650B: The odd man out

The latest trend to emerge from the swirling maelstrom of internet rumours is said to be the 650B wheel size. For those that don’t know (or haven’t followed the deluge of articles), 650B fits in nicely between the more traditional 26 and 29″ wheel sizes most commonly found on mountain bikes.

Anyways, 650B is being pitched as “the great compromise.” Better rolling momentum than the 26″ wheel, but without the sometimes sluggish response and bus-like feel some 29″ bikes suffer from. Perfect for those can’t decide between bikes currently offered in the market.

While the hype may be new, the 650B size isn’t. Various companies have tried to introduce the size several times in the past century, only to be met with a resounding “meh.” The latest iteration was the Haro Beasley. We had several in the bike shop that I used to work at, and I have a memory of them simply collecting dust all season.

Personally, I think there are two big issues with introducing yet another wheel size into an already crowded market. The first is that your average consumer is already swamped with options. Do they want a hard tail, full suspension, in 26 or 29″, with how much travel? While those of us that are knee-deep in the industry can make sense of it all, I can’t imagine bringing one of my friends into a bike shop, and have them try and sort through all of the different options.

The other big issue is for bike shops. They’re already dealing with 3 different fork dropouts, 2 headset sizes, 2 wheel sizes, a multitude of seatpost and bb sizes, and 2 rear end widths in a variety of axle sizes. The last thing they would need is further complication to their spare parts stock.

By adding the 650B wheel size, it forces shops to carry a whole other series of rims, tires, and forks. In addition, it requires that mechanics familiarize themselves with the new size. It all results in a headache for smaller shops, who may wind up passing on the size altogether.

In the end, I think 650B will wind up filling another niche market. People with the money to spend on something experimental will go out and get it, while other riders that have already invested in their rigs may be less willing to take the risk. The key factor in determining whether or not 650B will catch on comes down to support from the components sector. If there is a good selection of parts and rubber, it will stand a good chance in today’s market.

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