Last fall I resumed my love affair with mountain biking and discovered the joys to be had on 29″ wheels. Since then, while I wasn’t paying attention, everybody else in the shop purchased a 29er of their very own. Strange, as I’m usually the first of us to succumb to New Bike Fever. In truth, I took my time selling my old 26″ bike and squirreling away money for a new bike because I was conflicted: 29 or 650B.
I’ve written (and deleted) a bunch of words related to my angst, but they wandered all over the place and kinda made me carsick.
In short, I am the proud new owner of a Jamis Dragon 650B. Why? I wanted steel. I wanted a suspension fork. I’ve been reading quite a lot of good things about 650B. And, honestly, I like bicycles that are a little bit off the beaten path. I wanted to want a SRAM drivetrain, but I confess to clinging to the familiar in this regard. Mountain biking is, for me, too mentally taxing to waste a few electrical impulses wondering about which button to push. I had those strange Shimano brake/shift flipper levers for a while. Then I switched to trigger shift. Then, because I didn’t really understand what was going on, I changed from a (bleeping) rapid rise rear derailleur to something normal. All of this in less than six years of (ahem) fairly infrequent MTB riding. It’s a miracle I can shift a mountain bike at all.
How is it? Great. I love it. A couple of buddies and I went to Fort Customer this morning, and I had just a super time. It was a quiet, slightly overcast and humid morning. My friends were moving along well, but weren’t trying to set the world on fire. I loved hearing the little gasps and sighs of the fork and the purr of the American Classic freehub body. I’m not a technically gifted mountain biker by anyone’s measure, but I’ve never felt so comfortable in corners. It was just a fantastic experience. Then I did a lap of Al Sabo with my daughter (now there’s a series of words that’ll just about bring tears of joy to a father’s eye) and couldn’t help thinking how much better things were on my new green bike.
What would I change? Not much. I did put a flat bar on the bike along with a set of Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires, both of which I like a lot. I’m very satisfied with the Loop fork, SLX drivetrain, Elixer 3 brakes and American Classic wheels. Am I faster? Probably. I’m a whole lot more comfortable in corners and downhill, which (one hopes) would translate to faster overall. If not, I’m cool with the increase in comfort and greater sense of control.
If there is a downside to 650B, it’s the lack of support from parts manufacturers. The Loop on this bike is the high-end 650B suspension fork. Don’t look for competitors as they do not exist. Likewise, there are between six and ten 650B tire models out there. One of these tires will almost surely fit your needs, but the absolute smorgasbord of options (as seen in 26 and 29 variants) does not exist… yet. The buzz at trade shows is that 650B is gaining support. Word is that RockShox will have at least one fork next year and that at least one major bike brand will have a 650B bike in 2013. Stans and Velocity already make great 650B rims.
Will 650B be the next big thing? I don’t know. I’ve thought about this a lot and I’m not sure that I care. I have good wheels, a good fork and good tires. Maybe I can’t get an Easton or Mavic wheelset in 650B, but I can get a super-awesome alternative. If you’re super explicit and picky about your stuff, you should probably either wait a little bit or go with a more established wheel size.
If, on the other hand, you have a bit of flexibility and (perhaps) daring, I can recommend a certain Shamrock Green bicycle that’ll almost surely slap a big goofy smile on your face.