Monday, February 06, 2012

A 650B Reprise: Part II

There has been a lot of hub-bub behind the scenes concerning the upcoming push by manufacturers to sell mountain bikers full suspension 650B mountain bikes. You may want to re-read that: "...the upcoming push by manufacturers to sell mountain bikers full suspension 650B mountain bikes." Keep that in mind for later....

The Haro Sonix 650B from 2010
Why Do They Think We Need This?: Well, there is always that question, and I will tell you right now that you will hear and read several lines trotted out by manufacturers crafted to let you know that this is superior to 26 inch wheeled full suspension bikes. They will say it "rolls over things like a 29"er without the negatives of a 29"er". They will say things like "It is still nimble like a 26"er", and they will tell you "it is the best of both worlds".

I am going to tell you right up front that none of those things make much sense and are all marketing nonsense.  That isn't at all why you will see these 650B full suspension bikes hitting the market now.

A couple other things will be mentioned as well concerning the "why now?" question. You will hear that it is due to the fact that Rock Shox and Fox, (yes, Fox has been confirmed as a company making a shock for 650B now, in case you have not heard), are finally making a 650B specific fork. You will also hear that new tires are coming that will make this a viable platform now.

Again, all a bunch of hooey when it comes to the reasons why this is being presented to you now as a reason for 650B full suspension bikes.

I could take the time, (and I have before), to break down why none of the above is why this is coming now. But I don't have that much space today. The point is, the "real reasons" why this is coming now are completely different than what you are going to hear about the most. Well, if you really want to be technical, the whole idea for 650 FS longer travel rigs has been around since 2010 anyway. That's as in "real bikes you could buy" been around since 2010. This is an important facet concerning this platform that should not be forgotten.

Jamis SixFifty B2: Circa 2009
You could buy a Haro Sonix or a Jamis FS and experience the 650B FS bike back in 2010, or if you were like me, in 2009 at Interbike's Outdoor Demo. You also could have snagged a ride on a converted Haro FS bike in 2008, like I did. But the point is, these bikes did not catch the imaginations of dealers or riders then. Haro scuttled all of its mtb line up recently, and Jamis, who soldiered on with 650B hard tails and FS, seemed to be making a go of things, but were they? Not really, if you dig into it. Most of the B bike FS models were stripped and sold on close out.

It would seem that there was no ground swell for this idea from the rider side. Sure- there are fans for these bikes and they are very vocal. However; that never seemed to be a very fast growing number of folks, and the companies that jumped in early didn't do well with 650B. Then you have the whole conversion thing with current FS bikes that just happen to fit 650B wheels. Seems like it isn't that different than 26"ers after all, perhaps.

Now let's revisit that opening statement: .."the upcoming push by manufacturers to sell mountain bikers full suspension 650B mountain bikes." This is important, because riders are not knocking down doors of custom builders getting 650B bikes made in hard tail or suspension. Riders are not really looking for bigger wheels at all for their longer travel, big hit bikes. The 29"er seems to be barely scratching the surface in this area, as an example.

No, what is going on here is that manufacturers, who got left behind when 29"ers were coming up, want to create a new buzz product with an appeal that the big wheels have without the complexities of making a 29 inch wheel work in a longer travel application. The question is, will the "weekend Joe and Jill" buy into the hype? Will "core" riders buy into this idea?

One thing is for certain- this is not a rider driven wheel platform. There is very little evidence for that. In this, it is not at all like 29"ers. No, this will be manufacturer/brand/marketing driven. Riders will vote with their dollars and the outcome will be shown in a few years, most likely. Will 650B live on to see an important part in long travel mountain biking? I don't know. All I can say is, does anyone remember "69ers" ?


Paul Dixon said...

Thanks for this Ted! It's exactly the way I felt when I started seeing the 650b push for next year. I had a few gear junkies at my shop sing praises of the 650b, of course based on what was fed to them through online info. Marketing does wonders, and we'll both be building some bikes up next season for customers... sad really, I agree it's not all that they say it is.

Doug M. said...

at the very worst, those of us that like and ride 650b will have sweet pickings on ebay for years to come, hopefully not to the detriment of real bike shop owners.

Head Honcho said...

Mark, as much as I agree with you on many things, I just don't quite see your point on the whole 650b thing. Can you bring up some hard numbers supporting your claims? Both of us were very large proponents of the 'ride the wheel size that suits you' back in the early days of the 29"er scene. So yeah, I get that this is largely a marketing push. There IS a ground swell of dedicated riders out there. They're just not as vocal as the 29" nerds were/are. I really don't have a problem this wheel size. In fact, I see the push for longer travel FS bikes as logical. Both you and I KNOW FS and long travel can work on 29" wheels. Most of the market thinks that limit is 4" or 5" though. Pushing longer travel on the mid sized wheels makes sense to me. I've held this thought for a while that 29" is perfect for XC, 650 for XC/all mountain/tech, and 26 for Jump/downhill. Sure this becomes a pain for dealers, cause all of a sudden you have to have available ALL these sizes of tires. It can be argued though that with QBP[of course this means they have to stock stuff too] being literally 1 day away from nearly every shop now, shops don't really HAVE to stock too much.

But FAT bikes are WAAAAAY more fun.

Unknown said...

Mark, I have to disagree with you a little bit here. If you remember your history, 29ers started out in much the same way. Consumers were stuck with one crappy fork and Gary Fisher could only sell 29ers at their end of year closeout. There was some fringe excitement about 29ers in the single speed crowd, but it wasn't until a viable fork came to market that the niche began to be taken more seriously (and companies, yes like Niner began to work on the geometry issues a bit more). I think one of the reasons there's been very little in the way of interest from the custom crowd is that the ideal place for the 650b platform is not hardtails. It's difficult to argue with the 29" wheel on a hardtail, and nobody wants to go backwards. And MOST custom, hand built bikes are hardtails. I totally get that there are some that build full suspension bikes, but this isn't the majority of the marketplace for hand built bikes, and so the movement won't happen there. This MAY be a little more pushed by manufactures looking for a new niche, but the manufactures are hearing the same grumblings that have been going on for some time: 29ers are no good for longer travel all mountain bikes. Whether that's true or not is irrelevant. What's true is that the 650b allows for a new experience in an otherwise stalled market segment, and generating excitement about that is not a bad thing. I have a blast on my WFO and have ridden it down some of the most aggressive terrain available. At one point, I had one built out as a pure downhill bike and while the rear travel was a bit limited for this application, it was a blast to ride. However, one of the biggest problems for me is on very rare occasions, when the terrain was extremely steep and technical, the wheel was so big that I'd chafe my ass on it. This, to me, was the limit of the larger wheel and I'm not sure if 1.5" smaller in diameter would make a difference, but I think there might be something there. Where before, when the market was pushing 650b in the hardtail market, I was a scoffer. Now, in the 150-160mm travel bikes, I'm willing to open my eyes to the possibility.

Guitar Ted said...

@Head Honcho, @Unkown: I'd like to pull a comment from "Unknown" here that is the crux of this whole issue:

"I'm not sure if 1.5" smaller in diameter would make a difference,...."

This can be said the other way coming up from 26"ers.

In terms of the long travel, which the both of you argue is 5" plus, how is a marginal increase from 26", marginal decrease from 29" going to affect the riders experience?

I'm saying, "I guess we'll see how riders vote with their dollars". I'm also saying that the riders on these bikes, (for the most part), see no reason to bring in heavier, larger diameter wheels. (Given that tires, rims, and suspension would be the same, which they definitely are not now. This also goes to my point about the Haro/Jamis bikes which didn't light up anyone's fire)

This is purely "top down" idealism from companies looking to "create some excitement in the marketplace", as "Unknown" puts it.

I think the riders will call it something else, but again- we'll see about that.

Guitar Ted said...

@Head Honcho: I think as far as the early beginnings of 29"ers goes, there were custom designed FS bikes before manufacturers got on board with the ideas. Look at Lenz Sport, Walt Works, Ventana and others as examples.

Lenz has gotten a 650B LT bike on the drawing board, but if there were a lot of groundswell for this idea, you'd have seen bikes already out of him with B Wheels.

The trouble here is, converting a current 26'er sled to B Wheels is, well .....relatively easy. Again, this points to the differences not being all that great, which hurts, rather than helps 650B's cause.

I'm not against these bikes- To the contrary. What I am saying is the reasons that will be put forth for them by marketing wonks will be spurious at best.

I also contend that the longer travel bikes have an uphill battle, (pardon the pun), when it comes to the vast array of really good bikes already out there with 26"er wheels. Will 650B prove to be different enough to gain a foothold? That's the question.

John said...

The 650b thing has grown much more swiftly than 29ers did. I love it, can't wait to get me one.

Ron said...

I can't think of anything more hype-driven than 29ers. As if 29ers are the right wheel size for everyone and for all kinds of riding. Mfg's do whatever they can to stimulate sales. Tell me of any product that was purely market driven. Who asked for all these all-mountain, trail, free ride etc categories of bikes, let alone the different wheel sizes? As for 650b, very ground-up. Riders have been begging for some forks for a few years now and were mostly ignored - there was certainly no great marketing campaign to convince me.

Guitar Ted said...

@Ron: Well, you are certainly welcome to that opinion, although I think that if you observe history involving 29"ers, you will find it was a rider driven idea from the very inception of the 700c mountain bike/fat tire idea that wes williams had in the early 80's. This manifested itself by a few passionate, rider driven folks who convinced Mark Slate of WTB to do a tire, (The Nanoraptor in '99), and he reluctantly made it.

Fisher was on board early, and even the dealer network was turning a deaf ear vto 29"ers early on. To say it was driven by companies is just not even close to being right. I could write several more examples, but I don't think it matters to you. ;>)

So far, 650 HAS been rider driven, but it won't be for long. That's my point. If (in the five years since 650B fat tires have been around), riders of all stripes were taking note, it would be a much bigger thing than it is now, just like 29"ers were 5 years past Fisher's introduction of them in 2001.

And another point, which gets missed all the time, I am not against 650B. I'm just saying it isn't catching on with a grassroots intensity, like 29"ers did, and this new marketing push will be interesting to watch. Riders vote with their dollars- same as with 29"ers- so we'll see how it plays out in the end.

That's all I'm saying.

Leslie said...


I suppose, I'm one of the grassroots riders who is pushing 650B; I keep emailing tire companies, asking them if they're coming out w/ 650B tires if they don't have any, or, if they have one or two, if they're going to widen their selection.

A 650B gives the designer a middle-ground for scaling bike design. For smaller-than-me riders, I see a 29" bike as being a big challenge for a designer, but the 650B would be easier to solve. For bigger than me riders, the 29" makes more sense in most situations. In my particular region, though, 29'ers didn't really catch; there was some interest, to be sure, but there were issues with them on our trail-types on twisty wooded slopes. Friends of mine, bike shop mechanics, have all seen issues w/ lateral wheel stability. Most here, returned to their 26" bikes. A 650B might be able to offer some of the advantages, and minimize some of the disadvantages.

I like the idea of having all three sizes, so you can evaluate your personal size, your riding terrain, and have a choice.

I really like the 650B, think it needs to be the 'middle ground', maybe the first go-to choice. Then, if conditions/situations dictate, either slide up to the 29'er, or down to 26". IMHO, FWIW...

Guitar Ted said...

@Leslie: I like your thoughts on evaluating the wheel sizes, but one has to wonder if 650B will be a noticeable enough difference in 5-7 inch travel bikes to make taking the leap worth it for riders. Then too, one has to wonder if, (for handling sake in tight terrain), nothing is better than a 26"er FS trail bike for those situations.

These are the things riders will dictate the answers to. My short ride on a longer travel 650B bike didn't "wow" me, but I am just one guy and that was a demo ride. (But that said, this will be how most riders judge the platform) I'll be interested to see how it all plays out.

reformed roadie said...

Guitar Ted, are you friends w/ David Copperfield?

There seems to be a lot of resentment from 29er riders towards 650b, as if it is going to harm them in some way. I don't get it. You state that you rode a Haro Sonix 650b...what other options have you tried, before write off the wheel size? (There is a reason Haro is no longer in the game, and it has nothing to do with 650b.)
The whole idea that you can fit a 650b wheel in many 26" frames is exactly why it has been a ground up movement. I started with spokes, a used rim and tire and quickly saw the advantages from just swapping a front wheel.
I have nothing against 29er - I've tried and it's not of me. I am against zealots like Wes Williams who is so narrow minded, that he thinks 700c is the only wheel size.

Guitar Ted said...

@Reformed Roadie: I'll ask you a question too: "Did you not read that I have repeatedly said "I am not against 650B bikes", and I have never "written them off". (See comment section here for an example.)

Check it out, and then we'll see if we can have a rational discussion about this wheel size. However; if you want to hold on to the idea that I am trying to destroy the idea of 650B, or that I am in anyway against having them around, you are sadly mistaken, and this will go nowhere.

reformed roadie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Guitar Ted said...

@reformed roadie. Well, I am sorry, I hit the wrong dang cue and deleted your comment by mistake, but in brief, you said "I read everything", and you asked if I have ever ridden a 650B bike.

Okay, if you had read everything, you wouldn't have asked that question. Why? Because I stated that I have actually ridden these bikes when presented the chance to. Again, the whole point of the blog post is not to slag off 650B bikes as being "bad", not worthy, or whatever. My point has to do with how they are being driven in the market place.

Really, I don't know how I could be any more clear than that. If you really did read the piece, (which I believe you did), you certainly didn't comprehend the main points, judging from this commentary.

Read through the comments. Others are getting what I am saying, even if they do not agree with everything I am writing.

Finally, I apologize again for deleting your last comment, but I made a mistake there with the mouse click. Feel free to submit that again if you want to.

Guitar Ted said...

Woot! Found the deleted comment. Here it is:

reformed roadie has left a new comment on your post "A 650B Reprise: Part II":

"I read everything. I am not the only one to take away a negative vibe towards 650b, am I? If I am off base, please explain what your motive was for even writing this.

You did not respond to whether you have ridden another 650b bike. I think that implying that the swell in interest is due to marketing buzz infers that the size does not warrant the interest by it's merits."

Okay, sorry for all the confusion there, but I hope that puts things to right as far as the commentary goes.

Guitar Ted said...

@All: Anyone else that still can't quite get their heads around what I'm writing here may want to check out the following post I wrote which also that touches on the subject:

It's called "The Business Of 29"ers"

Anonymous said...

Ted, with all due respect, this rider would disagree with you. I think 650b is the perfect size for those that want a fs bike with shorter chainstays. The full suspension 29er manufacturers cannot get their chainstays shorter than 17.5" which makes the bikes feel too big/long. With 650b they can keep the chainstays at 17" AND still get the rollover benefits of a larger wheel.
I'm looking forward to the 650b offerings.

Guitar Ted said...

@Mmac: Check out what I said a couple of comments above yours:

"Again, the whole point of the blog post is not to slag off 650B bikes as being "bad", not worthy, or whatever. My point has to do with how they are being driven in the market place."

I never said I don't like the bikes, or the idea of having them around, it is the marketing that I think is goofy. Whether 650B makes it or not...."who knows?", but I think it is totally different than how it happened for 29"ers.

Make sense?