I’m not dead yet!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather

Just in case you didn’t hear, there is a “new” wheel size in mountain biking that you just have to have. Sliced bread, meat on a stick, the second coming of Christ, and naked breasts have nothing on this wheel size. Whether you call it 650b, indecision inches, 27.5, or compromise size – it is here whether you like it or not. Now I put “new” in quotes because this size has been around for quite some time, this is just the latest incarnation.

The earliest reference I can find is from post World War II France and even that is sketchy. But Joe Breeze penned an article about the Velo Cross Club Parisien rolling on 650b in the 1950’s, using their wider and higher volume tires for cruising on dirt. There are rumors of the Russian army buying all of the wheels from the supplier at once causing the 650b to fade from the main stream.

Fast forward a few years to 1977 in Northern California where a man named John Finley Scott dares Tom Ritchey to build him a 650b bike. Styled after the English “Woodsie” bike from builder Jim Guard. To which Tom Ritchey said “This was my first effort into thinking about mountain bikes”. Unfortunately mountain bikes were just about to explode on the scene and most Asian manufacturers were already tooled up for 26″. Once again forcing the 650b out of the mainstream before it even got there.Since then, there have been a handful of small frame builders keeping 650b alive. With one guy, Kirk Pacenti, tirelessly leading the battle cry.

That brings us to present day where we are now being told that 650b is what you need. I have had discussions (often heated) about this with everyone from riding partners to high end frame builders, to bike industry cyborgs and local shop owners. The common theme? They have to drink the 650b Kool Aid whether they like it or not. It is what the industry is moving towards and everybody has to adapt. This smells funny to a lot of consumers, and rightly so. We all know change and evolution happens in MTB. We are only just now coming out of our awkward adolescence and developing our own solid identity. Memories of our last growth spurt, the 29er, are still fresh in most of our minds. But the 29er was somehow OK and met with a lot less resistance then 650b. Is it because the 29er movement was mostly consumer driven? Where 650b seems to be completely industry driven?

I should point out that I am a fan of any wheel size. I don’t descriminate, I’ll ride anything with wheels and a handlebar. If you get me a 16″ kids bike and enough beers, I will drop in on just about anything. I still ride BMX on occasion and I have always owned at least two 26″ mountain bikes for the past 22 years. Although I feel that I am a little too short legged to be comfortable on a 29er in technical terrain, I sure do like going fast with those wagon wheels on the buff stuff. I have only ridden 650b about a half dozen times but it was just as fun and awesome as riding any other bike.

The thing that has been bothering me the most about this whole mess, is the idea that 26″ is somehow dead because of 650b. Every time I hear that, all I think of is this Monty Python scene:

YouTube Preview Image

It’s like the bike idustry and media are trying to deliver that blow across the dome of 26″ and kill it when it isn’t ready to go. Sometimes it’s really fun to go out on the old 26 and accelerate super fast and hit some dirt jumps. Well it seems that I am not alone because the boys across the pond at Cotic made this kick-ass video:

That dude absolutely pins it.

I’m going to remain skeptical of anything that is being force fed to me this hard, and comes on so fast. But, truth be told, there is a good chance that I will have a 650b bike in my stable soon. That is mostly because I have a bike buying problem that some would say borders on hoarding. I don’t care much about the wheel size, because I’m pretty sure it is going to be just as much fun as any other one of my bikes.


Extra credit reading:

yourbikehatesyou rants like he knows how

– Kevin at Transition talks about change and fun

– Leornard Zinn drops some knowledge over at Velosnooze

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestmailby feather

About dirty biker

I am a fan of singletrack, singlespeeds, single women and single malt. Currently in Carbondale, CO Follow on Instagram @dirty_biker

36 Replies to “I’m not dead yet!”

  1. True that! The best bike is the one that’s rolling under you in any given moment!

  2. A little history… I rode the first set of American Classic 650b wheels 6 years ago while working RnD for one of the second tierbicycle companies. White bros was the only fork maker we could convince into making us a proto fork.and geax or wtb made the tires…so we started off with these wheels on our 5″ all mnt frame…..it was noticably more stable than 26″ but twitchier than a niner. Once we got the linkages figured out and actual fork….this thing rocked.
    Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on a 29″ since 2002 & love it on my hard tail but 650b in a more aggressive situation is a great way to go.
    Now on the industry force feeding a new size….. so you bought a kick ass mtb 2-3 years ago, its still kick ass, they want, no, need you to buy the next great thing….so roll out 650b…feeding frenzy time

  3. Nevermind- Shazizzled it. Red Hot Rebellion. Sounds like Clutch high on rat poison and shaved pussy.

  4. Unsure how many companies are into it and how many companies are into “not being YETI” (getting killed on 29ers).

  5. I’ve never ridden much on a 26″ bike, but GOD-DAMN this video makes me wanna go out and shred some dirt!

  6. Veerrrry Interesting….(strokes invisible beard thoughtfully)….a relationship between marketing, consumer ‘need’ and an ever growing bottom line?

  7. First reasonable read on wheel size I’ve heard. And by golly, it’s the truth; imagine that. Human’s are funny… Thanks

  8. My opinion may not matter much in DC Land, but I’m glad the bike industries are changing it up a bit! The think the 650B wheel is the perfect mix for peeps that like technical riding with tight turns without compromising geometry and suspension travels. Let’s face it, 29er’s have some weaknesses on technical riding, acceleration, and up-travel/center-of-gravity. 650B wheels are a step in the right direction, just like the wider handlebars, 1×11 drive-trains, and oversized headsets/hubs/skewers on a lot of bikes coming out of the factories.

  9. Look, this is simple. I want— no, I DEMAND— a little clicky switch on my handlebar that changes my wheels from 26″ to 650b to 29″. IS THAT SO HARD YOU STOOPID BIKE CO’S??

  10. I’ve been on 26″ for 25 years. From full rigid at 25lbs to fully sprung 6″ at the same weight. From canti’s to hydro disc. Never made the move to 29 cause it just felt to clunky. Took me 10 years to hop a 6″ log(branch) so I wasn’t about to give up that significant accomplishment just to plow through everything in my way without pulling my tired old ass off the saddle. It seems 650b(27.5″) is simply the logical compromise. This one’s gonna stick. I intend to enjoy the fuck out of it just as when I rode my non absorbing, no stopping or hopping pile back in ’89. Minus the three endo’s per ride.

  11. As someone who is tired of the constant, incessant drumbeat from an industry that refuses to listen to what customers want, and got caught with it’s pants down twice in recent years (29 and fat), there is little they could push anything that I would like to consume.

    Innovation is dead. Making something unique because you care, is too.

    It’s all about “we saved .03 grams off the linkage this year”, and the extra gear makes your drivetrain cost 666% more to replace when you wear it out, but man it’s nice to shift less, isn’t it, right, right???

    650B can, and should, stay where it was. It had a realm, it was happy, randonneur bikes kick ass, and when built by someone with taste and skill, are really freaking cool.

    The only reason everyone and their mom has a tweener now is because Fox made a fork, and is now holding a gun to every makers head saying, “you either buy these fucking things and build frames for ’em, or you can put RST’s on every bike in your line”……


  12. Yeah, I wouldn’t say 650b is being suddenly crammed down our throats. 650bs have been buzzing around the edges of mountain in my experience as far back as 2006 or so. I rode with a few 650b fanbois back then. I don’ think the industry is behind the big push, either…. apart from making more stuff available. It’s just market forces: More demand, more supply.

    Same thing happened with 29ers. I remember riding my first Van Dessel 29er back in 2001, but it felt sluggish. I watched as the owner just steamrollered over all sorts of crazy rocks and such on our rides, so I stayed interested. Then a bud of mine got a Dean 29er singlespeed. He let me ride it in 2006. It suddenly clicked for me. Fast rolling, it rolled over everything, kept it’s momentum through rock gardens and ruts, railed twisty rollercoaster singletrack…. I was in love. They finally got the geometry figured out. I dumped all my 26er stuff in favor of 29ers, and haven’t looked back.

    So, I can see why 650b appeals to lots of folks. I may consider one for my stable. But, I’m happy with 29ers.

  13. Been riding 26 since mountain bikes were invented, and don’t plan to chance no matter how many latest greatest sizes the industry comes up with.

  14. I really do want to give 650b a shot, but I think I’m going to wait until I make the jump West in a couple years. For now, a 29er hardtail pretty much kills it on my local trails. Between a ss 29er, a geared 29er, and a fatbike, I’m a happy guy regardless of what I toss a leg over. My 26″ ss doesn’t get quite as much love these days, but I like to run it for nostalgia purposes…and a good workout as its geared 42 x 16. Regardless of who or what is driving the push to different wheel sizes…its nice to have options, no?

  15. wow, That mendon fella needs a cup of coffee or a hug or something. lame.

    26 work better for some things. 29 work better for some things. and 650b work well for lots of things too.
    Learn your preferences, factor in your terrain, figure out which will bring the most enjoyment. Make your decision, be happy.
    ..or, be a dick about it.

  16. The Cotic vid was probably the best MTB vid I’ve ever seen… F-Yes!!! Pinned!!!

  17. The Cotic vid is probably the best MTB vid I’ve ever seen. Serious… That’s REAL riding, not-giving-a-fuck style!!!!

  18. Concur; I still ride a 26″ wheel bike that a buddy sold to me so he could move into riding 29″ FS bikes. So be it. A Scott Spark, the bike is fast and capable on anything I ride. The only time I felt like the bike didn’t quite handle the trail was at Copper Harbor; but honestly, I think you need more than one bike to ride there it’s so diverse.

    My friend Judy Freeman rides a 650b Scale 700sl on the world cup circuit; but she’s 5’2″ and a 29er just didn’t fit her. To each their own.

  19. Everyone out there who thinks 27.5 is a bike industry conspiracy aimed at killing 26 is out of their mind. However, it turns out that the bike industry is an industry. People work there, they do so in order to make money so they can send their kids to college and keep their spouses happy. Bike companies need to make money so they can pay their employees. And just like any company who aims at staying in business, they look at what sells, and kill what does not.
    It turns out these days that any company who still has the same item (bike, fork, wheel, tire) in each wheel size reports that 27.5 is outselling 26 10 to 1. The rational business decision in this case is to put all development resource onto 27.5, and stop anything related to 26. I’d go as far as saying that the industry is not force-feeding 27.5 to the riders. I say it came the other way around. Now the industry is struggling to keep up with demand.

    As a side note, 29 appears to have met less resistance only because the switch happened over a much longer time span. The first 29″ popped up well over 10 years ago and there are regions where they are still being debated. The 27.5 wave only started to get traction 18 month ago and was a much more sudden change-over.

  20. Dirty, yeah 650b has been around for a very long time, even prior to WWII, in the form and shape of the contrictuer/rando bike. Velo-Orange sells a modern 650b frame called the Polyvent. A 650b rando bike is essentially an old-timey gravel grinder (another emerging fad from the bike industry), complete with bosses for canti’s, has drop bars and allows for large amounts of clearance. See, with a 650b wheel size, one can use a huge volume tire, on the order of 45mm = a wheel/tire combo diameter of 700c and will still have room for fenders to fend off an unintended enema. This give a nice soft ride, with lower psi’s, suitable for back roads and trails. Tom Ritchey’s 650b mtn is essentially a 75yr old rando bike with riser bars (it even has canti’s). This is just but one of many examples of the bike industry selling us “new” ideas that are in fact old ideas. Dudes were mtn riding on rando bikes in the fucking 1920’s. Belt drives were invented in the 30’s, Rene Hearst made V-brakes in the 40’s. The first bikes ever made were essentially what we call gravel grinders. Don’t buy in to the mass consumption machine, even if it pertains to the bike industry; they are simply selling a life style obsession.

  21. I had two goals with this post:
    1.) post the Cotic video. Because it is fucking awesome
    2.) to stir up a little conversation about this issue.

    I think I got both done, and I must say I’m pretty proud of the trolls for not hijacking it.

  22. Who gives a rat’s ass how big the tires are.

    Little kid next door. Maybe 7. You should see him tear-ass all around the property. It’s a sight to behold. He’s rolling 10-12 inch tires and could skool 1/2 you buggers.

    PS. What ever happened to BGW ???

  23. I ride a hardtail 29er, which is the best way to experience a 29er, in my humble opinion..

    I’ve ridden 27.5 full suspension bikes (enduro, trail, xc, whatever), and I think that’s the best way to experience 27.5.

    I rode 26 inch wheels for years and years, and they’re great for DH, dirt jumping, and other specialty applications, in my opinion.

    But quite frankly, give me any one of those wheel sizes in any iteration and I’ll have a shitload of fun on them.

  24. 1) I still demand a bar-top clicky switch to change my wheel size. And after that, no wait, BEFORE that, I demand a clicky switch to change the waist size of my alpine skis from 82mm to 100mm.

    2) I bought a 29er hardtail and it’s a rocket. I found that getting on my old 26″ fullie felt like running in waist-deep water, so I gave it away.

    3) I think BGW still checks in on Ms. Babble On’s fine cycling blog from time to time. I rode with the dude, we had some excellent rides.

    4) hydro brakes on road bikes is WAY stupider than 650b.

  25. Oh, and let me say two things about that Cotic video: 1) dude was riding a 26″ hardtail. You can’t do that! It’s IMPOSSIBLE. 2) since when are mountain bikers allowed to wear skinny jeans? Jebus, pretty soon you’ll see them out there with tattoos and sparking blunts of gnarly ganglion. Come ON people, order must be maintained AT ALL COSTS.

  26. mikey,

    That backwards downhill vid was awesome. I tried to ride backwards once. I lasted 2 seconds and I think I broke my dick when I crashed.

  27. “…bar-top clicky switch…”

    Fuck that. If it ain’t friction, I ain’t shiftin’.

  28. at the funeral “soul crushing”…so funny. cotic’s bad ass 26 hardtail is the Soul. me? I ride a Chromag Samurai proudly. almost bought a Soul.

  29. Nothing like a long discarded road wheel size to get people to buy mountain bikes. Giant has only 650Bs in their demo fleet for 2014. If that isn’t a new wheel size being crammed down our throats, I don’t know what is. Enjoy your new wheels Europe.

  30. Pingback: New old stuff

  31. no matter what you ride you can be sure that tomac would drop you like a bad habit uphill and down on a rigid 26’r with drop bars, same for roadie, no matter how deep yer carbon wheels are coppi would rip your fucking legs off with a 42×19 ride whatever you like and don’t worry about it cuz you’ll only be as fast as you can be, and SOMEONESALWAYSFASTER