The 650b Conspiracy

Words Uncle Dave
Date Nov 16, 2015

Dear Uncle Dave,

I like your name so I thought I might as well ask you a question.

I actually am one of those “26” for life”- guys, in fact I don’t fancy any of the new inventions that have been shattering the mountain bike world recently. It appears to me, that every bike manufacturer suffers from an incurable, compulsive urge to create something new, just for the sake of it. So let me just ask you a simple question upon which I am very curious to hear your answer.

I don’t follow the DH world cup or the Enduro World Series too closely but from what I noticed in neither of the series any of the riders seem to be on 26” any more. According to my knowledge mtb racing, roughly described, is about who can ride down a mountain faster than his competitors. So the absolute speed/time doesn’t matter and it’s only the speed in relation/time difference to the other riders’ speed/time that matters. Wouldn’t that mean an advantage for bigger wheels (asuming they are really faster) can only be determined if only one rider was on bigger wheels and we would get the exact same results if every rider switched back to “old” 26” wheels? To me this reveals 650b a marketing gimmick.

On to Them

Dear OTT,

It was actually interesting to “research” this story. It already feels like 650b bikes have been around forever, but it hasn’t been that long. Even though we’re talking about recent history, it was difficult to wade through exactly who rode what, when. What was a bit foreign in late 2013/early 2014 wasn’t even mentioned by late 2014. I’m no World Cup DH gear historian, but here’s my “thoroughly researched” history of the adoption of 650b on the Men’s DH World Cup.

In 2013, some World Cup DHers started kicking the tires on 650b. A 650b Scott Gambler was noted at the Fort William World Cup. A bunch more were unveiled into the fall. Steve Smith raced a 650b on a pedally World Champs course. Nobody found success. Obviously 650b is a total waste of time. 650b Conspiracy Theory +1

It was big news when Trek unveiled and won on their 650b bikes at the NZ National Champs in February, 2014. And then they very quickly decided not to bother with 26” bikes. 650b Conspiracy Theory -1

The first World Cup was a pedally Pietermaritzburg. Even though Gwin won it on a 650b Enduro (putting a nail in the coffin of the Demo as a race winnable bike…right?) …No conspiracy points awarded because this race doesn’t count

The second World Cup in Cairns was a mudfest, so that doesn’t count either…even though Gee won it on a 650b. People seem more excited about his winning on flats than on anything to do with wheel size. No conspiracy points awarded

Fort William was the first “real DH race”. Specialized semi-officially unveiled their 650b Demo and Troy promptly won his first ever World Cup DH on the thing. Sam Hill came second, also on 650b. Shit got real. Conspiracy Theory -2

By the next race at Leogang, a few more 650b bikes were rolled out, but Santa Cruz took first and second on 26” wheels (Brosnan was in 3rd on 650b). Conspiracy Theory +1

And then, even though they’d just won a race on a 26” bike, for the next race at Mont Sainte Anne, Santa Cruz rolled out a 650b bike and put it into second place, behind a similarly 650b’d Sam Hill. Conspiracy Theory -1

From that point on…Bryceland won on 650b in Windham. Sam Hill won on 650b in Meribel. Gee was World Champ on a 650b. Has anybody won a Men’s World Cup DH on 26” since June of 2014? Conspiracy Theory -10

Looking at the results, we can conclude that 650b bikes certainly did not harm anyone’s chances of winning a race. Once the top guys moved to 650b they saw immediate results. Anybody without a 650b bike quickly developed one. I know there is a lot of cynicism directed towards the bike industry, but I’m not generally used to seeing race teams work so hard for the benefit of the marketing department.

I guess it is possible that a whole bunch of racers sponsored by a whole bunch of different companies all agreed, at roughly the same time, to go along with a waste of time idea, risking wins and injury while they adapted to new equipment, all so that their sponsors could trick us into buying inferior and unnecessary equipment. Or…Well…obviously that must be exactly what happened.

I hope that with this information you can move on from calling 650b a “massive bike industry conspiracy”. Everybody knows that plus bikes are the new “massive bike industry conspiracy” and 650b was only created to pave the way for its introduction. Please put more effort into staying current. And if you want to be a ground breaking trend setter, not many people have yet caught on to the true end game. Internet connectivity through electronic shifting is what this is all really about. Once the companies have direct access to your home via your bicycle’s shift module, they will truly own us.

Uncle Dave

Congratulations, On to Them, you have won a pair of Race Face’s brand new Chester Pedals. With a nylon composite body, fully serviceable sealed bearing and bushing system and cromo axles, they look like a great place to put your feet. While riding. As long as you’re wearing shoes.


If you have a question for Uncle Dave, send it to If he answers your question, you may also get a prize. Or not. But let’s face it, the real prize is having Dave drop a pearl or two of wisdom in your general direction.



Trending on NSMB


peterk  - Nov. 17, 2015, 2:52 p.m.

I think if 650B existed from the beginning, we wouldn't have 29 or 26. But the "26 4 LYFE" crowd of which I am still apart of needs to shut up and enjoy the last couple of years of cheap (clearance), strong, and light wheels and forks if we don't care about speed.
But what is really happening is that we complain about "dumbed down" trails as we ride our superbikes.


Raymond Epstein  - Nov. 17, 2015, 8:12 a.m.

Here's a crazy idea for anyone that is riding a bike with 26″ wheels. Go to some demos and ride a similar bike as yours with 650b wheels on the exact same loop and see what you think. Keep in mind that as 650b wheels moved in so did very signifcant geometry updates to trail/AM bikes. If you like the ride great; try out a bunch more and then weigh out if it's enough of a difference to move on from your 26″ bike. If not, revel in the fact that all the 26″ stuff is going to save you a lot of money.


lucas  - Nov. 17, 2015, 9:55 a.m.

This is exactly what happened to me. Took a new Devinci Spartan for a test ride and immediately started cursing because the mixture of wheel size, frame geo and suspension tech blew my poor 2008 DH 26er so far out of the water that it is currently in orbit. Its the complete package that is kicking ass, not just the wheel size. That being said, i felt like I could tell the difference, better flow, rolled over stuff, was it the wheels or the suspension? Who knows but every single ride I take now, at some point I say, out loud "I love this bike."


Wig  - Nov. 17, 2015, noon

What a crazy idea; try a bunch of bikes and use the one that suits your riding. Most trial events are won on 24″ wheels although there are lots of 26″ trial bikes; no conspiracy theory. Also dirt jumper bikes are 26″ wheels, but in a park there could be more BMX style bikes with 20″ or 24″, still no conspiracy. But I go < 1/2 the speed of a DH World cup racer, and I like 26" wheels on my DH bike. And on the old school trails on the North Shore, I like a 26" wheels on my AM bike (it has modern Geo top of line everything), but am open to 650b.


reformed roadie  - Nov. 17, 2015, 3:15 p.m.

Close minded Ludites don't actually try new things and make an educated decision…too busy hatin'.


Nat Brown  - Nov. 17, 2015, 8:09 a.m.

Great job making some sense out of that last paragraph.


gravityfreak  - Nov. 17, 2015, 4:57 p.m.

People would not be so opposed to 27.5 if they hadn't made 26 redundant. It's when you are forced into change because new wheels/rims/tyres and forks become 27.5 only that people feel pressured into change and no one likes that. If you have a great 26 setup and your fork brakes, it's a tough choice. Further investment in 26 seems foolish but then throwing your frame and wheels on the scap heap is a bitter pill to swallow too.


Nat Brown  - Nov. 17, 2015, 8:37 p.m.

Hey gravityfreak. I wasn't meaning anything along those lines, but to an extent I'm on board with what you're I saying. I ride 26, hell, my one bike has a straight 1 1/8 headtube and I've bought a new fork in the past couple of years. The options are limited. However, and I write this acknowledging the theme of this website, the problems you bring up are only a small manifestation of a much bigger problem that goes well beyond MTB and the industry that supports it. And it strikes me that, to an extent, people getting their knickers in a twist over a change in MTB standards could probably do with broadening their horizons. (No offence to you personally, everyone has different experiences.) Should people be riding 26 in 100 years time just so we don't have to deal with the inconvenience of changing standards now, even though it seems clear that there is merit to the change, incremental though it may be? I intend on riding my 26 for a while yet, primarily because it's fun and I don't need a new bike right now. There will be compromises when it comes to replacing broken stuff, but from what I can tell they'll be minimal for at least 2 or 3 years.


Garrett Thibault  - Nov. 17, 2015, 8:04 a.m.

When Gwin won chainless, Conner Fearon placed second on a Kona Operator with flat pedals and 26″ wheels. Kona then promptly released a 650b version. Conspiracy Theory +1


John Canfield  - Nov. 17, 2015, 9:53 a.m.

True. Kona was just waiting for Fearon to get second to unleash their new 27.5 bike.


Merwinn  - Nov. 17, 2015, 12:59 p.m.

"Connor", but I get ya.


Brock Fisher  - Nov. 20, 2015, 10:40 a.m.

Connor was definitely on a 27.5 Carbon Operator in that race. In the final part of the Australian DH season in like January of 2015 he rode a 650b Precept 200 mule bike to get used to the new wheel size. In April He showed up for the Port Angeles DH race in WA on a custom Carbon Operator with a modified rear triangle that accepted the bigger wheel. For the World Cup he rode the modified Carbon Operator, wasn't until the World Championships that he got the new Aluminum 27.5 operator.

Here is the Precept Mule Bike.

And here is the modified carbon Operator (notice the long ass chain stay).


Evil_bumpkin  - Nov. 17, 2015, 6:55 a.m.

Jeebus, reading that was like watching ping pong balls bounce around inside a lotto machine.


Please log in to leave a comment.