Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fringe: A Look at 650B And Death Of The 69er

2012 Jamis Dragon 650B
Fringe: My wife, Mrs. Guitar Ted, likes this weird new T.V. series called "Fringe". It's a Sci-Fi deal where weird things are happening all the time, and the show's Chief Of Weirdness, a character named "Walter", is always rambling about some bizarre thing or concept, (that is if he isn't trying to give himself a self-inflicted lobotomy).

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".

Carver 69er
 Actually, you got the worst of both worlds along with it, but nobody wanted to talk about that! The thing is, this concept didn't really work   for a lot of riders. Especially once you figured out how a 29"er rear  wheel was actually more important to have from the standpoint of traction and propulsion. Also, that smaller rear wheel just acted like what it was- a 26 inch rear wheel, and having a 29"er wheel up front really didn't change things much from the standpoint of a front suspension bike. 

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
Of course, I wrote plenty about 650B bikes in the past. The last time I said the following

"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.


Rob said...

I was all excited about a 69er a few years ago, it made a lot of sense to me. I'm glad I passed though, as a "full" 29er is just fine!

Head Honcho said...

I never liked the whole 69 thing. Just a stupid, ugly idea. now, the 650b idea, I like it. Nothing wrong with options I say.

cornfed said...

I still feel that for a pure XC race machine, the 69'er is the best weapon of choice where I live. There are several locals racing and riding them weekly. Travis' 69 was a pure race bike and intended as such.

Outside of XC riding, they tend to not make as much sense. Kind of how a fargo makes sense for what it's intended purpose is for and less so as an XC racer. Less about wheel size, more about intended use.

Unknown said...

I think that the in between nature of a 650b wheel is always going to be what makes it hard for them to be more than a fringe option. I however think they make a lot of sense. I am not interested in racing, just trail riding on east coast trails. I have ridden 26, 650b and 29er hardtails as well as 26 fs and still ride 24" crusier BMX at the local track. I liek a 29er for the whole rigid single speed finesse/momentum thing but my favorite bike ever is a Santa Cruz Chamelon. The problem is I am 6'2" and although it was like a big, flickacble bmx bike on the trail it just wasn't big enough for me to not feel cramped on extended rides. The ht and st on the new Jamis Dragon 650b are a litle steeper, but hopefully rides similar with the bonus of the slightly bigger hoops for my long legs. So that puts it squarely in fringe bike territory. I hope to pick one up.