|2012 Jamis Dragon 650B|
So, what has all this got to do with bicycles? Well, in the off-road world, we've had our own version of "Fringe" going on for the past 13 years or so now. Used to be 29"ers were that odd duck, but not anymore. After big wheels opened the door to new wheel concepts, we got "69ers" first, and then "650B" came along afterward. (Well, sort of. Let's just roll with that to keep things simplified for now, shall we?)
So, just what is, (or you could almost say "was"), a "69er"?Well, I wrote about Trek's ill-fated attempt at the concept here back in the summer of 2006. Basically, it was a 26"er out back, and a 29"er up front, and everything together was supposedly the "best of both worlds". (Keep that phrasing in mind for the 650B coming up...) How's that? Well, the proponents of the concept said that you got the "roll-over of the 29"er and the acceleration of the 26"er".
The 69er guys didn't like the heavier weight of the big 29" rear wheel, but guess what? They don't have to weigh that much, and lightweight 29"er wheels are easily had these days. In the end, the marketplace just didn't really fire up for this idea. It's pretty much dead in the water.
To be fair, Carver Bikes still offers this concept, although you don't really hear too much about it anymore. Fringe indeed.
650B? Yes....the "tweener sized" wheels of mountain biking. Not as big as 29"ers, they are somewhat lighter, (potentially), and roll over stuff marginally better than the ever so slightly smaller 26"er sized wheels. Once again, the claims of "it is the best of both worlds" were heard but as before, there were not many real world benefits that I could sus out to back that up. I rode 650B bikes every chance I got from 2007 till 2010, and every time I just couldn't see where they were going to out do a 29"er at what it does best, or be anything but marginally better than a 26"er hard tail or full suspension bike.
That isn't to say I didn't ride some nice 650B bikes. I did. Some of them I liked just fine, but not more so than a good 29"er. They just weren't far enough removed in feel from 26"ers, and they just didn't quite get to the level of a 29"er.
|Travis Brown Signature Bike|
"Pundits proclaimed that 650B would be where 29"ers were in 2007 by 2010. Then the economy went south, and so seemingly did any hopes for the 650B wheel to take root."
To be fair, the economy certainly took risky ventures like adding 650B bikes out of the picture for some companies, but in my mind, that isn't the only reason this fringe element of mountain biking hasn't gotten as far as the 650B fans had hoped. Essentially, the very nature of the wheels being "in the middle" of two other very popular wheel sizes has marginalized the appeal of 650B mtb designs. I know I feel this way about them, and I think lots of other riders do as well.
Of course, that isn't to say that 650B is going away. It isn't. Jamis and KHS have really staked out a nice slice of their line ups for 2012 in the tweener wheels. However; it isn't looking to catch on in a big way. Fans of the wheels are saying that it will take one of the bigger companies to legitimize 650B to the masses. I'd disagree with that. It's going to be rider driven if anything, and I don't see that like I did with 29"ers happening for 650B. It's staying on the fringes as far as I can tell.