The 650b Project – Ride Review
Last week I took my 650b and my 29er out on the trail at the same time. How? Well I rode the 29er and my buddy Jay rode the 650b and after one lap of our usual route we switched. Have to say we were both really amazed at what we discovered. Now both Jay and I are engineers so we tend to over analyze everything. Biking is no different, and we have a lot of fun with the discoveries. Too set this up properly Jay has been fighting me on wheel size for the last 2 years. He was convinced 26 inches was all you needed. That’s not what she said. Ba Dum Bum
The first lap of the trails I was on the 29er and as I said before I like it. It really smooths out the bumps and makes obstacles a breeze. The handling is not as sharp as the 26er, but I knew that going in. About half way through the handling started to get to me a bit. I normally ride our route fast and furious, but I literally had Jay going around me in some parts. I kept asking him how the 650b was and kept getting the response, it’s OK … Followed by, I kinda like it … Followed by I could get used to this … Followed by I gotta get me one of these.
After one lap we switched and I now jumped on the 650b, but not before some observations. The 29er is still twitchy at speed and I can feel the wheel flex. Up hills are good in the traction category, but I feel like I am working really hard on them. Bumps, sand and dips are soaked up by the big wheels really well. So how did the 650b compare. Right away I could feel it had less rotational mass and I sat lower. I felt more of the trail, but not quite as much as a 26er. The handling was great. Quick note here about this though, the WTB Wolverine on the front is the great on a dry trail. Really bites on corners and rolls really really well. I give that a glowing gotta have review. Back to the 650b.
After about half way around our loop I was noticing a few things. I could accelerate again. I felt like I had all my straight away speed back I was missing with the wagon wheels. Bumps and dips still felt better than a 26er, but not quite as nice as the 29er. Cornering was awesome, I could feel the geometry of the old GT and it still is superior to anything new I have ridden recently. So it did do what I was hoping which was preserve the feel of the older 26er bike. You hate to just say the 650b felt half way between the 29er and 26er and I won’t. To me it felt more like riding the 26er, with less sting. More forgiving, but at the same time just as sharp. I am sold!
OK some hard data from the night. On half the loop where we had no stops for other bikers or hikers I clocked a 5:30 on the 29er. Jay managed a 5:28 on the 29er as well and both of us felt like the long climb at the end felt like a lot of work to maintain speed. On the 650b I managed a 5:15 and Jay had a DNF because he had to stop for a hiker on that lap. He did say if felt fast and would have been much faster than the 29er. Now here is the scary part, my personal record and KOM for that part of the trail is 5:12. So with some drive train issues on the 650b and me not really trying 100% I was within 3 seconds of my best time. I would call that within a margin of error.
So what does this mean? I am going to be dialing in the 650b this summer and switching between my steel and aluminum team Avalanches. What am I going to do with the 29er? Well I think this is the perfect bike to get my wife out on some more technical trails. I think it will make it easier for her to ride. The answer everyone is asking right now is “will 650b be the new wheel?”. I hope not, I hope it will be the old wheel soon. It brought new life to my old bike again. Long live the 650b!