also, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a true top-down push, as the big three (Giant, Specialized, and Trek) haven’t jumped on the band wagon yet.
So how the heck are we supposed to look at this trend: Is it a natural evolution of mountain bike technology, or is it an organized coup against the 26-inch wheel? Will the 650b wheel mount a gradual take over, slowly eliminating the 26″ wheel from Asian assembly lines, or will dumpsters be immediately filled with 26″ wheeled products that have no hope of ever selling?
Here at Singletracks we’ve been a little skeptical about whether or not 650b bikes are actually selling. When I was on the road this summer, I was looking for some new 650b tires as I had torn the sidewall on my test rig’s rear tire. Thankfully I was able to hold it together with tube patches, as not a single shop that I walked into from Moab, Utah to Los Angeles, California (and everywhere in between) had 650b tires in stock. While some of the salesmen and mechanics that I talked to claimed they were tossing around the idea of stocking 650b tires and bikes, how much of that is just talk based on the hyped-up marketing machine?
To try to get some answers to this question, Jeff did a little asking around at the show. Here are some of his findings and thoughts:
One of the questions I asked a number of folks at Interbike is whether they’re seeing actual orders for 650b bikes and/or components. The tire people say heck yeah, we can’t make ‘em fast enough! But those tires are going OEM; that doesn’t mean anyone is actually buying the bikes these tires are attached to (yet). Shop/consumer purchases are a bit murkier–no one could confirm whether there was real consumer demand for 650b yet … Until real buyers (retailers, then consumers) start asking for these bikes and components, 650b will remain “coming soon.”
So what do you think? Is this an evolution, or a revolution? And when will riders actually start buying 650b products?
Stay tuned for Part 3 of “The 650b (R)evolution.“
It’s an interesting question to consider whether 650b will be an evolution or a revolution. The whole situation is a lot different than 29ers were several years ago and yet people want to draw parallels between the two. There’s definitely been a faster production ramp up this time around so it’s hard to say where this will end up.
I spoke with a couple large online retailers at the show to gauge how 650b was being received by consumers and it sounds like for now, consumers are experimenting with 650b “conversions” rather than going all in on new bikes. Since 650b is much closer to the 26-inch standard than 29ers were, it may be possible to retrofit the larger wheels to existing frames and to swap out forks where necessary. In this way, we could see bikes truly evolve, one part at a time. Or maybe consumers will slap the (slightly larger) wheels on their old 26ers and realize it really doesn’t make that much difference.
Santa Cruz is another company that hasn’t committed to a 650b production bike yet. My advice to them: if 650b works for a particular bike, make the swap but don’t tell anyone. Chances are most riders won’t care, they just want a bike that’s dialed. And 26 to 650b isn’t such a big change that it’s a shock anyway.
“My advice to them: if 650b works for a particular bike, make the swap but don’t tell anyone.”
That would be awesome. 6 months later after people have been riding it for a while, do a press release and say “surprise! you’ve been riding a 650b!”
Or 1 second after they attempt to mount a 26″ tire to it. 😀
Haha yes or that!
Since it was time for a new bike (I was riding a 2005 Specialized S-Works Enduro that I had beat the crap out of), and many of my fellow riders were on 29rs, I first rode my gf’s decked out Niner bike. The added speed was something I was wanting with a new bike, however, I didn’t particularly like the way the bike felt on the DH – clumsy and awkward. I decided I was willing to sacrifice and was on the road to purchasing a 29r, until … someone told me about the 650b. Well after 3 days of test riding a 650b, I was in love and completely sold. It felt very similar to my Enduro S-Works – easily climbed steap rock faces and could drop everything my 6.5″ travel S-Works did. The bike was EXACTLY what I was looking for – lighter and faster!!! So I just bought the 2011 Jamis Pro 650b on July 1st and I can tell you I am having more fun than I ever have. I’m totally stoked that all the tire manufacturers are on the 650b band wagon, because I’m gonna ride the hell out of this amazing bike!!! And I do want a bigger tire than the 2.3 the bike came with. 😉 To me, it provided the PERFECT next bike to my biking history.
I can only speak of the Arizona region, but fat bikes is where it’s blowing up. Surly, Salsa, etc. I see them in local races, endurance races, and every weekend on the trails. I see posts for new local clubs popping up. And at interbike I believe I saw a full suspension (at least rear suspension) model. This might be the next item for the “quiver”. What’s the word back east on these rigs?
Down here in the Southeast it’s not really gaining much traction, but I can tell you at Interbike there were fat bikes EVERYWHERE!! Check out my Surly Krampus review for some info on the new 29+ style: http://www.singletracks.com/blog/mtb-events/the-surly-krampus-29/
What’s next, a tandem? That would actually be kind of cool…
You mean a fatbike tandem?
Yes. That would be a monster of a bike…
That’d be crazy!!
Fatbikes are exploding here (Iowa) also. I think it’s the flotation on snow and grip on ice that’s making them explode. They have a few races up here during the winter so I bet that helps create a demand also.
I think 650b will be a revolution for smaller riders like me! After feeling left out from the whole 29er explosion, I’m anxiously awaiting more variety in the 650b market. Even though folks like Niner and Specialized are making 29ers in XS frame sizes, I’m not convinced the geometry and overall weight is as optimal as a 650b build. Too bad I missed dirt demo, I need to line me up some 650b demo rides!
I would love to hear your perspective once you’ve gotten a chance to try it!
We need to get you on one
Working on it … 😀
I went from the traditional 26″ to a 650b this year and have never looked back. For me it truly was the best of both wheels for rolling over terrain like a 29er or spinning up acceleration like a 26. I’m 5’11” and just like my triathlon days I could comfortably fit a 650cc or 700cc tri geometry. I tried both 29ers and the 650b and I’m totally sold on the 650b platform at this time. Mine is a 2011 Jamis 650B1 and it is a very sweet riding bike, very forgiving, and well equipped.
I am riding a Jamis 650b1 2010 and I love it. It is hard to find tires here in NC but I am hoping to buy some online in the future.
Cool to hear about everyone that’s out there riding Jamis 650b bikes. I had a great time reviewing the 2012 Jamis Dakar SixFiftyB Pro!
Here is a pretty good source for all things 650b: http://sixfiftybikes.wordpress.com/
Last updated April 12? :S