650b wheel size the new normal
Plus sized tires, the new normal
Bicycle trends, every 6 months there is another one to question. New trends introduced as industry standards, typically originating from the racing community, leave me perplexed trying to justify their general usefulness. I suppose that bicycle manufacturers must meet the pressures of remaining relevant to the ever fickle consumer. One new trend that I do appreciate is the plus sized tires.
For the past 11 years, when customers come into our bike shop for new tires I have been recommending the fattest tire that their bike frame will accommodate. Riding on 700X23 tires? I’ll try to fit 700X28s, have 26X1.75 tires? why not try 26X2.0. A wider tire provides the ride qualities that city commuters appreciate such as;
- durability and
- better grip for cornering.
Many bicycle manufacturers are finally outfitting new bike models with plus sized tires.
I certainly do not want to drag on any cyclist who enjoys commuting on their 700Xskinny tire but city streets are not getting any smoother. Most of us non-competitive types just want to get to our destination. By riding a slightly wider tire you can avoid;
- a jarring ride over pot-holed city streets
- pinched flats, or
- catching your wheel in a street groove.
A few years back I took this idea even further by following the trend, originating from Northern California, of converting a 700c wheel set to 650bs. This wheel conversion allows me to ride chubbier tires, adding a bit of versatility to my steel road bike. 650b wheels were the French touring standard decades ago. Later they could be occasionally observed stateside on a classic re-build or perhaps on a quirky hand built bike until now curious cyclists are converting their road bikes for the sake of a plus sized tire option.
Certainly mountain bike designers, based in Northern California, caught wind of this 650b trend. Since the early 2000s mountain bike manufacturers had mostly insisted that the 29er wheel size be embraced as the best choice for all-terrain bikes (ATB). The large 29” wheel diameter allows off-road riders to roll over obstacles with ease. Yet a certain nostalgia for the traditional 26” wheels that maneuver and accelerate quickly persisted.
In response ATB manufacturers re-introduced the 650b wheel size as the new “just right” wheel for all. They are not far off! 650b being slightly larger than the old 26” yet smaller than the 29er feels like a natural fit for many off-road riders. Suddenly the 650b wheel has moved from being the quirky European uncle to a possible industry standard, a standard that makes sense. The mountain bike industry wants this all-around wheel size to be promoted as a fresh idea so they label it the 27.5" wheel size.
In 2017 Joe Breeze, of Breezer bikes, introduced a line of fully rigid adventure bikes designed for on and off road riding. We brought in their Radar which, like most 29ers, simply glides over rough terrain. This year we added the newest addition to Breezer's adventure series, the Doppler. The Doppler features a wide tire profile like the Radar but in a 650b wheel size. It’s stylish, comfortable, sporty, responsive….. could this be the perfect bike?!!
Joe Breeze must have had a Western mind-set when he designed the Doppler. You can ride this bike downtown to The Market for an early morning pastry then take it up to the mountains for a weekend of trail riding all with a smile on your face.
There is a quick and responsive feel to the Doppler. It’s Chromoly frame set provides the foundation for the Doppler’s ride quality but those 650b wheels… they are the core to the bike’s stable handling. Because of the Doppler’s wheel size Breezer was able shorten the chain stay with a lower bottom bracket drop for the most enjoyable new bike I have ridden this year. It has a classic road bike touring geometry meaning that this is a bike you can ride for a day or for a week without experiencing road fatigue.
The Doppler’s achievements include:
- heel clearance and braze-ons for fenders, racks, and panniers
- steel frame is agile yet comfortable
- plus sized tires absorb road shock, adding to its comfort.
I have had so much fun on my own 650bs these last 6 years I’m pleased that bike manufacturers have embraced this wheel size. If you are shopping for a fun and versatile bike I urge you to consider a 650b.