650b And The Luddites
It’s an unlikely battlefield for the purists’ last stand. Having dismissed the 29er, those of us who have clung to the belief that 26 inch wheels can rotate as well as other circular structures find ourselves cozying up to an unlikely bedfellow; the 650b wheel. What sense does that make? If we didn’t think it was worth it to move to a larger wheel size that has well-documented advantages in many situations, why would we forsake two six for slimmer margins and advantages that are less easily felt or measured?
At least it’s not a 29er? Is that our point? For some reason we’re okay with a little bit bigger, almost independent of performance. If we can’t get a new 26″-wheeled bike, and if we own one that will be an even trade for a dropper post by October, 650b must be the way forward? It seems that 650b has profited from the 29er backlash that persists among a stubborn, (curmudgeonly? pig headed?) portion of our ranks.
So how did this squarely grumpy group managed to fit into a 27.5” hole? Early believers in the 29er fought long and hard to convince riders, but once big wheels arrived in full force the middle size gained market share without breaking a sweat.
This hasty acceptance of mid-sized wheels might have little to do with our affection for their circumference. It’s said so often it’s long past cliché; mountain biking is a lifestyle. Many of us live and breathe this sport. We pay attention to trends and changes, buy and sell parts and frames often, and we want to be able to get value out of the stuff we’ve lost our affection for.
Vinyl didn’t disappear overnight but CDs did. This process is happening faster all the time. We’ve learned that we hang on to standards at our peril. Wish you had sold your film camera when it was worth something? How about those 205 cm race skis? Now it’s 26” carbon wheels that are losing value faster than Nigerian currency. Even Yeti decided to fire sale their remaining stock of the popular and much-loved SB66 platform rather than get burnt later on in the sales cycle. Consumers want to feel as little of that heat as possible. This is a great time to score a deal on a used two sixer.
Don’t call me a hater. I am starting to get along better with two nines. They require more man-handling than smaller-wheeled steeds and while I haven’t completely figured it out, I’m getting there. There’s no denying the way big hoops hoover up bumpy terrain, forcing me to appreciate their straight line appeal, both climbing and descending, but I’m not a fan in the corners. When the bike tips over I seem to be more in the bike than on it. It just takes more force to maneuver them; more freight train than go kart.
There are even categories of big wheeler that I like. If I find myself doing the BC Bike Race I will likely choose something like a Specialized Camber. A capable XC machine that goes up and down well and is surprisingly fun to ride. XC bikes needed to get better at descending and rolling over obstacles. But from trail to DH, which is about 95% of the riding I do, I’ve yet to be swayed.
And here on the Shore speeds are often slow. Wagon wheels generally lift your bike, raising your centre of gravity at the same time. Creeping into a steep switchback on those big hoops doesn’t inspire my confidence. On tweener wheels I feel just as comfortable as I do on 26.
And big wheelers don’t dance. At least at the speeds I’m capable of the bike doesn’t get loose underneath me. That moment when the bike gets light and gallops through a violent section of trail while the rest of your body feels motionless – that’s it. It’s on the list of moments that keep me coming back to the bike. And wagon wheelers don’t get me there. Not yet. I’m not seduced by the ‘they are just faster’ argument either. Maybe they are, and maybe they would even be faster under me with a little more experience, but maybe that’s not why I ride mountain bikes.
Of course I want to keep up with my buddies, or on the occasional golden day make it hard for them to keep my wheel on the way down. That’s fun. But it’s not nearly as fun as feeling your bike working beneath you, being able to flick your bike from one side of the trail to the other with subtle inputs. Tossing the bike around with a little anger and having it feel every ounce of your pain. That is two six to me. And if I can’t have it sixfitty may be the next best thing.
If I was a racer I just might see things differently, but I’m one of those saps who believes there are times when the fastest way to the finish line may not provide the most juice. When savouring each moment is more important than being King Of The Mountain. And if easier was always better why do so many riders have steel hardtails in their quiver?
Am I romanticizing the original wheel size and transferring that affection to twosevenfive? Yup. May I be proven wrong and eventually become a two nine evangelist? I wouldn’t bet against it. I’ve frequently been skeptical about the next big thing. I thought dropper posts were a stupid idea and now you’ll never catch me without one. I’m used to eating crow, and I’m comfortable with those lumps. But now that I’m forced to go bigger I’m choosing, in my pig-headed and curmudgeonly way, to go just a smidge bigger.