Monday, January 05, 2009
To "B" Or Not To "B"? What's Up with 650B?
This Origin 8 brand 650B prototype was reportedly scuttled due to lack of interest. Could the whole 650B movement suffer the same fate?
In a recent thread on mtbr.com, a poster posed the question, "What's up with the 650b movement, or lack there of?"
Noting that he hadn't seen much about Haro's Beasley 650B bike, he began poking around and found out that there wasn't much "buzz" going on with 650B at all. Well, I guess I would have to agree with his assessment.
Engaging some of the 650B proponents on the thread, I found that they had a ton of passion, enthusiasm, and reasons why 650B should be, but no one really had an answer for the original posters questions, until this was posted up by the head honcho of Spooky Bikes, who is a big proponent of the B sized wheels: "650b stuff is still super rare. There are maybe a few hundred people worldwide riding 650b stuff. Almost all of them post on MTBR.com Almost all of them heard about 650b stuff via MTBR. Hell, I make 650b stuff and I heard about it via mtbr!"
So the easy answer would be that you have to be a visitor of mtbr.com, or you will almost assuredly miss the 650B bandwa.......er.......cart! Well, it may be said that mtbr.com is the "epicenter" of all that is 650B, but that would be a bit naive. There are several sites related to this wheel size and I think that the numbers of folk that have at least heard of 650B is actually quite large. Probably much larger than what is suggested by the quote above, albeit he is most likely referring to Pacenti tire equipped 650B bikes. In that case, maybe. But still doubtful.
So leaving out roadies, tourists, and whole foreign countries that have large amounts of 650B cyclists, we'll focus on the fat tired set here. And back to that question, eh? Why aren't we hearing more?
Well, it is really hard to say. 650B proponents say "wait.....it's going to happen" with fingers pointed across the ponds at companies that have promised 650B treads, including Schwalbe, Kenda, IRC, and WTB- not to mention Mr. Pacenti's own brand which is expanding its offerings. Tires are coming, so when they get here, there will be more interest. That's the line from that camp.
Hmmm.......well, I'm not convinced. I don't think a slew of new tire offerings will help that much. It certainly won't hurt the cause, but I see something here that isn't being mentioned by the 650B fans. Something that's indicating that the 650B hasn't grabbed the imagination of the mountain bikers like the 29"er did. What is it? Grassroots interest, that's what. Not that 650B doesn't have a grassroots type of interest, heck...it's all grassroots interest! But 650B doesn't have the type of growth at a purely interest level that 29"ers enjoyed early on.
Let's just take Guitar Ted as an example, shall we? I heard about 29"ers around about 2000 on, of all places, mtbr.com. Okay, that was just a year after "The Tire" was introduced, which launched the modern 29"er into existence. Needless to say, there wasn't anybody selling 29"ers at the local bike shop, and getting a 29"er was akin to buying a Mountain Bike in 1979. (Yes.....Mountain Bike was actually a brand name at that time!) Did that dampen my curiosity in the format? Nope! And it didn't for a lot of other folks either. Apparently there were so many of us out there, that by the time I bought my Karate Monkey in the spring of 2003- just four years after The Tire was introduced- there was a major brand distributing 29"ers and a major warehouse distributing frames and forks. Certainly there were far more than a few hundred people on board then, and certainly there were more than a few hundred people on board with the format two years earlier, which I can vouch for, having been posting on mtbr.com's 29"er forum at that time.
Now 650B fans will say to you that the wheel size is ahead of the curve in comparison to 29"ers, or at least they used to! Folks from Kirk Pacenti on down have stated that the 650B offerings are 3-5 years ahead of where 29"ers were at this stage in the game. Now they are backing off that a bit, but in reality, this is mostly a true statement. Where 650B is behind the 29"ers at this point is in the overall interest level. Post activity on mtbr.com's Alternative Wheel Size forum, if that can be used as a gauge, is nowhere near the interest level that 29ers were enjoying in 2001/2002. So, I think it is fair to say that equipment choices are not going to help a whole lot. At least not if I can use the history of the modern 29"er as a gauge.
This 650B equipped Haro Werx Sonix was a test of 650B interest by Haro at 2007's Interbike. The platform will become officially available in 650B in 2010. Will it be too late?
What is the answer then? Why isn't there more "buzz",more grassroots interest? I can not answer that question effectively. What I can say is that I am sticking to my previously held opinion that the cycling industry and cyclists will find it hard to support three mountain bike wheel sizes. I also still think that 650B will not go away, but it will most certainly not attain the popularity that 29"ers currently enjoy without unseating 26"ers or 29"ers. 650B has been and most likely always will be an "under the radar", "mtb-geek" sort of faction, much like it is in relationship to road biking on the pavement side. That's what I think until I see some convincing evidence to the contrary, and more tires ain't it.