The 650B Experiment- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
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    The 650B Experiment

    (X-post from my blog...link is below)



    For the past couple of months, I have been exchanging e-mails with Kirk Pacenti about 650B wheels. Kirk, who makes some of the nicest lugs on the planet that are used by some of the world's best frame makers, has been a driving force behind the 650B movement and has been a great source of information.

    Based on Haro's success in the 29" wheel market with our line of "Mary" steel hardtails and the fact that 29ers just ride so damn nice, I was naturally intrigued by the whole concept behind 650B wheels. With 650B wheels measuring 27.5" in diameter, they are halfway between a 26" wheel and a 29" wheel.

    From a manufacturer's standpoint, the real advantage behind this "tweener" size is you can run a 650B wheel on a 26" wheel bike with very few modifications to the frame itself. 29" wheel frames require a whole new drawing with revised geometry to accomodate the larger wheel size. And then there's the tooling costs associated with a new frame design.

    From a rider's standpoint, I was really curious to see how a set of 650B wheels would ride. I'll admit that I was hugely skepical of 29" wheels (like many people were/still are) until I rode one. After you throw a leg over a 29er, it doesn't take long to realize the obvious benefits that 29" wheels have to offer. However, 29ers do have their pitfalls (not many, but they do exist). They are a little a little harder to get started from a standstill and they don't really excell in really tight technical sections and switchbacks. Would 650B be the solution?

    I ordered a couple sets of Neo-Moto tires from Kirk and 2 sets of the new "Blunt" wheels from Velocity. Based on the rim and tire dimensions we got from Kirk, it looked like this tire and wheel combo would work on our 6" travel Werx Xeon all-mountain bikes without any modifications, so we could start testing right away once we received the wheels and tires. It would be close, but at least we would have to wait for sample frames to be made.



    Last week, it all came together. We got 650B wheels and tires. Product Manager SSPat mounted them up to a Werx Xeon and they fit. Tightly, but we have clearance, Clarence. The Fox Talas fork had about 1/4" to spare between the tire and arch. The swingarm yoke is also tight...about a 1/4" there too. The front derailleur clearance is real tight. Better hope I don't pick up a stone in the tire or the FD will be toast.




    Today I decided to do a little test. I took two Werx Xeons out to a local trail that has a little bit of everything on it: climbing, semi-technical descents, switchbacks, flats, etc. One bike had the 650B wheels on it and the other had stock 26" wheels on it. I have to note that although these were both the same model bike, they weren't spec'd identical. One had a Fox Talas while the other had a Fox 32 Float. One was SRAM X.O, the other was new Shimano XT. Both had RockShox Pearl 3.3 rear shocks, which I set up as close to identical as I could.




    I took the 650B bike out first. The first part of the trail is an off-camber rolling singletrack section with a few little rocky sections here and there to negotiate. So far, so good. The bike really felt smooth and hopped over the rocky stuff easily. Not much elevation change of any great consequences, but wheels rolled confidently on the small descents and climbs.


    As I pedalled along a wide-open flat section, I was amazed at how fast I was going with what seemed like very little effort. Much like a 29er, even though bigger wheels might be a little bit harder to get rolling, once you do get them going, it doesn't require much effort to keep them going at a good clip.

    I negotiated a few flat but soft sweeping corners in both directions. The bike felt ultra-stable and the Neo-Moto's hooked up really well. I didn't feel nearly as squirrely as I sometimes do on a 26" wheel bike in these corners.

    The true test was going to be the switchback section up ahead. They aren't terribly steep, but they are a bit tight and they tend to be loose from everyone skidding through them on the way back down. On a 26" wheel bike, I rarely have a problem through them, but on my 29er, it's 50/50. Sometimes I clear them without dabbing and other times I'm not so lucky. Today on the 650B bike, I sailed right through them. I'm impressed.

    Just up the trail a bit is another uphill switchback I've never been able to clear on a 29er and sometimes I even dab it on a 26" wheel bike. It's a real tight one...almost tighter than 90 degrees with a little wood water bar step right in the apex. Again, sailed right through it on the 650B bike.


    After this weird little switchback, there's a fairly steep climb with some loose sections and rocks in it. The tires are hooking up like there's no tomorrow, even in the loose stuff. Am I on a 29er? Hopping up an over the rocks was a breeze. At this point, I hit a few rock gardens on the way back down the hill...again, I'm asking myself whether or not I'm on a 29" wheel. The 650B's are rolling through stuff like it doesn't even exist.


    I rolled back down the same switchbacks I just got done riding up, and the bike did equally well on the descent. The most impressive thing was the feeling of control through these switchbacks. Since I went into them with much better stability, I didn't find myself getting squirrely through them and skidding around as much in the loose stuff. It sort of felt good to know I was minimizing the impact on the trail!


    Time to give the 26" wheel bike some love. After swapping bikes out at my car, I rolled down the hill to take the same exact loop I just finished on the 650B bike. As I suspected, the 26" felt twitchy and small. On one of the little rock sections in the off-camber singletrack, I actually dabbed...just didn't have the momentum to get through it. The beauty of 650B and 29er wheels is you need FAR less momentum to get through the choppy stuff!


    As I cruised along, I made notes of some of the differences I felt. Cornering wasn't nearly as stable. Climbing didn't feel as efficient. The switchbacks were just as simple to negotiate on the 26" wheel bike as they were on the 650B. The technical downhills definitely weren't as smooth.


    Overall, my first impressions of 650B wheels are pretty good. Very similar to a 29er, it just gave the bike a nice, stable feeling. The best thing about it was I was on a bike made for a 26" wheel, so I didn't feel like I was riding a stretch limo. I'm eager to get more rides in with the wheels; the first day was awesome. Do I think the 650B wheels will replace 26" wheels? No, but they did make me love riding one of my favorite bikes even more.


    It's also good to know that from a manufacturer's standpoint, there's very little we'll need to do with our 26" wheel frames to make 650B's work. All we have to do is lengthen the stays a bit. I don't have a high comfort level with the amount of fork arch clearance we have, so the choices will be to either spec a 29er fork or hope that fork manufacturers will see 650B's as an area of opportunity and provide for more clearance in their castings. As mould charges are quite high for those castings, I don't know that we'll see that happening in the very near future or not.

    One last impression I'll leave you with is the overall look of bikes with 650B wheels. They just look so balanced! 29er's often look they are all wheels. I know that's sort of a "chick" observation, but I'd like to think overall aesthetics do play a roll in the function to a certain degree.

    So are you curious yet? If you'll be attending Interbike's On Dirt Demo, we'll have 2 Werx Xeon bikes out there set up with 650B wheels. Come on by and take one for a spin. I'd love to hear as many opinions as possible on this to help us decide if it's something Haro should put into our line.

    Happy trails!


  2. #2
    Mr.650b - Mr.27-5
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    Great review Jill. I am glad to hear the tires hooked up so well for you!

  3. #3
    tl1
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    That bike looks very cool

    I knew when I saw the Carver bike with a 29" front and a 650B rear with a Kirk Pacenti tire there was something significant to the new 650B thing. I wish I could get to Interbike to try that thing. Maybe when you do produce one I can get a Demo in a Box from my great local Haro dealer.

    My 29 incher is my favorite bike currently but I'm open to whatever works best. It seems like it could be the best of both worlds. Time will tell.

  4. #4
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    I'm really excited about the notion of bringing some 650B bikes to market. I see them as really having some true potential...especially for smaller riders such as myself who like the stability of big wheels.

    If I have my way, we'll have 3 different models in the spring. Pricing and additional testing have yet to be completed, but I do have ideas for at least 3 different models. I will of course keep ya'll posted.

  5. #5
    Mr.650b - Mr.27-5
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    Booth #?

    Jill,

    What is your booth # for the Outdoor Dirt Demo? I am sure there will be a lot of people who want to stop by to test ride the Xeon-B!

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by downhilljill
    I'm really excited about the notion of bringing some 650B bikes to market. I see them as really having some true potential...especially for smaller riders such as myself who like the stability of big wheels.

    If I have my way, we'll have 3 different models in the spring. Pricing and additional testing have yet to be completed, but I do have ideas for at least 3 different models. I will of course keep ya'll posted.


    i live in brasil: huge bicycle riding crowds. caloi is from here. count on me to goodmouth 650Bs everywhere.
    WTB: Bomber Z2 1 1/8 steerer, in good to excellent shape OR bomber rebuild kit.

  7. #7
    mnt bike laws of physics
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    Count me in!

    There is something just right about the 27five wheel. Not so big it takes over the frame. Let's face it, 29" wheels are great, but there place is not on a full suspension bike. I don't think many are aware of it yet, but27five is the size the taller full suspension crowd had been waiting for. Also, it would be perfect for the smaller single speeder or rigid rider where the 29er is just too big for them.
    Choice is good. We have different wheel sizes because there are different size people and because there are different kinds of bikes.
    Have you seen the Wal-Mart kid bikes where they spec all these small bikes with 175mm crank arms? Duhh!
    I have read a few rants in the 29er forum recently about the 27five. They are fear based, and not thoughtful critcism at all.
    There is definitely a place for this wheel size in the mountain bike world, and I am looking forward to having the choice
    Thanks Kirk and thank you Jill for the review

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kirk Pacenti
    Jill,

    What is your booth # for the Outdoor Dirt Demo? I am sure there will be a lot of people who want to stop by to test ride the Xeon-B!
    Booth number is 1002 although for ODD, I think it's more of a formality. I don't know that the "numbers" are all that clearly marked out there like they are in the Sands hall!

  9. #9
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    Tire - der. clearance issue?

    Very nice looking bike. The clearance between the rear tire and the rear der. looks really tight. Will it be this tight on your production B bike?

  10. #10
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    Yes, clearance is really tight in both areas. Production bike will actually be based on our 5" travel Sonix bike with lengthened stays and a 650B specific fork. It was sort of a happy accident that it fit (even if tightly) on this bike.

  11. #11
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    Jill- any plans for a Haro 650b SS hardtail?

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by dankilling
    Jill- any plans for a Haro 650b SS hardtail?
    Yep!

  13. #13
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    Cool :)

    Quote Originally Posted by downhilljill
    Yep!
    Any idea on a timeframe?

  14. #14
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    You're killing me, dankilling.

    I'm shooting for early 2008.

  15. #15
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    Awesome- just in time for my birthday!

  16. #16
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    This is very interesting. I will be keeping tabs on this idea.

    Jill thanks for all the pics. Every time I see a Werks Xeon in white I am reminded again that it is one of the sweetest looking frames I have ever laid eyes on!

    I am still considering the Xeon frame as an upgrade and was wondering what the rear shock spec on the various Xeon models (especially the top notch Werks) will be now that Rock Shox has discontinued the Pearl. If I get the frame I would like to have some options should the Pearl develop problems down the road. Thanks for any info.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by titusquasi
    This is very interesting. I will be keeping tabs on this idea.

    Jill thanks for all the pics. Every time I see a Werks Xeon in white I am reminded again that it is one of the sweetest looking frames I have ever laid eyes on!

    I am still considering the Xeon frame as an upgrade and was wondering what the rear shock spec on the various Xeon models (especially the top notch Werks) will be now that Rock Shox has discontinued the Pearl. If I get the frame I would like to have some options should the Pearl develop problems down the road. Thanks for any info.
    Thanks!

    Rear shock specs are the same for all three Xeon models: 215mm eye-to-eye with 63mm stroke. Hardware size is 35mm on both ends of the shock.

  18. #18
    SingleTrackSal
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    Show of Hands Everybody....

    Is Jill not one of the coolest people to grace these hallowed 'halls'???

    I'll answer my own question: 'Roger, Roger.'

    Seriously, excellent review Jill, thank you! The concept of applying the 650B wheel size to mountain bikes is even more exciting (IMHO) than that of applying the 700c.

    I currently ride a 29'er and dig its positive attributes but, like you, have experienced that ponderous quality while plodding through switchbacks or cranking along a sustained climb. All the more interested in the concept now having read your review, confirming some suspicions.

    And it can't be just a 'Chick' thing, I think my bike is all-wheel too.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by SingleTrackSal
    Is Jill not one of the coolest people to grace these hallowed 'halls'???

    I'll answer my own question: 'Roger, Roger.'
    Damn...I'm flattered.

    I'm sad to report that I won't be riding this 650B-equipped bike again anytime soon. It was one of the 30 that got stolen over the weekend after Interbike.

  20. #20
    Ride da mOOn Moderator
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    downhilljill:

    Thanks for going outside the box for us!

    I have always owned Haros and always will all the way back to the Haro Master and Sport freestyle bikes when I was a kid. Kinda tells you I stick with a great product. Even meeting Bob Haro himself once!
    Dave Johns from Ceadr Bike Scranton, Pa is and awesome dealer for Harosl After the usual greeting which is always followed by "Hey ya want a coffee" Dave can show you some of the best bikes made, of course Haro...

    Thanks again...

  21. #21
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    Jill, perhaps I could help you out with some new wheels?? Call Jeremy at American Classic.

  22. #22
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cracked Headtube
    Cool!

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