A Conversion to 650b and My Experience
A recent post over at Guitar Ted Productions got my attention. Ted may or may not know, but his word has a lot of sway when it comes to 26″ vs. 27.5″ vs. 29″. He has been a proponent for years of the 29″ wheel. While he did not have anything to do with the testing or review of the Scott Scale on 29″.com, I just wanted to take a chance to offer my views, opinions, etc of the whole 650b (27.5″) “revolution”, or resurgence, depending on how long you have been doing this 2 wheel thing.
First and foremost, there is no perfect tire size for all conditions or all types of riding. I’m a New England native and our daily riding conditions are vastly different than the conditions I have been riding in here in the Pacific Northwest for the past 12 months. They are also very different than midwest riding, which may or may not play a large part into Guitar Ted’s viewpoints on 29″ wheels.
Second. I’m short. I’m 5’4″ tall, I have long legs and a short torso for my height. Roughly a 30″ inseam, with a saddle height of 68.5cm center of BB to top to saddle. My mountain bike is a size small 2006 Cannondale Rush, originally came with 26″ wheels, but as luck would have it, it converts quite nicely to a 650b bike. So I feel like I got a new bike for the cost of a set of Stans wheels.
Third, my background. I’ve been riding/racing bikes (road, cross, TT, moutain, etc) for 26+ years. I’d call myself a cyclist, not a roadie, mountain biker, etc. If it has two wheels I will ride it. When it comes to mountain bikes I prefer cross country type riding as opposed to all mountain, enduro, downhill, so that is where my bent and preference for bikes comes into play.
Lastly. Paul, my twin brother, has successfully been riding a Niner Jet 9 for a few years now. He went from the 26″ world to 29″ in one big swoop. I personally didn’t want to buy a whole new bike, so I did a lot of research and found numerous examples of converting the Cannondale Rush to a 650b bike.
I’ve been riding this conversion now for 6 months and I’m pretty stoked with the change. The Rush was originally geared as an all day, marathon style XC bike by Cannondale. Their Scalpel is still considered their hardcore XC bike. What I gained with the extra wheel size was a bit more bottom bracket clearance, larger contact patch on the tire, and slighly longer wheelbase.
The biggest change in swapping out the Mavic Crossmax SLR wheels to the Stans Crest is the wider footprint of the tire. It has definitely improved traction and comfort. I am typically running around 21 PSI front and rear.
Here is where I have issues with the twentynineinches.com post. They say “basically one has to think about 27.5 as a “better 26″er”.” That is where my experience seems to differ, or maybe I am reading too much into their words. What I want to impress is that while the 650b option is just another in wheel sizes of course, it does have it’s advantages. To call it a better 26er does it an injustice. You might as welljust say that 29″ is a better 26er. That will probably get some people’s attention with the absurdity of the comment.
Truth is all 3 sizes have their place in the mountain biking world. My personal experience is that for some one of my stature, the 29ers are just a P.I.T.A. to fit. Super negative rise stems, too tall headtubes, standover issues, toe overlap, or such compact frames that you can barely fit a water bottle in a cage inside the main triangle. Especially with full suspension bikes. Yes, Paul has gotten his Niner to work for people our size, but he does have a -17 degree stem, and has trouble fitting a water bottle in his frame.
The marketing that calls 650b the “best of both worlds” is not really true either. This is where I agree with G-Ted. If I were to compare my 26″ experience and my 27.5″ experience, the 26″ is a tad more “flickable”, easier to pop up over logs, rocks, roots, etc. The 650b gives me a bit wider and slightly longer tire contact patch. It climbs better and corners berms better with speed. I also feel it holds speed better and does roll over sh*t better than the 26″ do. Does it roll over sh*t has well as a 29er? No, but it does climb switchbacks a heck of a lot better, and I don’t feel the need for 750mm wide bars.
I remember reading some where that one of the reasons mountain bikes went with 26″ wheels back in the day was that the import duties on them considered them kids tires, so it was cheaper. I am not saying this is the only reason they chose 26″, but it was Tom Ritchey, or Joe Breeze, or some one like that who made this statement in one of their blogs. If I could find it again, I will post a link.
Where I see the whole wheel size thing going is dependent on mainly two things in the mountain bike world. How tall are you, and what is your intended type of riding. For example, I don’t think we’ll see too many downhill bikes sporting 29″ wheels.
I’ll focus on the XC category for my example, as this is my vast amount of riding time. I have a friend who is barely 4’11”, she will always be a candidate for a 26″ mountain bike, maybe, just maybe a 27.5″, but I think she would have to make too many concessions. Then some one like myself and my Paul, at 5’4″ and kind of disproportionally sized compared to “typical men”, we could go with either 26 or 27.5, and if you are willing to make the concessions that Paul did, a 29er. As you get into the taller folks….people over 5’10”, it really only makes sense to target a 29er XC bike towards them.
Why will this not happen? It will probably not happen because it would mean too many SKUs for the manufacturers, too many headaches for your local bike shop trying to sell the concept of 26,27.5,29 to a customer, and mostly because the marketers would then have to justify their current line of selling the “tweener” or “next best thing”.
An extreme example, but some what apt, is back when I did accounting for a Ford dealership. There were (and may still be) 57 different ways to order your F-150. Just think crew crab, extended cab, exnteded bed, short bed, automatic, manual, flare side, etc. Now imagine a mom and pop bike shop with small enough margins having to carry tubes, tires, and bikes for 26,27.5, & 29. Oh yeah plus 700c, 650c, and then 24″ bikes, trikes, and now this whole new 29+ wheel size, and fat bikes, and I can go on and on………
Anyways, back to my point of my conversion and my experience with 26 vs 650b on the exact same bike.
Do I notice a difference between the 26″ and 650b wheels? Yes. Is the 650b just a “better 26er”? No, it’s just another choice, it changed the way this bike rode for the better. It has it’s distinct differences to both the 26 and 29er worlds. The higher bottom bracket height has made riding over things much better too.
I’d love to justify a 650b hardtail and see how it compares. Something like the Ritchey or Jamis Nemesis or Dragon would be great. Maybe some one like Jamis or Ritchey would be willing to let me test a 26, 27.5 & 29er of similar builds……….
Well, that is just some of my thoughts and experience with the whole 650b thing. Hope it helped some one or at least offered a little insight. Especially for us short peeps.
Thanks for reading.